Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for East Asian Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists
Primary Theme: Persistence
Secondary Theme: Resilience
Debates on social change have always been central to social science. When societies confront turmoil, scientists have inevitably posed the question of when and how change occurs. In anthropology, too, by directing a shrewd focus onto human actions, scholars have explained how these actions are influenced by society, and in turn impact the society, and then debated whether and to what extent these actions lead to long-term social change. Marshall Sahlins’s work, “Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities” (1981), is revolutionary in its elucidation of social reproduction, and transformation. He elaborated on how humans in one society adapted to novel practices by reproducing conventional relationships with people from outside the society, thereby revising the relationships inside the society. In other words, by reproducing a conventional practice in a new relationship with outsiders, human actors can embody a new practice, which can alter the conventional relationship in their own structure, and thereby transform the structure.
Contemporary Japanese studies need this approach. Social science research on Japan has often emphasized social reproduction more than transformation. Even during the recent neoliberal reforms by the government, the continuation of the male-salaryman and female-homemaker model has attracted attention. On the other hand, anthropologists of Japan have spotlighted diverse actors, such as child-caring salarymen and regularly employed mothers, who have arisen from inside the dominant mode but embodied new practices. Amidst these dynamics in contemporary Japanese society, we, as anthropologists who inquire into human capabilities and impacts of their practices on employment and family structures, seek to question further: 1) How do individuals embody these novel practices? 2) Do these practices affect their relationships with others? 3) Then, does this lead to social change?
This panel draws upon five individual papers by anthropologists of work, employment, and family in Japan. Each paper will shed light on diverse actors who embody new practices in the dominant social structures in Japan. We discuss how these practices are embodied and then impact the actors’ relationships with others. Fujita examines married couples’ reproduced, and transformed relationships in both work and family in their experiences of company-ordered inter-regional relocation [tenkin]: a dominant employment practice. Nana Gagné draws attentions to an emergent practice among female workers: the proactive pursuit of pregnancy [ninkatsu], and explores their new lifeways and perspectives on family. Focusing on the meaning of motherhood, Sun portrays married women’s struggles to become a mother or to perform as a mother, with its possible influence on their marital happiness. Spotlighting functions of home, Meagher articulates how young women living in a Japanese sharehouse, through their interactions with housemates who are non-kin others [tanin], reproduce cultural conservatism in domesticity and call for negotiation for change. Broadening the scope to communities, Isaac Gagné illuminates how volunteer groups operate in the niche between social welfare services and conventional family support while creating new relationships among volunteers and strangers. The panel will then seek to explain how the attitudes of these actors can or will bring about social change in Japan.