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Closing Reflections-Question 1

What are the different methods and venues for making this an interventionist project? What are the different approaches for making our work relevant to the affected communities and those who may benefit from our work in the future?

  1. Daniel Aldrich permalink

    Many Japanese researchers are currently volunteering their services in disaster affected communities within the Tohoku region. I’m involved in the iBasho product in Ofunato, for example, where local residents have worked together to create a physical space for strengthening social capital and increasing trust and community involvement. Many of us have research skills which can benefit these increasingly depopulated and aging communities and should think about partnering with them on projects that can make them more vibrant and resilient.

  2. Publications are one approach (question 3), but it is worth considering the design of classes and workshops designed to alert public policy specialists, relief and rescue workers, etc. to the broader framework in which specific decisions regarding disaster preparation and amelioration/response take place.

  3. Nicolas Sternsdorff permalink

    I think Phil Brown raised the role of teaching during one of our discussions, and I’d like to second that opinion. Though it may not seem like a direct response, there’s power in training students who may go on to work in disaster management with the tools and analytical concepts of STS.

    Along similar lines, I often found during my fieldwork that I was asked for my opinion and assessment of the situation. I would often reply that I’m not a scientist, so I couldn’t speak to questions of the gravity of radiation pollution in Japan, but there was still interest in hearing how I was understanding/framing the disaster in my analysis. Some of my informants were themselves trying to grapple with what was unraveling around them, and the concepts social scientists bring to the table could be helpful in making better sense of the situation. On this point, I think it’s important for researchers working in the aftermath of a disaster to be generous with their opinions and analysis, and to make themselves available for public lectures, fora, editorials and other such opportunities.

    In one of our final discussions, we talked about where “fukushima” is, and who in the case might count as an affected community. There’s no doubt that those displaces by the exclusion zone around the nuclear plant have been affected, but an accident like fukushima had global reverberations, so I think it’s important to keep a flexible concept of who the affected are.

  4. Yasuhito Abe permalink

    I think multilingual publication should be necessary in order to make our workshop relevant to “the affected community” and those who may benefit from our work in the future. Translation could help make our work a more interventionist project.

  5. I can only respond to this question partially, given the partiality of my field of inquiry and its (main) research method.

    IMHO, suitable answers to the question of engagement should be grounded in the experience of the researcher with the affected group. The experience of active engagement creates the basis for understanding local priorities and urgencies, effective participation from academic standpoints, and collaboration on pressing issues of reconstruction.

    I would suggest a collaborative instead of an inteventionist approach. That is, an approach that is attentive to the way problems are posed and solutions are deployed by the community members themselves, instead of created from outside expert actors. Exemples of this kind of engagement can be found in the work of Tyson (discussed during the workshop) and the work of Kim (with Bhopal activists). Privileging the local does not necessarily entails denying its articulations with institutional policies and practices of a wider scope.

    We occupy a privileged position (which is – at once – well embedded in the local life, and yet, free to engagement in fora of scholarly debate which are detached from the pressures of the daily struggle of the affected communities). This position should be used wisely and strategically for the affected communities. They should know they can count on us to amplify their voices and engage in the practical aspects of the reconstruction. Our position is also useful to bridge and help bridge institutional and local responses to the disaster.

    (p.s. my response is rather abstract: but it is meant as a general take on the possibilities each one of us has encountered in Japan, given the circumstances of our research work).

  6. I think the comment and view for post-disaster recovery planning from foreign country could make some contribution for affected communities, including neighborhood association and non-profit groups formed by neighbors,to reconsider their way of thinking and approach for community-based recovery planning. It would be useful not only for affected communities but also for our collaborative research project to understand each members’ point of view and approach for disaster which is significant to continue our research work. I’ve been trying to empower local high school students to be a player for community-based recovery planning, and youth might be possible counterpart.

  7. Aya Okada permalink

    I think the best way for us researchers to influence the affected communities is to provide knowledge, perspectives, and information not only to affected people, but also to policymakers and practitioners who are already working with them for better decision-making and for better response. I would encourage more dialogues and discussions among these stakeholders through the form of workshops and symposiums.

  8. Norio permalink

    How about organizing a meeting in Fukushima involving ordinary people. Small group discussion involving researchers could be good way to verifiy our research results.

  9. Rethy Chhem permalink

    Knowledge must serve a purpose. If scholars wish to make an impact on disasters management, they should engage and inform high level policy-makers.

