Ecologizing Protection in Post-Tsunami Japan
- Monday 1 February 2021
This talk explores how new safety infrastructures can undermine the very objects—social worlds—that they claim to protect. It draws on 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork in northeastern Japan, where safety became a social and political issue following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. After the disaster, the government proposed transforming the coastline into what tsunami scientists called a "total system" of protection. The system would incorporate both "hard" elements separating people from the sea, such as seawalls and dikes, and "soft" legal, institutional, and cultural measures aimed at shaping their behavior. The state argued that this would make survivors safer. However, many of them resisted the system because it would divide local worlds emerging from emplaced histories of perceiving, conceiving, and relating human and nonhuman beings. Through analyzing not only survivors' resistance but also the alternatives that they proposed, I ask how we might instead "ecologize protection." This means working with rather than against entanglements, assuming neither mastery over more-than-human worlds nor complete knowledge of all their actual and possible relations.
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