The sociological context of urban ethnography

japansociology:

An interesting look at the common practice of packaging the depiction of the ‘other’ in getting ethnographic work published. As I figure out how to generate interest for ethnographic work on relations between Japanese and Peruvians in Japan–a setting that might sound exotic to some of my colleagues at ASA but to me and my informants is familiar and everyday–I feel pulled between the pressures to publish and the pressures to fairly represent the site, the data, the people, etc.

Originally posted on Vermont 2 China:

Yesterday at the 2014 American Sociological Association Annual meeting, Wisconsin Sociology Professor Alice Goffman ran the disciplinary gauntlet in the form of an author meets critics session focused on her new book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Goffman has received a great deal of press for her work (e.g. here), and there has been, especially in the wake of the attention, expressions of hostility to On the Run. Critics have raised questions about the validity of the research, Goffman’s ethnographic focus on the most stereotypically “ghetto” of the residents of the neighborhood where she did her fieldwork, issues of research ethics, and the white and privileged position from which the book and its warrant seem to be emanating.  A large crowd turned out for the event, many attendees were looking for the opportunity to criticize the book and its author. The hostility was undeniable.

I would…

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An unexpected “gaijin moment”

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho...

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho, Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Robert Moorehead

At the beginning and end of each semester, my college faculty and staff gather for a fancy meal at a restaurant before a smaller group moves on to an Irish pub for a nijikai (second round of drinking). The nijikai crowd eventually shrinks down to a smaller group that heads to a third bar, for a sanjikai. At each place, everyone shares stories, laughs, and enjoys each other’s company in a mix of Japanese and English. Despite the fun, at the third stop I had a “gaijin moment.”

A “gaijin moment” is my Japanese adaptation of Eli Anderson’s “n**r moment,” in which non-Japanese are starkly reminded of their outsider status in Japan. In this case, the reminder came despite the smiles, laughter, and joyous karaoke singing of my colleagues.

The sanjikai took place at a small Japanese-style bar. The 16 people in our group settled in on couches in the back of the bar, as three Japanese hostesses came over to pour drinks for us, serve us snacks, and engage us in conversation. Thankfully, these women avoided the more dramatic flirting found in hostess bars, where the job is to flirt with customers, smile, sing, and get customers to buy drinks—what Rhacel Parreñas has defined as a form of sex work. (Anne Allison and Parreñas have produced great ethnographies of hostess work, for those interested.)

A Japanese woman in her 30s sat across from me and another foreign professor, poured us some watered-down drinks, and asked questions that non-Japanese often get—do you speak Japanese, where are you from, how long have you lived in Japan, etc. To her credit, she avoided exaggerated responses like “Oh really? Wow! That’s great!” Or maybe she read the look I probably had on my face.

English: Kabukicho, Tokyo

English: Kabukicho, Tokyo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I understand the history of the hostess role, I also understand the gender dynamics of paying women to serve me. Pouring drinks, wiping moisture off the glasses, re-filling drinks (with extremely watered-down booze), clapping their hands in time to the karaoke singing, and pretending to be interested in whatever I might say. I couldn’t separate their smiles from the fact that they were being paid to show those emotions … that I was paying them for those emotions.

At that moment, I realized that I am unable to turn off the sociologist in my head. I couldn’t get comfortable with the hostess-customer relationship. While there’s no shame in working as a hostess, I would have preferred to have gone to Ing, a rock bar that several of us had unsuccessfully lobbied for. At least the bar we went to was better than the place we’d gone to previously, a depressingly dark bar where the hostesses routinely yawn, check their watches, serve stale snacks, and pour drinks that are essentially watered-down gasoline.

Then came calls for me to join the karaoke. I demurred, as I listened to my colleagues sing one Japanese song after another, from pop to rock to dance music, generations of Japanese songs I had never heard. A few English classics, like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Frank Sinatra, made their inevitable appearance. But it was the endless medley of Japanese songs that made me feel like a gaijin. Everyone was nice enough, and even the hostess eventually moved on to other people. But sitting through song after song that I had never heard before, but all my Japanese colleagues seemed to know by heart, made me realize that, despite all the music that we had in common, we grew up listening to very different things.

Black Sabbath 1977 Ozzy Butler Iommi - "R...

Black Sabbath 1977 Ozzy Butler Iommi – “Reality Show” (Photo credit: Whiskeygonebad)

Odds are that if my Japanese colleagues had found themselves listening to people (try to) sing the heavy metal and rock tracks I grew up with (time for some Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden karaoke, anyone?), they would have felt similarly. As people pushed me to look for songs to sing, I drew a blank. Feeling like an outsider, I couldn’t even think of what I’d look for. Not that I really wanted to sing, but I felt like such an outsider that I couldn’t imagine anything I liked being in the computer system.

