Anneke Beerkens (1980) is a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (UvA AISSR). In line with research interests she explored during her BA and MA in cultural anthropology (both cum laude) she focuses on creativity and creative selfhood, education and youth labor markets in post-industrial/neoliberal societies. The cultivation of creativity in neoliberal Japan forms the basis for her current research project.
Fashionable Futures: Japanese Youths' Hopes in Precarious Times
After decades of globally acknowledged prosperity, Japan finds itself in a social and economic crisis. The increasing dominance of temporary part-time jobs (arubaito) in the neoliberal labor market has prevented many young Japanese from reproducing the sociality that emerged as a post-WWII ideal, based on a corporate system ("Japan Inc.") in which male identity is tied to lifetime company employment, and female identity to marriage and children's educational performances. In sharp contrast to the rest of the economy, Japan's creative industry is booming and young Japanese people aim for a “creative job.” Despite the industry's economic importance, holders of creative but precarious jobs have difficulties gaining recognition as productive members of society.
Contemporary youth's precarious employment - along with alarming demographic trends - has caused tensions with the establishment, which blames society's problems on them by denouncing them as passive, lazy, uncooperative, and unwilling to socially and biologically reproduce and attain full social adulthood. Japan’s educational system has over the last decennia encountered problems related to the changes in Japan's occupational structure and a shift from cramming and disciplining to more creative and independent learning practices has been imposed as an attempt for change.
Through an ethnographic analysis of Japan’s oldest and most prestigious fashion school, the project examines the ways in which Japan's "lost generation" searches for alternative life paths and new senses of belonging and self-esteem within the contemporary structure of precarity. Spending time with young designers from their last years of fashion school to the onset of their working lives laid bare the frictions among their – sometimes naïve – expectations; the ongoing ideational, bureaucratic and institutional structures that are the legacy of Japan’s post-WWII reconstruction era; and the conditions that changes in Japan’s post-bubble labor market have created, in which the young creative workers had to find their way.
What coping mechanisms do young creative Japanese have in an environment in which attempts to morally shape them into independent, skillful and creative neoliberal subjects go hand in hand with deeply embedded sentiments to cultivate dispositions of “being a proper Japanese adult?”
In addition to her Ph.D. research, Beerkens has been a university teacher since 2008 (anthropology teacher of the year 2010-2011) and has published a book, Modegoden (in Dutch), about her former research project on charismatic leadership, street snap photography and “cool selfhood” in the Tokyo underground fashion scene.
183 pagina's, rijk geïllustreerd, prijs € 21,50.
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