2015年12月23日 星期三

The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism

Recently I have read the following book. A book summary is as follows:

Max Weber. The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism; translated by Talcott Parsons; introduction by Anthony Giddens. New York: Charles Scribbner's Sons, 1976.

Book summary:
Ch.1:  a glance at the occupational statistics provoked a discussion over the fact that business leaders and owners of capital were overwhelmingly Protestants (35). Several observations suggested that the supposed conflict between other-worldliness, asceticism on the one side, and participation in capitalistic acquisition on the other, might actually turn out to have an intimate relationship (42).

Ch.2: it tries to find out the conceptual formulation of the spirit of capitalism (47). It was free from all relationship to religion, it advocated ‘time is money’, ‘credit is money’, and ‘money can beget money’ (48-49). It was Benjamin Ranklin who preached the ethos which had the spirit of capitalism (50-1). It would suffice to note that without doubt, in the country of Benjamin Frankin’s birth (Massachusetts), the spirit of capitalism was present before the capitalistic order (55). The spirit of capitalism had to fight its way to supremacy against hostile forces. In the ancient times and in the Middle Ages, it was the lowest sort of avarice, lacking in self-respect (56). The traditional thinking was that the opportunity of earning more was less attractive than that of working less (60). We used the expression spirit of (modern) capitalism to describe the attitude which sought profit rationally and systematically, as illustrated by Benjamin Franklin. Rationalism meant to rationalize life from fundamentally different basic points of view and in very different directions. Rationalism was a historical concept (78).

Ch. 3: Calling, a religious conception, could be seen as a task set by God (79). The moral justification of worldly activity was one of the most important results of the Reformation, especially of Luther’s part in it (the fulfillment of worldly duties is the only way to live acceptably to God (81). Yet Reformation was by no means friendly to capitalism (82). For Luther the concept of calling remained traditionalistic. His calling was something which man had to accept as divine ordinance, to which he should adapt himself. The work in the calling was the task set by God (85). The study in this book contributes to the understanding of the manner in which an idea became an effective force in history (90). The book wants to ascertain whether and to what extent religious forces had taken part in the expansion of the spirit over the world (91).

Ch.4: In history there were four principle forms of ascetic Protestantism: Calvinism, Pietism, Methodism, and sects came from the Baptist movement (95). Calvinism in 16th and 17th century had the doctrine of predestination which was considered as its most characteristic dogma. It was viewed by the authority as politically dangerous and was thus attacked (99). This chapter, after examining the emphasis found in the ascetic movements of these four religions, found a common point: the conception of the state of religious grace, as a status which marked off its possessor from the degradation of the fresh in the world. But the grace could not be guaranteed by any magical sacraments, or by relief in the confession, or by individual good works. That was only possible only by proof in a specific type of conduct: by penetrating one’s conduct with asceticism. This ascetic conduct meant a ration planning of the whole of one’s life in accordance with God’s will. It was required of everyone who would be certain of salvation (153). The life of saints no longer lived outside the world in monastic communities, but within the world and its institutions. This rationalization of conduct within this world was the consequence of the concept of calling in ascetic Protestantism (154). Christian asceticism now strode into the market-place of life (154).

Ch. 5: for the purpose of this chapter, since Puritanism gave the most consistent religious basis for the idea of calling, it was at the center of discussion and was picked as the representative. Richard Baxter was a Presbyterian. He worked for the Parliamentary Government. He stood out among writers on Puritan ethics and his works were focused for this research. Baxter’s writing struck readers by its emphasis placed in the discussion of wealth and it acquisition (156). He permitted the clergy to employ their means profitably. The only real moral objection was to relaxation in the security of possession, the enjoyment of wealth with the consequence of idleness and the temptations of flesh, and above all the distraction of from the pursuit of a righteous life. Not leisure and enjoyment, but only activities served to increase the glory of God, according to the definite manifestations of His will. A waste of time was thus the first and in principle the deadliest of sins (157). A man without a calling thus lacked the systemic, methodical character which was demanded by the worldly asceticism (161). What God demanded was not labour itself, but rational labour in a calling (162). The usefulness of a calling was measured primarily in moral terms, yet in practice the most important criterion was found in private profitableness (162). Wealth was bad ethically only in so far as it was a temptation to idleness and sinful enjoyment of life, and its acquisition was bad only when it was with the purpose of later living merrily and without care (163). This worldly asceticism broke the bond of the impulse of acquisition in that it not only legalized it, but looked upon it as directly willed by God. God was not against the rational acquisition of wealth, but against the irrational use of it. (171). The accumulation of capital through ascetic compulsion made possible the productive investment of capital (172). One of the fundamental elements of the spirit of modern capitalism: rational conduct on the basis of the idea of ‘calling’ was born from the spirit of Christian asceticism.  The spirit of capitalism was the same as the Puritan worldly asceticism, only without the religious basis (180).

