Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech Ecologically Damaged World
Kath Weston is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia. A Guggenheim Fellow and two-time winner of the Ruth Benedict Prize, Weston is the author of several books, including Traveling Light: On the Road with America's Poor; Gender in Real Time: Power and Transience in a Visual Age; and Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship.
Not all forms of intimate bodily encounters with ecological “resources” are desirable, or desired. After the 2011 Great Tōhoku earthquake/tsunami led to meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, many Japanese residents who found official data unreliable decided to take their own radiation measurements. Because the body’s senses cannot detect radiation directly, they had to seize the means of perception by acquiring equipment such as Geiger counters. In order to make meaningful use of this equipment, they then began to familiarize themselves with aspects of nuclear science. Some used crowdsourced maps of radioactive hotspots and other digital technologies to disseminate the results of their studies. Citizen science-based initiatives like these can engage in technostruggle, a process in which ordinary people avail themselves of technology to produce knowledge about visceral engagements with potentially lethal derivatives of the ecosystems upon which they rely. Technostruggle can foster a politics of popular sovereignty when used to challenge official reassurances about safety, or a more culturally resonant politics of protection in the case of Japan. Technostruggle also generates new forms of bio-intimacy, in which people come to experience “the environment” as a constitutive part of the very fabric of bodies that can incorporate radioactive strontium and cesium right along with vital nutrients. This chapter concludes with a look at the post-3.11 phenomenon of the “radiation divorce” in order to consider how bio-intimacies can affect intimacies more conventionally conceived, such as those entailed in kinship.