Annotation: Kondo, Dorinne K. 1990. Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace

Kondo, Dorinne K. 1990. Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

As Kondo writes, “What and how I write is no mere academic exercise; for me it matters, and matters deeply” (302). Using a first-person account, what she refers to as “inevitable locatedness” (303), Kondo unpacks the maintenance, negotiation, and creation of identities in an artisan confectionery factory, based on her nearly two-year ethnography as a part-timer. The author’s employment of the first-person voice relates to her argument that what is labelled as “private” is part of the processes through which identity emerges (25-26). Her work pays attention to the particular, and she argues for a research strategy that “expands notions of what can count as theory, where experience and evocation can become theory” and “where the binary between the ’empirical’ and ‘theoretical’ is displaced and loses its force” (8). Instead of following the majority of studies on Japan which persistently emphasize “collectivism”, Kondo writes of identity as “multiple, fraught with tension and contradiction, and asserted in performative contexts” (306). Like identity, the specificity of working power must also be investigated, and Kondo asserts that even those who “have power… are themselves dominated in the context of a changing political economy” (307). In her discussion of “circles of attachment” (Chapter 4), Kondo argues that ie as obligation and uchi as feeling are “living entities” that “define a world and give its members a place in that world” (159). It is through one’s belonging to an uchi and through participation in an ie that people create selves. In her discussion of gender in part-time work at the confectionery factory, Kondo argues that while women part-time workers occupy subjugated positions as not being artisans, women consciously create themselves as surrogate mothers to humanize the work environment. Their role enables the fostering of togetherness, of the “company as family”, making the work environment a locus of emotional attachment (295). It is also by specifically enacting these gendered identities that women become central figures in the workplace, thus suggesting the “possibility for subversion within accommodation” (299).

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