The Rise of Vernacular Capitalism: Neoliberalized Localities in Rural Japan

Friday, July 18, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: Booth 67
Oral Presentation
Cheng-Heng CHANG , Sociology, Univ Illinois, Urbana Champaign
This paper analyzes the formations of a unique mode of capital accumulation, vernacular capitalism, in contemporary Japan. The vernacular capitalism thrived on the basis of the uneven geographical development that dispossessed local cultures and resources to accumulate capital. Based on comprehensive survey of the literature and governmental documents, I claim that chiiki(region or locality), as a crucial motif of Japan’s modernity, has been involved in the post-industrialization of Japanese society in which vernacular capitalism came into being. In the wake of neoliberal reforms, rural communities were forced to become entrepreneurs that creatively turn available cultural and natural resources into commodities to compete with each other in a cultural supermarket.

In this paper, I will first discuss the unique enthusiasm of consuming locality in contemporary Japan that implies a mode of accumulation through commodification of the local. To understand its political economic foundation, I will investigate the history of the five Comprehensive National Development Plans (CNDPs) to reveal how the state envisaged and managed localities in the postwar period of high economic growth. The transformation of CNDPs shows how Japan’s strategy of rural governance has turned from “managerialism” to “entrepeuneurialism” in the process of neoliberalization. That is, government collaborates with private capitals to form a “public-private partnership” for business ventures. Finally, I will delineate the strategies and struggles of rural communities under the neoliberal regime and how their efforts construct the substance of vernacular capitalism. In the conclusion, I will characterize vernacular capitalism with its four features: serendipity, entrepreneurial community, local branding, and the discursive complex of food, health, and environment. At the end, I argue that the inter-local competition brought by vernacular capitalism has become the major principle of rural governance in contemporary Japan. Although the competition pleased urban consumers, it caused new problems and challenges to rural communities.