Thoughts

#068

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ‘BIASED’?

Recently, I have strongly felt that many people will think that the research I do is “biased”: I am a left-wing, well-educated (almost) white girl from Europe, with a fair amount of social, cultural and economic capital. I write about a group of stigmatized people in Japan, coming from a region I did not even know before 3.11. I have a comfortable life, so it’s easy for me to go against the nuclear lobby, saying that their facilities are crap and that we should, as quickly as possible, shift for renewable energies. Yes, if electricity bills get a little more expensive, I will not suffer from it. Yes, I have enough spare time to think about what intensive agriculture does to our planet and the effects. Yes, I can take the time to think about why our societies are producing so many inequalities, spending hours the nose in books such as The Capital from Piketty. Yes, it’s easy to be critical when you have everything you need in life, when you do not need to worry about your next meal, and when you’re basically paid 3 years to write a thesis which will have no monetary value.

Since 3.11, I took a stronger stance against nuclear power. There is no accountability, no responsibility. In France, nuclear power plants are not entirely insured because they are not insurance-material. We have old facilities that, in case of an accident, could cause the contamination of a large part of the European continent (and of course, our neighbors can’t do a thing about it). There is no public debate, because it is too controversial. The companies invest tons of money in order to market their energy as green (at least since the 90s), as they surf on the “low-carbon” wave. Local communities? Well, they are profiting from those facilities, no? They accepted to have those facilities built there and they get money from it. So… Fukushima people are kinda responsible for what happened to them… right?

I read a lot about nuclear policies and nuclear facilities these days and I realize that what I read is mainly in accordance with my opinion, meaning that those papers and books are very critical of nuclear power in general. They generally incorporate concepts of governmentality and criticize market economy. In short, they fit very well with my worldview. So… does it mean that I am biased? Surely. And therefore it becomes difficult to have a calm, constructive discussion with people who tell me that “Fukushima people kinda deserve this, since they got money from TEPCO”.

I really have difficulties understanding this “rational-choice” vision of the world. “Fukushima people were poor. They accepted the nuclear power plants (F1 and F2) because they needed the money, and therefore they accepted the risks coming with those plants.” Is it this simple?

  1. When operators decide to construct a nuclear power plant, they first look for a very poor, countryside place, because it’s easier to make the population say yes if they are desperately in need of money. I am pretty sure that they minimize talks about risks.
  2. Operators are smart; when there is resistance, they know how to break it down. If you look at the French example, you see how operators started investing a lot of money into advertisement, communication, education, etc., in order to promote a proper understanding of radiations and nuclear power in general. This is also happening in Fukushima right now, with the publications of pamphlets and books, but also the construction of “information centers” and “radiation education” (by the State) explaining to ignorant, irrational citizens why radiation is great (again). That’s how EDF and the French state succeeded in marginalizing anti-nuclear activists in the late 70s, early 80s.
  3. Operators are rich (or at least they pretend to be); they know how to handle the media. Especially in the Japanese case, you see how TEPCO has invested an enormous amount of money in advertising in newspapers. The Yomiuri, Asahi, Mainichi, they all heavily rely on money coming from the energy industry. And then you expect a “fair” coverage of what is happening?

I am fascinated by inequalities in our societies. Someone told me: “I don’t understand the argument that inequalities are the reason why nuclear plants were built there. Those people accepted the plants!” You don’t see inequalities when you have a powerful actor constructing a (very dangerous) industrial facility in a poor region which lacks resources and state support? Really? Am I really so left-wing that I start seeing exploitation and power-relations everywhere? It seems so obvious to me that having nuclear power plants in very poor and peripheral regions is a sign that we use people’s misery to our own sake. You will never see a nuclear power plant in the middle of Paris or Tokyo. And even if they tried to build one of those, you would have intellectuals, manipulating their social, economic and cultural capital, standing in the way and, most certainly, winning. Because they have the power to do so. In Tohoku, one of the poorest region of Japan, with high levels of unemployment and suicide, people are on the other side of the power-relation. “Do you prefer staying out of employment, with basically very little money and no prospect for your children, or do you prefer that we build this (kinda risky) plant in your backyard in exchange of better local facilities, better schools and giving you pocket money on top of it?” Right now, in Aomori prefecture, they are building a very high-standard school near the very controversial Rokkasho facility. It’s trade: we give your children a great education and you shut up. This is NOT a fair exchange. And I don’t even know how people can think that this can be fair.