Eventually, I got forced to sign the last song of the night, and while people were originally searching for “Hey Jude,” I got stuck with “We Are the World.” Seriously. It would not have been my first choice, or my second, or my 153rd.

The next day, all sorts of songs popped into my head, making me wonder even more about what had set me off. After more than 7 years in Japan, it’s interesting to see that I can still feel like a total gaijin.

So a little empathy is in order whenever a native complains about foreigners not fitting in. Fitting in is a long, bumpy road. And just when you think you’re in the clear … more bumps.

頑張ります.

Precarious Japan and Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kota Yanagidani

In her book Precarious Japan, Anne Alison discusses the depiction of precarious life in the film “Tokyo Sonata.” In the ensuring paragraphs, this paper introduces “Tokyo Sonata” first, and after that, Allison’s view of “Tokyo Sonata” is analyzed, and my opinion on the movie and Allison’s view comes in the final part.

First of all, this movie starts with the situation that one man loses his job, and the movie shows the family’s life in which the father struggles with hiding the truth about his job. After all, family got to know that he lost his job.

About this movie, Allison says there are also other stories of his sons and wife. They all face some problems and complicated and awkward situations; all members of the family have problems but they gather around the table and eat dinner in almost silence. According to Allison, this family represents muenshakai (relationless society) in which disconnectedness and incommunicativeness are occurring. She writes “No one speaks and no one knows, or asks, why the others look a mess” in his family, and her point is actually shown in his family. Also, Allison claims that the house can be a tool for analyzing the soul. In “Tokyo Sonata,” the soul of the family can be seen when the house actually plays the role of “house” which means the place for family members.

My opinion is for my contemporary situation, I really cannot imagine if I was fired while having a family. I may try to find another job while pretending to go work. However, as for muenkazoku (relationless family), I also cannot imagine how I would manage family as father, but from my experience, love is the most important element in family and this should be shown as a form.

In order to show love as father even mother, relationship have to be a big deal. This means that a family thinking love is relationship in a family must not be involved in muenshakai. The truth, however, is there are a number of relationless families in contemporary Japan, according to Allison. Like Allison points out, the cause of these families is market capitalism. Mentally, this market system makes the family, especially the father, think he has to focus on work in order to take care of his family. Then the mother thinks she is supposed to focus on housework and grow up sons or daughters.

Therefore, to put it simply, muenshakai (relationless society) is a by-product of overly developed capitalism, I think. It should be required not to change market capitalism, but to give rise to solutions like improving the welfare system, which directly leads to people’s happiness while we keep capitalism. Anyway, the government should be involved to make a change in our society.

Will Miku give us hope?

Lady Miku

Lady Miku (Photo credit: m61322)

by Zhang Shiwen

Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) has become a boom all over the world. Like the 2-D fetish or imaginary girlfriend of otaku, she is a digital character who sings with a human voice if people set music to it. Users can set the size of her body, so they can each have their own Miku. According to Bendako (2012), because users can make her move and sing, she is seen as satisfying their fantasy love, such as by saying “I love you” to them. Users can also create music and dance to make her do, and then upload it to the Internet. Following this, the most important reason for the boom is that although she cannot be felt as a human idol, she can imitate a normal human being to encourage users if they create good music, and communicate with them to make users feel happy (Bendako 2012). Miku has fulfilled what Allison said, that “human and the robot to understand each other like human beings” (Allison 2013:102). There came up a heart to heart relationship between Miku and users.

Around 20 years ago, the virtual pet, Tamagotchi, was very popular for people who wanted to experience keeping a pet. People take care of digital pets for fun when they are free, to feel warm when they feel tired, but they can stop and restart whenever they want. No matter whether it’s Miku or Tamagotchi, they are all the productions of prosthetic sociality. They are electronic goods, but we can communicate with them and they can affect us. Although they are digital, the relationship between human and them does exist.

Especially with the development of technology, the electronic goods that accompanied people have changed from a pet in a special electronic screen to a lovely, humanlike girl in computers, PSP, even people can see live performances by Miku on real stages. Moreover, people can use the Internet to share their own Miku music and dance to the world. Users can also get communication through Miku. It is said that these humanoid robots can help “promote companionship and communication” (Allison 2013:102). However, how about the real lives of people who feel healed by prosthetic sociality?

