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Balancing Life: The Moral Struggle of Family Care in Post-Disaster Fukushima


Jieun Cho (Postdoctoral Associate, APSI)

Since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, many families have been grappling with the challenges of raising “healthy” children while living in risk-laden environments. Public discourses, largely focused on the biomedical risk of disease and mutation in “Fukushima children,” often overlook the crucial role that family care plays in nurturing these children’s health and well-being.

Focusing on three mothers, this talk brings to the fore everyday dilemmas that caretakers encounter while negotiating norms of risk and health as they strive to remake their perceptions of and attachments to their children as well as their home environments: what I conceptualize as an ethical labor of “balancing.”

Against a backdrop of heightened attention to their children’s biological vulnerability, the parents redefine embodying the uncertainty of radiation as a moral struggle, experimenting with alternative ways to imagine “health” in their children’s everyday lives. The central tension revolves around whether radiation exposure is a transient health risk or an enduring alteration of family life.

Note: This talk will be livestreamed (via Zoom, registration required) for remote participants, but a recording will not be publicly available afterward.

About the speaker

Jieun Cho earned her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University, specializing in gender, environment, and disaster. Her research, titled 'Anxious Care: Radioactive Uncertainty and the Politics of Life in Post-Nuclear Japan,' investigates how middle-class families navigate the challenges of raising healthy children amidst the uncertainties of radiation risk in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

Various stages of her work have been funded by the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Graduate School at Duke University. Since 2021, she has also been a Contributing Editor of the Society for East Asian Anthropology section of Anthropology News. Before joining academia, she worked in the IT and energy industries in Korea and Japan.

As a postdoctoral researcher, she seeks to contribute to the ongoing dialogue on social reproduction, toxic ecologies, and environmental futures from the perspective of post-Cold War East Asia.