Participatory Investigation of the Great East Japan Disaster: PhotoVoice from Women Affected by the Calamity

Participatory Investigation of the Great East Japan Disaster: PhotoVoice from Women Affected by... Abstract Disasters exacerbate predisaster inequities and intensify the vulnerability of women and other marginalized and disempowered groups. Thus, disaster policies and responses should incorporate the experiences and perspectives of those who are marginalized. The authors sought to conduct a participatory research project to help develop more inclusive, gender-informed disaster responses and policies in Japan. In June 2011, following three months of planning and preparation, they initiated a participatory examination of the impact of the Great East Japan Disaster using PhotoVoice methodology. Engaging the very women affected by the calamity, the authors first implemented the project in three localities in the hardest-hit areas of northern Japan—the prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate. The authors have since expanded the project to other locations, and the project is ongoing. Focused on the planning, implementation, and outcomes of the initial phase, this article examines the role and potential of participatory action research using the PhotoVoice methodology in the aftermath of a major disaster. This article examines the role and potential of participatory action research using the PhotoVoice methodology in capturing the stories of the aftermath of a major disaster. Context—The Great East Japan Disaster of March 11, 2011 At 14:46 on March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the northeast region of Japan, which triggered one of the most devastating tsunamis in recorded history and caused massive destruction to the natural and built environment. Over 122,000 houses were destroyed, and many more were partially destroyed or submerged (National Police Agency [NPA], 2016). Nuclear meltdowns and hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, located about 110 miles southwest of the earthquake’s epicenter, released a high dose of radioactive material, the effects of which are ongoing. The accident was rated a level 7, the highest on the International Nuclear Event Scale. This combined natural and technological disaster led to the evacuation of many residents; at its height, over 470,000 people were displaced. More than 119,000 individuals were still living in exile six years later, the majority from Fukushima (Reconstruction Agency, 2017). The disaster took the lives of 15,893 individuals, and over 2,500 people remain missing (NPA, 2016). The disaster continues to affect people’s lives to this day. An additional 3,523 deaths were recognized by the government as related to the disaster (Reconstruction Agency, 2017). Need for Participatory Action Research Approach As a nation that experiences many disasters, including earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and heavy snowstorms, Japan has a strong government-centered disaster prevention and response system (Shaw, 2014). However, women’s experiences and perspectives have not been adequately reflected in disaster responses and policies in Japan. Prior to the Great East Japan Disaster, the major policies on disaster—the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act and the Basic Disaster Management Plan—made limited reference to gender (Yoshihama, 2018; Yoshihama, Yunomae, Tsuge, Ikeda, & Masai, in press). The scant attention to gender is not limited to the policy level. Although many studies have been conducted to examine and document the consequences of various major disasters in Japan, only a small number have focused on women’s experience of the disasters (Aikawa, 2006; Kiyohara, 2006). Few, if any, have used participatory methods of investigation to capture women’s lived experiences and perspectives to inform the development of disaster policies and programs that are more socioculturally responsive to their conditions and needs. Addressing these gaps in policy and research is urgently needed. Major disasters exacerbate predisaster inequities and intensify the vulnerability of women and other marginalized and disempowered groups (Enarson, 2012; Wisner, Blaikie, Cannon, & Davis, 2003). Thus, disaster policies and responses should incorporate the experiences and perspectives of those who are marginalized. We sought to conduct a research project to help develop more inclusive, gender-informed disaster responses and policies. Participatory action research methods would enable us to obtain empirical data that reflect the perspectives of disaster victims, especially women. Using PhotoVoice methodology (Wang, 1999; Wang & Burris, 1997), we worked with groups of women affected by the disaster to investigate the consequences of the disaster on their lives. PhotoVoice Methodology and Theoretical and Epistemological Orientations PhotoVoice methodology was originally developed during the 1990s as a participatory tool for assessing the needs and assets of a community in rural China from the perspective of local women (Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997). It involves a series of group meetings, in which participants share photographs they have taken and discuss the issues important to their lives and communities. Typically, participants are asked to photograph aspects of their lives and communities; specific themes of the photographs depend on project goals and protocols. The project duration and the number and frequency of the meetings vary. At group meetings, selected photographs are projected or otherwise shown to meeting participants to guide discussion. In general, participants create voices (that is, short written texts) to accompany the selected photographs. Dissemination can occur through any print or digital format, and exhibits may be mounted in community venues. Beyond its frequent use in health promotion and health-related research, PhotoVoice has been used in a wide range of fields, such as labor studies; studies of immigrants and refugees; community development; and education, including social work training (Bananuka & John, 2015; Catalani & Minkler, 2010; Cornwall, Capibaribe, & Gonçalves, 2010; Peabody, 2013; Yoshihama & Carr, 2002; also see Hergenrather, Rhodes, Cowan, Bardhoshi, & Pula, 2009; Lal, Jarus, & Suto, 2012, for reviews). Many studies have used PhotoVoice to examine social issues, expose injustice, and promote action to improve social conditions (Beh, Bruyere, & Lolosoli, 2013; Bell, 2015; Carlson, Engebretson, & Chamberlain, 2006). PhotoVoice methodology is rooted in the theoretical and epistemological traditions of empowerment education, feminist theory, and documentary photography (Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997). Drawn from the theoretical framework of Freire’s (1970) education for critical consciousness, PhotoVoice enables participants themselves—those affected by the social issue under investigation—to discover and analyze their lived experience; through critical reflection and dialogues, participants make connections between their personal experiences and the social forces affecting them. Grounded in feminist theory, PhotoVoice recognizes women (and other marginalized groups) as authorities and legitimate creators of knowledge and places value on their subjective experience (Maguire, 1987). The mode of knowledge production is inclusive, collective, and reflexive; through the process of sharing their life experiences in a group, participants begin to identify mezzo and macro forces that affect their lives. Informed by such newly acquired knowledge, participants can take action to improve the conditions in which they live. PhotoVoice, as citizens’ documentary photography, engages the very people affected by the issues under investigation, who use photography not only to record but also to analyze community and social issues important to them. As originally done in Wang and colleague’s project (Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997), in our application of PhotoVoice we placed women at the center of knowledge creation as we designed and implemented our project. By handing a camera to women affected by the disaster, we sought to break the monopoly of knowledge creation by experts, mostly men (Fals-Borda & Rahman, 1991; Hall, 1977; Maguire, 1987), and insert women’s perspectives into public discourse on the disaster’s consequences and more inclusive policies and responses. In addition to documenting what happened in and after the disaster, the project was designed to examine and advocate for changes that are needed and explore how to achieve them. Toward this end, we facilitated small group discussions to collectively analyze the meaning of what happened, exposing underlying sociocultural, -political, and -historical factors and processes, and identify strategies for bringing about change. These aspects of our project reflect women-centered, participatory, and change and action orientation, consistent with feminist and Freirean traditions. Planning Using PhotoVoice methodology, we initiated a participatory examination of the impact of the Great East Japan Disaster in June 2011 following three months of planning and preparation. Organizational Development Right after the Great East Japan Disaster, concerned with the welfare and rights of women and other marginalized individuals, the first author, a Japan-born, U.S.