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McCreery, Guy (1998) Redefined selves: Individuality and community in post-bubble Japan. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The research was conducted between August 1993 - June 1996 in Tokyo The research tests the ubiquity of an emerging individualism in Japan in the aftermath of the speculative Bubble collapse. The thesis seeks to demonstrate that an individualism is emerging in Japan and being legitimated in two complementary dynamic processes. One is a 'top-down' process whereby individuality is being engendered, legitimated and institutionalized through planned company organisational restructuring. The other is a 'bottom-up' process where increasing unemployment and a burgeoning flexible economy requires individuals to show initiative and independence. Both these processes can be seen to be occurring against a general trend of 'individuation' (Dore 1992) which has gathered momentum since the oil crises of 1973 and 1974 (Sengoku 1991). In both cases, the emergence of this individualism is plotted by focusing primarily on the economically driven changes between those ethics and practices generally regarded as typical of 'the group model of Japanese society', as described by Nakane (1970) and critiqued by Befu (1980a, 1980b, 1990), and those ethics and practices emerging to characterize what I term a 'new individualism'. Through an ethnographic analysis of two case studies: one a software company, to study the 'top-down' process, the other among people who attend Techno music parties, to study the 'bottom- up' process, it emerged that a primary ethic of 'group models of Japanese society' (Befu 1980b, 1990) is that the individual self should 'suppress itself or 'deny itself, and conform to uniform standards of thought and behaviour set at the collective level. This was in marked contrast to the ethics and practice of the two case studies, where the individual self is expected to 'express itself. This 'redefinition' of the individual self engenders and is engendered by a complementary redefinition of ethics and practice at the collective level, where the requirement to conform to particular uniform sets of standards for thought and action associated with group models of Japanese society, are absent. In order to apprehend changes to the self at the individual and collective level, the little understood concepts of seken and sekentei were used. The research demonstrates that sekeii is the moral framework of 'the group model of Japanese society', while sekentei is the 'public self of this model of society, and that, as individuality emerges and becomes legitimated within society as a whole, seken and sekentei, and associated situational ethics and 'multiple' senses of the individual self associated with these concepts, lose their moral and social legitimacy, giving way to a unified sense of self within a single, nuanced, universal public domain. The research also demonstrates that this new individualism is not primarily a colonization by Western individualism, but is an identifiably Japanese individualism grounded in well- documented aspects of the Japanese self and Japanese society, and best understood as a departure from, and redefinition of these aspects of the Japanese self and of Japanese society.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:02

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