(P024)

Practicing a public anthropology in communities devastated by the East Japan Disaster

Location 104
Date and Start Time 16 May, 2014 at 08:30

Convenor

Shinji Yamashita (Teikyo Heisei University) email
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Short Abstract

This panel introduces continuing field research on the East Japan Disaster of 2011. Examining methodological, theoretical and practical questions, the panel seeks to identify a role for public anthropology in the complex process of restoring communities after the disaster.

Long Abstract

On March 11, 2011, a mega-earthquake of 9.0 magnitude struck East Japan, followed by a huge tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. This was an unprecedented disaster. There were approximately 20,000 fatalities, including missing people, and the damage was estimated at 17 trillion Japanese yen. The members of this panel have been studying the East Japan Disaster since its earliest stages and have already published some urgent ethnographies. But though the disaster was sudden, recovery from it has been a lengthy process. By the end of 2013, there were still about 270,000 evacuees and displaced people, and the local economic situation remained shaky. Relocation from temporary housing to new settlements has proved a protracted, soul-destroying process. In Fukushima, contaminated water has been steadily leaking into the sea, and the nuclear power plant remains in critical condition. Reconstruction is patchy; the future of the devastated communities, opaque. This panel raises methodological, theoretical and practical questions regarding how anthropologists should engage with the disaster over a longer time span, and what anthropologists can do sustainably in collaborative research projects toward the future. Putting anthropology to work in the public sphere, we hope to practice a public anthropology that contributes to the understanding and solution of contemporary public issues beyond the narrow discipline of anthropology, while collaborating with various actors and organizations involved. The East Japan Disaster is exactly the kind of challenge we have to respond to.

Chair: Shinji Yamashita (Teikyo Heisei University), Tom Gill (Meiji Gakuin University)
Discussant: James Roberson (Tokyo Jogakkan College)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Practicing a public anthropology of the East Japan Disaster

Author: Shinji Yamashita (Teikyo Heisei University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to locate a public anthropology within the contemporary discourse on the role and purpose of anthropology. In so doing, the paper intends to offer a framework for this panel stressing the necessity to practice a public anthropology in the contexts of the East Japan Disaster.

Long Abstract

This paper stresses the necessity to practice a public anthropology in the context of the East Japan Disaster that occurred on March 11, 2011. But how exactly should we go about doing that? The East Japan Disaster poses precisely that challenge. According to Rob Borofsky, an ardent promoter of public anthropology in the United States, "public anthropology seeks to address broad critical concerns in ways that others beyond the discipline are able to understand what anthropologists can offer to the re-framing and easing—if not necessarily always resolving—of present-day dilemmas." In other words, anthropology should contribute to the understanding and solution of contemporary public issues beyond the discipline through engaging in the broader public sphere. Paying attention to the background issues behind this definition, the paper discusses the following controversial questions particularly in the context of the East Japan Disaster: (1) why and how we should engage in public issues; (2) why and how we should go beyond the borders of the discipline of anthropology; (3) why and how we should collaborate with other sectors and institutions; (4) the utility of public anthropology as a concept, and its relationship with applied anthropology; and (5) public anthropologists as value creators/reformers rather than value-free observers. In so doing, the paper aims to locate public anthropology within the contemporary discourse on the role and purpose of anthropology in order to serve as a theoretical and practical framework for this panel on a public anthropology of the East Japan Disaster.

A methodological consideration for practicing public anthropology: from a case of crossover between academic research and disaster-relief activity in Miyagi prefecture

Author: Taichi Uchio (Bunkyo University)  email

Short Abstract

Human Security Forum (HSF), an NGO created by volunteers of the Human Security Program of the University of Tokyo, has supported disaster-hit people in Miyagi since 2011. Based on the experience as an executive director of HSF, the author argues methodological aspects of public anthropology.

Long Abstract

In 2011, widespread destruction of coastal areas by the March 11th Great East Japan Earthquake forced many people to relocate to temporary housing. Human Security Forum (HSF), an NGO created by scholars and students of the Human Security Program of the University of Tokyo, has been supporting disaster-hit people in Miyagi since 2011. The author of this paper is not a professional academic anthropologist, but an NGO worker who also conducts anthropological fieldwork. Autobiographical accounts of engagement as a 'reflective practitioner' in the disaster recovery process reveal the crossover between academic research and disaster-relief activities. Qualitative research on the livelihood of disaster-hit people has been carried out in the context of support activities for temporary housing communities. Research findings have been applied in planning further assistance, and enhanced support activities have in turn necessitated further research.

