What does "environment" really mean in the complex, non-Western milieu of present-day Tokyo? How can anthropology contribute to the technical discussions and quantitative measures typically found in environmental studies? Author Peter Wynn Kirby explores these questions through a deep cultural analysis of waste in contemporary Japan. His parameters are intentionally broad—encompassing ideas of "nature," attitudes toward hygiene, notions of health and illness, problems with vermin and toxic waste, processes of social exclusion, and reproductive threats. Troubled Natures concludes that how surroundings are conceived, invoked, and enacted is subjective, highly contextual, and under continual negotiation—with suggestive implications for anthropology, social science, and environmental studies generally. Kirby casts his anthropological lens over two Tokyo neighborhoods, comparing environmental consciousness and conduct in communities facing specific toxic threats (real or perceived). In each fieldsite, the tension between lofty rhetoric and daily practices helps highlight the practical ambivalence of Japanese environmental consciousness. Waste practices and ideas of pollution in Tokyo tie clearly into broader social issues such as exclusionary practices, emergent lifestyle changes, recycling efforts, and novel forms of energy production. Throughout, waste and environmental health problems in Tokyo collide against diverse cultural elements linked to nature(s)—uneasy relations between animals and humans; "native" conceptions of the "foreign" and the "polluted"; reproductive challenges in the face of a plunging fertility rate; and changing attitudes toward illness and health. The book’s thoughtful inquiry into the ways in which environmental questions circulate throughout Japanese society furnishes insight into central elements of contemporary Japanese life. As for the pivotal question of how to shape environmental policy internationally, Troubled Natures reminds us that efforts to influence a society’s waste shadow must unfold over a distinctive sociocultural topography where attitudes to garbage, health, purity, pollution, and excess can impact environmental priorities in profound ways.
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