Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Pablo Figueroa. Pablo is an assistant professor in the Center for International Education at Waseda University in Tokyo. In this position, he teaches courses on globalization, leadership, and disasters. His anthropological research is centered on risk communication, citizen participation, and cultural representations of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. His most recent publications are two book chapters, Subversion and Nostalgia in Art Photography of the Fukushima Disaster and Nuclear Risk Governance and the Fukushima Triple Disasters: Lessons Unlearned, both forthcoming in 2016.
Inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone: Place and Memory after Disaster
by Pablo Figueroa
FROM BEHIND THE WINDSHIELD of the moving car the landscape looks exuberant, unpolluted. Warm morning sunlight bathes the forest to the side of Tomioka highway, a 69 km stretch of pavement also known as National Road 114 that connects Fukushima with the town of Namie. It’s a Sunday morning and few people can be seen. The feeling of emptiness is vast and real. From time to time, large plastic bags appear along the road, neatly stacked one on top of the other. The orderly layout obliterates a much more messy reality: The bags contain highly radioactive soil that was removed from villages and fields during the so-called “cleanup efforts” following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Their final destination undecided, the ominous recipients are a painful reminder of what happens when trying to decontaminate the environment after a nuclear catastrophe. You can scrape topsoil and wash the surface with pressure hoses as much as you like but Cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years, will keep coming down from hills along with other radioactive isotopes, carried by rain and wind, dispersing in manifold and uncontrollable ways. Continue reading →
[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this guest essay by Galen Murton. Galen is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His research examines of questions of identity, development, and material culture in the Himalayan borderlands of Nepal and Tibet. He is currently in Nepal conducting research on roads, borders, and trade in Mustang district.]
It is for the living paradox of Nepal that so many of us love this country. The sacred spaces of Kathmandu in the profanity of an overwhelmed, polluted city. The beautiful smiles and namastes of a village within communities for which the government could hardly give a damn.
Yesterday the children of Pokhara returned to school while mass burials and cremations continued in Gorkha, Lamjung, Nuwakot, and elsewhere. This return to normalcy in Nepal’s most scenic city is essential, and yet nothing is in fact normal. Tourists are in short supply and yet the shopowners of Lakeside sit in vacant showrooms, eagerly awaiting their return. Everyday conversations tend towards the mundane again – the price of petrol, the pre-monsoon weather – and yet the specter of disaster looms everywhere – where were you when IT happened?; are you and your family and your home alright?; what about the village?; did you lose anyone? Everywhere there is a big elephant in the room, or better yet, a makara in the shadows. Continue reading →
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Elizabeth Angell.
Yesterday an Italian appeals court reversed the convictions of all but one of seven scientists and experts charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to provide adequate warning before the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake. (The conviction of Bernardo De Bernardinis, former deputy head of Italy’s Civil Protection Department, was partially upheld, but his sentence was reduced to two years instead of six.1) As an anthropologist studying disaster and risk, I’m doubly interested in the L’Aquila story, both as an example of the search for accountability in the aftermath of disaster, and for what it tells us about the ways knowledge, particularly knowledge about risk, circulates between expert communities of scientists and officials and broader publics.
Eleven weeks have passed since the earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan. Although bodies are still being found amidst the wreckage, the rest of the world has long since moved on. The media waves of shock, horror, heroism, heartbreak, and heart-warm continue to push and pull us through a relentless series of events: from Libya to Tuscaloosa, Kate and William to Bin Laden, Donald Trump to Strauss-Kahn.
The affective loop is dizzying as it moves us between distant places and local homes, political upheavals and natural disasters, raging storms and individual stories, the serious and the absurd. Unable to catch my breath between blows or steady myself according to some sense of scale, I feel like so much has happened since the tsunami struck. And yet, I don’t know what to make of any of it. Are we just bracing ourselves for the next thing?
In an April article entitled “The Half-life of Disaster” Brian Massumi discusses how this media cycle leads us into a perpetual state of foreboding that brings together natural, economic and political threat perception in a configuration that fuels what Naomi Klein termed “disaster capitalism”. The horror is never resolved or replaced; rather, it is archived, infinitely accessible over the Internet. Cast into the web of other events, the unendurable tragedy of a particular event dissipates, or as Massumi says, “it decays”. In today’s catastrophic mediashpere, observes Massumi, the half-life of disaster is at most two weeks. Continue reading →