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  • Frictions and Outcomes between the State and Civil Society in Locating "Public Bads"
  • Mike Danaher (bio)
Daniel P. Aldrich. Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008 ⋲ 254 pp.

In Site Fights, Daniel Aldrich investigates how the governments of Japan, France, and the United States decide where to locate the necessary evils of airports, dams, and nuclear power plants as well as how leaders respond to an increasingly more questionable public opposition to these sitings. The focus is mainly on Japan, with selective comparisons with France and the United States. The time period is the 1950s onward. Aldrich argues that state agencies initially manage potential conflicts by avoiding contestation wherever possible. He states that authorities place facilities where organized resistance from groups is judged to be lowest. This book charts the decisionmaking processes from a historical perspective and finds that authorities are facing rising opposition from citizens, who are more educated and environmentally and globally conscious.

The research uncovered in this book is a culmination of Aldrich's scholarship on Japan, France, and political science. Japanese and French language sources make up a substantial part of his research and add to the depth of analysis. General findings across the three countries reveal that a strong civil society pushes states to develop more sustainable strategies for handling divisive problems, whereas a weak civil society allows states to continue using hard social control methods and coercion, such as land expropriation and making NGO registration difficult. In other words, the characteristics of civil society, whether strong or weak, play a highly significant role in the choice of government strategies and where projects are ultimately located.

Aldrich drills down among the toolkits that governments use in order to find out what determines their choice of tools from a considerable number of variations in types of government responses, the choice of which is not [End Page 152] easy to explain. He claims tool choices, more than anything else, depend on the strength of contentious political opponents within civil society over time. Governments have at their disposal many and varied tools that can be broadly divided into hard forms of social control, such as expropriation and police suppression, and soft forms, such as grants and educational programs.

Aldrich has compiled a comprehensive data set to test his arguments. His research is carefully designed to compare apples with apples by selecting hundreds of cases. The focus of analysis is the interaction between government and citizenry, which essentially is where this study differs from others. His methodology, which addresses a large number of cases across three countries, is refreshing and opens up the topic to greater scrutiny while providing interesting insight into many conflicts. The book examines a range of variations in government responses to citizen opposition cross-nationally, cross-temporally, and across same-nation cases. These cases inform Aldrich's hypothesis that the strength of civil society to oppose controversial sitings determines how states will react.

The historical context provided offers insights into the various levels and motivations of civil protests, as well as focusing on more determined government authorities. For example, the Narita airport extensions during the late 1960s corresponded with Vietnam War dissent and left-wing student activities. Yet protests, though highly militant and violent, remained unsuccessful. Protestors thought Narita would be used by U.S. combat and troop planes fighting in Vietnam in the same way that the Haneda airport was being used. Learning from the Narita case, the state has employed soft social control methods for future airport sitings. Moreover, in recent times airports were built on man-made islands in Japan in order to minimize public backlash. Similarly, the oil shocks of 1973–74 made governments more determined to shield their nations from future global events by speeding up construction of nuclear power plants, and therefore energy independence, if possible. This certainly applied to Japan and France, which have low reserves of oil and coal.

The book shows that ordinary Japanese people are concerned about the environmental and personal health risks of these facilities but that this varies depending on the type of "public bad." Japanese and U.S. opposition to dams has...


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pp. 152-155
Launched on MUSE
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