The regional conference hosted at Waseda University in a few days is quickly approaching. The organizers have released the final PDF program to browse, download, or printout. Conference overview is at http://seaa.americananthro.org/2018/11/seaa-regional-conference-august-2019-tokyo/ and the PDF program is here.
Society for East Asian Anthropology
May 7, 2018
Greetings from Paris!
The theme of the summer issue of AN, Anthropological Futures, has been much on my mind as I took up residence in this historic city far from my home in Tokyo. So why does an anthropologist who has spent nearly her entire career in Japan decide to take her sabbatical in France? By way of self-introduction as your new SEAA President, let me try to provide some food for thought on the future of East-Asian anthropologists through my answer to that question.
I strongly believe that our future as anthropologists, and the future of anthropology as a discipline, rests in our ability to carry out fine-grained, complex and transnational studies.
As an anthropologist, I’ve focused on gender, work, and family as they are constructed in urban Japan. From the mid-1990s, I added migration and migration policy to my interests, as these became more important to the workforce as Japan entered the age of rapid demographic decline. These two areas have kept me occupied ever since I moved to Tokyo from Hawaii in 1996. I spent two years at the University of Tokyo Institute of Social Science (ISS) helping launch the Social Science Japan Journal while finishing up research on NPO support for foreign workers. Then Waseda University hired me as one of two anthropologists on the inaugural faculty of twenty of its first independent graduate school, the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies. The GSAPS multi-disciplinary faculty teaches a diverse body of students from all over Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Africa.
Spending most of my career in multidisciplinary social science departments has given me tools to “talk across” disciplines, as Caroline Brettell and James Hollifield (2008) put it. I strongly believe that our future as anthropologists, and the future of anthropology as a discipline, rests in our ability to carry out fine-grained, complex and transnational qualitative studies that address pressing issues of common concern that cannot be sufficiently answered by experts in other fields, but requires maintaining a dialogue with them. Furthermore, we need to reach across borders to others whose societies face similar social problems yet who deal with these problems differently. So, that’s what brought me to Paris—well, that and the food and a museum or two!
In Japan, government rhetoric urges women to “shine” as executives, yet the social norm of intense, hands-on mothering is still quite strong, and government support for families, beyond rhetoric, is less than fulsome. I wanted to see how families in France, known for its quite strong government policies for family support, and relatively short working hours, manage their work and family lives.
Since January 2018, with funding provided by Waseda, I have been doing an interview-based study with Hiroko Umegaki-Costantini on this topic. This research has enhanced our perspectives greatly, giving us a window on how people in this city confront and negotiate some similar constraints, while bringing to the table often quite different attitudes from Japanese dual earner families. I feel like a kid in a patisserie, having this opportunity at this point in my career to learn from an environment that is at once incredibly stimulating and one which I hope will also yield fruitful comparisons.
In this globalized world, we face so many of the same problems—time famine, aging societies, economic decline, care demands for the young and for the elderly, precarity in employment, mental health and its governance, social inequality, homelessness, nationalism, populism and migration, food security. . . the list is endless, yet all these are problems we see nearly everywhere. The future of anthropology to me is one that recognizes these common problems and engages in comparative study that will point to outcomes that lead to a better world.
I hope that our anthropological future will be one of increasing SEAA interaction and engagement with French scholars, as well as with scholars all over Europe who are researching East Asia.
I can’t end this letter without mentioning another aspect of my engagement with Paris that has enriched my outlook. That is, a (gradually, I admit) increasing understanding of some of the French scholarship on East Asia. France, like Japan, has a population that is big enough to foster its own publication industry and its own global francophone intellectual universe, from which Anglophones have profited greatly—courtesy of English translations. French social science giants such as Marcel Mauss, Pierre Bourdieu, and Michel Foucault have influenced our discipline immensely. Being here in Paris under the auspices of the Fondation France-Japon of the EHESS has introduced me to the thriving scene of East Asian Studies in France.
While learning French is a longue durée project for me, many French researchers are also engaging actively in intellectual production in English. Increasingly, they are sponsoring Asian Studies conferences and symposia where both English and French, and East-Asian languages as well, are the mediums of communication. The interest in East Asia here is strong, and my colleagues who teach East Asian language courses tell me their classrooms are full. I hope that our anthropological future will be one of increasing SEAA interaction and engagement with French scholars, as well as with scholars all over Europe who are researching East Asia.