But again, I guess I must be terribly biased. Does this make my message less legitimate?

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Research, Thoughts

#067

DECONSTRUCTING ANGER

Two days after my horrible encounter at a conference concerning food education in Berlin, I decided to write a second article. I talked to one of my professors in university, who was also pretty much shocked by the discourse heard at the conference, and we agreed that part of research is to take the time to write down how we feel (hello anthropology). So, why was I so angry?

  • Positivist science:

This relates directly to my previous article. Science IS NOT unbiased. It is embedded in a social, cultural, economic and political context and it would be foolish to think differently. Let’s look at the bomb A. After the bombs were dropped on Japan, scientists started screaming, saying that science should not be used in such manners. Why? Because of moral concerns. A second example would be cloning: there are still many debates concerning the use and application of cloning, even for medical purposes. Moral concerns. If we look at the question of nuclear power in France, its development was linked to the will of De Gaulle (and cie.) to give France a form of energy resource that would allow the country to get rid of its dependence on imported fossil fuels. Politically embedded. HELLO!

Science is part of everyday life politics. It is a part of our economic, but also emotional life. It makes us wonder about future discoveries and possible applications. It brings people to wonder if in 10 years they will be able to choose the color of their children’s eyes and hair. Will we be able to make the Down syndrome disappear? Should we? Or should we let nature proceed as it has until now? Saying that science is objective is stupid. Simply.

  • Official government discourse:

The presenter told us she was not hired by the government to “calm down” the population in Fukushima prefecture. I thought: “well… how did you end up there, then?” While I was talking to my professor, I learnt that YES, she had been hired by the local government. That makes her a liar. And then she was saying how she had to convince people that she has not been sent by the government in order to make them listen to her. So… you’re a double liar? You told them you were not sent by the government? And you tell us that openly? I find it very surprising to be so shameless. She has been receiving money (as a consultant) to spread this positivist idea of science, telling residents that it is fine to live in a contaminated area, as long as you’re paying attention to a few elements.

She is basically reproducing the discourse produced by ETHOS in Belarus. ETHOS was a European program headed by an economist, Lochard. From this point, you can see that there is a choice made: they did not send a physician, nor a physicist, but an economist. He then applied complex calculations, embedded in “rational economics”, in order to see how to reach an economic efficient situation. As evacuation and managing evacuees (and paying compensations) was becoming expensive, too expensive, they called economists to try to find a way to deal with Chernobyl in more cost-effective ways. ETHOS was born. “Yes, you can live there as long as you do not eat the fruits and vegetables you grow on contaminated lands, burn the wood you collect in contaminated forests, walk near rivers which are highly contaminated, etc.” Is this “living”? I am not sure. But it is less expensive then evacuating. So let’s do it that way.

The Japanese government is implementing the same type of policy today. It does not want to pay tremendous amount of money on evacuation and wish people would stay quiet in Fukushima prefecture. Having people evacuating is also a reminder that the situation is NOT under control and that’s bad for the state and TEPCO. It is also hitting local economy hard. So why not bringing the population to think that it’s fine!?

  • Taking people for passive objects:

I think the point that infuriated me the most was the following: “Science is objective; people lack literacy and are emotional.” It was an easy way to say: “those people do not understand radioactivity, we have to teach them the right knowledge”. But this is entirely wrong. If you go onto the field, you will find NPOs gathering data (air, soil and food contamination), individuals reading books about exposure to radioactivity and walking around with Geiger counters, mothers checking food contamination tables in order to buy food in supermarkets, worrying about the relations between external and internal exposure (which is largely ignored by the official discourse). People DO know about what science is about. They have learnt and especially now, 5 years after the accident, they master the numbers and the scales. Becquerel and sievert, cesium and strontium, gamma, beta and alpha, micro and milli, etc. They give you papers filled with numbers, going from one data to another, dancing through the tables. “I had the dirt in front of our house measured, and can you believe that we still have 13 000 becquerels/kg there?” “The government measures radioactivity at 1m above the ground, but kids are shorter so you need to measure it at 10 and 50cm. Look how the contamination level changes!”