The main purpose of this study is to consider methodological aspects of public anthropology. Firstly I present ethnographic data on collaborative research by HSF with other workers and with community leaders of temporary housing communities. Secondly, the paper considers the social contribution by anthropology in the public sphere outside the academy. The author's attempt, incorporating anthropological research into the framework of NGO activity, is one way to achieve it. Finally, this paper draws on the author's experience to discuss the multifaceted role of the fieldworker. Devising ways of engagement different from those of traditionally prescribed anthropological fieldwork can be a key component of public anthropology.

Voices from Tohoku: collecting and sharing digital archives of 3.11 oral narratives

Author: David Slater (Sophia University)  email

Short Abstract

Through the collection of one of the largest video oral narrative archives on the 3.11 disaster our university-based team worked with 8 different communities in Tohoku to create community memory and scholarly data.

Long Abstract

Public anthropology, in our view, involves the doing of some good, either through the practice of data collection or through the dissemination of results. We have tried to do both, to varying degrees of success and failure, in our effort to make some record of events since 3.11. Through early volunteer work, we were asked in Rikuzen Takata to start recording stories of volunteers, and then of residents. Since the spring of 2011, a research team based at Sophia University with faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, has been collecting long-format and relatively unstructured interviews that capture the complexity of the moment as individuals take stock of their own changing situation. As such these interviews focus less on the sensational moments of impact and escape, than on the socio-cultural dynamics of everyday life and struggle, pre- and post-3.11. Always including more volunteer work and collaborating with local community organizers, we have worked in 10 different communities, from Otsuchi in the north to Koriyama in the south, and will include Tokyo anti-nuke protesters next year. We have collected more than 400 hours of video, and are archiving, transcribing and translating them to be indexed by theme and demographics into two different searchable databases, one scholarly and another for more public use.

Our presentation will address the dynamic of volunteer work and fieldwork, community relations in the process of data collection and still developing technicalities and ethics of mounting a digital archive for community and research purposes.

Visualizing culture? A collaborative approach to public anthropology after March 11

Author: Shuhei Kimura (University of Tsukuba)  email

Short Abstract

This paper describes an interdisciplinary intervention to create a ‘virtual public infrastructure’ which would promote discussion among the local people in the process of reconstruction after the tsunami in a small town in Iwate, Japan.

Long Abstract

This paper describes our ongoing intervention in the process of reconstruction after tsunami in a small town in Iwate, Japan. At the beginning of 2012, I happened to meet the semi-public committee for reconstruction of the town. Since then, we, an ad hoc group of an anthropologist, two urban planners, and an information scientist, have visited the town regularly and supported the drafting of local reconstruction plan. In retrospect, visibility is a key concept for us. We attempted to create a better vision for the next decade of the town by making visible local concerns which not only our team as outsiders but also local residents do not know well. It is difficult even for them to grasp what are going on in the town after the tsunami since the survivors are reluctant to tell their own personal situations with each other. Thus what is and is not to be represented is not just a classic question for writing ethnography, but also a crucial and practical challenge for our project. We have attempted to create a 'virtual public infrastructure' which would promote discussion among the local people by trial and error. We made maps and issued newsletters, interviewed survivors, and held workshops to draw out local people's personal opinions and briefing sessions on the legal system of disaster reconstruction. I review our approach to public anthropology and how our project contributed to the reconstruction of the town or not, by examining what our project has made 'public.'

Toward an applied disaster anthropology: from reflections on post-disaster recovery local memory recording and intangible cultural heritage projects

Author: Hiroki Takakura (Tohoku University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper argues for an applied disaster anthropology and proposes relevant methods based on the experience of the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake. I advocate the use and advantages of applied methods of anthropological management for cultural heritage disaster-risk reduction.

Long Abstract

This paper argues for an applied disaster anthropology and proposes relevant methods based on the experience of the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake. The author organized and participated in an anthropological project that took the form of a contracted project surveying damage to intangible cultural heritage caused by the tsunami in Miyagi prefecture. As a researcher working in the quake-hit area, I started out in these anthropological projects with some hesitation because of the catastrophic situation at the disaster sites. Soon I learned that post-disaster recovery policy managers require damage information for each item of local cultural heritage in the educational-cultural administrative sphere as well as for those in the health-medical, transportation, civil engineering, or other spheres. Through the two years of survey projects, my team collected a huge volume of records on local memory concerning the intangible cultural heritage of the area: before the tsunami, in its immediate aftermath, and for the later continuing process. Our method was organized and extended fieldwork, emphasizing interviews in particular. Sharing of field notes among researchers on the team is also one of the features of this project. Reflecting on these projects, I advocate the use and advantages of applied methods of anthropological management for cultural heritage disaster-risk reduction. Establishment of this management approach is an urgent matter as an aspect of anthropological social engagement, which has a common basis for other fields of applied anthropology such as for development.

