On Appropriation and Japanese Sociology: The Case of Postmodern Social Theory

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 9:15 AM
Room: 303
Oral Presentation
Eric L. HSU , Hawke Research Institute, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
What does it mean to appropriate a social theoretical approach—initially developed elsewhere—into a different social context? The aim of this paper is to interrogate this very question through the prism of contemporary Japanese sociology. While some social commentators have suggested that the practice of appropriation indicates a lack of creativity, others have suggested that something more intricate and innovative has been at work in Japan (Elliott, Katagiri and Sawai 2013: 11-12). In this paper, I substantiate the latter interpretation of Japanese sociology by exploring how postmodern social theories have been used to generate insights about contemporary Japanese society in new and unconventional ways.

Although postmodern social theory is now regarded as a largely defunct—if not also unproductive—area of study in the Western world (e.g., Ryan 2007), Atsushi Sawai (2013) describes how the field continues to remain relevant in the Japanese context. This may be because Japanese scholarship on the postmodern has not remained overly fixated on the issue of epistemology, as a sizeable portion of postmodern social theory in Japan has sought to analyze various social transformations and events.

It is also crucial to note that the scholarly debate on postmodernity and postmodernism in Japan has not unfolded in the same way as it has in the West. What is unique about Japanese postmodern social theory is that it has not simply held a ‘diachronic’ view of postmodern culture (Koto 2006). Some scholars have noted that it is possible to detect postmodern features in pre-modern periods of Japanese history, and thus, postmodern culture may be more ‘indigenous’ to Japanese society than otherwise thought (Katarani 1985).