Performing prevention: risk, responsibility, and reorganising the future in Japan during the H1N1 pandemic

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One distinguishing feature of modernity is a shift from fate to risk as a central explanatory principle for uncertainty and danger. Framing the future in terms of risk creates the possibility – and, increasingly, responsibility – for prevention. This study analyses qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with 20 physicians and 43 members of the general public in Japan during the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 to examine how risk and responsibility were imagined, managed, and reorganised through preventative behaviours. I examined respondents’ discussions of a specific preventative recommendation issued in Japan during the 2009 pandemic: prophylactic gargling. I found that Japanese doctors had mixed, often conflicting, opinions about the efficacy of gargling to prevent infection; most felt its usefulness as a recommendation lay in its capacity to give patients the belief that they could mitigate the risk of infection. Doctors who were openly dubious about the effectiveness of gargling in reducing risk of infection continued to recommend it because they felt that gargling provided patients with peace of mind, reducing their sense of ontological insecurity. In contrast, lay respondents saw gargling as a practical, common-sense measure they could take to mitigate risk, but also citing responsibility to others as motivation for performing preventative practices that they would otherwise eschew.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-301
Number of pages17
JournalHealth, Risk and Society
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - May 19 2015


  • H1N1
  • Japan
  • flu
  • gargling
  • influenza
  • ontological security
  • risk
  • risk ontologies
  • risk society

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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