From Disaster to Opportunity: Social Movement Organizations As Hope Agents

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Hörsaal 48 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Anna WIEMANN, University of Hamburg, Germany
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the Tsunami and the nuclear disaster in March 2011 destroyed Japan’s northeast region. Thousands of people died immediately, others lost their houses and businesses. Above that, the nuclear disaster produced thousands of radiation evacuees (Asanuma-Brice 2014). In one word: the situation since 3/11 is nothing but depressing.

And yet, in many parts of the Japanese society we observe new or reinforced social activity directed towards rebuilding the region, for a better governmental compensation for the victims and towards altering Japan’s energy policy so that a similar nuclear accident may never happen again. But what is the driving force behind such social activity?

A possible answer to this puzzle is: hope. Hope researchers (e.g. Desroche 1979, Braithwaite 2004, Lueck 2007) have emphasized that hope is a phenomenon inseparably linked to such agency. Moreover, we can distinguish two levels of hope: individual and collective hope. While individual hope develops within an individual and in exchange with other individuals, collective hope can be defined as the result of a social dialogue between individuals sharing a vision for the future of the society as a whole. Courville and Piper (2004) point out that social movement organizations (SMOs) are important actors to transform individual into collective hope.

This presentation draws on the example of the Citizen’s Commission on Nuclear Energy, an initiative which was formed by SMOs, engaged scholars, and activists in 2013 to produce a report with recommendations providing for a ‘nuclear-free society’. Based on qualitative interviews and various secondary sources, the analysis will focus on the hope process which accompanied the building of the initiative and the writing of the report. Moreover, I point out how the initiative tries to broaden its scope by involving new people into the collective hope process envisaging social change.