-trained social work practitioner–educator–researcher, contacted a number of professionals and activists in Japan, including the second author, to explore possible action. A series of discussions led to the establishment of a national network aimed at promoting gender-informed disaster response, the first of its kind in Japan. This network, comprising women’s nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), professionals, researchers, and advocates, adopted various strategies. Within this network, we formed a research team with the aim of conducting research to inform and strengthen disaster response and policies to protect and promote women’s rights and welfare. With support from an international humanitarian NGO, we began assessing the feasibility of a study of the disaster’s aftermath using PhotoVoice methodology. Situational Analysis, Environmental Scan, and Formative Work Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting available data on current community and population conditions; resources; and relevant sociocultural, political, and historical context is indispensable to the development of a community-based research or intervention program. Although variations exist across disciplines and fields, this process is often referred to as a situational analysis or an environmental scan (Nancarrow et al., 2017; Toft & Reierson, 2017; World Health Organization, n.d.). Given the paucity of previous research on women’s experiences of disasters in Japan, we gathered the information available, including governmental data and updates regarding the Great East Japan Disaster and NGO reports about previous disasters in Japan. We also turned to various governmental organizations, NGOs, professional associations, and advocates in the field to grasp the needs and conditions of the affected individuals and communities. In the chaotic conditions immediately following the disaster, our situational analysis took a great deal of time and effort. In the early phase, we focused on listening to and learning from the direct observations of those who were living and working in disaster-affected areas. Despite being distressed by the devastation and pressed for time, some were eager to share their experiences and discuss conditions in disaster-affected areas. As we continued to dialogue, we began to explore the feasibility of conducting a participatory assessment of the disaster’s consequences. Through repeated discussions, we developed a study design and procedures that were ethically and methodologically sound. We decided to implement the project in the three most severely affected prefectures and identified a prospective collaborating organization in each one: Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture; Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture; and Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture (see Figure 1). Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Project Locations in Relation to the Epicenter of the Earthquake in the Great East Japan Disaster of March 2011—From north, Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture; Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, and Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture Source: Adapted from http://catch4all.com/positive/2012/JapanEarthquake/3_14_2012/USAIDsupportmap.jpg Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Project Locations in Relation to the Epicenter of the Earthquake in the Great East Japan Disaster of March 2011—From north, Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture; Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, and Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture Source: Adapted from http://catch4all.com/positive/2012/JapanEarthquake/3_14_2012/USAIDsupportmap.jpg Koriyama, 37 miles west of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, is a major commercial center of Fukushima Prefecture. The city opened over 100 emergency evacuation centers to accommodate the large number of local residents displaced due to earthquake damage, as well as evacuees from near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant (Koriyama-shi, 2013). Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture, is the largest city in northern Japan. It is the major city nearest to the earthquake’s epicenter, about 80 miles away. It suffered severe damage: A large stretch of the coastal area was submerged; many houses and agricultural fields were destroyed; major fires erupted at oil refineries; and over 100,000 people were evacuated or otherwise displaced (Sendai-shi, 2013). Miyako is a coastal city that suffered colossal damage from the tsunami, where the waves reached heights of 131 feet (40 meters). Over 500 people lost their lives, and 90 remain missing (Miyako-shi, 2012). The collaborating organization in each location played (and continues to play) a key role in the project planning and implementation. In each location, we planned to conduct three discussion meetings with the option of continuing if participants so desired. We left the specifics of dissemination open—we planned to decide in consultation with participants exactly how, when, and to whom to display their photographs and voices. The institutional review boards of the first author and research team members in Japan approved the project, and work began. Implementation Participant Recruitment We worked with the collaborating organization to recruit participants. Specific methods of recruitment varied according to local conditions and the needs of the collaborating organization and prospective participants. In Koriyama, we visited and recruited participants using flyers at one of the largest emergency evacuation centers. The center housed over 2,000 individuals who are local residents displaced due to earthquake damage or evacuees from near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In Sendai and Miyako, key members of the collaborating organizations expressed a desire to form a group from within their own organizations, and participants were recruited via e-mails and by word of mouth. Orientation and Consent Processes At each location, prospective participants were invited to a two- to three-hour orientation session where they learned about project goals and procedures as well as their rights as participants. Interested participants signed a written consent. The orientation session also covered ethics and safety issues in photo taking. Participants received brief instruction on how to operate a digital camera. Because many cameras were lost in the disaster, we provided cameras to those in need. Initially, we sought donations of used digital cameras from friends and colleagues. We also purchased a half dozen, choosing a model that operated with regular batteries instead of rechargeable batteries as access to electricity remained limited. (Several months later, as part of their corporate social responsibility program, a major corporation donated more digital cameras for project use.) At the end of the orientation, we set the date for a subsequent meeting and asked the participants to take photographs reflecting their experiences of the disaster and its aftermath. Intentionally, we did not select or assign specific themes for the photography; we emphasized that any photograph taken would be of significance in this project. Repeated Photo Taking and Group Discussion Participants took various photographs and then attended a series of group discussion meetings. On average, meetings lasted for two to three hours; some lasted longer. At meetings, selected photographs were projected onto a large screen. We, the authors, facilitated the meetings to promote interactive discussions, critical consciousness, and the production of collective knowledge. Going beyond one-way narratives of individual participants explaining their photographs to the group, participants were encouraged to share their experiences and observations of the disaster and its aftermath, explore the meaning of their photographs and those of other participants, and examine how their experiences were affected by various forces and factors at community and societal levels. Outcomes Participants and Participation Five women in Koriyama, nine in Sendai, and six in Miyako participated; the youngest was in her 30s and the oldest in her 70s. Their backgrounds were diverse, ranging from housewives to professionals and members of NGOs and governmental organizations. Many were assisting other disaster victims as part of their regular employment (for example, health care practitioners and case workers) or as volunteers. All experienced varying effects of the