Endless Question: Youth Becomings and the Anti-Crisis of Kids in Global Japan
Young people in Japan contend with shifting understandings of family and friends, insecure jobs, and changing frames around global and national identities. The category of youth itself is unsettled amid a long period of social and economic change and perceived widely as crisis. Within contested social categories of youth, how do young Japanese people use the city, media, and body practices to create flexible, meaningful sociality across spaces of work, education, and play? What do youthful sociality and practices reveal about globally oriented connections and how do they inform conceptions of the future, kinship, gender, and pluralized identities? In short, what is the embodied and affective experience of being young as the category itself is increasingly unstable and full of risks? These questions shape the contours of this project.
This dissertation considers youth through its becoming, that is, the lived enactment of youth as energy, emotion, and sensibility always in motion and within range of cultural, spatial, bodily, and technological forces. Three groups of young people in this layered latitudinal study demonstrate various relations to the city street, visual media, globalized identities, contingent work within affect and cultural production, and education. The three groups are distinctly different but share surprising points of connection.
I lived alongside these three groups to understand the ways young people are innovating within the shifting form of youth. I skated with male skateboarders in their teens to early 30s who created Japan's most influential skate company; I taught kids attending a specialized cram school for kikokushijo (children who have lived abroad due to a parent's job assignment); I observed and hung out with young creative workers, the photographers, web designers, and graphic artists who produce the visual and textual content and relationships composing commercial "youth culture."
My project examines how these young people redefine youth through bodily practices, identities, and economic de/attachments. The skaters' embodied actions distribute/dissipate their energies in risky ways outside formal structures of labor. The kikokushijo children, with their bi-cultural fluency produced in circuits of capitalist labor, offer a desirable image of a flexible Japanese future while their heterogeneous identities appear threatening in the present. The creative workers are precariously positioned as "affective labor" within transglobal (youth) cultural production, working to generate visual and textual content constant stressful uncertainties. All three groups share uneasy ground with capitalist practices, risky social identities, and crucially, intimate relations with city space. In attending to their practices through ethnographic participation and video, this dissertation explores questions concerning youthful relations to space produced in material contacts, remembered geographies of other places and imaginary urban sites.
The dissertation itself is electronic and non-linear; a formal enactment of the drifting contact between forms of youth. It opens up to lines of connection between questions, sites, events, and bodies and attempts an unfolding of affect, imagination, and experience to tell stories about histories of gender and labor, city life, and global dreams. It asks if the globalized forms of Japanese youth avoid the risks of the impossible secure for the open possibilities of becoming and thus refuse containment by crisis?
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