Writing against contamination: anthropological analysis of agriculture and research under radioactive threat

Author: Kohei Inose (Meiji Gakuin University)  email

Short Abstract

Focusing on the research about farming methods aimed at reducing the absorption of radiological materials, I explore how people construct counter-practices against nuclear accidents and ask what the public function of ethnographic description is.

Long Abstract

Reality is always in danger of being disrupted whenever actual events diverge too much from established categories along with the institutions themselves. The experience of facing radioactive contamination caused by the accident at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant has touched the hearts and minds of the people affected by the disaster. The nature of radiation, which is silent, invisible, and untouchable, prevents people's clear understanding of its reality, dividing their opinions and attitudes toward their lives. In the face of this nuclear hazard, people who were speaking on behalf of the state and science failed to perform their expected role of convincing the population. The conventions holding people together around a sense of reality broke down, and consequently, people began to combine fragments of knowledge at hand in order to live in an uncertain world. This presentation is based on fieldwork with researchers and farmers in Tohoku. In this crisis situation, they contingently modify their own ideas through heterogeneous networked connections with other researchers and farmers, and with social activists and government officers, becoming able to make unplanned connections between previously unconnected places like Fukushima, Tokyo and Chernobyl. In this analysis, I explore how people construct counter-practices against nuclear accidents and ask what the public function of ethnographic description is in this case.

Social suffering of the population inside and outside Fukushima

Author: Yuichi Sekiya (UTokyo)  email

Short Abstract

According to his field research inside and outside Fukushima since the beginning of 2012, the author will try to figure out what are really happening to the research target people, and what are still necessary for the Japan’s public society to support those people.

Long Abstract

The population of Fukushima prefecture is still socially suffering from fear and want caused by the severe radioactive contamination in the aftermath of the disaster at the TEPCO Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. Listening to those evacuees from the prefecture through personal interviews, the author observes serious forfeiture of rights to live in peace, free from fear and want.

However, Japanese population outside Fukushima seems to forget and try to situate those facts in a distant past. Olympics were decided to be held in Tokyo in 2020 with the prime minister's official guarantee that "Fukushima disaster is completely under control,"although many people do not believe so. Governments are trying to persuade the local population to resume several power plants' operations. And the book publishers became less friendly to the scholars who try to publish their works about Fukushima problems, for the reason that the boom has passed.

According to his field research inside and outside Fukushima since the beginning of 2012, the author will try to figure out what are really happening to the research target people, and what are still necessary for the Japan's public society to support those people. Whether those supports are possible or not is also the issue to be discussed. And the characteristic methodology and particular role of public anthropology should be rethought in conclusion.

Radiation and responsibility: what is the right thing for an anthropologist to do in Fukushima?

Author: Tom Gill (Meiji Gakuin University)  email

Short Abstract

In areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, disagreement about the science of radiation, and political issues over relocation and compensation, pose a great challenge to public anthropology even to define the public interest. Then comes the even harder question of how best to serve it.

Long Abstract

I have been making regular fieldtrips to Fukushima since April 2011, focusing on Nagadoro, a hamlet of population 250 within the agricultural village of Iitate. As I write, the entire village remains evacuated due to high levels of radiation from the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant. In this extreme situation, any kind of research that generates data is of obvious public interest and may influence perceptions of the disaster and, ultimately, the lives of those affected by it. Consider the question of whether it is safe to live in Iitate; or in parts of Iitate; or if it is not, then when it might become safe. An accurate scientific assessment demands an understanding of nuclear physics and biochemistry beyond most farmers and anthropologists alike. Even scientific experts do violently disagree, the debate being coloured by political confrontation between proponents and opponents of nuclear power, and by pressing material considerations of relocation and compensation. The people of Nagadoro no longer trust government assurances and will probably not return to live there even if the tremendously expensive decontamination works now underway do eventually reduce radiation to what the government calls 'safe' levels. Normally anthropologists avoid making judgments about things beyond their expertise. But how can the social meaning of post-disaster Fukushima be usefully analysed without reference to the basic science of radiation? An honest appraisal of the situation almost forces the observer to take sides - whether it is good anthropology or not.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.