disaster. Many had their homes damaged, and a significant minority had to evacuate to temporary housing. Seven years later, at the writing of this article, some remain displaced. Because of the chaotic, evolving postdisaster situation, we did not and could not set regular meeting schedules. Participants in Koriyama, all recruited from an emergency evacuation center, were going through transitions. They needed to attend meetings held by the local government to learn about their rights, options, and application procedures for temporary housing; visit prospective housing units; and make arrangements pertaining to their previous houses damaged by the disaster or uninhabitable because of their proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Participants in Sendai were members of a local NGO; they volunteered many hours to operate a domestic violence shelter and provide telephone counseling and other support programs. After the disaster, they created a program to deliver food and supplies to disaster-affected women and their families in the hard-hit coastal areas. They spent countless hours gathering, sorting, and packing donations; driving many miles; and delivering the goods. These postdisaster responses were additional volunteer efforts, which a substantial number of women participated in above and beyond their regular paid jobs. Finding an acceptable meeting time was difficult. At the end of each meeting, we chose the date for the next meeting in accommodation with participants’ schedules. Even then, unanticipated demands and priorities interfered. For example, one of the meetings in Koriyama coincided with a meeting about temporary housing applications, which was organized by the city government with very short notice. In Sendai, we conducted two sessions, one or several days apart, to ensure that all participants had a chance to participate. In Miyako, even though the participants expressed interest in the project, they chose to delay the start of the project. The first meeting in Miyako took place several months after the orientation. Despite these challenges, overall attendance was high. Photographs and Discussions Some participants reported difficulty when taking photographs. Some of the difficulty stemmed from the novelty of photo taking, or not knowing for certain how to use various functions of the camera. Some were afraid they might not be able to take “the right” or “good enough” photographs. Others expressed concern for the ramifications of photographing the devastation caused by the disaster. One participant said, “I felt guilty taking a photograph of the sheer devastation, whether of somebody’s residence destroyed by the earthquake or a neighborhood that was gutted by the tsunami.” The number of photographs participants took varied greatly, with some having taken over 100 between meetings and others just a few. The number of photographs projected at meetings also varied. In general, each participant shared two or three photographs per meeting; when time allowed, more photographs were projected. The nature of the photographs varied from one participant to another. Many photographs were descriptive—scenes of destruction caused by the earthquake, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, and hydrogen explosions. Some photographs were symbolic, emotive, or both. The nature of the group discussions varied considerably across locations and within specific locations over time. It is not surprising that the photographs and discussions were context specific and reflected what was and was not happening in participants’ lives and society at large. For example, the two meetings in Koriyama took place when a majority of the participants were in the process of moving from an emergency evacuation center to a temporary housing unit. Thus, many photographs and group discussions focused on their anticipated (but unpredictable) relocations. Grief over loss, fear of the unknown, worry about the future, and anger and resentment toward the government and the Tokyo Electric Company were frequently expressed. For participants in Sendai, the first few meetings coincided with the period when they spent most of their available time collecting and delivering food and supplies to disaster-affected areas. Accordingly, many photographs were taken during these volunteer efforts. Many participants also photographed their own houses and workplaces to illustrate the personal impact of the disaster. The photographs and discussions of participants in Miyako reflected their physical and emotional proximity to the ocean and centered on damage to the ocean, the coast, the port, ships, and the fishing industry. Terror of the destructive force of the tsunami was often juxtaposed with admiration for natural beauty and the blessings that the ocean provides. Dissemination Per our original plan, we discussed whether participants wished to disseminate their photographs and voices and, if so, how. We chose to organize several exhibits and conducted the first one in November 2012 in Fukushima, 15 months after the project’s inception. The participants created their first set of voices shortly before the exhibit. We also organized a public forum as part of the exhibit, where participants made verbal presentations and responded to questions and comments from the audience. At these events, we asked for written feedback from the audience. The reactions of the audience and their written comments point to the documentary function of the photographs and voices; for example, one person wrote, “Please continue to speak up and inform [the public] of your suffering after the March 11 disasters: the hunger, the cold temperature, the difficulty in daily living, the arduous effort of decontamination, and the laborious task of cleaning up.” PhotoVoice exhibits and public presentations served as a reminder of the disaster and the importance of remembering and talking about it. One attendee wrote, “I felt the power of the photographs. It is important to keep a record. Photographs help us remember and continue to talk about what happened.” For many participants, these responses made them realize the significance of their actions—taking photographs, creating written voices, and sharing them with the public—and contributed to an increased sense of purpose. Continuation and Expansion Participants in all three groups expressed an interest in continuing with the project beyond the planned three meetings, so we did. All three groups continue to meet to this day, over seven years since the disaster. In addition, participants in Sendai expressed an interest in creating additional groups in their city and in Ishinomaki City, a coastal city that suffered devastating damage from the tsunamis. After several months of planning and preparation, these new groups began in the fall of 2012. Members of the Sendai Group underwent training on group facilitation. Two of them served as co-facilitators, and other members played various supporting roles in these new groups. Later, a member of the newly created Ishinomaki Group expressed an interest in initiating a group in a nearby town; we began this new group in the summer of 2014. The project itself also underwent a change; having separated from the National Network, the project became a self-sustaining program in November 2013. This was critical to the project’s continuing viability (the network terminated its operation in March 2014). Lessons Learned and Discussion Respect, Humility, and Flexibility Working in the aftermath of a major disaster requires great flexibility and, equally and perhaps more important, humility and respect for the needs and desires of the affected communities and residents. That prospective collaborators and participants were stretched too thin is an understatement. As is often the case in massive disasters, most people we initially contacted—professionals and members of governmental organizations and NGOs—suffered loss and destruction in their own lives. They were assisting other disaster victims even though they were victims themselves. There was a shortage of resources—those taken for granted in materially affluent, present-day Japan, such as meeting space at public facilities, well-maintained roads, and reliable public transportation. We outsiders were also affected. For example, rail services were halted in some areas and trains were running less frequently, thus requiring that we spend more time visiting project sites. Such experiences were both a soaring and a humbling reminder of the exponentially greater difficulties faced by the project participants and collaborators on a daily basis. For many participants, devoting two to three hours of their lives to our PhotoVoice project was demanding given that they were living in evacuation centers and searching for temporary housing, or running or driving around to gather donations and delivering them to disaster victims 30 to 60 miles away. The roads were more treacherous due to land subsidence, road closures, and detours; the drive took longer. After a