Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ethnographies of Hope in Contemporary Japan

Date: October 19, 2013
Venue: University of Osaka, Graduate School of Human Sciences
Convenors: Iza Kavedžija and Scott North

In recent years, amidst a faltering economy, the Japanese have witnessed a proliferation of narratives of diminishing hope and decline. Social consequences range from withdrawal from the public domain into the private sphere (Zielenziger 2006), to political apathy among the young (McVeigh 1998, 2004), to the strengthening of right wing rhetoric (Japan Times, 23/5/2013; Nakano n.d.). Yet a vague sense of disillusionment or hopelessness would seem to be the most widespread public reaction.

While the situation, both politically and economically undoubtedly warrants concern, such an attitude is far from the only one possible. The cross-cultural perspective afforded by anthropology indicates that people living in much more dire circumstances, in places struck by war or hunger for example, nevertheless hope and strive for better lives (e.g. Vigh 2009), and actively attempt to transform their communities. Other research indicates that positive emotions are contagious within certain limits (Fowler and Christakis 2008), suggesting that hope can be purposely increased.

This workshop seeks to examine ethnographically the feelings, perceptions and narratives of hopelessness in contemporary Japanese society. Furthermore, it seeks to outline some of the cases in which new approaches, organizations, or grassroots efforts have fostered renewed feelings of hope.

One sample paper that might be of interest:

The Hope for Medical Interpretation for Deaf People (and Foreigners)
Steven C. Fedorowicz
Kansai Gaidai University

Abstract: A new city hospital in Hirakata-shi, Osaka is scheduled to open in 2014. In 2011, a small group of deaf citizens decided that the timing was right to request a service to be implemented at the new hospital they lacked and desperately needed – medical interpretation in Japanese Sign Language (JSL). The group figured it could strengthen their position by aligning themselves with foreign residents in the city. By including foreigners, the group’s goals broadened “to change the city to be friendly to every citizen with a secured and comfortable life… [and] to ensure easy access for the hearing impaired and foreign residents to medical care” (The First Forum poster). One of the first strategies to recruit foreigners was to elicit the assistance of an American anthropologist fluent in JSL. Public forums were scheduled featuring doctors, professors, interpreters and other specialists to discuss the need and future prospects of medical interpretation. Initially there were feelings of optimism and great hope that policies and services crafted locally would ultimately serve as a template for medical interpretation in other areas in Japan as well. However, the planning and implementation of the forums proved to be extremely challenging. Personal and political rifts between deaf people, interpreters and others added to the difficulties of increasingly unfocused goals and strategies. This presentation will be an auto-ethnographic account of the highs and lows of the group’s efforts from the perspective of the American anthropologist struggling to balance research and activism.

For previous VAOJ coverage of the Hirakata-shi medical interpretation forums:

For more conference information (schedule, abstracts, etc.):!workshop/cjg9

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