Bridging Environmental Sociologies in Japan and the United States Via Environmental Justice: Minamata Disease in Comparative Perspective

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Atsushi NOZAWA, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Japan
Environmental justice (EJ) is clearly a fundamental perspective of environmental sociology in the United States. Similarly, an EJ perspective can be applied to central themes in Japanese environmental sociology, which has long had a strong emphasis on "victimology" stemming from early work on Minamata Disease--one of the worst technological disasters In Japan's history. This presentation will link environmental sociologies in both countries by applying an environmental justice framework to the Minamata disaster.

Minamata Disease refers to methyl mercury poisoning caused by eating fish and shellfish polluted by wastewater from a large chemical factory in South Japan, poisoning that creates devastating health problems for victims and stigmatizes them. In total, approximately 2,000 people have been officially certified as the victims, and over 60,000 people are registered as uncertified victims. 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the disease, and it negative health and social consequences are still evolving. This presentation will examine the Minamata disaster from the viewpoint an environmental justice framework, making comparisons between Japanese analyses framed in terms of "victimology" with U.S. EJ perspectives.

The injustice has continued from the original contamination to the recognition and then social treatment of the victims. Differing dimensions of injustice are apparent at different stages of the six-decade long Minamata controversy: Analyzing these aspects of injustice will be carried out by using documents, existing sociological analyses, and results from interview surveys, as well as insights from EJ work in the U.S.

The presentation will conclude with a comparison of environmental justice frameworks in Japan and the U.S. to show the similarities and some differences due to national settings. The goal will be to contribute to the development of a common EJ perspective for use in environmental sociology in comparative context.