Living with disaster: comparative approaches (JAWS/JASCA joint panel)

Location 104
Date and Start Time 15 May, 2014 at 15:30


Brigitte Steger (University of Cambridge) email
Isao Hayashi (National Museum of Ethnology) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel compares ethnographic case studies on how people re-create everyday life in the wake of disaster. We aim to identify cultural differences and similarities in reactions to traumatic stress situations.

Long Abstract

Everyday life in the wake of disaster is a topic that has rarely been investigated in depth. This panel proposes that improvised lifestyles in half-destroyed homes, in evacuation shelters or in temporary accommodation, offer powerful challenges to conventional norms and lifestyles.

How do families and communities cope with the stress of sudden dislocation, the deaths of family members, loss of housing and property, and the disruption of communities? How do people organise their lives in shelters? What social structures do they create, and what do they refer to in doing so? What roles does religion play? What other spiritual or emotional guidance is available and accepted? How do people (re)create a sense of normality? Do they become more open to new ideas, or more conservative? How do they make plans for the future and realise them? What compromises do they make? What are the emotions entailed? And how does all this change over time?

This panel takes a comparative approach. It brings together papers that investigate in detail the questions raised above in specific cases. We aim to identify the cultural differences and similarities in reactions to traumatic stress situations. Our goal is to assess the contribution that anthropologists can make to an understanding of human response to disaster. We hope that contribution may be of value to future disaster relief programmes.

Chair: Isao Hayashi and Brigitte Steger

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


A twenty-year chronicle of emotional impact of disaster from an anthropological perspective: a survivor's story

Author: Susanna Hoffman (Hoffman Consulting )  email

Short Abstract

In a very personal story of living with disaster this paper describes the cascade of emotions that descend upon disaster victims from an anthropologist’s insight, horror, grief, love, anger and more. It further addresses the detachment from emotion and the flashbacks that every survivor undergoes.

Long Abstract

On October 20, 1991 a spark from an old fire reignited and swept down the hills behind Oakland and Berkeley, California. Within four days it destroyed 3,356 homes and 456 apartments. Twenty-five people died. Six thousand people were left homeless. I am one of the survivors. In the fire I lost my home, clothing, furniture, heirlooms, car, pets, photos, library and twenty-five years of anthropological research, the addresses and phone numbers of everyone I ever knew, and every record of my past and work. To describe the devastation both physical and psychological of this kind of loss is like trying to define eternity. This very personal paper describes the cascade of emotions that descent upon disaster victims from an anthropologist's point of view and unfolds a twenty year chronicle of living with disaster. In everyday language, it details the advent of horror, grief, love, anger and more. It further covers the detachment from emotion and its upshot and addresses the issue of the flashbacks that every survivor experiences and their possible meaning. The experience not only changed my life but also my anthropology. Inadvertently rendered a survivor, I became a researcher, activist, and advocate for the victims of disaster and in the twenty years hence, have turned into an ardent voice devoted to the topic.

Lives of evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Author: Naoko Horikawa  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents the lives of evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. I aim to look at the way in which people cope with relocation by examining narratives of evacuees living in Tokyo and Yamagata. Ethnographic methods will show how their lifestyles have changed.

Long Abstract

The number of evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster was, at the end of 2013, estimated to be about 49,000. In this paper I shall look at the way in which victims made their decision to leave and at how they cope with a new social milieu. In many cases it was a mother with children who evacuated while the male remained in Fukushima because of his job. My enquiry includes the impact that the arrangement has had on family life.

In the new location evacuees form a Fukushima community, and the role of social networking among them is significant in maintaining ties with Fukushima. I shall consider how a social boundary has formed between displaced families and the established local population.

Some three years after the event, a number of evacuees living in Tokyo made a return to Fukushima in order to seek residence where the risk from radiation is diminished. By taking an ethnographic approach I will examine the relationship between returnees and people who did not leave Fukushima.