The interesting phenomenon in Japan is that compared to the overflowed information on the Internet, Japanese society is lacking in communication and humanity. People are interested in saying things on the Internet, but refuse to communicate with their families and neighbors. I totally agree with Allison’s criticism that prosthetic society will weaken “human ties in the family, workplace, and community” (Allison 2013:101). The bad effect is appearing, and I myself am an example.

My parents were very busy and had no time to take care of me, so they bought me a DVD player. Maybe they thought it was good for me to have a companion, like the mother is happy for her five-year-old son to have a Tamagotchi. However, I just repeated watching DVDs and wanted to be a good child to not be a nuisance (mendokusai). Now when I looked back over my childhood, I prefer being a bad child to having more touch with my parents. Due to that, I am afraid that I will become a user of care robotics, as I grow old. I do not want to taste loneliness again.

Prosthetic sociality will not save people. It is like a drug, which can make people happy temporarily, but the side effect, feeling lonelier, will continue in the future. People will grow older. The day when they get out of the prosthetic sociality will come, but they cannot find any connection with others at that time. People relay on digital life maybe because their parents or friends cannot give them more care or touch, or they shut down their family life themselves. However, as a result, escaping from the reality is not a good choice. I appreciate Tamura Hiroshi and others, who can face to the difficulties of life. The prosthetic society can be a good entertainment, but will not give us hope.

References

Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bendako. June 10, 2012. Hatsune Miku ha naze konnani ninkinano? [Why is Hatsune Miku so popular?]. Retrieved from http://news.mynavi.jp/news/2012/06/10/005/

Who is Hatsune Miku? http://ggsoku.com/2013/07/miku-hatsune-mac-english-summer/

Skin tone and Self-esteem among African Americans

Malcolm X

Malcolm X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Hiroyuki Matsuyama

As Verna Keith says, skin tone is one of central features for determining one’s self image, and it happens a lot that your occupation or income are decided by looking at your skin tone. It is so sad, but it is the fact that we are facing today. From this point of view, mulattos distanced themselves from the larger African American community by excluding darker blacks from their social organizations. Moreover, they were avoiding intermarriage with people with darker skin so as to pass their advantages on to their children. In this way, even within black communities, there was hierarchy and discrimination against other people.

It is truly difficult to eliminate this injurious racism completely, and it would probably not happen that people would evaluate others and give jobs equally, but prejudicially. In spite of this unfairness, I hope people who are discriminated against to keep having self-esteem, at least to a certain extent. Thus, Malcolm X was really great person because he tried to make people have confidence. He claimed a notion “black is beautiful” in order to fight against racism.

Nonetheless, it is not for criticizing or discriminating against white people, but for attempting to undo black-on-black racism. The reason is because black people were brainwashed by white power, so he thought that he needed to remove this structure as a priority concern. By stating this concept, he tried black people to have self-esteem.

In addition to this, there is a famous speech ‘Who taught you to hate yourself’ by Malcolm X. In the speech, even though his words were sometimes inappropriate, he encouraged audiences well by saying features that are supposed to be words for insulting black people, such as lips, hair texture and so forth. This speech was really helpful for those who were struggling, and they started to have Afro hairstyle to show their self-esteem. This hairstyle enabled black people to express their culture and historical identity.

In conclusion, cruel racism is still going on in today’s modern world unfortunately. Even though people have started to think more about it, racism is still harsh and out of control. However, people who are racially discriminated against should try to stand up and claim your opinion without any fear. Every single person should be oneself, not like others. Being another person by imitating others or dissimulating yourself is not the way you are. In my opinion, that is the end of your life when you have lost your self-worth.

Reference

Keith, Verna M. 2010. “A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

How African Women See Themselves

by Yutaro Nishioka

The term colorism is defined in the work of Verna M. Keith, “A Colorstruck World: Skin tone, Achievement, and Self-Estimation Among African American Women,” as “the privileging of light skin tone over dark skin tone” (Keith, 2009). In other words, people with dark skin are seen as inferior to those with light skin. This view was somewhat hard for me, as a Japanese, to perceive in Japan, especially before I went to Atlanta at the age of 16 as an exchange student. Before I went to Atlanta, I had never known a black person; I had not seen a black person at school, supermarkets, stations, parks, libraries, or any other public places. Hence it is natural that I could not really perceive or feel colorism in Japan.

