Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Zoned Liminality and Narratives of Displacement in Northeastern Japan

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Thurgood Marshall North, Mezzanine

In the years following major disasters, how long do individuals identify themselves as “disaster survivors,” and how does the experience of disaster factor into their self-narratives? How do communities reconcile their past and their present in the face of protracted displacement and uncertain futures? What happens when national narratives of disaster and recovery freeze the national memory in past moments and future hopes, while forgetting the ongoing dislocation of life in “(post)disaster” zones? Based on fieldwork and interviews with residents of temporary housing communities and volunteer support groups in northeastern Japan, this paper focuses on the ongoing challenges of chronic dislocation and its effects on survivors’ perceptions of their lives. I examine how discourses of recovery in the national media, together with fissures within local communities, have caught residents in a perpetual state of “zoned liminality,” where many are both unable to return to their old communities and not able to create new ones. I argue that the tendency to reframe survivors’ lives around the disaster contributes to perpetuating a subjectivity of “disaster victim” while disrupting other self-narratives. Combined with the experience of the disaster itself, I suggest that this chronic social dislocation produces ruptures in individuals’ self-narratives, producing what could be called “spatiotemporal aphasia” – an inability to situate and articulate their experiences of ongoing displacement vis-à-vis their pre-disaster lives and their future life plans. I then examine grassroots movements seeking to enable individuals to escape this liminality through psychosocial care-work that empowers them reframe and reorient their lives.

Isaac Gagne

German Institute for Japanese Studies, Hong Kong


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1 - Zoned Liminality and Narratives of Displacement in Northeastern Japan

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