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The blur of modernity: essentialism, affect and everyday life in Tokyo

Farnetti, Tobia; (2018) The blur of modernity: essentialism, affect and everyday life in Tokyo. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access


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This thesis explores the constitutive role that cultural essentialism plays in the everyday life of Japanese urban modernity. Starting from the ethnographic observation that essentialised ideas of “Japan” and “the Japanese” are not only fruit of an orientalising anthropological gaze but also a prime indigenous concern, I aim to place my analysis as a “third way” between those ethnographies that employ essentialism as method and those who handle it as an object of critique. The experiment is to re-frame essentialism as the ethnographic object under scrutiny - as a living and breathing presence in the lives of people in Tokyo The main argument guiding the thesis is that looking at essentialised social categories one does find its essentialised version – e.g. family structure understood as timeless and constitutively Japanese – but also, together with it, what is understood as its negative – e.g. a fluid changing family structure moving with history, migration to the urban centres, Westernisation and the life of the city. One does find strong binaries – e.g. old and new, Japanese and foreign, traditional and modern – and yet it is not through one of its extremes that essentialised social forms are lived and understood, but in between them. While this may appear paradoxical, in the thesis I show that it is through a dynamic of “blurring” of the terms of the opposition - in the ephemeral moments (sometimes transfixed in stone) when the two terms overlap and become undistinguishable - that the engagement with these forms is most strongly felt. This blurring carries a strong affective and aesthetic charge and can thus be in turn essentialised as something constitutively “Japanese”. Based on two years of fieldwork in eastern Tokyo the thesis aims to understand this indigenous logic in its own right, seeking to find it in different fragments of metropolitan life.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The blur of modernity: essentialism, affect and everyday life in Tokyo
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10054898
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