Minus to zero: the struggle against radioactivity by the Hippo District Community Center

Author: Mutsumi Yamaguchi (Tohoku University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reports on the struggle of the community center in Hippo District to deal with radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

Long Abstract

The Hippo District is a lush rural area in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, surrounded by the Abukuma Mountains. Since the 1970s, the main industries in this region have changed from farming and charcoal production to dairy farming and tertiary industries, and the area has experienced depopulation. The Hippo District Community Center plays an active role in regional improvement. It recruits immigrants from urban areas, created the Ink Brush Festival (Fude Matsuri), and promotes community activities based on the name of the district.

The current problem facing this district is that it is located about 50 km north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, which experienced a serious nuclear disaster during the 2011 East Japan Disaster. Radioactivity from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station has destroyed the peaceful lives of Hippo District residents during the 3 years since the disaster. During this same period, it became impossible to eat wild vegetables and mushrooms or to burn wood fuel, residents were rarely able to sell their agricultural products in local markets, and tourism decreased suddenly.

Under these circumstances, the community center has played an important role in the struggle to deal with the radioactivity. It has measured radioactivity levels, created a radioactivity map, submitted claims for compensation to the Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc., and requested health checkups from the government. This study reports on the process by which the Hippo District Community Center has addressed the problem of radioactivity.

Positive or negative: what makes life in the evacuation shelter positive?

Author: Shoichiro Takezawa (National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka)  email

Short Abstract

Through a comparison of life of the evacuees in different shelters, we can understand what makes life in some shelters positive and that in others negative.

Long Abstract

During my fieldworks in the areas hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, my research theme was to understand how people organized their life in the evacuation shelters. A life in these centers is like something Victor Turner called in-between situation, that is, a life different from the daily life before the event and that they are going to construct after it. Turner considered that the life in-between is an ideal one where a communal atmosphere prevails. But our research confirmed that in some shelters this atmosphere prevailed, but in others, not. So the issue is to know what differentiated the former from the latter.

My fieldworks could distinguish three types of shelters. One is that set up in the area where the notion of collectivity was very strong. Here the evacuees could easily re-establish their life and work together to overcome obstacles. On the contrary, the shelters set up in downtown where the relationship among people was not cordial could not furnish the occasions for the evacuees to make a positive move. Among the shelters in downtown, however, there were some run by local associations where the collectivity could be established easily among those who had not known each other.

In our time, a locality where the community tie is strong is rare. But if the local associations recognize each other in ordinary times, it enables to construct a kind of loose community that will be able to make a life in the shelters positive.

The nightmare: troubled sleep in tsunami evacuation shelters in Yamada, northeastern Japan, 2011

Author: Brigitte Steger (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the sleep of tsunami survivors in shelters in Yamada (NE Japan) in the aftermath of 3.11. It explores the environmental and emotional issues such as shelter regulations and anxiety that made sleep problematic and discusses how people regained or failed to regain restful slumber.

Long Abstract

'Ato wa neru dake' - 'And then all that's left to do is sleep.' This is how two middle-aged women concluded their summary of daily life in a small tsunami evacuation shelter in Yamada, Iwate prefecture. Talking in mid-July 2011, four months after the tsunami and fires of 3.11 had destroyed their homes, they had been able to establish a daily routine of household chores and regain a semblance of stability. Sleep seemed a simple matter.

Yet during the nights immediately following the tsunami no one had been able to sleep peacefully. Sleep was disrupted by continuous aftershocks, lack of bedding, cold, dirt, noise, and the presence of strangers. People were haunted by anxiety over the whereabouts of loved ones; they were bewildered by the loss of their homes and their jobs.

