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.

Standard
Research, Thoughts

#062

STAYING CALM, WHATEVER WHAT HAPPENS

*

Recently, I met one of my friends and colleges, who works with me on a research project. We were supposed to have lunch together and ended up with the members of the seminar she attended in the morning. I got to meet one of the researchers working on a very interesting projects conducted in Paris, looking at the trust crisis in Fukushima. We did not get to speak much about that project, as I was basically bombing my friends with comments and questions concerning the fieldwork I had just done, but we slightly talked about it after lunch.

The researcher then said something that strongly struck me. “I don’t understand why people evacuated from Tokyo. I mean, now, they have no reason to continue living like evacuees anymore. The radiation levels are totally fine, they’re lower than in Paris!” And then I realized that all people do not share my viewpoint on the issue. Well, of course, Tokyo was far less contaminated than places like Fukushima city or even Iwaki. The levels are low, 5 years after the accident, and people there live in total ignorance of the contamination they were facing in 2011. But some people still think that the levels being higher than before 2011, they should stay away from it. If you have very young children and the economic/social means to stay away, why would you come back?

I realized that as my friend and I have been doing interviews for the past 2 to 3 years, we are pretty aware of what can be found on the field. We’re still far from having a correct overview, but I do believe we have interesting data and correct intuitions about a few topics. But that researcher had less idea of what could be found on the field and as she is mainly dealing with people from the evacuation zone (compared to us, working with self-evacuees), she has very different ways of seeing the same data. For her, Tokyo is a safe place. That’s all. As if there was no room for discussion. But is that ok, when you haven’t been on the field yet?

I think the main lesson those 2 fieldworks taught me is simple: keep an open mind. You never know what you will find once you’re in front of your interviewees. And you should not judge them for having a different opinion than you, even if sometimes they say shocking things. Because this is simply a proof that humanity is diverse and that your research is rich.

***

Listening to: BOBBY – 꽐라(HOLUP!)

Standard
Newspapers, Thoughts

#059

DANS LA “GUERRE CONTRE LE CRIME” DES PHILIPPINES
(AFP, 5 August 2016)

Cette supplique nous fait à tous l’effet d’un coup de poing dans l’estomac. Certains obtempèrent, s’arrêtent de photographier. Nous sommes nombreux à nous demander tout à coup pourquoi nous sommes là, pourquoi nous faisons ça. Nous nous sentons comme des vautours. Aucun d’entre nous ne sera capable de dîner plus tard ce soir-là. Dans la voiture qui nous ramène en ville, pour une fois, personne ne parle. Nous nous sentons tous coupables, nous nous en voulons d’avoir été incapables d’aider cette femme et son conjoint. Quelques jours plus tard, j’apprends qu’un photographes d’un journal local qui a assisté à la scène avec moi a décidé d’arrêter définitivement de couvrir les affaires criminelles la nuit.

I just read this article and realized it’s basically the same for me: am I doing the right thing by asking people to remember one of the most painful moments in their lives, in order to use it as data and have it published? I feel like a crow, a vulture looking for a small, trembling prey in the middle of Japan. My goal is to have evacuees’ stories delivered to as many people as possible, but in order to achieve that, I have to dig into their lives, take out the pain and the anger, feeding my research with human emotions.

Sometimes, in the middle of an interview, I would wonder: why am I doing this? When I feel my interviewee pause, emotions coming out on her or his face, I can’t help asking myself if it is okay for me to make them think about their difficult and complicated last 5 years. I know it is necessary, from a scientific point of view, and from a more social point of view, but they are somehow sacrificed on the way. Where does duty stop, when does morality fight back?

***

Listening to: Sade – Kingdom of Sorrow

Standard
Newspapers, Thoughts

#053

Journalism and sources.

This morning, I was reading a newspaper article about the Sendai nuclear plant, near Kagoshima. It was written by a French scholar who specializes in issues related to housing in general, and post-catastrophe housing in particular. It basically underlined the fact that Japan is facing important seismic activity (meaning volcanic activity, too) and that nuclear plants are more than ever dangerous. Then, she wrote “Japanese people express their concern about…” and I thought: “who are those Japanese people?” Maybe it starts to become a sort of weird hobby, looking at who says what in a certain context. Déformation professionnelle, as we say.

But I am very curious about this: do journalists have to cite their sources? I know that they also have the duty to protect their sources, but in this case, isn’t it a little dangerous? If you say that your source told you something and you cannot disclose who that is, then people have to believe what you say, without any proof. And sometimes you definitely see low quality articles being released and you wonder how that can still be called journalism. Sometimes, the fact that they do not have to cite their sources becomes frustrating, because you would need those sources. At least, when you read an academic piece, you’re sure that you should be able to trace back the sources. If you can’t, then you can be sure that the researchers could get into trouble. And it is certainly for the best.

“Japanese people”, “people say”, “we hear that”, etc. as we read newspapers on a daily basis, we are soaked in this kind of expressions and phrases. But we should actually try to avoid them. I remember being very disappointed at a seminar, when a professor (migration studies) started saying random things about how Japanese people are, to him, without bringing any academic proof of what he was saying. We could not help looking at each other, with Japanese researchers present that day, wondering how a 50 year-old researcher could babble about things he didn’t know well as if they were obvious, even though they are not. This just reminds me that I ought to be very careful, at all time, while writing articles and papers. Sources, sources, sources!

***

Listening to: Akdong Musician – RE-BYE

Standard