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Cook, Emma Elizabeth (2009) Failing freeters: Young men, masculinity and adulthood in Japan. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Normative ideals of masculinity in Japan continue to largely revolve around the figure of the 'salaryman': the responsible (middle-class) salaried worker, breadwinner and father. Although this model of adult manhood is becoming less attainable for many young men, the social and self expectations of many remain focused on these very ideals, as do normative ideals of adulthood. But what happens to young men who are unable or unwilling to attain salaried work? This thesis explores the lives of freeters: officially defined as part-time workers aged between fifteen and thirty-four, who, by their employment status, are almost the antithesis of the steady, productive salaryman. Freeters are often depicted in popular discourse as either lazy unmotivated youth or the victims of a changing economic climate. The vast majority of studies on freeters come from sociology, education and labour economics. These are generally data-rich, but people-poor, and most seek to structurally understand why people become freeters and the role that education and changing economic structures play in this. Little focus is given to the role of gender or issues of agency or the ways in which cultural notions of adulthood, selfhood and gender intertwine. Yet these are intimately tied into the discourse on freeters and to their lifestyles. Much of the concern surrounding the freeter 'issue' focuses on male freeters who are perceived to be failing to be proper productive citizens through their irregular working styles, low (or absent) payments into the social welfare system, and their comparatively modest marriage rate. Indeed, failure was never far from the thoughts of male freeters, though for differing reasons. They felt that by continued pursuit of their non-mainstream aspirations they were failing at being 'proper' adult men because of their inability to become core breadwinners and provide familial stability. Yet, they also felt that they would be failing themselves by shelving their aspirations and succumbing to a lifestyle that many had been seeking to move away from. By ethnographically exploring the lives of freeters I seek a different perspective from previous studies. By examining the interplay between cultural (gendered) notions of maturity and selfhood, and normative ideals of masculinity in Japan, it is possible to see how individuals' attempts to create more meaningful lives for themselves are mediated by gendered notions (created and maintained by both men and women) of what it means to be an adult man in Japan.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:01

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