Because I’m heading into the last year of my graduate studies, I am in the process of beginning my thesis. For Sociology, this thesis typically takes the form of something we find interesting in the world we have studied. For me, my thesis is taking the form of something outside of school combined with exploratory studies that have been in process for the past 2 years. This blog reflects my wanderings in such a way that if one were to begin reading this at the beginning, by the end, I would imagine that you would be as confused as I am.
Social science is at a strange crossroads. The old methods, the new communication media, the radical changes in perception of the world (modernizing to post-modernity, environmentalism, and the affect of feminism to name a few) have all lead to a sociology that is just as confused about itself as it is about its future. It is as if a gigantic paradigm shift occurred but so many of the old sociologists either didn’t notice or didn’t care that the ensuing war about whether or not the shift happened at all was mostly ignored.
Sociology today is much the same as it has always been. Most graduate students write the same papers we have always written, deviance-based writing, class or privilege studies, influence of some factor or the predictability of a scenario given a specific model within a large group of people (statistics). As a whole, Sociology still ignores the influence of non-human entities on human actions or beliefs. As a whole, Sociology faculty members seem to be against (almost entirely) changing or rectifying certain errors of judgment the founders of our discipline installed. Ontologically, especially in America, we are still obsessed with “the little guy.” “Whose Side Are We On” is an article about this obsession. So often we want to study the outliers that we often forget that whole other part, actual society.
This is where I am when I start on really getting into my thesis. I do not want to study the same issues we have been studying for years. I do not want to ignore non-human/human codependency; I do not want to ignore the rest of society.
I am naïve. People tell me this quite often. I find this naivety to be extremely helpful in these situations. I don’t want to lose it.
Over the next 20 weeks or so I’m going to try and write at least something about whatever I’m doing for my thesis. I’m hoping I can write 1000 words a day for 20 weeks straight. Perhaps I need to just to keep things in order in my head.
First up, I’ve been reading this book: Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals by Hiroki Azuma. This particular book is one of the first real pieces of work I have found about modernization / post-modernity issues. Further, it is the first real theory piece on social theory from a Japanese Author who was trained by other Japanese theorists. It is an important book…sadly, it was printed in 2001 and already has a sequel. It made it into English this year. Of note in this book are some points on the history or set-up for why this book had to be written. An example and the general premise of this book (emphasis mine: from the translator’s note xv-xvi):
“Through his examination of otaku as consumers (and producers) of cultural products, Azuma develops a new understanding of our historically bound sociocultural situation after the rupture and breakdown of moder ideologies. Azuma examines what is left in place of the absent grand narratives and the effects of this absence on human behavior. The book proposes a model of the “database animal” as a new type of consumer in the postmodern information era, arguing that, rather than reading the stories in a “human” mode of consumption that longs for the existence of and searches for deeper meaning, the cravings of “animalized” otaku are satiated by classifying the characters from such stories according to their traits and anonymously creating databases that catalog, store, and display the results. In turn, the database provides a space where users can search for the traits they desire and find new characters and stories that might appeal to them. Here “database” is not simply the kind of computer program or Website for storing and retrieving information that humans are finding it increasingly difficult to live without, but rather a model or a metaphor for a worldview, a “grand nonnarrative” that lacks the structures and ideologies (“grand narratives”) that used to characterize modern society.”
Of note here, he is using an interpretation of a Hegelian interpretation from one Alexandre Kojéve. This is a difficult sentiment I have been having trouble with fully comprehending. It goes something like this:
After World War II, America entered a “post-historical” period whereupon we also entered into a “classless society.” In essence, the United States entered the Marxian period of Communism with other countries being at various stages toward it. In addition, he claims, humanity returned to its animal like nature insomuch that we were always in the present and simply did as we needed to when we needed to because we could. Japan also had American values hoisted upon it but, as Kojéve states, “snobbery in its pure form created disciplines negating the ‘natural’ or ‘animal….[I]n spite of persistent economic and political inequalities, all Japanese without exception are currently in a position to live according to totally formalized values…”
However, the Japanese themselves state, “To put it simply, in today’s Japan there is nothing. And so no margin for recovery.” – Karatani. It is an active ideological power, this “nothing.” If one were to compare Japan to children’s movies, Japan is the nothing that envelops the world in The Neverending Story.
This author, Hiroki Azuma, responds to this sentiment saying that it was the American values forced on the Japanese that created the animalization of the Japanese people and that animalization took the form of Otaku. Otaku, if you do not know, are: “…those who indulge in forms of subculture strongly linked to anime, video games, computers, science fiction, special-effects films, anime figurines, and so on (3).”
In essence, the appearance of the Otaku is a “symptom of post modern society.”
This book is unfortunately timed. The post modernity period in America is mostly done at this point. Having confused itself into who knows what exists now, you could say that the Otaku has spread through the entirety of this country. An interesting thing of note though is that while this seems to be a bit bleak, the appearance of the Otaku is also a chance at newness.
As with most things involving the Otaku, the sentiment about them is generally negative and thus little studied. Social Science often has to (as does all science) provide topics of interest in order to keep funding, public interest, academic interest, or create a new movement. For Otaku in Japan, the attachment of negative sentiments is linked to a series kidnappings and rapes during 1988-89 by one Miyazaki Tsutomu. In American Culture, the installation of Japanese products signaled the appearance of Otaku who have mostly been lumped into the old pen and paper, now PC gamer groups (an example of how and when the negativity for these groups started can be linked to Tom Hanks).
This is just from the opening of this book. I am excited to get into the meat of it. I got some names of several Japanese sociologists/important scholars I need to look up:
Otsuka Eiji (Monogatari Shohiron (Theory of Narrative Consumption))
Miyadai Shinji on kogal (high school girls deeply immersed in the urban culture)
Osawa Masachi on Aum Shinrikyo or the cultu responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attack.
Also Asada Akira and Kojin Karatani (post modern theorists)
I hope to finish this book by tomorrow.