[The following is an occasional contribution from Anne Allison. Anne Allision is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and, along with Charlie Piot, the next editor of Cultural Anthropology. Currently working on a book on poverty, precarity, and Japanese youth, her publications include Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club (Chicago, 1994), Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (California 2000), and Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (2006).]
For a new project on the effects/affects of precarity on Japanese youth today, I have been contemplating the construct of “hope.” As in—who has it, what conditions generate it, and how is it linked to notions of both time (as in the future) and space (as in home). There is a pervasive sense of hopelessness and futurelessness in Japan today, and particularly amongst those stuck in irregular employment—the antithesis of the lifetime jobs of Japan, Inc.. Without the security of a stable job, a salary that is guaranteed to grow (or even last) over time, and a social identity, many youth say they feel stuck in both time and place. Not moving forward and seeing no horizon beyond the dreary here and now, people also complain of lacking a home itself. Though sometimes this is literal (the rate of homelessness is rising as is poverty), more often it is figurative. But what precisely is this—the sense one isn’t at, and doesn’t possess a, home? Certainly, not all Japanese feel this way. But the loss/longing/anxiety is widespread, captured by the claim made recently(by activists of poverty, Yuasa Makoto and Amamiya Karin) that not only is poverty spreading in the country and becoming a poverty as much of the imagination as of material conditions, but also Japan itself is becoming “refugee-d” (nanminka). The whole country is becoming exiled? From what? Itself? So, is this hope that has gotten lost or something else, like national(ist) identity? And why does my partner, who does his research in Togo, find quite a different national mood—one where people actively breath and breed hope—there today despite a degree of economic precarity far more severe than that in Japan? Is it because Togoloese are far less attached to the past than Japanese seem to be today, and far more eager, and willing, to place their hopes on a spatial or temporal outside—whether the end-times of Pentacostalism or the visa lottery everyone plays in the hopes of migrating to the United States? (Charlie Piot, Nostalgia for the Future: West Africa in the Post-Cold War, forthcoming, Chicago).
For the book I am writing on this subject, I delivered a paper on what I call “precarious sociality” recently at Cambridge University in the Department of Social Anthropology. The interest, and feedback, was remarkable, cluing me into how pressing this issue is for many of us. I share this here, and invite feedback on any of the issues—precarity, hope/hopelessness, sociality, youth, futurity, home/homelessness—raised here.
[Due to difficulties re-formatting Anne’s paper for the blog, I have opted to post the entire thing as an embedded PDF. It appears below the jump. – Kerim]