Thesis of the book
One of the fundamental elements of the spirit of modern capitalism: the rational conduct of a person regarding wealth was born from the spirit of Christian asceticism on the basis of the idea of the ‘calling’.  The spirit of capitalism now we know is the same as the Puritan worldly asceticism, only without the religious basis (180).

Mirror of modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan

Recently I read the following book. The details of the book and my comments are:

Book title: Vlastos, Stephen ed.1988. Mirror of modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

The goal of the book
1. To ask what is the meaning on the fact that so much of Japanese traditions are a modern invention (p.2)
2. The book, bases on Hobsbawm’s research, goes further while noting that tradition as an invention concept is elastic (p.3). Hobsbawm gave a definition to tradition in order to differentiate true tradition and invented tradition. Invented tradition was unchanging and invariant (p.4).
3. According to the book, some criticism on Hobsbawm’s work had missed the point. The primary value of invention of tradition viewpoint was to inspire critical study, and not intended to be a theory (p.5). We needed to go into history to see how, by whom, under what circumstance certain practice and idea were formulated.
1. It was not long ago that Japan specialists ascribed Japan’s successful modernization to the unity of its pre-modern values and institutions, and assumed traditions were direct cultural legacies (p.1).
2. This book is built on the historical approach of Eric Hobsbawm in revealing the ideological and constructed nature of modern tradition (p.2).
3. Social scientists used tradition in two senses: a. tradition with a temporal frame that had not clear beginning, and b. a  continuous culture transmission, which is normative, intends to reproduce patterns of culture. Yet both are ahistorical, and create binaries of pre-modern/modern/ static/changes (p.3).
4. There was a broad movement to deconstruct culture and Hobsbawm’s research shows that tradition was an invention.
5. There were three common criticism over the concept of "invention of tradition".
a. that all tradition are socially constructed and hence invented.
b. this model create dichotomy between tradition and custom.
c. the elite/popular topologizing of tradition/custom was useful only up to a point.
Focus of the book
1. The book takes note of the double meaning of “invention” which signified a meaning between imagination and contrivance, and between creation and deception. Traditions were shifting and were unstable signifiers.
2. The book discusses the relation of modern tradition to social power (p.8).
3. The book touches on but not reveal why the recent origin, shifting nature of tradition do not impair tradition’s authenticity (p.7).
4. This book touches on the development in the conceptual issues in the cultural sphere, not political sphere (p.8).
5. This book also touches on the historical theme: new tradition is important symptoms and indicator of the larger social development. The book was organized around two themes: the relationship of invented tradition to social conflicts and to the national identity (to use tradition to whole together a social in crises, and also to use invented tradition to general national identity.
6. The book touches on different area of the society practice/idea: harmony, village, folks, sports, gender, and history. Regarding the ideological formation of the invention of tradition, one interesting issued raised in the last chapter is the temporality and affect.  There were two modes of temporality: nostalgic and epiphanic (a sudden understanding). Chakrabarty in the last chapter argues that romantic nationalism may not necessary led to statist (power concentration by the state) and jingoist fascism (p.15).
Book's conclusion
1. In the last chapter Chakrabarty reminds us about the importance of “smelling, tasting, and touching, of seeing and hearing, that is the sensory dimension of cultural practice as traditions (7) (suggesting the performing nature of tradition).The past was embodied through a long process of the training of sense.
2. In the 1930s and during the pacific war, only Marxism took an opposition discourse towards the state. It seems that other areas such as judo, harmony discourses etc. actively collaborated with the militarism and imperialism.
3. Still as indicated in the book, we could see examples of creative responded by ordinary people to resist the norm and values imposed by the elites and the state, for example in chapter 4 about the weak-legal conscious.

My Book Summary:
Ch.1:  Tradition: Past/Present Culture and Modern Japanese History by Stephen Vlastos (p.1).
        Modern Japan was widely regarded as a society with customs, values and social relations that linked the present to the past (p.1). It was not long ago that Japan specialist ascribed Japan’s successful modernization to the premodern values and institutions. Readers would be surprised to discover familiar emblems of Japanese culture turned out to be modern. For example Sumo is a 20th century creation (p.1).

