Discounted life: Social time in relationless Japan

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<jats:p>The essay takes on recent news stories of “missing elderly” (elderly whose deaths go unrecorded) and “lonely death” (bodies discovered days or weeks after someone has died all alone) to consider how life, death, and the bonds/debts of social relationality are getting recalibrated in postcrisis Japan. In what has become a trend toward singular living and solitary existence—sometimes called Japan's “relationless society” (muen shakai)—those without human or economic capital are put at risk. The precarity of living/dying without a safety net of others is one sociological fact examined in this essay. But I also consider another: the emergence of new practices for postmortem care/memorial that relieve social intimates (notably family) of the responsibilities of tending to the dead. In an era where privatization and “self-responsibility” now extend to death, how does sociality get played out in an everyday limited to the present?</jats:p>





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Allison, A (2015). Discounted life: Social time in relationless Japan. Boundary 2, 42(3). pp. 129–141. 10.1215/01903659-2919540 Retrieved from

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Anne Allison

Professor of Cultural Anthropology

Anne Allison is a cultural anthropologist who researches the intersection between political economy, everyday life, and the imagination in the context of late capitalist, post-industrial Japan. Her work spans the subjects of sexuality, pornography, and maternal labor to the globalization of Japanese youth products and the precarity of irregular workers. She is the author of Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club (University of Chicago Press, 1994—an ethnography of the Japanese corporate practice of entertaining employees and customers in the sexualized atmosphere of hostess clubs; Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (University of California Press 2000)—a collection of essays analyzing the complex desires linking motherhood, pornographic comics, and popular culture; and Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (University of California Press, 2006)—a study of the intermeshing of fantasy, capitalism, and cultural politics in the rise of Japan's brand of "cool" youth-goods on the global marketplace. Her most recent book, Precarious Japan (forthcoming from Duke University Press, 2013) looks at the socio-economic shifts in post-corporatist Japan towards precaritization of work, sociality, and everyday security.

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