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“Animals Left Behind: Multispecies Vulnerability in Post-3-11 Japan” by Seven Mattes
May 1, 2018 @ 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Join us as Seven Mattes defends her PhD dissertation “Animals Left Behind: Multispecies Vulnerability in Post-3-11 Japan” on Tuesday, May 1st, 2018 from 9:00 – 11:00 am. in 6H Berkey Hall.
The disaster that struck Japan on March 11, 2011 was a catastrophic combination of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, tsunami, and a damaged nuclear power plant, resulting in the death and displacement of thousands. Due to radioactive leakage, residents within a fluctuating zone were ordered to evacuate. Temporary shelters were established for the human residents – often not permitting companion animals. Officials initially told evacuees they would return home in a few days but were not permitted back for weeks. During this time, officials did not provide for the domesticated animals left behind in the no-go zone, resulting in large-scale mortality. Non-profit animal rescue organizations rescued hundreds of domesticated animals during the immediate aftermath, though not without significant long-term financial, institutional, and internal struggles.
Non-human animal vulnerability is addressed in literature and policy primarily as an extension of human vulnerability, in that not including animals increases risk for humans. Engaging literature on the political ecology of natural hazards and human-animal studies, this project establishes an understanding of how vulnerabilities for humans and animals are shared, exacerbated, and alleviated by our multispecies entanglements. Working as a volunteer, I conducted 12 months of multispecies ethnographic fieldwork from 2014-15 with non-profit animal rescue organizations who participated in the disaster aftermath. This project was carried out with qualitative research methods, specifically participant observation, semi-structured interviews (n=64), and questionnaires (n=75).
The findings of this study illuminate how non-human animal vulnerability is thoroughly entwined in the people and institutions associated with their lives. Despite cultural animal infatuation and the rising rate of pet ownership, domesticated animals in Japan are minimally protected legally and politically. The animal rescue non-profit organizations and volunteers present are marginalized due to a variety of intersectional identities, struggling to navigate systems of power in which their associations with foreignness, gender, and species result in compounded challenges. Given the multispecies nature of vulnerability, this study found that building resiliency for domesticated animals strengthens the larger, more-than-human society in which they are a part.