Ch.2: The Invention of Japanese-Style Labor Management  by Andrew Gordon (p.19)
        As of the 1990s, talks about Japanese-style labor management had a varied history of about one century. One obvious conclusion of the chapter was that invented traditions of industrial relation, from the notion of a ‘beautiful custom of master-servant relation’ to the recent praise of uniquely efficient had been articulated in specific history context (p.34). Once articulated, the idea that unique ancient social tradition proved both malleable and durable. In the pre-war and war time capitalists and bureaucratic, by invoking tradition, either protected business from legal regulation or to justify such intervention. In addition to political convenience, something kept people coming back to invent tradition. The answer lied in the ambient response of so many people to the word ‘modern’ which could be associated with decay of social order which was something negative.

Ch.3. The Invention of Wa and the Transformation of the Image of Prince Shotoku in Modern Japan by Ito Kimio (p.37).
         The purpose of the paper was to reconsider the changing historical meaning of the spirit of wa (harmony) and Shotoku’s image together in relation to the national integration of Japan (p.37). As developed by Hobsbawm, the ‘invention of tradition’ was closely related to the formation of modern nation-state (p.37). The question of modern nation-state had become a controversial issue recently (1998). The first modern study of Prince Shotoku appeared in 1893, interest in him increased only after 1903 at the 1,300 anniversary of the promulgation of the Seventeen-article constitution (p.42). The spirit of wa advocated in Article one of the Seventeen-article constitutions was transformed during the modern period (p.44). In the early Showa japan had nothing to be proud of except for its national polity. The notion of national polity was paralleled by an increasing emphasis of the concept of wa (p.45). In sum price Shotoku and the spirit of wa became a newly created tradition at a time of national crisis. It performed an ideological function by addressing the need for the country’s unification (p.47).

Ch. 4. Weak Legal Consciousness as Invented Tradition by Frank K. Upham (p.48)
       This paper challenges the conventional wisdom that weak legal consciousness was a historical attribute of the Japanese people (p.48). The article used the Hozu village iriaiken dispute as a case study to prove the points (p.50). What was striking in the Hozu dispute was not only the repeated resort to formal litigation by both sides, but also its final resolution in the 1960s by non-legal means (p.55). Japan had a low litigation rate not because of the influence of the enduring cultural attitude based on actual historical practice, but because various political elites had reified one among many historical practice as ‘tradition’. It maintains an institution that made resorting to law was more difficult, expensive, and time consuming (p.58). For example the passage rate on the exam to enter the legal training and research institute was at or below 3 percent, limiting the number of lawyer in the society (p.61).

Ch. 5. The Japanese Village: Imagined, Real, Contested by Irwin Scheiner (p.67) (to skip)
Ch. 6. Agrarianism Without Tradition: The Radical Critique of Prewar Japanese Modernity by Stephen Vlastos (p.79) (to skip)

Ch.7. Colonizing Manchuria: The Making of an Imperial Myth by Louise Young (p.95). 
          Over the course of the 1930s Manchurian colonialization became a social movement, a government program, and an icon of the imperial idea (p.95). With the exception of Hokkaido mass colonialization was a departure from Japanese colonial practice. But as the program got underway, the appeal to support the Manchurian project increasingly being sought to represent as part of a long-standing historical tradition of colonizing (p.95). The reason for the elites was to save the domestic farm villages, with the emigration movement to promote the empire (p.100). One way to achieve promoting emigration was tried to minimize reports of the unmitting Chinese bandit attacks and other hardships in Manchuria. Later the state instead glorifies the danger of banditry and the corresponding heroism of the settlers in Manchuria (p.102). The inventing of a colonizing tradition in Manchuria revealed the process of myth making the late 1930s. Mass colonization represented a bold departure in the strategies of the Japanese empire building (p.109).

