Post-disaster citizenship : the politics of race, belonging, and activism after Fukushima
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This dissertation analyzes race, citizenship, and social movements after March 11, 2011 (3/11), when Japan suffered a triple disaster of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, tsunami, and reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This project builds upon on a growing body of literature that documents the significance of 3/11 as a watershed event that significantly popularized protest in Japan. I focus on a subset of this political wave—a nationwide counter movement against racist hate speech, a social phenomenon in which ultranationalist Japanese networks continually target Zainichi Koreans, foreigners, and other racial/ethnic minorities. Data for this project was collected using ethnographic methods over a total of thirty-six months in Tokyo and Osaka between 2014 and 2018 and includes participant observation, in-depth interviews (n=60), and analysis of social media, news media, and other cultural artifacts, such as documentaries. This project is organized around two research questions. First, why do disasters trigger broader social and political contestations about race, social inequality, human rights, and inclusion? Second, in what ways do “post-disaster” politics reiterate, supplement, or disrupt existing modalities of discrimination and exclusion? I answer these questions through the concept of post-disaster citizenship, which describes how people make use of disasters to reconstruct meanings around social membership and citizenship, in this case, Zainichi Koreans and foreigners. I find that a segment of activists viewed their transition into anti-racist social movements as a natural outgrowth of their political “awakenings” after 3/11. In the absence of adequate responses from the state, these Japanese activists feel an urgent sense of responsibility to advocate for legal protections for vulnerable and/or marginalized people and to construct alternative sites of social inclusion. In attempting to reimagine the politics of obligation and protection, however, these activist communities can also inadvertently reproduce gender-based inequalities. This dissertation also documents the negotiations that arise when post-3/11 activists collaborate with local Zainichi Korean-led community networks. By examining these cases, I show the complexities of activists’ attempts to construct a shared vision of political recuperation amidst longstanding asymmetries of vulnerability and injury.