I will be spending the last three months of my sabbatical leave courtesy of the University of Hawaii’s Center for Japanese Studies and the Population and Health program at the East-West Center, then it’s back in the saddle at GSAPS in September. I’m very much looking forward to meeting you all at the SEAA meeting in San José. And, please think of joining us at Waseda in early August of 2019 for the regional conference of the SEAA.
I would be happy to entertain any ideas you have to foster our SEAA community. Please contact me at [email protected]. If you would like to contribute to our section column, please contact our contributing editors Heidi Lam and Yi Zhou. Please don’t hesitate, as well, to share with us the news of your latest publications by way of our listserv, Easianth. Finally, I would like to thank our executive board, and especially Gordon Mathews and Li Zhang, as well as our webmaster Guven Witteveen, for making the transition to my post a smooth one. I look forward to working with all of you!
Glenda S. Roberts is Professor at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies of Waseda University in Tokyo. Her major areas of interest are gender, work, and family, and migration in Japan. Currently she is on sabbatical leave at the EHESS in Paris, researching work/life balance and well-being for French families.
Roberts, Glenda S. 2018. “Letter from SEAA President Glenda Roberts.” Anthropology News website, May 7, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.852
Ahead of the AAA submission portal details, below, the SEAA is experimenting with an online form for you to post your title and abstract being proposed in order to discover possible co-presenters. Sessions that are seeking an additional presenter, but also individuals looking for others to form a new session, will be able to see what topics are in play during the run-up to the AAA’s submission deadline. Enterprising individuals or session chairs can use the online form to discover others to work with.
After the AAA’s submission deadline closes and final program decisions are made later in the summer, then the SEAA will again experiment by posting those finalized titles and abstracts online so that Annual Meeting attenders can look ahead to the presentations. And those who can’t be in San Jose in person can also get a glimpse of the line-up, or enter into correspondence with some of the presenters. As well, this online experiment will serve as a kind of archive as years go on.
Therefore, please join this SEAA experiment by going to the google-form to fill-in your individual subject in search of others; to to fill in your session in search of an added presenter:
<><> Supply your presentation information at https://goo.gl/forms/MeRE3fxp7AIEPaq93
<><> After your form is filled, the results will appear at bit.ly/seaa-2018-april
=-=-= ANNOUNCEMENT of AAA Submission Portal =-=-=
The Society for East Asian Anthropology (SEAA) welcomes proposals for the 117th American Anthropological Association (AAA) Annual Meeting, to be held in San Jose, CA from November 14-18, 2018.
Proposals submitted to SEAA for review should explore issues of contemporary anthropological importance and relevance concerning East Asia (including China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, other areas of the world with historical or contemporary ties to East Asia, and diasporic societies/cultures identified with East Asia).
Submission/session types may include the following:
> Oral presentation sessions (standard and retrospective)
> Roundtables (standard and retrospective)
> Individually-Volunteered Papers
> Group Gallery submissions
> Individual Gallery submissions, and
> Group Flash presentations.
All presentation types are welcome, but note that organized panels (such as the oral presentation sessions and the roundtables) have a greater likelihood of being accepted on the program. Individually volunteered paper and gallery submissions will be grouped together by the SEAA program committee into cohesive sessions if possible; these sessions will then be evaluated by both the SEAA as well as the AAA’s Executive Program Committees.
The deadline for submission is Monday, April 16 at 3:00 pm EDT (no new submissions will be accepted after 2:00 pm EDT). You must also register and pay for the 2018 AAA Annual Meeting before this deadline.
The online submissions system has been problematic in the past, so please submit your proposals as soon as possible to avoid any potential technical issues.
For more Annual Meeting information and to submit your proposal online to AAA, please visit the AAA 2018 submission portal:
We look forward to receiving your submissions and hope to see you in San Jose!
The SEAA 2018 Program Committee:
–Society for East Asian Anthropology
(a section of the American Anthropological Association)
Since 2005, Society of East Asian Anthropology (SEAA) has started Graduate Student Mentoring Workshop during the American Anthropology Association annual meetings. Over a decade, the spirit of the workshop has been to provide graduate students with opportunities to communicate with junior and senior scholars in the area of East Asian Anthropology and get better prepared for their professionalization in the field. In recent years, the workshop has been formatted in small-group discussions where students will be able to talk with all mentors.
This year, we continued this tradition and held a lunchtime workshop “Anthropology with an Attitude” in the aftermath of the 2016 American Presidential election. We asked: what is the relationship between politics and anthropology? To what extent has the intellectual substance of anthropology – its methods and techniques, its concepts and theories – been affected by the complex relations of power as we study in the world now?