According to Keith (2009), black women (and even girls) are encouraged or even told to “marry light,” that is, marry a husband of lighter skin tone, so that they can at least “save” their children from having to go through the hardship and pain of being discriminated against for having dark skin, even if they had to suffer it themselves. Young black girls are even told not to play outside in the sunlight because that would make their skin even darker, which would make them “less attractive (often not spoken aloud)” (Keith, 2009).

While white or European features, such as “blue, grey or green eyes, straight hair texture, thin lips, and a narrow nose” are seen as “higher status,” more attractive, and intelligent, black or African features, such as “broad nose, kinky hair, full lips, and brown eyes” are devalued both inside and outside of the black community (Keith, 2009). This phenomenon, in my opinion, is horrible because not only do young black children get discouraged from playing outside—young children naturally like to play outside—but also the reason or excuse that the adults, or society, use for this phenomenon is extremely lame: having dark skin is somehow less attractive, and any attempt to avoid darkening the skin tone is thus justified. This can even affect who black American women will “date and marry” and the kinds of jobs they end up having (Keith, 2009).

To my surprise, these advices are given “out of love, and a deep historical understanding” of the discrimination against those with dark skin tone (Keith, 2009). This may imply that many black American women would rather “suck it up” and teach their children not to darken their skin any further to avoid undergoing the hardship, than fight the society and discrimination. It might be that the power of the discrimination against people with dark skin is so overwhelmingly strong and influential that they do not have a choice but to suck it up and do what the society tells them to do, that is, to avoid darkening their skin tone and marry a light skinned husband to make sure at least their children’s skin tone turns out lighter.

Reference

Keith, V. (2009). A Colorstruck world skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Colorism within the black community in the U.S.

by Nami Irikuchi

When I first read “A Colorstruck World” by Verna Keith, I could not believe that there was/is a discrimination against black people by black people. As most of us know, white people have discriminated against dark-skinned people, African-Americans in the U.S. People have thought that white people are superior to black people. The lighter skin black people have, the better life they can have.

What I want to say is that the differences of their skin color occurred because of genetics. The activation level of melanocyte is different between blacks and whites, and its activation level is decided by their genes. Even dark-skinned people who did not do wrong things to others have been discriminated against.

In the reading, Keith writes that dark-skinned mothers try to protect their daughters from sunlight not to have darker skin. I thought that if I were a dark-skinned women and had a dark-skinned daughter, what advice would I give to my daughter? If it is now, then I would not, but I would have advised if it was the past, when there was more discrimination against blacks. When I advise my daughter, I would not tell why I would try to protect her from the sunlight. They do not need to know the fact that dark-skinned women would not be preferred, and also black people did not do anything that was worth discriminated. Just because they have the darker skin, they would get discriminated against.

Some black males now also think that black females are less attractive, though they have the almost same color. I think that it is related to not only racism or colorism, but also gender issues. I found an internet article which said that black men try to date light-skinned women because they find them more beautiful than darker-skinned women. Furthermore, if they got married and had children with those light-skinned women, there is a possibility that they could have children who have “favorable features,” such as lighter skin and eye color. Those children might face less discrimination.

However, in that article, there is no statement about women’s preferences. As we can see, women are distinguished by their appearance at first, and if the appearance did not match to the preference, then men do not try to have a relationship with them. Somehow most people have the prejudice for dark-skinned people, and women still get hurt not only in the white community but also within the dark-skinned community.

Slavery is over. Colonialism is over. But there are still or more discrimination against black people. I think that the situation is very similar to the Japanese people’s attitudes toward Korean or Chinese people. Those people were colonized by Japanese government in the past, and although that period has ended, there are still some Japanese people who think that Korean or Chinese people are bad and they have to get out of Japan. I think that they have stereotyped thinking, and maybe do not know the facts. I also do not know the reality both in the U.S. and Japan, so I really want to research about those problems when I go to the U.S., or encounter some demonstrations for Korean and Chinese in Japan.

When I hear the word “discrimination”, I came up with “against black people” at first. Unconsciously, people tend not to be an attacker and that is why Japanese people try to think about “discrimination against black people”, but not “against Korean or Chinese people.”

References

Garrell, M. Colorism in black community still prevalent, unacceptable. The University Star. Retrieved July 1, 2014 from http://star.txstate.edu/node/1047

Huff Post. (January 13th, 2014).  Retrieved July 3, 2014 from http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4588825

Keith, V.M. (2009). “A Colorstruck world skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Skin tone and self-esteem: Impacts of colorism

by Keisuke Yamada

In “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women”, Verna M. Keith examines the relationships between skin tone, social and economic achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. Keith briefly mentions the history of slavery and how lighter-skinned blacks were more accepted than darker-skinned blacks because they had similarities with white people. As history clearly shows, colourism existed in the past when the skin tones you were categorised in decided what you can do and how you are treated. Even after the period of slavery, colourism continued to affect education, occupation, and income of African American women. The graphs the authour provides clearly show differences in education, occupation, and income among groups of people with different skin tones.

