October 17, 2014/ 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM

UCLA Bunche Hall Room 6275

Bad Water

Pollution and politics in Japan from Ashio to Fukushima

Book Presentation by Robert Stolz, University of Virginia

The ongoing tragedy at Fukushima has justly led to an explosion of research. And it is good that academics in the humanities and social sciences have turned their attention to physics, physiology, and ecology, for one of the dangers is to purely technologize the problem. For what “toxic events” like Fukushima show us is the mutual penetrations of the natural and the social— often to a point of being unable to decide what is natural and what is social. But we should beware to overstate the unprecedented nature of Fukushima, in either scale or intensity. In fact, from the Ashio crisis of the 1890s to Minamata in the 1950s to today there exists in Japan a rich tradition that prefigured the chaos of categories and methods adequate to a toxic disaster like Fukushima, and possibly points the way to new forms of politics and society on an increasingly polluted globe.

Bad Water: Nature, Pollution, and Politics in Japan 1870-1950 (Duke University Press, 2014) is a sophisticated theoretical analysis of Japanese thinkers and activists' efforts to reintegrate the natural environment into Japan's social and political thought in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. The need to incorporate nature into politics was revealed by a series of large-scale industrial disasters in the 1890s. The Ashio Copper Mine unleashed massive amounts of copper, arsenic, mercury, and other pollutants into surrounding watersheds. Robert Stolz argues that by forcefully demonstrating the mutual penetration of humans and nature, industrial pollution biologically and politically compromised the autonomous liberal subject underlying the political philosophy of the modernizing Meiji state. In the following decades, socialism, anarchism, fascism, and Confucian benevolence and moral economy were marshaled in the search for new theories of a modern political subject and a social organization adequate to the environmental crisis. With detailed considerations of several key environmental activists, including Tanaka Shōzō, Bad Water is a nuanced account of Japan's environmental turn, a historical moment when, for the first time, Japanese thinkers and activists experienced nature as alienated from themselves and were forced to rebuild the connections. (source)

Robert Stolz is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Bad Water, and an editor and contributor for Tosaka Jun: A Critical Reader (Cornell University Press, 2013).

Free and open to the public!

Sponsor(s): Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies