Session 1: Making Changes

Andrea Gevurtz Arai


Andrea Gevurtz Arai teaches Japan and East Asia cultural anthropology and society courses at the University of Washington. She is the author of The Strange Child: Education and the Psychology of Patriotism in Recessionary Japan (Stanford U. Press, 2016) and co-author of Spaces of Possibility: in, between and beyond Korea and Japan (UW Press, 2016), and Global Futures in East Asia (SUP, 2013). Arai is collaborating on a third East Asia project and edited volume: “Spaces of Creative Resistance in East Asia”.

She is working on a second monograph, on the aesthetics, feminist biopolitics and peripheral spaces of social movements in Japan and beyond.

Project Description

Making Change: Women’s Spatial Aesthetics and Bottom-Up Biopolitics

     In Japan, Covid-19 and 3.11 have exacerbated social problems brought on by post-1990s un(der)-employment, food and housing insecurity, job search depression, social disconnection and the plight of Tohoku evacuees. All have also disproportionately affected women. At the same time, in Japan, in other parts of East Asia and the world, we are seeing how critical conjunctures of inequities have the power to activate collective resistance. In this paper, part of my current ethnographic and book project, I examine how resistance in Japan is focused on forms of making—making spatial aesthetics of change. Those I discuss here are created by women. From Hyogo to Nagano, Hiroshima to Tohoku, these women’s projects of making change challenge the dominant means of production and reproduction. Under often difficult conditions, they re-create realities of family, work, community and sustainable environments, while resisting top-down management and discursive manipulations of the changing conditions of reproductive life. Some of them have left lucrative positions; others gather together in local areas. Their creative resistance “life projects” and aesthetics resonate with what Rin Odawara shows is a long line of women’s movements for change; Sabu Kohso frames as the struggle for life itself, Yoshitaka Mori has described as the particularities of 21st century DIY in Japan; and Arturo Escobar describes as “autonomous design.” These women propose to not only make new things, but new culture; find out what they’re working for; design for the 99%; re-build, dwell and think, and redirect the focus from women as the problem to the social problems of women (and others) in an era of low birth and aftermaths of disasters.