Andrew Littlejohn

Grant Type

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Institutional Affiliation

Leiden U.

Grant number

Gr. 10177

Approve Date

October 7, 2021

Project Title

Littlejohn, Andrew (Leiden U.) "After the Flood: Ecologizing Safety in Post-Tsunami Japan"

As oceans rise worldwide, many governments are intensifying efforts to defend the towns and cities bordering them. After the Flood examines a core paradox of such efforts: how safety infrastructures can undermine the very objects—social worlds—they claim to protect. It draws on 18 months of ethnographic research in Minamisanriku: a town in northeastern Japan devastated by the tsunami of 2011. After the disaster, tsunami scientists and civil engineers proposed protecting the town and others like it with what Japanese scholars called a “total system” of protection. This involved armoring the borders between land and sea with new, multi-layered defenses including seawalls up to fifteen meters high. Through forbidding residents from returning, relocating them to higher ground, and re-zoning and consolidating coastal space, it also entailed re-arranging and policing the internal flows and divisions characterizing such waterfront towns. Through exploring why and how some survivors resisted this, After the Flood shows how modernist attempts to “hold the line” against the sea—or fortify the line further—are ill-suited to a time when the borders between humans and non-humans are breaking down, materially and conceptually. By thinking with the alternatives that they proposed, it also argues that other ways of “ecologizing safety” premised on un-dividing are possible.