ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Allison, Anne. Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Main Argument: Hostess clubs, and in particular the company-paid outings that frequently take place there, are sites of both work and play in which male corporate workers of a certain echelon construct themselves as a group of men together through the conduit of the woman, the hostess, who is paid to attend them. Although the habit of visiting hostess clubs is said to be 'natural,' hostess clubs in fact constitute an artificial site in which corporations are able to manipulate their employees' subjectivity, desires, and identity, suturing them tightly to their jobs.

Hostess clubs & salarymen )

Critical assessment:
This is a courageous, insightful book, with a lot of important points to make about work, money, gender, play and sex in contemporary Japan--if Andrew Gordon's The Wages of Affluence documented the creation of a gyroscopic political and social hegemony through a construction of union labor, Allison's book is concerned with how that same hegemony operates on and genders salarymen, who are nominally better off than factory workers but whose worklife regularly extends to midnight or later in hostess clubs. Though Allison makes no bones about her own feminism, and deploys feminist analysis to great effect in this book, in the end her analysis mirrors hostess clubs themselves, in which men are the focus and women are merely conduits for men to build themselves up amongst their peer group. This in itself, however, is highly valuable, and the book gains as well from Allison's determined engagement with several 'scholars' of Nihonjinron ('theories of Japaneseness') whose culturally essentialist explanations for the behaviors of salarymen at work and at play simply treat hostess clubs as natural and leave it at that.

In class discussion a lot of my male colleagues objected to Allison's final points about impotence and the salaryman--while I agree that Lacanian theory can seem suspicious after a while, my own reading of the book and their reaction is that they objected out of a discomfort that hit rather close to home rather than to the actual content of Allison's arguments in this respect, which are not meant to be universal. I think to some extent this is a reflection of the fact that at this point in academia we are fairly well acquainted with the idea that male privilege exists, but we are much more prone to perceiving how society operates on and structures "women" than we are prepared to acknowledge that it does the same to "men." And that, I think, is the real and uncomfortable truth that Allison's work here exposes, above and beyond her conclusions about the suturing of work and identity for male corporate employees in Japan. (Though for someone who has no truck with the social fiction that mahjong is not played for money, it seems bizarre that Allison fails to realize that pachinko is played for--quite a lot of--money too.)

Further reading: Anne Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires, Millennial Monsters

Meta notes: It would be really interesting for a male anthropologist to do field work in a host club today--the fieldwork in this book is 30 years old, and some of the details are clearly out of date. In particular, exploring what the women who patronize host clubs (and they do; host clubs and hosts are a visible presence in many Japanese cities, to say nothing of butler and maid cafes) are doing there would make a fascinating counterpoint to this study.

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ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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