As I was meeting people in and out of Fukushima prefecture, I progressively learnt about all of this. Actually, I felt stupid the first time I went on the field, because I thought I knew about this and I realized I didn’t. They took the time to go through papers and data, to discuss the question of the threshold that has been decided by the government, to explain their views on low-level contamination exposure. They are knowledgeable. Maybe thanks to the lack of transparency from public institutions and TEPCO. And I cannot accept this truth to be step upon by a lady who certainly did not even take the time to listen to people’s worries properly.

  • Ignoring plurality:

And this is linked to the next point: ignoring plurality. She was stating vague generalities about how laypeople are not knowledgeable when it comes to science. As I said, this fact in itself is stupid. But it also does not address the existence of diversity on the field, linked to different personal stories, economic background, level of education, possibility to evacuate, etc. People who stayed in Fukushima Prefecture are diverse: some of them could not evacuate for financial reasons. Some did not evacuate because it meant putting aside their whole lives (social, professional, etc.). Some had to take care of old parents. Some could not leave their business. And so on. It means that, even if people do not express their concerns out loud and all seem to be ok with contamination, it is not the case. Some people ignore the issue, in order to avoid going insane. Some do not believe that low-level radiations are dangerous. Some people worry, silently.

This is not directly related, but I am pretty sure that there must be psychological studies done on the field. There should be, at least, because there is so much stress, distress and anxiety buried there. I read somewhere that PTSD in Fukushima (non-tsunami related) could possibly become worse than PTSD linked to the tsunami, because fear does not have a proper physical representation. Fear is provoked by an invisible enemy (radioactivity), supported by a powerful knight (the state). How do individuals protect themselves against those influential opponents? How do they reconstruct trust relationships in this kind of context?

  • Symbolic violence:

I was discussing the concept of “symbolic violence” with a colleague the other day. We were trying to put a color on this obscure notion. Well, this is, to me, an example of symbolic violence. It is invisible, sneaking in your back and telling you what to think. It is a normative discourse, contaminating minds in order to shape people’s beliefs and decision-making mechanisms. Domination wears velvet gloves, covering up individual narratives, muffling public discussions. I am personally interested in the way women are subjects to this discourse, and how they challenge it in order to protect their children. But I am sure that many men suffer from the impossibility to talk about radioactivity and their worries, a reason why I spend a lot of time discussing with men when I am on the field. All participants carry a heavy burden, untold doubts and hidden uncertainties. There is a real need to acknowledge pain, anger and hope, whatever the shape it takes, whatever the discourse it underpins.

I have a strong stance when it comes to nuclear power and contamination in post-Fukushima Japan. I do stand for the self-evacuees and concerned people. But I also hear the voices of the ones who decide to stay in Fukushima prefecture, those who make the choice (willingly or not) to live a “normal” life, without thinking about contamination and radioactivity continuously. I am sometimes speechless, trying to make sense of the discourses I hear. But I always try to open my eyes and my ears, in order to give space to all positions, all experiences, all narratives. It is an attempt, and sometimes I fail. But I wish more people, on the field, would try to adopt the same attitude.

Stop crushing personal stories under a heavy, noisy, toxic official, de-legitimizing personal trajectories. Please.

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Thoughts

#057

BACK TO FUKUSHIMA

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Yesterday evening, I arrived in Fukushima City, 9 months after my last interviews. It is strange how all the research I’ve been doing about the issue has made me feel more at ease somehow. The first time I came, I was very anxious about radioactivity and contamination levels, especially since I had met people who evacuated from the city. I remember fleeing to Tokyo on days I didn’t have interviews, trying to stay as little outdoor as possible.

I’m not saying that I’m not anxious at all this year, but I’ve seen so many contamination maps that I start understanding which part of the city should be avoided. I also have a broader knowledge of what kind of places and materials are more contaminated, where I should not walk, what I shouldn’t eat. I’m able to manage risks at a certain point and it definitely shapes and transforms my experience of “being-in-a-contaminated-area”.