Ch. 8. It Takes a Village: Internationalization and Nostalgia in Postwar Japan by Jennifer Robertson (p.110) (to skip)

Ch. 9. Chiho: Yanagita Kunio's "Japan" by Hashimoto Mitsuru (p.133).
        Yanagita Kunio, the renowned Japanese ethnologist, began one heart-breaking account of a rural family by saying that ‘this lives in on one’s memory but mine today’ (p.133). Feeling that the true Japan was no accessible through standard written histories, Yanagita sought it in stories about the lives of mountain people. He assumed that authentic Japanese would live in areas even more remote than Tono (p.135). Yanagita attempted to reconstruct the true Japan in the present Japan through the spirit of the jomin. Yanagita shared with modernization theory two basic notions: the geographical metaphor that the western counties were at the centre of modernity and Japan stands at the periphery, and the idea of a developmental historiography (p.143). Yanagita’ basic theme was that Japan was a unified whole. By projecting the diachronic dimension onto the synchronic metaphor of centre and periphery, he could argue that things unseen in fact lived on in the spatial margin he called chiho. This method of Yanagita’s folklore studies reconstituted the invisible as a tradition that have survived into the present. Thus jomin, found everywhere and nowhere, were the bearer of Japanese indigenous culture. The Japan that had been distorted by modernity could be restored to its real shape only through jomin.

Ch.10. Figuring the Folk: History, Poetics, and Representation by H. D. Harootunian (p.  144) (to skip)

Ch.11. The Invention of the Martial Arts: Kano Jigoro and Kodokan Judo by Inoue Shun (p.163).
          Although bugei and bujutsu have long history, the Japanese martial art known as budo was a modern invention. In the Tokugawa era budo meant bushido, ‘the way of the warrior’ (p.163). To-day budo refers to Japanese martial arts such as judo, kendo. To Nakabayashi Shinji, however, this usage of budo dated from the last decade of the 19th century (p.163). This essay explored the modern invention and subsequent re-invention of the Japanese martial arts by an examination of Kodokan judo. Founded by Kano Jigoro in the late 19th century, Kokokan judo was the earliest example of the invention of budo (p.163). It became a national spot and came to symbolize Japan’s modern national identity (p.164). In the 1930s and 1940s, western-style sports were discouraged and the state vigorously promoted a nationalistic and essentialist conception of budo. Budo, it was stressed, had an ancient history and embodied wakon. The emphasis on modernity and a discontinuity with tradition, which was so central to Kano’s conception of budo, disappeared. “Modernity” came to be regarded as a characteristic of ‘imported sport’ that was undesirable (p.172). The relationship between budo and sports was reversed after Japan’s defeat in 1945. Because of its close association with Japanese militarism and ultra-nationalism, budo was prohibited by GHQ. Facing a difficult situation, interested parties made effort to ‘democratize’ budo, that is, to re-create budo as a sport. The revival of budo began around 1950. School budo was revived: judo in 1950 and kendo in 1957. In 1964 during the Tokyo Olympic Games, judo was adopted as an official Olympic sport. Judo as an invented tradition had come full circle (p.173).

Ch.12. The Invention of the Yokozuna and the Championship System, Or, Futahaguro's Revenge by Lee A. Thompson (p.174).
          In 1987, the director of the sumo association, Kasugano, a former yokozuna was quoted as saying that “I have been involved with sumo for 50 years, one-fortieth of its 2,000 years history, and I have never heard of such a thing as a yokozuna running away” (174). Kasugano’s comments assumed not only the antiquity of sumo, but its continuity. He implied that the yokozuna as we knew it dated back to the supposedly ancient origins of the sport. The rank of yokozuna was thought to be a venerable tradition. On inspection it turned out to be largely modern (p.174). This essay focuses on one aspect of invented tradition in sumo that was at the heart of sumo performance today. It was the question of how supremacy was recognized. Today there were two separate yet related institutions that recognized performance in sumo. This essay traces the development of both and the relationship between them (p.175). As one commentator wrote, “the yokozuna is an illogical sort of thing, and that is what gives it the essence of a uniquely Japanese traditional performing art”. We see that the tension between the achievement-orientated championship system and the ascriptive aspect of the yokozuna made the rank inherently problematic. Yokozuna was popularly perceived as a traditional instruction. But as the article has showed, rather than the yokozuna system being older and the championship system is newer, they arose together, and, if anything, the ‘traditional’ yokozsuna system was in a large measure a product of the championship. Together, they illustrated the complex relationship between tradition and modernity (p.187).