Then, Keith moves on to look at the relationship between skin tone and self-esteem, which I personally thought very interesting. Keith provides two graphs which show the relationships between the level of self-esteem and skin tones in adolescents and adulthood. There is not a huge difference in the level of self-esteem in adolescents. However, as they become adults, self-esteem of very dark brown people drops, although the author says that the results may have been different depending on when you were born. More interestingly, Keith mentions how skin tone is not related or ignored in predominantly white environments. One suggestion was that in predominantly white environments, there is only a distinction between black and white. I had a discussion in the class whether this can be applied to other cases. For example, in a country like US where Asian people are the minority, it is often ignored which part of Asia they come from. However, from the perspectives of those Asian people, it is of course a big of deal where they originated.

As we discuss the issue, I heard that the ratio of ‘black’ and ‘white’ people is changing in some parts of the US, and I guess that some parts of the world may be experiencing similar shifts as well. So my last question was whether colorism would still matter for some people, considering this shift may occur in the future. I personally think that it would have less influence on one’s self-esteem and career achievements, but at the same time, it is also possible that there would always be some kind of distinction or differentiation beside the idea of colorism.

Reference

Keith, Verna M. 2010. “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Adolescence and migration: Struggling to fit in

by Tomoka Adachi

Currently in global society, there is a comparatively broad definition referring to people who leave their home country and immigrate overseas as global citizens. An increasing number of transnational migrants have been challenging such concepts of the nation-state (Ohno,S 2008). The term immigration is not unfamiliar at all and has even been highlighted in recent years as more issues have been discovered.

Immigrants can be broadly categorized by generation, based on the period of time in their lives that they moved to the host country. In the more precise language of social-science research, the term second generation is usually reserved for those children of immigrants who are born in the host society, while the children who arrived at a young age and thus receive part or all of their schooling in the new society are called the 1.5 generation, a term invented by the sociologist Rubén Rumbaut (Alba & Waters 2011).

Adolescence is one of the most significant steps in the formation of self-identity. There are  outcomes internally and externally for children who migrate at a younger age. In the first place,  immigrant children have to get used to the new environment in the receiving countries, while apart from other close family members, peers and friends in the home country. Homesickness may appear in numerous forms as the result of the diversity of language usage, diet, customs, school system, and citizens from different ethnic groups. All those features certainly depend on the culture and social similarity and differences between the receiving country and home country.

Nevertheless, the efforts immigrant children should take is because they are disadvantaged under many conditions. They are considering who they are and what they tend to be, whether to change or not in the receiving countries as heavily affected by the relation to their surroundings. While at the same time still requires the recognition from people around. Youth immigration demanded changes to the social identity and culture identity in the social and culture environment. The youth may cope with the psychological pressure produced by such dissonance by seeking to reduce conflict and to assimilate (literally, to become similar) within the relevant social context (Rumbaut 1994). However, the invisible pressure which forced assimilation may lead in another direction, in a  reaction of refusing to fit in. For the 1.5 generation, the possibility of segmented assimilation happens in most cases.

In addition, when it comes to 1.5 generation regarding to assimilation, children more or less have the concept of certain social and culture value of their home country, so that it becomes  more of a challenge to define self-identity in the receiving countries. The border and notion of national identity in relation to citizenship belongings blurs.

Furthermore, the reality is that the mass of society tends to offer limited options to classify immigrants. Categories by questioning whether to belong to one culture or not, to socially belong to our culture or outside of our culture. Hence, the lack of social recognition for those who culturally maintained in the middle, such as the 1.5 generation, led those people to fill in the gap and to struggle to connect their self-identity to nation-state citizenship in order fit in the current social position.

References

Alba, R & Waters, MC. (2011) “The Next Generation: Immigrant Youth in a Comparative Perspective Dimensions of Second-generation Incorporation. New York: NYU Press.

Ohno, S. (2008) “Transnational Citizenship and Deterritorialized Identity: The meaning of Nikkei Diasporas’ Shuttling between the Philippines and Japan.Asian Studies 44(1):1-22.

Rumbaut, RG. (1994) The Crucible within: Ethnic Identity, Self-Esteem, and Segmented Assimilation among Children of Immigrants. International Migration Review 28(4):748-794.