Based on narrative interviews, this paper explores the sleep habits and sleep problems of tsunami survivors living in evacuation shelters in Yamada. It analyses the vulnerability of sleepers and examines how people were gradually able to regain restful slumber. It comes to the conclusion that there were four major sources of the emotional security that was required for relaxing and peaceful sleep: the stability of the physical sleep environment; the presence of people they knew and trusted; the establishment of daily rituals and routines; and the social acceptance of certain sleep behaviours. Despite this, many people continued to experience problems sleeping, often resorting to help from alcohol and tranquillisers.

Resilience of community from disaster: typhoon and house destruction in Okinawa

Author: Takeshi Tamaki (Nara Prefectural University)  email

Short Abstract

This study examines how typhoons impact on Okinawa, and demonstrates how Okinawan villages had become a countermeasure against disaster. For these purposes, I will argue two main points: house destruction by typhoons and the social relationship accompanied by house building.

Long Abstract

The discussion and the conclusion of this study will identify a characteristic function of community in the time of disaster and its historical changes from the viewpoint of social resilience.

Okinawa is a typhoon's corridor, and it caused enormous damages to houses every year at least until the 1960s. It is easy to imagine that a thatch-roofed house is more vulnerable than a reinforced concrete house. Actually, as house structure changed, the degree and the number of destroyed houses reduced. So a historical process of structural change of houses is the first focal point of my study.

The second point of my study is social relationship accompanied by house building. Building houses would not be a carpenter's affair but a custom of village community in many rural areas in Okinawa before the 1950s. The custom was called "yui" which means lending-and-borrowing of labor power. If you plan to build your house, you can "borrow" manpower from your neighbors for all the process of house building. In return, you have to "lend" your manpower to your neighbors in case of their house building.

After typhoon, however, mending or rebuilding houses was not the matter of "yui" but "koruku". Contrary to yui, koruku is a reciprocal custom of "giving-and-taking" not "lending-and-borrowing". At the time of disaster, people cooperate and help each other for nothing. This custom leads me to consider relationship in a community as an important countermeasure against typhoon and social capital functioning for community resilience.

Impact of Cyclone Aila on the livelihoods of the people of Sundarbans, West Bengal

Authors: Kalindi Sharma (University of Delhi)  email
PC Joshi (University of Delhi)  email

Short Abstract

The study on the impact of Cyclone Aila on the livelihood of the people of Sundarbans can be regarded as a crucial step in the anthropological enquiry of disasters. It attempts to understand the lives and coping strategies of people living with disasters.

Long Abstract

Common to the coastal regions around the world, a cyclonic storm is capable of causing severe havoc leading to insurmountable loss of human life, massively affected flora and fauna and a disrupted lifestyle. The impact of the tropical Cyclone Aila in West Bengal (May 2009), was therefore not restricted to breached embankments, inundated lands, obstructed transit systems but also to abandonment of homes/lands and loss of sustainable support system. Owing to the conditions that prevailed, forced evacuation of the local inhabitants became inevitable which compelled them to adopt numerous strategies to cope with the lack of a sustainable lifestyle. This discourse attempts to understand the dynamics of change in livelihood while deconstructing the course of impacts that follow a disaster. The paper presents an analysis of the results of an annex study carried out in block Gosaba of South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India. The aim of the study was to focus on the impact of Cyclone Aila on the livelihood of people in Sunderbans, West Bengal with three primary objectives

1.To trace the course of change in livelihood if any, in the post disaster situation and establishing its relatedness to the disaster.

2.To understand the implications and the impacts of change in livelihood, on the life of people belonging to communities that specialize in a particular occupation.

3. To examine the correlation between the impact variables resulting from change in livelihood and thereby establish a course of lifestyle change as a result of disaster.

Netting a new life, netting a good life? Changes wrought by 3.11 on Miyagi fisheries households, from autonomous individuals to cooperative partners

Author: Alyne Delaney (Aalborg University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the changes that took place and the compromises made by fishing families in their efforts to re-build their lives and begin anew after 3.11, showing how their feelings and views of the process changed over time.

