Recently I have read the book below. A book summary and my comments are as follows:
Book title: Wim Lunsing. 2001. Beyond Common Sense: Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Japan. London: Kegan Paul
In this book Lunsing first defines what was “common sense” to him (p.3). The theme of the book was to categorize people based on sexuality (on those apart from the mainstream/majority) (p.8). All his research categorization consisted of people who failed to fit into the Japanese common sense social construction of female/male gender according to sex biologically (p.13). He wants to see how people who perceived their personal sexual attributes as different from the one assigned to them by the society, how they saw and related themselves to the Japanese society (p.14). Lunsing argues that qualitative research was likely to be more reliable than quantitative because quantitative research depended greatly on interpretations by scholars, as such there was not much control compared to qualitative fieldwork (p.31).
Chapter two discusses the research method, and the people and groups he had worked with. Then it discusses sampling techniques and methods of interviewing. Lunsing believes that experiential, reflective and critical activities ‘are the very strength of anthropology’ (p.35). Lunsing thinks that the most useful thing he could do was what he was doing, i.e. to write about himself/his group’s life in Japan so that society became harder to ignore them. (p.38). He has about 20 groups of interviewees. Of these, 9 consisted of gay men, one was gay and lesbian, and one was exclusively lesbian (p.39). An American scholar had once advised him not to fall in love with informants because it might produce a bias towards them. Yet Lunsing thinks that this was not a problem (p.61).
In chapter three Lunsing investigates the various construction of marriages (in Japan the tradition that one should marry was seen as common sense) and the examples on discrimination related to marriage (p.74). Chapter 4 investigates how people were coping on a personal level with a social system that did not fit their needs; how did those whose did not feel the need to marry tried to find alternative ways of life-style (p.120).
Chapter 5 discusses why people might remain single and how some had experimented with alternative relationship and living style which included to get marry and then to divorce, or to remain single throughout. Chapter 6 discusses strategies employed for coping with a social environment that often had little consideration for people whose lifestyle etc. were at variance with the social norm (p.209).
Chapter 7 discusses discourses and construction concerning gender and sex, and how they affected people who belonged to the various research categories (p.261). In chapter 8 the author makes the book more explicit by using 3 themes which respectively were: 1. space, gender and sexuality, 2. constructions of homosexuality, 3. selves. On top of these themes he also talks about the fourth theme: changes and development that had happened since his research (p.310). The author concludes that it was possible to live an openly gay, lesbian, feminist, or single lifestyle in Japan (p.337). He also says that since Japan, unlike many western countries, did not have clear cut national moral system bases on religion, it should be relatively easy to adapt smoothly to the needs of people with alternative lifestyles. The major change needed was to modify “common sense” to make alternative lifestyle acceptable to the majority of Japanese people. (p.345). Lumsing claims that the boundaries for changes were being explored. It seemed that most of the limits had not yet been reached, and where the permitted space could end was still not clear (p.346).
This book is informative and well organized, although long sentences that are difficult to decipher are used sometimes. The book explains a lot of terms on sexuality, and the situation in Japan. One issue raised by this book is whether a researcher should have a relationship with the interviewees; whether a researcher should be both the observer and the protagonist at the same time. From the view point of joshiki (common sense), I think it is problematic because the research may be biased by human emotion etc. and the neutrality of the data could be challenged, for example the interviewees who had a relation with the researcher may choose to give information selectively in order to appease the researcher. Based on this point I am skeptical about the stories told by some interviewees.
The other issue raised is about “common sense”. The author seems to suggest that common sense may not be reliable in guiding us in our daily life decision making. I think common sense has a lot of meanings. In the opening line of one his most famous books, Discourse on Method, Descartes established the most common modern meaning of common sense and its controversies. In the 18th century Enlightenment, common sense came to be seen more positively as the basis for modern thinking. It was contrasted to metaphysics. Today, the concept of common sense, and how it should best be used, remains linked to many of the most perennial topics in epistemology and ethics, with special focus often directed at the philosophy of the modern social sciences. Perhaps Lunsing is using “common sense” as a tool to challenge the hegemony that divide human in the context of male and female biological sex, that comes to be taken for granted as the natural ordering of the world. Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff took hegemony as “to refer to the order of signs and practices, relations and distinctions, images and epistemologies – drawn from a historically situated cultural field that come to be taken for granted as the natural and received shape of the world and everything it inhabits”. “Common sense” and hegemony seem to look alike.