Ch.13. At Home in the Meiji Period: Inventing Japanese Domesticity by Jordan Sand       (p.191) (to skip)
Ch.14. The Cafe Waitress Serving Modern Japan / Miriam Silverberg (p.208) (to skip)
Ch.15. Constructing Shinano: The Invention of a Neo-Traditional Region by Karen Wigen           (p.229) (to skip)
Ch.16. "Doubly Cruel": Marxism and the Presence of the Past in Japanese Capitalism by Andrew E. Barshay (p.243) (to skip)
Ch.17. The Invention of Edo by Carol Gluck (p.262) (to skip)

Ch.18. Afterword: Revisiting the Tradition/Modernity Binary by Dipesh Chakrabarty (p.285)
           The essays collected here exceeded the intellectual charter of the problematic of ‘the invention of tradition’ as was set out by Eric Hobsbawm more than ten years ago (p.285). The more positive contribution of the ‘invention of tradition’ framework by Hobsbawm was to raise a functionalist question about why ‘tradition’ was called into being by the very demands of modernity itself: how to ‘traditionalizing’  claims function as ‘ideology’ in times of rapid social changes (p.287). Having ‘demystified’ a particular ideology, what did one put in its place – the real? There thus remained a problematic tendency to oppose ‘invented traditions’, to the historical reality these tradition were seen as trying to cover up (p.287). This volume, far more aware than the Hobsbawm-ranger volume, was on how modernity itself might be a researchable problem. Vlastos provides the lead by raising a question about the role of ‘affect’ in Japanese modernity. Taken together, these essays addressed the larger question of the relationship between capitalists and statist modernity, and different ways of framing the past in a non-European context (p.288). One of the most critical ways in which this collection furthered and enriched the framework of “the invention of traditions” was by explicitly raising the question of affect and its role in modernity. Many of the invented traditions of Japanese nationalism expressly used categories of sentiment and spoke of the ‘harmony’, ‘beauty’, and the ‘spirit’ of ‘traditional’ Japaneseness (p.294).

My comment

       The book is successful in showing the reasons why, despite its origin, tradition was able to be used by the state as a means to create the impression of a unified country, and to see the process in doing that.

2015年12月11日 星期五

3.11 Disaster and Change in Japan

Recently I read the following book. A book summary and my comments are attached.

Book title:  Samuels, Richard. 2013. 3.11 Disaster and Change in Japan. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Book summary:
According to Richard Samuels, a political scientist, the Japanese government had handled the 3.11 poorly due to a lack of communication between different parties responsible for handling the disaster: the government head by PM Kan Naoto, the US rescuing party, the Self Defence Force (SDF), and TEPCO. After 3.11, political entrepreneurs were quick to do battles for controlling the post 3.11 development. This book focuses on the dynamics of these efforts under three specific topics: the national security, energy and local government (p.45).

The author suggests that cataclysmic events did not always deliver large-scale changes, but much of social theory predicted that they were likely so (p.24).  Social scientists had focused on ‘critical juncture’ when constraints on choice ‘soften’ or ‘relax’  for short periods due to power shifting because of  exogenous shocks such as war or natural disasters etc.(p.24). Crisis provided the stage on which the groups battled to both define the situation and to control it (p.26).

According to Samuel, Japan after the 3.11 catastrophe had three directions in which prescriptive narratives were pointing at. The first was ‘put-it-in-gear’, that was to call for acceleration away from the trauma and the immediate past. The second was a ‘stay-the course’ narrative, with its advocates insisted that the crisis was overblown and little adjustment was needed. The third narrative responded to a crisis by calling for undoing what had led to the catastrophe (nuclear energy) by returning to better and possibly simpler lives (p.26).

Samuels asserts that many social scientists believed that 3.11 would provide the potential disjuncture necessary for substantive political, economic and social changes. Of the three prescriptions for changes mentioned, each had its own causal energy and its own villains and heroes (p.30). The weeks and months after 3.11 were filled with calls for wholesale changes across a very broad institutional horizon.  There was a widespread optimism on both the Left and Right in Japanese politics that a stagnant nation had experienced a short of ‘creative destruction’. Some predicted that the 3.11 disaster could be seen as a big shock that led to a declining (due to the economic bubble) Japan to revive (p.31).

In chapter 3 the book uses previous disaster incidents to compare how the Japanese government responded to the disaster in history. It suggests that the most destructive and best-document earthquake before 3.11  were the Ansei quake of 1854-55, the Nobi quake  in 1891, the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 and the Hanshn/Awaji earthquake of 1995 (p.47).The book also examines  how the US in handling natural disasters in recent years (p.63). It concludes that the hurricane Katrina in the US in August 2005 had reminded us the power of narrators to create heroes and villains (p.66).
On national security, some Japanese saw the 3.11 was a warning that Japan should do more to rebuild its military capabilities;  and pointed out  how the SDF and the US-Japanese alliance ought to expect a political gain in the aftermath of the 3.11 (p.80). They thought that Japan had been ‘lulled into pacifism’ by its dependence, and had lost the ability to take care of itself. What happened on 3.11 was nothing other than a war in which Japan, that had forgotten war, was attacked (p.83). The timely and effective 3.11 rescue done by the Japanese military and the activation of the Japan-US alliance were credited with saving many lives. Other than that no major resource increase or effort to improve war-fighting capacity of Japanese troops had been seen (pp.107-8).

