Current Institutional Affiliation
Visiting Researcher, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, University of Tokyo

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Chicago
The Advent of Interpreters: Redemption and Prolepsis in Japanese Grassroots Historiography

"Liquidating past debts" (seisan) is a widely quoted watchword in Japan's 1990s that saw mass-scale public outburst of contentious claims about what to make of Japan's post-WWII development. Less rigorously studied by scholars about this politics of history, however, is a contemporary phenomenon of the "personal history" (jibunshi) craze, where amateur writers, mostly post-retirement baby boomers, masquerade as legitimate published historians, challenging conventional descriptions of modernity with a cacophony of interpretations. Jibunshi as a sociocultural phenomenon presents an interesting case for investigating how historical consciousness emerges and changes when a variety of social actors try to recontextualize the relationship between personal and collective memory to their particular ends. To explore ethnographically the how and why of this incitement to historical reflexivity in contemporary Japan, I examine a case of Fudangi, a citizens' movement in west Tokyo that aims to construct a grassroots histo1y of modern Japan by mobilizing "ordinary people" to document their life stories and cooperatively publish and archive them. Personal historians like Fudangi participants are strategic bricoleurs struggling to redeem the evidence of their sociohistorical existence by assembling all the technologies and social relations they can muster. While 'liquidating the past' and narrating the self, however, they face anxieties about for future interpreters. What kind of posterity do they anticipate as (in)appropriate interpreters? How do they render intimate histories of the self valuable, even interesting at all, to others? And under what conditions might this anticipatory valorization of history and summoning-up of audiences fail or prevail? Closely observing practices of text-making and text-sharing through which Fudangi envisions its identity as a grassroots citizens' movement vis-a-vis other institutions of historiography such as academia and commercial press, I hope to show how cultural values of history emerge or submerge under contingent conditions of producing and evaluating representations of history.