    Indeed engagement all other stakeholders is equally important.

  10. Jen Schneider permalink

    From my very limited perspective, I would echo the importance of 1) continuing to teach about Fukushima, using a multiplicity of experiences but highlighting voices of those affected and 2) engaging nuclear scientists and engineers in such education and conversations. Unlike many of my colleagues at the workshop, I don’t work in Japan, but I was inspired by the workshop to research and integrate more of the resources available at websites such as Teach 3.11. My own commitments are also to continue to engage and analyze, whenever possible, the technocratic regimes that sustain, regulate, defend, and question nuclear power. I’m wondering if there is a way to combine these two efforts, such that citizen narratives of the disaster could be used to more effective educate/sensitize future nuclear professionals.

  11. I would view the idea of “affected communities” broadly: not only those in Japan who have suffered directly from the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, but also people everywhere who might be affected by future events. In the case of Japan, our group already has some scholars who are closely engaged with the situation there; we should support the work of those scholars and seek to expand their ranks. This can’t be a matter of scholars from outside “helicoptering in” for a research opportunity; it must be done with genuine commitment and a recognition of the complexity of the issues at stake.
    More broadly, publishing our work in a wide range of sources can be helpful–not only the usual academic journals, but also venues for popular and policy-related audiences. Our home institutions should be encouraged to recognize the value of such publication efforts.

  12. Laura Beltz Imaoka permalink

    My response echoes others: the importance of teaching, with online resources such as Teach 3.11 being invaluable, as well as having our research help extend the voices of those affected even if it seems as times to a limited audience. I also strongly second BIll’s suggestion of publishing in a wider range of sources in order to reach further into the public domain.

  13. Following on Nic and Bill, I suggest:

    1) Though journalists are sometimes time consuming and of little reward for our scholar credits, I think social scientists have some “social responbility”. Not just by providing ready data or analysis (and I’m not talking of these ready-to-serve-comments), but to encourage them to investigate tricky questions. As I’m not based myself in Japan, if they are in Japan and if they look serious, I share my contacts with them.

    2) Please consider sending proposition of articles on your current research or hot topic to Japan Focus – The Asia Pacific Journal encourage you to consider submitting an article to Japan Focus – Asia Pacific Journal:
    Can be long or short articles (see also the “What’s hot?” section). As it is one of the most frequently checked webpage around the world on contemporary Japan and it has already accumulated a huge number of articles on 3.11, it can be a good way to publicize your work. As some articles are sometimes translated in Japanese, it can be also a way to provide precious information to affected communities.

  14. Ryuma Shineha permalink

    As already commented above, I also think there are three points: publication, teaching, and communication.

    Off course, multilingual publication and teaching for student of various stage is essential task.
    In addition, we have to have communications with other fields researcher, high-school teacher, administrator, decision maker, media, and citizens.

  15. Monamie Bhadra permalink

    I agree with the emphasis on collaboration than intervention, and the need for teaching, and cconstruing affected communities broadly. But also, I was thinking that Disaster studies, or rather disaster management as it already exists, seems to be a fairly well-defined and insulated community. What would it take two make inroads into this existing discipline, and how could we make our case compelling enough for them to see the value and necessity of Disaster STS? I think this could serve as a foray into a more interventionist orientation.

  16. Reiko Hasegawa permalink

    If we want our work to be more interventionist, it would be worth while to hold these workshops in Fukushima or in Tohoku, inviting not only the local residents and evacuees but also municipal officers and civil organisations. In this way, we can share the results of our research with the local stakeholders and have a real dialogue in order to contribute to their reconstruction effort or to a policy tuning.

    But by taking into account the current situation in Fukushima where residents and evacuees are divided by different opinions regarding their risk related to radiation exposure and their return, it would be more constructive to hold such workshops in a more neutral setting: for example, in Hokkaido or in Kyushu.

    In order for our research to be more relevant to the affected population, it is quite essential that our work to be translated in Japanese so that it reaches to a broader audience in Tohoku.

  17. Scott Knowles permalink

    In addition to the ideas above I would argue that we should be aware of media hunger for informed comment. As individual scholars it is key that we be prepared to speak about the complexity of these issues in ways that can be translated to more popular audiences. This is one way we can influence a broader conversation of issues that policy makers or technical experts might avoid. A web platform like Teach 3.11 is an ideal venue for this type of activity–blogging often seems to be action in obscurity, but then an event happens and the media all of the sudden “discovers” a vital conversation underway–such scholars are often called upon to comment. This is a powerful form of intervention.

