Regimes of Disaster Truth in the Aftermath of 3.11

Title: 1308 | Regimes of Disaster Truth in the Aftermath of 3.11
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Sociology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Natalia Novikova, Tamagawa University, Japan (organizer, presenter, chair)
Pablo Figueroa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan (discussant)
Julia Gerster, Tohoku University, Japan (presenter)
Yegane Ghezelloo, Kobe University, Japan (presenter)
Nanako Shimizu, Utsunomiya University, Japan (presenter)
Manuela Gertrud Hartwig, University of Tsukuba, Japan (presenter)


Disasters always cause panic, involve casualties and take a heavy toll on the lives of affected communities. However, some regions and groups of people are being affected by disasters more severely than others. This panel brings together original papers that explore the link between disaster and justice. By discussing whose narratives gain media attention and official recognition in times of disaster and whose witnessing authorities are dismissed, the contributors are trying to understand what forces influence the regimes of disaster truth and how they create, reinforce, and potentially undermine disaster inequities. Drawing on the case of March 11, 2011, triple disasters—earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown - panelists address various ways of understanding class-, gender-, and rurality-based inequities in the disaster recovery process and offer strategic insights on how we can contribute to or help dismantle disaster inequalities.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the Tohoku region, Julia Gerster and Yegane Ghezelloo analyze disaster recovery process by conceptualizing various factors and dialogic spaces that are utilized by or available to communities to assert their different subjectivities of affectedness. By elaborating on the frames of environmental justice, Nanako Shimizu and Natalia Novikova discuss how citizens from the Kanto region have been negotiating their rights to question official narratives of affectedness. Finally, Manuela Hartwig deliberates on the relationship between scientists and policymakers in the 3.11 controversy, thus offering a better understanding of how the possibilities for environmental justice are structured and constrained in information networks.

Panel Abstracts:
Epistemic Barriers to Environmental Justice
This paper lies at the intersection of social science research on environmental justice issues and science and technology studies (STS) analyzing how citizens alarmed by the consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in March 2011, found their own ways to live with uncertainties of radiation exposure. More specifically, it discusses the epistemic approach (Fricker, 2007) to justice and its implications for environmental justice claim-making. By analyzing the work of the fund organized by parents, primarily mothers, to provide annual thyroid cancer screening for children from the Kanto region this paper brings into discussion the effects of gender and identity in the environmental justice discourse. Through the analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews with Kanto region activists and health experts as well as participant observation of the fund`s activities, this paper demonstrates that health checks can reestablish the capabilities of affected citizens to stay healthy and informed about their health condition and can become another mode of contestation.

Varieties of Justice and Hierarchies of Affectedness
Although “disaster utopias” and social cohesion are important features after disasters, it has been pointed out that such times of perceived equality do not last long. The 3.11 disasters, for instance, created a variety of affectedness that resulted in unequal access to support measures and distributions of goods. While it is understandable that people from less affected areas are not eligible to the same support people who lost their properties in the tsunami might receive, the 3.11 disasters made clear that divisions between “victims” and “unaffected” are artificial and in many cases do not represent the actual level of affectedness. Drawing on examples of “official evacuees” from Fukushima Prefecture, so-called “self-evacuees” (jishu hinansha), and “in-home victims” (zaitaku hisaisha), I want to discuss the grey zones of victimhood and the challenges regarding access to information and support that are connected to them. Further, not everybody affected by the 3.11 disaster felt represented adequately by their “label” of victimhood. Whereas some people do not want to be “victimized,” others feel deprived of their right to be a victim. Lastly, I argue that understanding the invisible hierarchies of affectedness is key for the introduction of more flexible support systems

Role of justice in the recovery of gathering spaces
After 3.11, Japanese national and local governments made different decisions to recover affected environments rapidly. Also, many people had struggled with changes in living conditions, such as emergency shelter life, moving to temporary housing, adaptation to newly constructed areas, and uneasiness in the recovery of community. Hence, the national government suggested affected local governments to observe reconstruction of gathering spaces for speeding up recovery of livelihood and social capital, but there were not any leading principles for recovery of gathering spaces and every area had different approaches. Community centers (Kominkan) are significant gathering spaces for Japanese society and play an important role within communities since early 1940. Following the 3.11 disasters, recovered community centers were built based on different approaches and participation of people and stakeholders. While some community centers became very successful, accessible, active in community, responsive to people's needs, and helped betterment of the social capital, some others have limited activities within the community and are not truly supporting the recovery of community as it was advised in the major recovery plans. This study will review selected recovered community centers from Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures and discuss the role of justice (injustice) in their recovery process. Case studies will be compared based on social and spatial factors such as community characteristics, frequency and diversity of activities, spatial design, ownership, and mental and financial support to find out what aspects are necessary to achieve justice in community recovery by the assistance of gathering spaces.

The Lack of Environmental Justice Beyond Regional Borders: Damages of TEPCO Nuclear Disaster in the Surrounding Areas of Fukushima
The serious radioactive contamination caused by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Nuclear Disaster spread across eastern Japan, beyond regional borders. However, both TEPCO and the Japanese Government has been reluctant to recognize the damages in the areas surrounding Fukushima Prefecture. Moreover, the lack of countermeasures in these areas aggravated the problems caused by the contamination. The author has conducted several questionnaire surveys from 2012 to 2019 targeting parents with children in Tochigi Prefecture, one of the contaminated areas next to Fukushima Prefecture, and found that more than 80 percent of the parents felt anxious about the effects of radiation to the health of their children. Some of the residents in these under-recognized contaminated areas have organized grass-roots associations demanding information disclosure, decontamination and health survey in order to protect their children from radiation. In spite of the insecurity felt by the residents and multiple civic movements, access to information is still limited and neither decontamination nor health survey are realized as they are in Fukushima Prefecture. This paper tries to analyze the obstacles in the way of realizing environmental justice in the under-recognized contaminated areas by using the results of interviews and questionnaire surveys. It will be shown that major obstacles are not only the lack of official recognition and support to these areas, but also gender-based discrimination and peer group pressure, which could be observed in Japanese society even before the 3.11 triple disaster.

Information (In)Justice in Knowledge Networks After 3.11
The sluggish information-sharing behavior to government officials and the exclusion of independent external scientists from damage assessments by TEPCO after the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima prompted re-evaluation of the integration of science advisers in political decisionmaking.Even though scientists are generally appointed to ministerial advisory committees this does not mean that the advice is either independent or neutral. It was further argued that science advice to governments was not a major theme before Fukushima or even that Japan lacked a “strong and independent voice to advise the government” (Nature Editorial, December 15, 2011, Vol. 480, p. 291).This paper investigated this statement asking how science is integrated in policymaking, whether science advice is in fact excluded from policymaking, and if so, why that is.To answer these questions, the paper focused on environmental policy actor networks for two reasons: Fukushima boosted the global discourse on renewable energy promotion and climate change, and more than other issue areas the climate change argument is a scientific argument. Furthermore, it was argued that environmental policymaking in most industrialized countries failed to create effective climate mitigation policies because the scientific voice was widely ignored.As a result an institutional distance between the science community and policymaking community left the scientific voice in Japanese policymaking unheard as selective information was not shared openly. Furthermore, a tightening regulatory straitjacket hindered the advisory function of government science advisers, and vertical boundaries in government advisory procedures were difficult to overcome

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