Briefly describe your research
My dissertation focuses on how the public discussion about the human health consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 2011 is being shaped. More specifically, I examine the process of official knowledge production through peer-reviewed scientific literature. I argue that this dominant narrative has created a regime of silence surrounding radiation and health, and that this exacerbates the gendered burden of the daily mitigation of radiation risk. Finally, I explore how activists have treated the disruption caused by the Fukushima accident as an opportunity to mobilize fellow citizens and youth.
Why do the humanities matter?
Humanistic inquiry can help us explore the most difficult questions about the human experience, shedding light on how, for instance, individuals, communities, and societies cope with crises that encroach upon every aspect of daily life. In the study of environmental disasters and their consequences, the humanities are particularly significant in that they push us beyond purely quantitative and biomedical measures of destruction and disease. What does it mean to live with the awareness of invisible contaminants and the constant fear of future illness? How does cultural context shape the lived experience of dealing with such threats? What are the possible sources of resilience, recovery, and resistance? Such questions are by no means limited to the study of environmental health issues and crises, as evidenced by the current context of a global pandemic.
What do you look forward to this year as a Humanities Center fellow?
Interdisciplinarity has been a core theme of my experience here at Northeastern for the past five years. I am a member of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI), so in addition to my core training in sociology, I’ve had the privilege of learning from scholars and professionals from environmental social science, environmental health, and other natural science fields. This year as a Humanities Center fellow, I am excited to extend my interdisciplinary training and collaboration in the other disciplinary direction and to more deeply explore perspectives from various fields in the humanities. I know that hearing how the other fellows have approached the topics of disruption and displacement in their work will help me develop more well-rounded and nuanced insights to apply to my own research.
Elicia Cousins is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department and a member of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI). Her dissertation focuses on contested narratives about radiation health effects after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011. This research draws largely from extensive volunteer experience and participant observation at nature-focused recuperation retreats for children and mothers still living in contaminated areas, and sheds light on the gendered burdens of daily management of toxic exposures. Through her work with SSEHRI, Elicia has also published research on voluntary corporate commitments to reduce the use of perfluorinated chemicals (PFASs) in consumer products. Elicia is from Tokyo, Japan and received her B.A. in Environmental Studies from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.