long day, they came home only to have to take care of their own residences needing cleanup and repair. Participants were exhausted and stretched beyond imagination, but they kept on taking photographs and attending the meetings. Despite the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the postdisaster context, the relatively high attendance appears to indicate high levels of interest in the project among participants. It also suggests the importance of flexible project design and scheduling. We left the details of project implementation open and flexible, and we set the meetings in accommodation with participants’ schedules. The interval between meetings varied from one week to several months. Meeting locations also depended on facility availability, which was reduced in the aftermath of the disaster. In Koriyama, for example, we met at a different location each time, which members of collaborating organizations were resourceful in securing. Ethical and Safety Issues Participants approached photo taking with apprehension, fear, and worry. Photography in itself was not a foreign concept for the participants; most of them had taken photographs of family members or friends at family gatherings or during trips. However, taking photographs outside these contexts was a new experience for many participants. Fear of the new and unfamiliar was exacerbated by the devastation caused by the disaster. They were worried that the act of taking a photograph was voyeuristic, exploitative, or both. The reluctance and fear of taking photographs reported in other studies illustrates the importance of understanding the meaning of photo taking in a sociopolitical–historical context. For example, participants in Prins’s (2010) study in El Salvador saw photo taking as “a tool of surveillance.” Many had lived through a civil war, when “the military and death squads used surveillance—including pictures—to identify alleged guerrilla sympathizers, tens of thousands of whom were tortured, disappeared, or killed” (p. 436). In certain contexts, participants would perceive photo taking as bringing bad luck or putting a curse on people (Murray & Nash, 2017; Prins, 2010). These reactions to taking photographs need to be taken seriously and addressed. The disaster attracted a great number of domestic and foreign researchers. By the time we began contacting prospective collaborators, they had been sought out for information, participation, and collaboration of all kinds, and they were exhausted and overwhelmed. Many told us they had been asked to fill out questionnaires or be interviewed so many times that they did not wish to be “studied” anymore. Although some saw the value in and need for a participatory assessment of the disaster’s consequences, many expressed distrust of researchers, especially those who were “outsiders,” and were concerned about the anticipated burden of participation. Similar difficulties and concerns related to distrust of research practice, researchers, and participant burden have been reported in other studies using participatory methodologies (Dentith, Measor, & O’Malley, 2009; Murray & Nash, 2017). We proceeded slowly. We were viewed as outsiders, and indeed we were; even though both of us were born, grew up, and worked in Japan, we had not lived or worked in the areas that were affected by Great East Japan Disaster. However, both of us had previously worked with a wide range of organizations on research and advocacy efforts to promote women’s rights, particularly on the issue of gender-based violence. It was these preexisting professional connections that opened up the opportunity for dialogue. Nevertheless, it was important to recognize our outsider status and examine its meaning on a constant basis. This type of reflexivity is central to feminist research (Jorgenson, 2011; Wasserfall, 1993) and is increasingly recognized as fundamental to ethical social work practice (D’Cruz, Gillingham, & Melendez, 2007). Participatory Research with Women Many collaborators and participants regarded us as researchers and activists committed to women’s rights and welfare. Although such recognition helped forge the collaboration needed for this project, unlike the participants, we neither were nor are experts in disaster preparedness, response, and reconstruction. Various ways in which we designed the project reflect its feminist and emancipatory orientations. The fundamental premise was that women, especially those who were affected by the disaster, are the experts and legitimate creators of knowledge about disaster preparedness and response. Not imposing specific topics or themes for photo taking was not a simple tactical decision; it was a small but substantive embodiment of this premise. The participants knew what themes and images were relevant, salient, and important. Thus, it was up to them to decide what images to capture. The connection of some photographic images to the disaster was not readily apparent, sometimes even to the photographers themselves. Through interaction with fellow participants and facilitators, the photographers established the meaning of the images they captured. The way we facilitated the group discussions also reflects the project’s feminist and emancipatory orientations, embodied in the earlier-mentioned premise. Even though the participants may not have considered themselves to be “expert” and able to articulate their knowledge verbally or otherwise, we approached the photographs they took and their accounts as valuable sources of knowledge. As facilitators, we encouraged participants to go beyond describing what the photographs captured and to explore the meaning of the images and the underlying social forces and processes, if any. We also encouraged the participants (and endeavored ourselves, collectively) to explore and identify what needed to change, and how and by whom it should be changed, reflective of feminist and Freirean change orientations. These aspects of the project are emblematic of the participatory, collective, dialectic, and action-oriented nature of PhotoVoice methodology. Limitations and Possibilities One of the critiques of participatory methods of assessment is their subjective nature (Evans, 1999). It is true that our project was conducted in limited, selected locations. The photographs and discussions reflect the perspectives of the particular individuals who chose to participate in the project at a particular time and place, thus scoring low on the yardstick of objectivity and representativeness. However, the project was aimed at context-specific assessments of the disaster’s consequences. We deliberately sought reflective and subjective (and intersubjective) observations and reflections. The participants’ photographs and voices themselves constitute a rare record of Great East Japan Disaster from the perspective of the very individuals affected by the calamity. The participants are ordinary citizens and all women, whose perspectives have not been conventionally incorporated in academic or policy discourse. An illustrative example of the social significance of such citizen-generated documentary records is the invitation we received to include the photographs and voices from our project in a national archive operated by the National Women’s Education Center. This archive is linked to the Great East Japan Earthquake Archive of the National Diet Library (the equivalent of the U.S. Library of Congress), which is linked to various archives around the globe. In addition to contributing to the social investigation and documentation of the disaster’s consequences, the project also served to expand participants’ capacities and spurred them to action. The act of taking photographs and sharing and listening to stories prompted participants to examine their life conditions; creating voices furthered their awareness and insight into what happened during and after the disaster and what needed to be changed. Exhibiting their photographs and written voices, making verbal presentations, and interacting with members of the audience represented action toward the change they envisioned, illustrating the participatory and action-oriented nature of PhotoVoice methodology. Our project continues to this day and has expanded further. PhotoVoice recognizes those who are affected by the social issue under investigation as experts and values their experiences as valid and prime sources of knowledge. Not only do participants produce empirical data (that is, photographs and group discussion narratives), but they also engage in data analysis collectively and may do so in repeated group discussions on an ongoing basis. 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Author notes The authors serve as codirectors of the PhotoVoice Project. © 2018 National Association of Social Workers This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Social Work Oxford University Press

Participatory Investigation of the Great East Japan Disaster: PhotoVoice from Women Affected by the Calamity