Then the book shifts its focus on how energy policy was debated. In the case of energy, as most of the protagonists failed dramatically, the 3.11 catastrophe was widely seen as an ‘opportunity for major transition’ in the domestic energy system (p.110). The debate was confronted by several competing ideas about what happened on 3.11. Two narrative loaded with different practical reasons on why Japan should stay the course (business as usual) had the same argument: that 3.11 was an exceptionally rare natural disaster. The third narrative suggested that the 3.11 had showed that Japan had come too far in the wrong direction, and should stop growth and return Japan to simpler lives (p.128).

Samuels suggests that it was relatively simple to gain support and attention after 3.11 when the national discourse emphasized community (everyone sought it), insecurity (everyone felt it), leadership (everyone missed it), and change (everyone anticipated it) (p.140). But in the end 3.11 had virtually no effect on the larger national strategy. The thinking of many leaders was that it was important to Japan continue to contribute globally through improved nuclear technology as a matter of national energy policy and diplomacy. The energy sector saw few changes in the first year and a half after the disaster (p.150).

In chapter 6, the book talks about the repurposing of local government. “To get local government right” had become central to a renewed national debate cloaked in the language for changes (p.151).Given the widespread perceptions of the failure of the central government, 3.11 pushed  the window wide open for local government reforms (p.158). The result was that virtually every prefecture and city started to enhance it programs for disaster prevention and response (p.177).
The book concludes that the post 3.11 discourse was thus a duel among the 3 very different prescriptions for change. The contest between ‘putting in gear’ and ‘stay in course’ was the most robust (p.188). As it turned out,  3.11 was just another episode in which the winning of hearts and minds consistently yielded to realistic facts on the ground – the balance of power, rivalries, and ideological competition, and domestic political struggles over foreign and security policy priorities (p.193). In short we saw in 3.11 what we saw in previous crises in Japan: post disaster did not exist in separate domain, normal constrain continued to operate even during the crisis (p.199). The 3.11 disaster was not the ‘game changer’ that many policy entrepreneurs desired, it did not cause structural changes to the Japanese body politic. Normal politics prevailed (p.200).


This book tries to answer the question “What have changed in Japan after the 3.11 disaster?” After analyzing the three areas of national security, energy, and local government, the book concludes that not much has been changed. While I agree with the conclusion, I would like to point out that as the book is about changes in Japan after 3.11, the details in the sections on comparative guidance starting from page 63, which talks about typhoon Katrina in the US in 2005 and other relief operations done by Japan, seem to be not relevant to the focus of the book. Also, I am interested to know why Samuels only pin-points that social scientists, not other people, believed that 3.11 would provide the potential disjuncture necessary for substantive political, economic and social changes.

2015年12月10日 星期四

Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace

Recently I have read the following book. A book summary and my comments are:

Book title: Kondo, K. Dorinne. 1990. Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Book summary
          Dorinne Kondo, a Japanese American anthropologist with a very Japanese appearance, embedded herself in a working class suburb in Tokyo and worked in a confectionary factory owned by Sato (the Sato factory) to do her field research for this book. She picked this small size factory because, in her time, 99.4% of all firms in Japan fell into this category which employed 75.8% of Japan’s workers. This category was known as the middle-small size companies (p.50). She developed her research with the theme of personhood, work, and family by asking a question: How did the people she knew crafted themselves and their lives within the shifting fields of power and meaning, and how did they do so in a particular situation and within a particular historical and cultural context (p.11). As a rhetorical/theoretical strategy, she used the first-person voice to describe her living environment to highlight how language was related to the production of ‘selves’ (pp.25-6). By experimentation with multiple shifting voice, she undertook a project to de-centre the de-essentialize selves, focusing on the ways people constructed themselves (p.43).