Long Abstract

For fisheries householders, working in the maritime industries is more than work, it is a way of life. Fisheries enterprise householders in Miyagi Prefecture long prided themselves their ability to work for themselves, refusing to bow their heads down to others. Theirs was a hard way of life, but one which provided them with personal autonomy and a life to live on their own terms. The disasters of 3.11 took this away in a few short minutes. Reconstruction and recovery funds were made available to enterprise householders by the national government, enabling many to to re-build and renew their lives, but with great compromises, and at great costs: most householders have lost their independence as they were forced to form cooperative work groups in order to receive recovery funds.

This paper investigates the changes that took place and the compromises made by fishing cooperatives householders in their efforts to re-build their lives and begin anew. Focusing on one working group in central Miyagi Prefecture, the paper not only follows how activities and division of labor changed from pre- to post-3.11, but also shows how individual's thoughts and feelings changed throughout the process: from declaring one would never do it, to making compromises and fighting for change to become a reality, to becoming a leader in the new way of life.

Sharing company: fictive kinship in post-'11 March' Japan

Author: Mitchell W Sedgwick (London School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyzes trauma experienced 'at a distance', among Japanese managers abroad, 8000 miles from their homes and 'mother factory' in Tohoku, during Japan's March 11 disaster. I examine evidence of fictive kinship with their corporation in mediating their outrageous helplessness.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses 'fieldwork' or, better, 'the sharing of experience' with the extended community of a Japanese factory partially destroyed by Japan's '3/11' disaster. (Although I discuss here the situation in the immediate two weeks after the disaster, periodic research continues to the present.)

I examine the experience of a group of Japanese managers of a major Japanese multinational corporation charged with overseeing a subsidiary factory located on the US-Mexican border, some 8,000 miles from Tohuku: where their 'mother factory', their communities and, for some, their homes were devastated. I recount an intimate drama experienced in real time, as they desperately sought to communicate with loved ones and, as the days unfolded, gradually weighed up consequences, and attempted to make sense of things.

My analytic focus is trauma experienced 'at a distance' and the personal impact of observing - through the media but, for a period, without private contact with loved ones - one's 'world' being literally torn apart while being, in practical terms, entirely disengaged. Their outrageous helplessness - no doubt, deeply psychologically damaging - required, at least in the short run, a pretense of recovery. Lifetime employees one and all, they placed an impressive emphasis on the role of their company itself as a practical and emotional life raft. I examine here, then, in crisis, the (fictive) kinship between themselves - as well as, by extension, their actual families and local communities - and the weave of their corporate sociality.

Why do sufferers of great earthquake conduct the traditional events under evacuation orders? Lessons from tsunotsuki-bullfighting after the Niigata Chuets earthquake

Author: Kyoko Ueda (Tohoku Gakuin University)  email

Short Abstract

Just after the disasters, two sufferers’ communities attempted to save all the livestock left in their homeland illegally and conducted traditional rituals together with them. This paper argues the possibility of the conduction of traditional rituals, which can change the catastrophic state itself.

Long Abstract

How can refugees of great disasters regain their normal life while they have to be in unpredictable situations away from their homelands? Especially for those who are unavoidably out of their lands under evacuation orders because of the devastating damage brought about by the earthquakes, subsequent Tsunami or the nuclear power plant accident, the refugees suddenly become unable to tell where they would be after a year or even a month. They inevitably become ignorant if they can get back their livestock or other belongings left in their homes after the disasters.

However, two sufferers' communities attempt to save all the livestock left in their homeland "illegally" and successfully conduct traditional rituals, which have been performed for a thousand-years, accompanied by the saved horses and bulls. From these cases, this paper argues the possibility of the traditional rituals, which can contribute to the restoration of their community-order and the reconstruction of their community itself at the time of great catastrophe. Also this case study points out the necessity of more culturally diversified security in order to sustain the victims' communities in considering the disaster prevention.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.