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Dividing Worlds: Tsunamis, Seawalls, and Ontological Politics in Northeast Japan

In 2011, a tsunami devastated Japan’s Northeast coastline following a magnitude 9.1 earthquake. In its aftermath, disaster scientists, civil engineers, and central government officials advocated protecting people and property from future oceanic incursions by armoring the coast with giant seawalls. Many survivors challenged this recommendation, arguing for other ways of ensuring safety and organizing human-nonhuman relations across the land-water interface. This article analyzes such resistance as acts of what I call ‘ontological dissensus’: the lodging of alternative ways of attuning to, conceptualizing capacities of, and arranging relations between beings in one’s environment into dominant ones. I argue that such a theory helps us not only to understand anti-seawall activism in post-tsunami Japan, but also to consider how, and when, ontological difference becomes active in political controversies.

Andrew Littlejohn
01 March 2020
Dividing Worlds
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