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© 2018 National Association of Social Workers
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0037-8046
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10.1093/sw/swy018
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Abstract

Abstract Disasters exacerbate predisaster inequities and intensify the vulnerability of women and other marginalized and disempowered groups. Thus, disaster policies and responses should incorporate the experiences and perspectives of those who are marginalized. The authors sought to conduct a participatory research project to help develop more inclusive, gender-informed disaster responses and policies in Japan. In June 2011, following three months of planning and preparation, they initiated a participatory examination of the impact of the Great East Japan Disaster using PhotoVoice methodology. Engaging the very women affected by the calamity, the authors first implemented the project in three localities in the hardest-hit areas of northern Japan—the prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate. The authors have since expanded the project to other locations, and the project is ongoing. Focused on the planning, implementation, and outcomes of the initial phase, this article examines the role and potential of participatory action research using the PhotoVoice methodology in the aftermath of a major disaster. This article examines the role and potential of participatory action research using the PhotoVoice methodology in capturing the stories of the aftermath of a major disaster. Context—The Great East Japan Disaster of March 11, 2011 At 14:46 on March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the northeast region of Japan, which triggered one of the most devastating tsunamis in recorded history and caused massive destruction to the natural and built environment. Over 122,000 houses were destroyed, and many more were partially destroyed or submerged (National Police Agency [NPA], 2016). Nuclear meltdowns and hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, located about 110 miles southwest of the earthquake’s epicenter, released a high dose of radioactive material, the effects of which are ongoing. The accident was rated a level 7, the highest on the International Nuclear Event Scale. This combined natural and technological disaster led to the evacuation of many residents; at its height, over 470,000 people were displaced. More than 119,000 individuals were still living in exile six years later, the majority from Fukushima (Reconstruction Agency, 2017). The disaster took the lives of 15,893 individuals, and over 2,500 people remain missing (NPA, 2016). The disaster continues to affect people’s lives to this day. An additional 3,523 deaths were recognized by the government as related to the disaster (Reconstruction Agency, 2017). Need for Participatory Action Research Approach As a nation that experiences many disasters, including earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and heavy snowstorms, Japan has a strong government-centered disaster prevention and response system (Shaw, 2014). However, women’s experiences and perspectives have not been adequately reflected in disaster responses and policies in Japan. Prior to the Great East Japan Disaster, the major policies on disaster—the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act and the Basic Disaster Management Plan—made limited reference to gender (Yoshihama, 2018; Yoshihama, Yunomae, Tsuge, Ikeda, & Masai, in press). The scant attention to gender is not limited to the policy level. Although many studies have been conducted to examine and document the consequences of various major disasters in Japan, only a small number have focused on women’s experience of the disasters (Aikawa, 2006; Kiyohara, 2006). Few, if any, have used participatory methods of investigation to capture women’s lived experiences and perspectives to inform the development of disaster policies and programs that are more socioculturally responsive to their conditions and needs. Addressing these gaps in policy and research is urgently needed. Major disasters exacerbate predisaster inequities and intensify the vulnerability of women and other marginalized and disempowered groups (Enarson, 2012; Wisner, Blaikie, Cannon, & Davis, 2003). Thus, disaster policies and responses should incorporate the experiences and perspectives of those who are marginalized. We sought to conduct a research project to help develop more inclusive, gender-informed disaster responses and policies. Participatory action research methods would enable us to obtain empirical data that reflect the perspectives of disaster victims, especially women. Using PhotoVoice methodology (Wang, 1999; Wang & Burris, 1997), we worked with groups of women affected by the disaster to investigate the consequences of the disaster on their lives. PhotoVoice Methodology and Theoretical and Epistemological Orientations PhotoVoice methodology was originally developed during the 1990s as a participatory tool for assessing the needs and assets of a community in rural China from the perspective of local women (Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997). It involves a series of group meetings, in which participants share photographs they have taken and discuss the issues important to their lives and communities. Typically, participants are asked to photograph aspects of their lives and communities; specific themes of the photographs depend on project goals and protocols. The project duration and the number and frequency of the meetings vary. At group meetings, selected photographs are projected or otherwise shown to meeting participants to guide discussion. In general, participants create voices (that is, short written texts) to accompany the selected photographs. Dissemination can occur through any print or digital format, and exhibits may be mounted in community venues. Beyond its frequent use in health promotion and health-related research, PhotoVoice has been used in a wide range of fields, such as labor studies; studies of immigrants and refugees; community development; and education, including social work training (Bananuka & John, 2015; Catalani & Minkler, 2010; Cornwall, Capibaribe, & Gonçalves, 2010; Peabody, 2013; Yoshihama & Carr, 2002; also see Hergenrather, Rhodes, Cowan, Bardhoshi, & Pula, 2009; Lal, Jarus, & Suto, 2012, for reviews). Many studies have used PhotoVoice to examine social issues, expose injustice, and promote action to improve social conditions (Beh, Bruyere, & Lolosoli, 2013; Bell, 2015; Carlson, Engebretson, & Chamberlain, 2006). PhotoVoice methodology is rooted in the theoretical and epistemological traditions of empowerment education, feminist theory, and documentary photography (Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997). Drawn from the theoretical framework of Freire’s (1970) education for critical consciousness, PhotoVoice enables participants themselves—those affected by the social issue under investigation—to discover and analyze their lived experience; through critical reflection and dialogues, participants make connections between their personal experiences and the social forces affecting them. Grounded in feminist theory, PhotoVoice recognizes women (and other marginalized groups) as authorities and legitimate creators of knowledge and places value on their subjective experience (Maguire, 1987). The mode of knowledge production is inclusive, collective, and reflexive; through the process of sharing their life experiences in a group, participants begin to identify mezzo and macro forces that affect their lives. Informed by such newly acquired knowledge, participants can take action to improve the conditions in which they live. PhotoVoice, as citizens’ documentary photography, engages the very people affected by the issues under investigation, who use photography not only to record but also to analyze community and social issues important to them. As originally done in Wang and colleague’s project (Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997), in our application of PhotoVoice we placed women at the center of knowledge creation as we designed and implemented our project. By handing a camera to women affected by the disaster, we sought to break the monopoly of knowledge creation by experts, mostly men (Fals-Borda & Rahman, 1991; Hall, 1977; Maguire, 1987), and insert women’s perspectives into public discourse on the disaster’s consequences and more inclusive policies and responses. In addition to documenting what happened in and after the disaster, the project was designed to examine and advocate for changes that are needed and explore how to achieve them. Toward this end, we facilitated small group discussions to collectively analyze the meaning of what happened, exposing underlying sociocultural, -political, and -historical factors and processes, and identify strategies for bringing about change. These aspects of our project reflect women-centered, participatory, and change and action orientation, consistent with feminist and Freirean traditions. Planning Using PhotoVoice methodology, we initiated a participatory examination of the impact of the Great East Japan Disaster in June 2011 following three months of planning and preparation. Organizational Development Right after the Great East Japan Disaster, concerned with the welfare and rights of women and other marginalized individuals, the first author, a Japan-born, U.S.