Power Struggles: The Strategies and Tactics of the Anti-nuclear Movement in Contemporary Tokyo

PhD defended at: 

Wollongong

Author: 

Alexander Brown

Defended: 

2015

In this thesis I explore the strategies and tactics of the anti-nuclear movement in the Japanese capital Tokyo after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011. A little over a year after the disaster, the anti-nuclear movement had grown to become the largest social movement in the archipelago in more than half a century. The compound effects of the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011 and the nuclear accident at Fukushima intensified existing dissatisfaction not only with the nuclear industry but with the decaying institutions of Japan’s capitalist developmental state. In this thesis I use autonomist Marxist perspectives to situate the disaster against the backdrop of the breakdown of capitalist developmentalism and the transition to a post-industrial society. The image of the smouldering nuclear reactors in Fukushima reminded Tokyo residents of the way urban life in the developmental state had come to depend on the exploitation of the rural periphery for resources such as the cheap electricity generated in the nuclear power plants. This thesis is distinctive in its focus on the role of urban space in the anti-nuclear protest movement in Japan after Fukushima. I draw on the field of critical urban studies to examine the nature of contentious politics in a post-industrial society through the lens of the anti-nuclear movement in Tokyo. In five detailed case studies, I describe the way anti-nuclear activists staged their opposition to nuclear power in the streets of the metropolis. Activists held carnivalesque street protests to express their emotional responses to the nuclear disaster; developed an infrastructure of activist spaces to support their protests; strengthened their relationships with one another; and experimented with new forms of democratic politics. These interventions transformed the order of public space in the city and reclaimed it as a place where citizens could participate in politics. The protests in 2011 and 2012 took place in the context of global uprisings such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. I place the anti-nuclear movement in Tokyo within this context. I argue that the diverse tactical interventions staged by anti-nuclear activists in Tokyo suggest a wider strategic vision of the city as a space for creative self-expression, sustainable livelihoods, strong communities and grassroots democracy.

ICAS is an initiative of the
International Insitute for Asian Studies