    Willingness to serve on interdisciplinary government panels/conferences is another form of intervention that allows issues from social science research to infiltrate policy discussions.

  18. Charlotte permalink

    Talking about influencing public policies, being part of the UNISDR efforts to define what will follow their Hyogo Framework for Action might provide us with an interesting platform of discussion/cases/respondents. UNISDR is has been launching a consultation process (already started) which will lead to the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in 2015. A guidance note which explains their timeframe and objectives, together with a list of contacts in different UN agencies part of the process, will give you more information. It states that: “Ensuring the participation of academia and other non‐conventional actors in DRR (media, private sector, faith‐based groups) is important to link with scientific evidence and bring different perspectives to the discussion” (p2).

    About the consultation process

    Guidance note

  19. There are lots of great ideas above, all of which I support. Also, I applaud Atsushi for taking the important first step of simply asking the question, especially given that STS has historically had a somewhat rocky relationship with “action” and “intervention.”

    Regarding the sharing and discussion of our research with “affected communities,” two things have struck me in my interactions with people in Tohoku. First, as Nicolas suggests, they are quite keen to hear my perspective as an academic researcher at a prestigious American institution. Second, they also often express strong feelings about what is important; I have more than once been told, “I want you to write this down and put it in your dissertation….” Even though I have been somewhat uncomfortable about the possibility that I could be perceived as exploiting the locals for my own research purposes, in fact, most of my informants seem to feel that my work is important. Indeed, they see it as a vehicle for communicating the lessons of their experience to posterity and to people around the world, thereby giving meaning to their struggles. Thus, from their perspective, even the conventional work of academia is actually important, and we should not discount it. I mention this mainly because I found this notion somewhat astonishing, but it does highlight the practical relevance and the moral freight that our work carries.

    To the most recent point made by Charlotte, I have been working with the International Recovery Platform (IRP) in Kobe for over a year, which is a secretariat of UNISDR, UNDP, UN OCHA, the WHO, the World Bank, the Asia Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC), the Disaster Reduction & Human Renovation Institute (DRI), Hyogo Prefecture, and the Cabinet Office of Japan. In conjunction with these IGO’s and agencies, we have been working on the successor to the HFA, including holding preliminary discussions with the ministries of governments from around the world. As it has with previous frameworks hammered out in Yokohama and Kobe (Hyogo), the government of Japan has offered to host the final ministerial discussions to be held in 2015, at which the HFA successor will be completed. Most likely, this will be in Sendai, the “de facto” capital city of Tohoku. I do think that this process represents an opportunity to engage with policymakers and to influence policy, as well as, more broadly, to set expectations for the responsibilities of governance with respect to disasters.

    A couple of quick points about this. First, I don’t know about the current administration, but my sources told me that the previous administration of the government of Japan expressly forbade the explicit mention of Fukushima in the next document. Whether it is called out by name or not, I think it is important for the document to recognize the particular dangers of complex and compound disasters involving “acts of nature” such as tsunami as well as risky technologies and industrial installations, and the porous and somewhat arbitrary boundaries between them. This is an opportunity for us to ensure that such a recognition is included, whether it is politically convenient or not.

    Second, my interactions with government and IGO officials have shown them to be extremely keen on learning how to improve policies, including making them more just and equitable as well as more effective. Research “findings” and “lessons learned” do take their time to propagate through bureaucratic channels before they are expressed — in simplified form — in policies and official documents, but we should not let that discourage us from engaging in such processes.

  20. Karena Kalmbach permalink

    I think that the open access website Fokushima Forum and the according mailing list are very useful tools to get people involved in the various scholarly works undertaken in this field. This allows a broader audience to participate in the discussion without having to attend workshops and conferences in person. In this regard, it would be good to have more interactive elements on the website, like the possibility to form sub-discussion groups on a specific topic etc. Lisa’s presentation on ‘Teach 3.11’ was a very good example how such a forum could look like. But still, it would be good to have such forum not only for 3.11 but for the broader field of (comparative) disaster research. As mentioned in the final workshop discussion, such a website could also provide journalists with a kind of database of specialists in this field. Thus, this could be a way for social science disaster scholars to intervene more in public discussion and make their voices heard outside the circle of academic scholars. It would be good if such a website would be hosted and maintained by a prominent academic institution in order to guarantee high listings in search engines. Perhaps the Berkeley CSTMS could be the right place?

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