-trained social work practitioner–educator–researcher, contacted a number of professionals and activists in Japan, including the second author, to explore possible action. A series of discussions led to the establishment of a national network aimed at promoting gender-informed disaster response, the first of its kind in Japan. This network, comprising women’s nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), professionals, researchers, and advocates, adopted various strategies. Within this network, we formed a research team with the aim of conducting research to inform and strengthen disaster response and policies to protect and promote women’s rights and welfare. With support from an international humanitarian NGO, we began assessing the feasibility of a study of the disaster’s aftermath using PhotoVoice methodology. Situational Analysis, Environmental Scan, and Formative Work Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting available data on current community and population conditions; resources; and relevant sociocultural, political, and historical context is indispensable to the development of a community-based research or intervention program. Although variations exist across disciplines and fields, this process is often referred to as a situational analysis or an environmental scan (Nancarrow et al., 2017; Toft & Reierson, 2017; World Health Organization, n.d.). Given the paucity of previous research on women’s experiences of disasters in Japan, we gathered the information available, including governmental data and updates regarding the Great East Japan Disaster and NGO reports about previous disasters in Japan. We also turned to various governmental organizations, NGOs, professional associations, and advocates in the field to grasp the needs and conditions of the affected individuals and communities. In the chaotic conditions immediately following the disaster, our situational analysis took a great deal of time and effort. In the early phase, we focused on listening to and learning from the direct observations of those who were living and working in disaster-affected areas. Despite being distressed by the devastation and pressed for time, some were eager to share their experiences and discuss conditions in disaster-affected areas. As we continued to dialogue, we began to explore the feasibility of conducting a participatory assessment of the disaster’s consequences. Through repeated discussions, we developed a study design and procedures that were ethically and methodologically sound. We decided to implement the project in the three most severely affected prefectures and identified a prospective collaborating organization in each one: Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture; Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture; and Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture (see Figure 1). Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Project Locations in Relation to the Epicenter of the Earthquake in the Great East Japan Disaster of March 2011—From north, Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture; Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, and Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture Source: Adapted from http://catch4all.com/positive/2012/JapanEarthquake/3_14_2012/USAIDsupportmap.jpg Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Project Locations in Relation to the Epicenter of the Earthquake in the Great East Japan Disaster of March 2011—From north, Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture; Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, and Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture Source: Adapted from http://catch4all.com/positive/2012/JapanEarthquake/3_14_2012/USAIDsupportmap.jpg Koriyama, 37 miles west of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, is a major commercial center of Fukushima Prefecture. The city opened over 100 emergency evacuation centers to accommodate the large number of local residents displaced due to earthquake damage, as well as evacuees from near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant (Koriyama-shi, 2013). Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture, is the largest city in northern Japan. It is the major city nearest to the earthquake’s epicenter, about 80 miles away. It suffered severe damage: A large stretch of the coastal area was submerged; many houses and agricultural fields were destroyed; major fires erupted at oil refineries; and over 100,000 people were evacuated or otherwise displaced (Sendai-shi, 2013). Miyako is a coastal city that suffered colossal damage from the tsunami, where the waves reached heights of 131 feet (40 meters). Over 500 people lost their lives, and 90 remain missing (Miyako-shi, 2012). The collaborating organization in each location played (and continues to play) a key role in the project planning and implementation. In each location, we planned to conduct three discussion meetings with the option of continuing if participants so desired. We left the specifics of dissemination open—we planned to decide in consultation with participants exactly how, when, and to whom to display their photographs and voices. The institutional review boards of the first author and research team members in Japan approved the project, and work began. Implementation Participant Recruitment We worked with the collaborating organization to recruit participants. Specific methods of recruitment varied according to local conditions and the needs of the collaborating organization and prospective participants. In Koriyama, we visited and recruited participants using flyers at one of the largest emergency evacuation centers. The center housed over 2,000 individuals who are local residents displaced due to earthquake damage or evacuees from near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In Sendai and Miyako, key members of the collaborating organizations expressed a desire to form a group from within their own organizations, and participants were recruited via e-mails and by word of mouth. Orientation and Consent Processes At each location, prospective participants were invited to a two- to three-hour orientation session where they learned about project goals and procedures as well as their rights as participants. Interested participants signed a written consent. The orientation session also covered ethics and safety issues in photo taking. Participants received brief instruction on how to operate a digital camera. Because many cameras were lost in the disaster, we provided cameras to those in need. Initially, we sought donations of used digital cameras from friends and colleagues. We also purchased a half dozen, choosing a model that operated with regular batteries instead of rechargeable batteries as access to electricity remained limited. (Several months later, as part of their corporate social responsibility program, a major corporation donated more digital cameras for project use.) At the end of the orientation, we set the date for a subsequent meeting and asked the participants to take photographs reflecting their experiences of the disaster and its aftermath. Intentionally, we did not select or assign specific themes for the photography; we emphasized that any photograph taken would be of significance in this project. Repeated Photo Taking and Group Discussion Participants took various photographs and then attended a series of group discussion meetings. On average, meetings lasted for two to three hours; some lasted longer. At meetings, selected photographs were projected onto a large screen. We, the authors, facilitated the meetings to promote interactive discussions, critical consciousness, and the production of collective knowledge. Going beyond one-way narratives of individual participants explaining their photographs to the group, participants were encouraged to share their experiences and observations of the disaster and its aftermath, explore the meaning of their photographs and those of other participants, and examine how their experiences were affected by various forces and factors at community and societal levels. Outcomes Participants and Participation Five women in Koriyama, nine in Sendai, and six in Miyako participated; the youngest was in her 30s and the oldest in her 70s. Their backgrounds were diverse, ranging from housewives to professionals and members of NGOs and governmental organizations. Many were assisting other disaster victims as part of their regular employment (for example, health care practitioners and case workers) or