          Kondo claims that to regard ‘selves’ as a coherent and seamless bounded was an illusions (p.14). While doing research in Japan she had two identities: a researcher from America (the duty was to pursuit knowledge as a female sensei) and a daughter (adopted) of a Japanese family where she was residing (carrying duty and responsibility to the family) (p.14). Kondo admits that while writing this book, the crafting of her own identity, and the crafting of the identities of her Japanese friends, relatives, co-workers and acquaintances that she met during her stay in Japan were the complicated outcome of power-fraught negotiations between ‘self’ and ‘others’ (p.24). She explains that one reason why she picked ‘crafting self’ as the book title was because identity was not a static object, but a creative process. Therefore crafting selves was an ongoing process, and that crafting selves implied a concept of agency: it was human who created, constructed, worked on, and enacted on it (p.48).

          Quoting previous works on ‘self’ by other scholars such as Mauss, Saussure and Derridean, she laid out the background on the subject (pp.35-36).  Kondo also provides a critic on recent works done by younger scholars such as Richard Shweder, White and Kirkpatrick, and Valentine Daniel (pp.37-39). On the basis these previous researches, Kondo led us to question the ways how the anthropological literature had re-inscribed fixity, unity, boundedness; and insulated the ‘self’ from the play of power relations (p.42). The purpose of the book was to see how selves in the plural were constructed variously in various situations, how these constructions could be complicated and enlivened by multiplicity and ambiguity, and how they shaped, and were reshaped by relations of power (p.43).

          Kondo divides the book in to three parts. In part one, through outlining the political, economic and historical context, she describes the location of the Sato factory which was a small, family-owned firm with about 30 employees. Then she focuses on an extraordinary experience at an ethic training retreat where the Sato workers were sent there to take courses to become better human being and better servants of the company. Part two discussed about the living meaning of family for the people known to the author. Then it explained how Sato, the owner of the firm, tried to create a ‘family’ atmosphere in the factory. Kondo shows how workers reproduced the concept of ‘company as family’ to work again Sato. Part three looked into the problematic construction of gendered work identities on an ‘individual’ level. Using the perspective of a male artisan and the female part-time workers, Kondo highlights the notions of identity, and shows that individual identities were contextually constructed (p.47).

          Kondo concludes that the complex and often paradoxical effects of gender drew our attention to the multiplicity of possible points at which dominant cultural forms might be contested. They underlined the always unpredictable and incomplete nature of resistance and the impossibility of constructing a transcendent space of resistance beyond discourse, beyond power and beyond the law (p.299).

          Throughout the book Kondo argues that selves were crafted in processes of work and within matrices of power, and those dichotomic categories such as personal and political, experiential and theoretical, personal and social, persistent in North American narrative conventions, were unable to fully account for the complexities and ambiguities of everyday life (p.300).

          Kondo admits that her relatives, neighbour, friends, and co-workers in Sato factory had showed her that her implicit, unconscious assumptions about a ‘concept of self’ based on the notion of referential meaning, and also the neat separability of person from either ‘political’ or ‘theoretical’ were discursively produced which were the sediments of her own culture and history (p.308).


          This is a good book to learn about writing style and research method. It is interesting to note her confession that she had deviated from the conventions in book writing: putting theoretical discussion scattered throughout the book, for example the theoretical discussion on pages 219 to 223. Another deviation from the norm is her writing style in marshaling analytically the ‘ethnographic’ vignette and anecdotes (304). I find it interesting to read her story that, while doing shopping for her family, she had almost failed to recognize her own image as reflected in the shiny metal surface of the butcher’s display case, by mistaking it as the image of another typical young Japanese housewife (pp. 16-17). While the story shows how successful Kondo was in blending into the local community, it also reflects how she at times might become confused with her identities, and her different ‘selves’.

2015年12月9日 星期三

Gift-giving in Japan: Cash, Connection, Cosmologies

Recently I have read the following book. A book summary and my comments are as follows:

Book title: Rupp, Katherine. 2003. Gift-giving in Japan: Cash, Connection, Cosmologies. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

About the author:
   Katherine Rupp was a lecturer in the Yale University’s Department of Anthropology in 2002. She began her study of Japanese and Japan as an undergraduate at Princeton University. She spent several years in the University of Chicago for her graduate training. She completed the manuscript for this book as a postdoctoral associate of the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University. (Source: Katherine Rupp)

Book summary:
   The book suggests that in Japan the giving of gifts was extremely important (p.1). This book was the result of an 18 month-fieldwork in Tokyo metropolitan area and in other parts of Japan; the core of the study was 16 families. The few individuals who were targeted at for the field work were: Mrs Ueda and her family lived in Tokyo, Mr. Hoshio and his family lived in a small town called Warabi, Mr. Ishjiyama and his family lived in Warabi who opened a store. Mr. Tanabe, a retired stockbroker, and his family living in Tokyo (p.25).  Mrs Inoue, whose husband was the president of a family machine tool company, lived in a large and traditional Japanese house (p.28). Mrs. Inoue kept a lot of gifts record for Rupp to do the field study.

