Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Department of Asian Languages and Cultures/Women's Studies, University of Michigan

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Assistant Professor, University of Virginia
When Citizenship and Kinship Intersect: Comparing Japanese and American Responses to Transnational Child Custody Disputes

This project compares Japanese and American responses to transnational child custody disputes in order to ethnographically examine how citizenship and kinship intersect in government policy and family lives. In recent decades, transnational child custody disputes have become an increasingly pressing policy issue in Japan and the United States, and now involve hundreds of children in each country (Tanase 2010; U.S. House Resolution 1326). These conflicts occur when guardians of different nationalities, often divorcing parents, disagree about how to determine custody of their children, who typically hold multiple citizenships. Some parents relocate to a national jurisdiction they expect will support their legal demands; others violate court orders and take children to a country unlikely to aid extradition. Including such "venue shopping" and abduction, these complex conflicts place new demands on policy makers, diplomats, lawyers, and family members to negotiate settlements between radically different legal systems and cultural norms. Despite economic similarities and postwar discourse of shared values, the Japanese and American governments have responded to transnational child custody disputes with divergent strategies. These government responses vary concerning support of international legal agreements, claims about the best interests of children, and mechanisms for resolution. Responses from other actors involved – parents, lawyers, and the general public – suggest similarly broad cultural differences. This project hypothesizes that such differences stem from the disparate cultural, political, and legal links between citizenship and kinship in each nation. The research design, based on multi-sited ethnographic methods, investigates the ways in which family membership and national membership intersect at moments when both are at stake in particularly contentious transnational family conflicts. Because of increasing numbers of cases involving Japanese and American citizens, and concurrent domestic and international pressure put on both nations to mediate transnational conflicts, the issues at stake in these conflicts make new demands on policy makers. Designed to produce publically accessible academic work, this project aims to offer policy recommendations in both Japanese and American contexts. Drawing on extant research about transnationality, citizenship, legal systems, and family lives, I frame this project around three clusters of questions. First, I will examine how laws or legal precedents influence responses to transnational child custody disputes. Second, this project investigates how people involved in custody disputes define and imagine "family." Third, this project will examine how people involved in custody disputes imagine the nation-state and their relationship to it. These questions will be investigated through multi-sited participant observation, textual analysis, and approximately 100 ethnographic interviews with parents in disputes, lawyers, judges, politicians, policy-makers, lobbyists, and NGO members in Japan and the United States. Research results will be made public in Japanese and English, and I will produce short documents designed to assist policy makers.