as volunteers. All experienced varying effects of the disaster. Many had their homes damaged, and a significant minority had to evacuate to temporary housing. Seven years later, at the writing of this article, some remain displaced. Because of the chaotic, evolving postdisaster situation, we did not and could not set regular meeting schedules. Participants in Koriyama, all recruited from an emergency evacuation center, were going through transitions. They needed to attend meetings held by the local government to learn about their rights, options, and application procedures for temporary housing; visit prospective housing units; and make arrangements pertaining to their previous houses damaged by the disaster or uninhabitable because of their proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Participants in Sendai were members of a local NGO; they volunteered many hours to operate a domestic violence shelter and provide telephone counseling and other support programs. After the disaster, they created a program to deliver food and supplies to disaster-affected women and their families in the hard-hit coastal areas. They spent countless hours gathering, sorting, and packing donations; driving many miles; and delivering the goods. These postdisaster responses were additional volunteer efforts, which a substantial number of women participated in above and beyond their regular paid jobs. Finding an acceptable meeting time was difficult. At the end of each meeting, we chose the date for the next meeting in accommodation with participants’ schedules. Even then, unanticipated demands and priorities interfered. For example, one of the meetings in Koriyama coincided with a meeting about temporary housing applications, which was organized by the city government with very short notice. In Sendai, we conducted two sessions, one or several days apart, to ensure that all participants had a chance to participate. In Miyako, even though the participants expressed interest in the project, they chose to delay the start of the project. The first meeting in Miyako took place several months after the orientation. Despite these challenges, overall attendance was high. Photographs and Discussions Some participants reported difficulty when taking photographs. Some of the difficulty stemmed from the novelty of photo taking, or not knowing for certain how to use various functions of the camera. Some were afraid they might not be able to take “the right” or “good enough” photographs. Others expressed concern for the ramifications of photographing the devastation caused by the disaster. One participant said, “I felt guilty taking a photograph of the sheer devastation, whether of somebody’s residence destroyed by the earthquake or a neighborhood that was gutted by the tsunami.” The number of photographs participants took varied greatly, with some having taken over 100 between meetings and others just a few. The number of photographs projected at meetings also varied. In general, each participant shared two or three photographs per meeting; when time allowed, more photographs were projected. The nature of the photographs varied from one participant to another. Many photographs were descriptive—scenes of destruction caused by the earthquake, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, and hydrogen explosions. Some photographs were symbolic, emotive, or both. The nature of the group discussions varied considerably across locations and within specific locations over time. It is not surprising that the photographs and discussions were context specific and reflected what was and was not happening in participants’ lives and society at large. For example, the two meetings in Koriyama took place when a majority of the participants were in the process of moving from an emergency evacuation center to a temporary housing unit. Thus, many photographs and group discussions focused on their anticipated (but unpredictable) relocations. Grief over loss, fear of the unknown, worry about the future, and anger and resentment toward the government and the Tokyo Electric Company were frequently expressed. For participants in Sendai, the first few meetings coincided with the period when they spent most of their available time collecting and delivering food and supplies to disaster-affected areas. Accordingly, many photographs were taken during these volunteer efforts. Many participants also photographed their own houses and workplaces to illustrate the personal impact of the disaster. The photographs and discussions of participants in Miyako reflected their physical and emotional proximity to the ocean and centered on damage to the ocean, the coast, the port, ships, and the fishing industry. Terror of the destructive force of the tsunami was often juxtaposed with admiration for natural beauty and the blessings that the ocean provides. Dissemination Per our original plan, we discussed whether participants wished to disseminate their photographs and voices and, if so, how. We chose to organize several exhibits and conducted the first one in November 2012 in Fukushima, 15 months after the project’s inception. The participants created their first set of voices shortly before the exhibit. We also organized a public forum as part of the exhibit, where participants made verbal presentations and responded to questions and comments from the audience. At these events, we asked for written feedback from the audience. The reactions of the audience and their written comments point to the documentary function of the photographs and voices; for example, one person wrote, “Please continue to speak up and inform [the public] of your suffering after the March 11 disasters: the hunger, the cold temperature, the difficulty in daily living, the arduous effort of decontamination, and the laborious task of cleaning up.” PhotoVoice exhibits and public presentations served as a reminder of the disaster and the importance of remembering and talking about it. One attendee wrote, “I felt the power of the photographs. It is important to keep a record. Photographs help us remember and continue to talk about what happened.” For many participants, these responses made them realize the significance of their actions—taking photographs, creating written voices, and sharing them with the public—and contributed to an increased sense of purpose. Continuation and Expansion Participants in all three groups expressed an interest in continuing with the project beyond the planned three meetings, so we did. All three groups continue to meet to this day, over seven years since the disaster. In addition, participants in Sendai expressed an interest in creating additional groups in their city and in Ishinomaki City, a coastal city that suffered devastating damage from the tsunamis. After several months of planning and preparation, these new groups began in the fall of 2012. Members of the Sendai Group underwent training on group facilitation. Two of them served as co-facilitators, and other members played various supporting roles in these new groups. Later, a member of the newly created Ishinomaki Group expressed an interest in initiating a group in a nearby town; we began this new group in the summer of 2014. The project itself also underwent a change; having separated from the National Network, the project became a self-sustaining program in November 2013. This was critical to the project’s continuing viability (the network terminated its operation in March 2014). Lessons Learned and Discussion Respect, Humility, and Flexibility Working in the aftermath of a major disaster requires great flexibility and, equally and perhaps more important, humility and respect for the needs and desires of the affected communities and residents. That prospective collaborators and participants were stretched too thin is an understatement. As is often the case in massive disasters, most people we initially contacted—professionals and members of governmental organizations and NGOs—suffered loss and destruction in their own lives. They were assisting other disaster victims even though they were victims themselves. There was a shortage of resources—those taken for granted in materially affluent, present-day Japan, such as meeting space at public facilities, well-maintained roads, and reliable public transportation. We outsiders were also affected. For example, rail services were halted in some areas and trains were running less frequently, thus requiring that we spend more time visiting project sites. Such experiences were both a soaring and a humbling reminder of the exponentially greater difficulties faced by the project participants and collaborators on a daily basis. For many participants, devoting two to three hours of their lives to our PhotoVoice project was demanding given that they were living in evacuation centers and searching for temporary housing, or running or driving around to gather donations and delivering them to disaster victims 30 to 60 miles away. The roads were more treacherous due to land subsidence, road