   The book stresses that the attitudes and practices of giving could vary according to factors such as region, occupation, education, class, family background, gender, religion and personality etc. (p.155).  People had different feeling about giving which would influence the orientations toward giving (p.155). Rupp introduces the different idea and theory used by James Carrier (p.157), Gayle Rubin (p.159), and Carol Cavanaugh (p.160) on gift-giving. The idea and experience of Mrs. Inoue, Mr. Tanabe and others in gift-giving were also quoted in the book.

   Rupp explains how Japanese practices in gifts giving and receiving were related to a larger body of European and American literature (p.179). These literatures included those by Emerson (p.179), Derrida (p.180), Marcel Mauss (p.180), Jonathan Parry (p.180), and Marilyn Strathern (182). Rupp points out that Japan was a place that challenged the stereotype that Western capitalist societies had been characterized by commodity form. Japan resisted any sharp contrasted between gifts and commodities (p.183). Rupp suggests that although the commodity system was the basis for a gift system, it was wrong to treat the relationship in giving and receiving as if they were one form of buying and selling, and criticized Ruth Benedict for holding such a viewpoint (p.185).

  Rupp also points out that Befu’s model was problematic when it suggested that there were two types of giving in Japan: giri and ninjo.  Rupp also points out that some scholars had viewed gift-giving in Japan through ideas of alienability and inalienability, focusing on the works by James Carrier (p.190). She points out this idea was not useful in understanding giving and receiving in Japan. She suggests it might be possible to think the relationship between gift and commodities in a more fluid and dialectical terms (p.192).

   The book concludes that models founded on static or essentialist notion of Japanese sense of self, or all other models put forward by western scholars were not helpful because they explained little about the complex details and variations as witnessed in the many different forms of giving that the author had encountered during her field studies. Giving, together with the attitudes towards giving were extremely diverse; there could not be one simple model for understanding giving (p.197). The author thought that she had developed a neglected theme of Mauss’s work: the action of giving itself was an instantiation not so much of a particular person or self, but of the social relationship between giver and recipient. Gift acts situated people; it changed status, and built relationship (p.197).


   Rupp was successful in proving that there could not be one simple model on giving. She showed the inadequacy and limitation of different theories put forward by scholars before her time. I think one of the difficulties for these theories is the element of time. Social practice may change over time. As evidenced in Befu’s examples, the viewpoints quoted by Rupp were expressed by the former in 1967-68 which was almost 50 years from now (p.186).  Social practice or value/meaning in gift-giving as noted in those days could be totally different from that of 2002 when the book was written, and therefore had every reason to be judged as inadequate by Rupp.  

2015年12月8日 星期二


A few weeks ago the Yomiuri News on-line reported the following:

20151004 0950

My Translation:

An incident was made clear about some "spying activity" in China which concerned the arrest of a man in his 50s from Aichi prefecture who was taking a great deal of pictures in May of this year in Zhejiang province Wenzhou city Pingyang county’s south offing chain of islands that had military facilities.
 About these facilities, they had jurisdiction over the sea area around the Senkaku-islands, which was about 300 kilometers away from the Okinawa prefecture. A reality had surfaced that the Chinese authority was excessively sharpening its nerve over Japanese behavior.
According to a local person in authority, this man was arrested because he had brought along what look like to be a Chinese interpreter to take “a large amount of” pictures which was beyond the level for commemorative purpose.
 While these same chain islands was a holiday resort and visiting was possible by overseas visitors, at corner of the island there was radar facilities to watch over the activities of the Self-Defense Forces and the Maritime Safety Agency of Japan. Intrusion into the area around the facilities was severely restricted. An executive of the Chinese military admitted to the domestic media that there were military bases on the same island chains, and as such it was “one of the several islands that have strategic significance".

            The incident shows that Zhejiang province Wenzhou city now is an important military area because the military installation set up there would be used to monitor the situations in the Senkaku Islands, Taiwan and the South China Sea.