Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Linking State and Self: How the Japanese State Bureaucratizes Subjectivity through Moral Education

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Linking State and Self: How the Japanese State Bureaucratizes Subjectivity through Moral Education

Article excerpt

I investigate how a discourse (advocating hierarchy, sociopolitical categorization, and standardization) reproduces the rationalizing operations of Japan's politico-economic elite, serving the state by reproducing its ideology through "moral education" at local sites (schools). In Japan, state bureaucratic structures try to build a psychology that hierarchizes, categorizes, and formalizes the sociopolitical environment, thereby supporting an economic rationality demanded by economic nationalism. After describing the sociopolitical context of Japan's statist economic-nationalist ideology that drives a bureaucratizing discourse, I analyze a collection of teacher's guidebooks published by the Ministry of Education as my primary target of discourse analysis. I show how the state turns its objectives into subjective truths, or more specifically, how convictions in elite economic interests are reproduced through a discourse that is often explained as "traditional" or somehow "natural" to "being Japanese." [moral education, state, Japan, national identity, ritualization]

Introduction: Linking State and Subjectivity

A set of conceptual markers has provided intellectual direction for many Japanese and Japanologists alike. Taken together, these markers form a discourse that constructs national-identity. This discourse expresses (1) hierarchy: "vertical society" (tate shakai) and "senior/junior relations" (sempai/kohai); (2) sociopolitical categorization: "groupism," (uchi/soto, inner/outer; ura/omote, back, hidden/front, exposed; and honne/tatemae, true opinion/stated policy); and (3) sociopolitical standardization: "cultural homogeneity," "consensus," and "harmony."1 These concepts, which define and reproduce class, age, gender, and nationality divisions, operate in families, schools, workplaces, and political institutions. Many Japanese regard these notions as comprising an essential Japanese identity that is part of a vague but immutable "tradition," or as rooted in the past: Tokugawa feudalism, Confucianism, an agricultural past, or Japan's history as an "island country."2 These culturalist mythologies and the aforementioned terms pervade accounts of Japanese society and are often employed by elites (and non-elites) to legitimate power arrangements, thereby ignoring existing political and socioeconomic structures that produce them. The result has been an Orientalist account of Japan by non-Japanese, and a self-Orientalizing project by some Japanese of their own society.

In this article I describe how the authorities try to reproduce these values (hierarchy, social categorization, and standardization) in schools through a state-sanctioned discourse and ritual practices. I will make my argument by viewing the aforementioned notions as the conceptual footmen of Japan's economic nationalism (and not as culturalist mythologies). To do this, I first provide the sociopolitical context by describing the statist economic-nationalist ideology that drives a bureaucratizing discourse emanating from Japan's Ministry of Education (Monbusho). This discourse reflects the rationalizing operations of Japan's politico-economic elite, serving the state by reproducing ideology via socialization at local sites (schools).3 Then, using a collection of teacher guidebooks published by the Monbusho as my primary target of analysis, I show how the state turns its objectives into subjective truths by rituals.4 I show, that is, how convictions in elite economic interests are reproduced through a discourse that is often disguised as "traditional" or somehow "natural" to "being Japanese." In Japan, state bureaucratic structures try to build a psychology that hierarchizes, categorizes, and formalizes the sociopolitical environment, thereby supporting a belief in the rationality and efficiency demanded by economic nationalism. Bureaucratizing subjectivity for nation-statist goals is certainly not unique to Japan and is found in many places to varying degrees, but the point of this article is to describe how it is accomplished in Japan. …

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