closures, and detours; the drive took longer. After a long day, they came home only to have to take care of their own residences needing cleanup and repair. Participants were exhausted and stretched beyond imagination, but they kept on taking photographs and attending the meetings. Despite the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the postdisaster context, the relatively high attendance appears to indicate high levels of interest in the project among participants. It also suggests the importance of flexible project design and scheduling. We left the details of project implementation open and flexible, and we set the meetings in accommodation with participants’ schedules. The interval between meetings varied from one week to several months. Meeting locations also depended on facility availability, which was reduced in the aftermath of the disaster. In Koriyama, for example, we met at a different location each time, which members of collaborating organizations were resourceful in securing. Ethical and Safety Issues Participants approached photo taking with apprehension, fear, and worry. Photography in itself was not a foreign concept for the participants; most of them had taken photographs of family members or friends at family gatherings or during trips. However, taking photographs outside these contexts was a new experience for many participants. Fear of the new and unfamiliar was exacerbated by the devastation caused by the disaster. They were worried that the act of taking a photograph was voyeuristic, exploitative, or both. The reluctance and fear of taking photographs reported in other studies illustrates the importance of understanding the meaning of photo taking in a sociopolitical–historical context. For example, participants in Prins’s (2010) study in El Salvador saw photo taking as “a tool of surveillance.” Many had lived through a civil war, when “the military and death squads used surveillance—including pictures—to identify alleged guerrilla sympathizers, tens of thousands of whom were tortured, disappeared, or killed” (p. 436). In certain contexts, participants would perceive photo taking as bringing bad luck or putting a curse on people (Murray & Nash, 2017; Prins, 2010). These reactions to taking photographs need to be taken seriously and addressed. The disaster attracted a great number of domestic and foreign researchers. By the time we began contacting prospective collaborators, they had been sought out for information, participation, and collaboration of all kinds, and they were exhausted and overwhelmed. Many told us they had been asked to fill out questionnaires or be interviewed so many times that they did not wish to be “studied” anymore. Although some saw the value in and need for a participatory assessment of the disaster’s consequences, many expressed distrust of researchers, especially those who were “outsiders,” and were concerned about the anticipated burden of participation. Similar difficulties and concerns related to distrust of research practice, researchers, and participant burden have been reported in other studies using participatory methodologies (Dentith, Measor, & O’Malley, 2009; Murray & Nash, 2017). We proceeded slowly. We were viewed as outsiders, and indeed we were; even though both of us were born, grew up, and worked in Japan, we had not lived or worked in the areas that were affected by Great East Japan Disaster. However, both of us had previously worked with a wide range of organizations on research and advocacy efforts to promote women’s rights, particularly on the issue of gender-based violence. It was these preexisting professional connections that opened up the opportunity for dialogue. Nevertheless, it was important to recognize our outsider status and examine its meaning on a constant basis. This type of reflexivity is central to feminist research (Jorgenson, 2011; Wasserfall, 1993) and is increasingly recognized as fundamental to ethical social work practice (D’Cruz, Gillingham, & Melendez, 2007). Participatory Research with Women Many collaborators and participants regarded us as researchers and activists committed to women’s rights and welfare. Although such recognition helped forge the collaboration needed for this project, unlike the participants, we neither were nor are experts in disaster preparedness, response, and reconstruction. Various ways in which we designed the project reflect its feminist and emancipatory orientations. The fundamental premise was that women, especially those who were affected by the disaster, are the experts and legitimate creators of knowledge about disaster preparedness and response. Not imposing specific topics or themes for photo taking was not a simple tactical decision; it was a small but substantive embodiment of this premise. The participants knew what themes and images were relevant, salient, and important. Thus, it was up to them to decide what images to capture. The connection of some photographic images to the disaster was not readily apparent, sometimes even to the photographers themselves. Through interaction with fellow participants and facilitators, the photographers established the meaning of the images they captured. The way we facilitated the group discussions also reflects the project’s feminist and emancipatory orientations, embodied in the earlier-mentioned premise. Even though the participants may not have considered themselves to be “expert” and able to articulate their knowledge verbally or otherwise, we approached the photographs they took and their accounts as valuable sources of knowledge. As facilitators, we encouraged participants to go beyond describing what the photographs captured and to explore the meaning of the images and the underlying social forces and processes, if any. We also encouraged the participants (and endeavored ourselves, collectively) to explore and identify what needed to change, and how and by whom it should be changed, reflective of feminist and Freirean change orientations. These aspects of the project are emblematic of the participatory, collective, dialectic, and action-oriented nature of PhotoVoice methodology. Limitations and Possibilities One of the critiques of participatory methods of assessment is their subjective nature (Evans, 1999). It is true that our project was conducted in limited, selected locations. The photographs and discussions reflect the perspectives of the particular individuals who chose to participate in the project at a particular time and place, thus scoring low on the yardstick of objectivity and representativeness. However, the project was aimed at context-specific assessments of the disaster’s consequences. We deliberately sought reflective and subjective (and intersubjective) observations and reflections. The participants’ photographs and voices themselves constitute a rare record of Great East Japan Disaster from the perspective of the very individuals affected by the calamity. The participants are ordinary citizens and all women, whose perspectives have not been conventionally incorporated in academic or policy discourse. An illustrative example of the social significance of such citizen-generated documentary records is the invitation we received to include the photographs and voices from our project in a national archive operated by the National Women’s Education Center. This archive is linked to the Great East Japan Earthquake Archive of the National Diet Library (the equivalent of the U.S. Library of Congress), which is linked to various archives around the globe. In addition to contributing to the social investigation and documentation of the disaster’s consequences, the project also served to expand participants’ capacities and spurred them to action. The act of taking photographs and sharing and listening to stories prompted participants to examine their life conditions; creating voices furthered their awareness and insight into what happened during and after the disaster and what needed to be changed. Exhibiting their photographs and written voices, making verbal presentations, and interacting with members of the audience represented action toward the change they envisioned, illustrating the participatory and action-oriented nature of PhotoVoice methodology. Our project continues to this day and has expanded further. PhotoVoice recognizes those who are affected by the social issue under investigation as experts and values their experiences as valid and prime sources of knowledge. Not only do participants produce empirical data (that is, photographs and group discussion narratives), but they also engage in data analysis collectively and may do so in repeated group discussions on an ongoing basis. 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Author notes The authors serve as codirectors of the PhotoVoice Project. © 2018 National Association of Social Workers This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Social WorkOxford University Press

Published: May 2, 2018

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