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Let us live! Empowerment and the Rhetoric of Life in the Japanese Precarity Movement

Journal article
Authors Carl Cassegård
Published in positions: east asia cultures critique
Volume 22
Issue 1
Pages 41-69
ISSN 1067-9847
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Pages 41-69
Language en
Links muse.jhu.edu/journals/positions/v02...
Keywords Precarity movement, empowerment, General Freeter Union, Dame-ren, trauma and recovery
Subject categories Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)

Abstract

The precarity movement represents a startling revival of public protest in Japan. This revival can be understood as a turn to a more confrontational stance within an already active current of freeter activism. My aim is to throw light on this shift by focusing on the General Freeter Union / PAFF in Tokyo and its emergence from the Dame-ren milieu of Tokyo. I argue that the precarity movement to a large extent has function as a vehicle not only for external change in society, but also for the empowerment of its participants with particular attention being given to marginalized groups that have long been unable or unwilling to voice discontent in public, and that this has been a crucial element in the revitalization of protest. I give particular attention to, firstly, the formation of the category of the “precariat” in Japan and its relation to predecessor terms like “good-for-nothing” (dame) or “lower stratum” (kasô). Secondly, I turn to the rhetoric of “life” in the precarity movement, which is evident in the celebration of fun and the sensual or bodily experience of being “alive”. This rhetoric of “life” functions as a lens through which the movement’s shift to a more confrontational stance can be traced and nuances in this shift studied. In the precarity movement “life” tends to be pictured in two different ways: one in which the older ideal of “simply living”, which was prominent in Dame-ren, lives on, but now as a dream of what would be possible in a better society; and another one in which struggle and revolt have come to be seen as sources of the liberation of life. I conclude by arguing that many of these reorientations build on the legacy of Dame-ren but also crucially transform this legacy. These transformations have not only helped the precarity movement to open up new forms of participation for subaltern groups, but also to present itself as untainted by older forms of radicalism, thus contributing to the revival of protest activism.

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