Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 8.01.45 AMBad Water: Nature, Pollution, and Politics in Japan, 1870–1950
By Robert Stolz
Duke University Press

Bad Water is a sophisticated theoretical analysis of Japanese thinkers and activists’ efforts to reintegrate the natural environment into Japan’s social and political thought in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. The need to incorporate nature into politics was revealed by a series of large-scale industrial disasters in the 1890s. The Ashio Copper Mine unleashed massive amounts of copper, arsenic, mercury, and other pollutants into surrounding watersheds. Robert Stolz argues that by forcefully demonstrating the mutual penetration of humans and nature, industrial pollution biologically and politically compromised the autonomous liberal subject underlying the political philosophy of the modernizing Meiji state. In the following decades, socialism, anarchism, fascism, and Confucian benevolence and moral economy were marshaled in the search for new theories of a modern political subject and a social organization adequate to the environmental crisis. With detailed considerations of several key environmental activists, including Tanaka Shōzō, Bad Water is a nuanced account of Japan’s environmental turn, a historical moment when, for the first time, Japanese thinkers and activists experienced nature as alienated from themselves and were forced to rebuild the connections

“Bad Water is a vitally important study of the growing incidence of recognizable pollution of the environment in Japan’s late Meiji period (1890s–1900s). It is both a prescient and penetrating critique of the costs of the country’s modernizing transformation and a withering assault on the political paradigm that informed it. Above all else, Robert Stolz has constructed a brilliant critique of the price extracted of the country’s liberal endowment and, by extension, of liberalism everywhere.”–Harry Harootunian, author of History’s Disquiet: Modernity, Cultural Practice, and the Question of Everyday Life

“In Bad Water, Robert Stolz has created a fascinating, complex synthesis of intellectual history, environmental studies, and critical theory. The book will speak to readers interested in capitalist modernity, the dialogue between the cosmopolitan and the local production of knowledge, and social movements and the possibilities of criticism. Thoughtful and provocative, it is a superb book and one that I expect will be widely read.”–Christopher Nelson, author of Dancing with the Dead: Memory, Performance, and Everyday Life in Postwar Okinawa

Robert Stolz is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia.