ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Kondo, Dorinne K. Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Main Argument: Dorinne Kondo, a Japanese American, Harvard-trained anthropologist, spent nearly two years in Japan working as a part-timer in a small confectionery factory in the shitamachi of Tokyo's Arakawa ward. Her experiences there suggest that identity is multiple and relational and that the famed Japanese ideology of the workplace as a family does not go uncontested by workers, who are quick to resist it and to use it to criticize their bosses on its own terms.

Crafting selves at work )

Critical assessment: This is a good, thought-provoking book that emphasizes a number of points about (gendered) labor in Japan that bear emphasizing. That said, it needed an editor hard-core; there are several sections in which Kondo provides altogether too much background information than is relevant, and she--well, in her review Jennifer Robertson said that Kondo's experiences frequently came across as too general and stereotypical, which I would certainly agree with based on their basic similarity to many of my experiences doing research in Japan. Given all the things that separate me and Kondo, this "terrible familiarity," in my advisor's words, is not felicitous. Similarly and in the words of another reviewer, Kondo often comes across as--naive is probably too strong a word, but she takes a number of phenomena at face value that ought to be further unpacked, perhaps most obviously when she refuses for the entire book to call the confectionery workers' exploitation exploitation. It's a tough balancing act to tread the line between researcher and participant, but I think she tends to err on the side of participant most of the time.

All of this is not to actually discuss the book's merits, namely its unpacking a workplace that is far more typical in Japan than that of the salaryman or the permanently employed union worker. Still, Kondo's analysis is focused almost monomaniacally on this one particular enterprise, to the point where her analysis is not readily generalizable; given that there is literally nothing to set this particular confectionery apart, that seems questionable. Still, she succeeds in making her central argument about identity, which doesn't seem as radical as it may have in 1990, and in interlacing theory with her account, even as she leaves some aspects of it undertheorized--all in all, a worthwhile read.

Further reading: Judith Butler, Gender Trouble

Meta notes: 家 being read uchi is a metonym for 内.

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Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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