I am still very critical of the way the municipality runs the decontamination process. I can’t believe they still have contaminated soil and dirt stored/buried in people’s yards. This “temporary” situation has been lasting for the last 3 to 4 years and we still don’t know when the transitional storage facility will be ready (who knows when and at what costs…). We had this very interesting discussion with my clients about “temporary” being a way of making people accept the situation as it is. The administration asks local residents to be patient and understanding while it tries to find a definitive solution. People have to accept, somehow, to store wastes on their land (or there is no decontamination), waiting for it to be removed. All is temporary. It’s a 仮・生活, a peculiar place in space and time, a place that keeps stretching its wings, invading people’s lives. I think I need to have a more constructive reflection about this issue and I’ll write again later. I really believe there is something interesting in the use of the word temporary in post-nuclear accident Japan, and especially in Fukushima prefecture…

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Listening to: Lee Hi & (AKMU) Suhyun – I’m Different Feat. (iKON) Bobby

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Thoughts

#055

SEXISM IN JAPAN

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I seriously do not know how many times I got shock at very, VERY sexist actions in Japan. As a fairly feminist French woman, I feel really annoyed, and sometimes angry, at what guys AND girls are able to say or do in here. Yesterday was an excellent example of that. I was at a friend’s place, with other friends. Then this guy (a friend of our host) comes, accompanied by a cute girl. Soon, everyone is drunk, blabla, the same old story. I was talking to a guy friend when the cute girl stands up and bends over to get something on the other side of the low table. My friend starts to stare at her butt and of course, I can’t help reprimand him: “What the hell are you doing??” The guy friend of the cute girl must have heard me and basically grabs her skirt and pull it up!! WTF?! And she had very minimal underwear, so her butt was basically fully apparent. I guess the worst part of this story is that the girl did NOT react, as if it was normal to have some guy showing your butt to the rest of the world. I felt so angry at the guy, but also at the girl. I know we were not raised in the same kind of environment (my dad is also fairly feminist and my mom is a highly educated working woman + I come from France, which is not the best place ever when it comes to sex equality, but not the worst either), but STILL!!! I just can’t look at girls being treated like that. I can’t stand them letting themselves touched in public, as if it was normal. No, girls, your bodies are YOURS, no one is entitled to touch it without your consent! Please, please, please, WAKE UP! Don’t let this “phallocratie“, as we say in French, affect you. Start walking in a different direction. Stop being afraid of “what are people going to say” and “but there are no way they will accept me this way“.

It’s time for this mentality to change. It’s time to break that rule that you need to wear a skirt to go to job interviews. It’s time to stop being a secretary because you’re a woman, instead of becoming an executive, even though you have the skills. It is time to change this idea that women have to be cute, fragile and docile. Girls, it’s time to live your lives!

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Listening to:

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Research

#035

TRAVELLING THROUGH CONTAMINATED LANDS (1)

I’m currently in Iwaki (いわき市), prefecture of Fukushima. It is one of the closest big cities to the late nuclear plant. Before arriving here, I went to Hokkaido where I met with people who actually fled this city. They barely go home, saying it’s too contaminated, especially for their children. They always wear masks when going out and forbid their children from playing outside. But when I arrived, the people around me were just living as normal citizens. Children were walking around without masks, with their parents looking pretty carefree. I was a little surprised but then I realized that if you are to live worrying about everything, you’ll either end up with depression or will have to move out. I would be very curious to read some literature about the relationship between risks and the human mind. How do human cope with risks? How do they adapt to it? And if they don’t, what happens to them.

For the past 24 something hours, I’ve been worrying about weird things. To start with, I just realized that the water I was given in restaurants is certainly contaminated, at some point. Also, the beautiful “honey lemon hot lemonade” I just ordered is definitely made with tap water: contaminated. I’ve been wearing a mask while walking outside, but contamination does exist inside buildings. Also, I cannot know for sure where the food I’m eating is coming from, may it be in Iwaki, in Tokyo or Hokkaido, especially food sold in convenient stores. Therefore, I might have ben continuously contaminated for the 2 years I spent in Japan. Who knows what will happen to me.

