The Role and Potential of Participatory Investigation: Photovoice of Women Affected By the Great East Japan Disaster

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Mieko YOSHIHAMA, University of Michigan, USA
Tomoko YUNOMAE, PhotoVoice Project, Japan
Pre-disaster inequity and vulnerabilities often intensify post-disaster. In what ways can research capture the lived experiences of the socially marginalized and lift their voices toward the creation of more inclusive disaster policies and responses?

Japan has a strong government-centered disaster prevention and response system; however, women’s experiences and perspectives have not been adequately reflected in disaster policies or research in Japan prior to the 2011 Great East Japan Disaster.

The 2011 Great East Japan Disaster attracted a great number of domestic and foreign researchers. Prospective collaborators had been sought out for information, participation, and collaboration of all kinds, and many indicated that they did not wish to be “studied” any more. Heeding their feedback, a group of researchers and activists including the authors began PhotoVoice Project, a participatory investigation of the disaster’s consequences in June 2011, three months after the Disaster. Over 50 women of diverse backgrounds have participated, taking photographs of their lives and communities; discussing and analyzing the disaster’s consequences at the personal, interpersonal, and societal levels; and disseminating their photographs and associated voices (messages) in an effort to improve disaster policies and responses. In its 7th year, the Project is ongoing and expanding.

The participants’ photographs and voices, a rare record of the Disaster from the perspective of the very individuals affected by the calamity, provide critical analyses of social issues that affect disaster prevention and management, as well as visions for change. The participants are ordinary citizens and all women, whose perspectives have not been conventionally incorporated in academic or policy discourse. Using the PhotoVoice Project as a case example, this paper examines the role and potential of participatory action research in the aftermath of major disasters, along with methodological and ethical challenges unique to participatory action research in the post-disaster context.