Surviving senses: life-forms in a contaminated world after the Fukushima nuclear disaster
This thesis explores efforts to rebuild a sense of everyday life in the ruins of the 2011 ‘triple disaster’ in Japan—a disaster which included an earthquake, a tsunami, and the subsequent meltdown of the nuclear powerplant in Fukushima. Based on thirteen months of fieldwork in the Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures in eastern Japan, the thesis asks how the triple disaster involves not only material damage and casualties but also a crisis of experience concerning possibilities of sensing the world. As my ethnography illustrates, the characteristics of radiation, which are imperceptible and porous, propel the returnees’ lives into one of constant struggle. By participating in everyday life in such a hostile environment where the possibility of ‘genuine experience’ regarding what is safe and dangerous, visible and invisible, real and unreal, is extremely limited, the thesis asks how the triple disaster has become a threshold in which different senses of time and space have emerged and paradoxically open up the possibility for attunement to a world and life otherwise. In so doing, the thesis engages with a flash moment—lighting up a real crisis which is the reminder that “the state of emergency is not the exception but the rule” (Benjamin 2019 ) that breaks up homogeneous and empty time and space. If catastrophe is not a forthcoming event but rather a past that is already ‘behind’ us, what could be the mode of being and living in a world after the end? When disaster breaks down the continuous flows leading forward into what we might call a structure, a society, and, perhaps, reality, what might the fragments and failures from the past tell us? A close focus of the thesis on life in the remnants and ruins of the past disaster shows how life-forms in a contaminated world, which may seem to be irrelevant at first glance, actually constitute the constellation of crisis—a constellation that reveals how the triple disaster ‘actualises’ a real crisis which provides the source and sustenance for new ways of sensing the imperceptible and thus constructing deeper change in the ‘real’ world.