At least, I’m lucky I wasn’t in Japan on March 11 2011, when the explosions took place. People who were exposed to the radioactive cloud, as they call it, are the most likely to develop diseases, comprising cancers. Among the people I met, a certain number of them are already sick. It might seem light and not very important, but they develop skin diseases and are definitely less resistant then before. For example, one of the participants got a cold, which transformed into pneumonia. That might happen with older people, but people around their 50s shouldn’t be this weak.

Coming to Iwaki makes me realize a lot of things. I guess I’ll be writing many articles for the next few days, regarding the situation in here, what people are sharing and what I think about it.

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Listening to: Hyorin – 너 밖에 몰라

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Newspapers

#020

HOLDING BACK HALF THE NATION
The Economist (14.03.29)

In Japan, I generally avoid talking about my potential future career with “normal” Japanese people (純ジャパ as they say, pure Japanese) who never went abroad and had little interactions with foreigners. I also avoid talking about it with firm Christians in France, who believe that women should take care of their household.

Here, I sometimes get frustrated by people. They seem to assume that women cannot procreate and work at the same time. Even women think this way. When I was in an exchange program in Waseda, one of the top private universities of the country, I met girls who told me that they would stop working when they would get married. After spending 4 years in a private university, meaning that their parents were spending at least USD10,000 every year to get them educated. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t say that they study a lot in university, but the fact that they are in this university means that they studied a lot in high-school. They are smart kids ready to get good jobs. But still.

From a very French point of view, I have troubles understanding why they would “waist” this time and money invested in education. I understand that some women would want to spend some time with their newborn babies, but I do not get the whole “giving up on my career” thing. It might be linked to the fact that nothing is done for women to continue working. Companies are grumpy at pregnant women; day-care is a nightmare; the state is quite insensitive… In France, you easily get maternity (or paternity) leaves, the more kids you have, the less taxes you pay, day-care is not a problem, infant schools are numerous,… Some women decide to take time to raise their kids; others continue working. In Japan, it’s almost like you don’t really have a choice. People are not expecting you to continue working. They would look at you in a weird way, whispering in your back “She cares more about her own career than about her children!”

I often wonder: would changing laws in Japan be enough to make this cultural fact change? Women themselves tell you that their dream is to become a nice housewife. Sometimes, they lament themselves, saying that they don’t know how to cook or clean properly, and that they will never be good wives. It is as if they assumed that they had to do all the chores without their husbands helping. This sounds terribly wrong. Then, when you tell them that you expect your future boyfriend/husband to cook, clean and take care of potential kids, they raise an eyebrow: “Really?” Yes, really. I am not going to take over all the chores; I am no super hero. But if women themselves tell themselves that their role is to be a good housewife (I wonder what it really means…), then it might be difficult to make the whole model change. Also, when you read “Promotion tends to be based on tenure and overtime, rather than on productivity and performance”, you get a glimpse of how wrong the whole system is.

Also, it is really interesting to see that women in Japan do not care about their own social status but are much more worried about their husbands’ status.

“Mariko Bando, author of “The Dignity of a Woman”, a bestselling guide for women on how to succeed in the workplace, points out that many Japanese women do not feel they need a high-status job to enjoy high status. A well-educated woman working part-time in a supermarket will not see that job as defining her identity if she is the wife of, say, a high-ranking Mitsubishi Corporation executive.”

This is such a weird concept to me. My husband has his life, I have mine; this is how I would picture it. It would drive me crazy if someone was to call me a “lawyer’s wife” or a “doctor’s wife”. And as a husband, I would like my wife to go for her dreams more than take care of me… But then, if her dream is to take care of me… Erf.

The Japanese society is changing, slowly but surely. Where I live, we can see fathers playing with their kids on Wednesday evenings, walking around holding babies during the weekend. The idea that the only way to take care of your family is to work hard and do crazy working hours, is challenged. Some women are becoming more aggressive, saying that they want to continue working while having a family. The internationalization of Japan will also pressure further the old model, showing that in some countries, women are able to take care of their work and their homes.

For the moment, I really think that I would prefer working for a French company based in Japan. My current workplace is nice, women are strong and ambitious, the atmosphere is somewhat international, but it’s still impossible for foreigners to get a normal full-time job. Ah, life’s so hard! I WANT TO BE A BOY!

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Listening to: Jonghyun – Mono Drama

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