More concretely, we focused on practical issues such as fieldwork and ethnographic writing as ways of engaging with the world. Prof. Lisa Rofel (University of California, Santa Cruz), Prof. Eleana Kim (University of California in Irvine), Prof. Akihiro Ogawa (The University of Melbourne) and Dr. Jessica Lockrem (St. Edwards University) accepted our invitation and became our mentors. We had twenty-five participants from a diverse range of institutions both in the US and from abroad. Participants included Ph.D. students, Post-doctoral fellows and junior scholars from different anthropology programs.
Both mentors and participants engaged in discussions during the workshop. Questions such as “what we can do in a Trump world” and “is it possible to be an anthropologist and an activist at the same time” were raised by participants. Prof. Rofel suggested that, rather than to think big, we start with “thinking small.” In terms of balancing professional life and other intellectual interests, Prof. Kim used her experience as an illustration of a two-way approach for students who were interested in dealing with different types of audience.
Besides the lunchtime workshop, SEAA also organized an informal dinner for graduate students this year. As students for a more consolidated and cohesive intellectual community, we planned to enhance and strengthen SEAA students’ bonding experience by having an informal gathering outside the conference venue. The cozy and relaxing environment provided a space for people to know other kindred spirits, develop networks and deepen relationships from the very early stage of one’s professional career.
After the workshop and informal dinner, we have received positive feedbacks as well as constructive suggestions for holding similar events in the future. One of the participants Wei Ye, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota, expressed his interest in seeing if “there is any kind of SEAA directory that may help folks build their connections later after the AAA events.”
For the workshop, Hua Yu, Assistant Professor Shanghai International Studies University, commented,
The format of the workshop is an innovative way of encouraging the attendants to talk about and reflect on their own research to different students and teachers. The advisers are very helpful in terms of challenging the postgraduates’ research and sharing their own academic experience. I especially like the part of rotating the table and talk to different people about the one research.
Her suggestion of having “a piece of paper containing everyone’s research interest and field” rather than a question list will help us prepare future workshop in a more effective and efficient way.
As for the informal dinner, Silke Werth, Postdoctoral Visiting Scholar in the East Asia Center of University of California at Santa Barbara, responded,
I particularly liked the informal nature of the workshop as it helped us all to talk frankly and discuss questions related to the suggested topic openly but also left room to take the conversation elsewhere…Having this lunch and dinner early in the conference helped to make the AAA feel overall more successful and helped set the mood for the next days.
He suggested that the restaurant for dinner could have been a quieter location “since it was very hard to hold a conversation with anyone but direct neighbors because the restaurant was very loud.” This will also be taken into consideration when we organize informal gatherings next time.
For the benefits of students, SEAA will carry on both events – mentoring workshop and informal graduate student dinner – at future AAA meetings. We will keep feedbacks and suggestions in mind and always work hard to facilitate the growth and development of students and junior scholars.
Tianyu Xie is a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at Stanford University. Research Interest: Gender, Kinship, Transnational Venture Capitalism. Research Area: San Francisco Bay Area, Beijing. SEAA Student Councilor.
Jing Wang is a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at Rice University. Her interests include global histories of Silk Road, anthropology of state, cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism. SEAA Student Councilor.
Donald C. Wood
I first met Bob in the hamlet of Kurusu in the early 1990s, but he didn’t meet me until two decades later, in the village of Ogata. We did not actually “meet” in either place; I first read his classic study of that community then, and some 20 years later he read my 2012 book (Ogata-Mura: Sowing Dissent and Reclaiming Identity in a Japanese Farming Village). The review of it that he kindly wrote marked the end of his academic publishing career, but the beginning of our friendship. I remain deeply honored by—and grateful for—both.
Bob’s work on regional Japan was grounded in the early postwar tradition, founded on the seminal work of John Embree, in which detailed investigation into all relevant social issues—and the meticulous tracing of change over time—featured prominently. His 1978 book, Kurusu: The Price of Progress in a Japanese Village, 1951-1975, was one of the stars of the canon on which I cut my teeth 25 years ago. I deliberately emulated Bob and the others of his generation when I did the research and writing for Ogata-Mura. The anthropological study of regional Japan, needless to say, has changed much since the time when Bob was one of its active leaders. But in the first chapter of Kurusu, he alluded to two of the most central topics in the current endeavor—depopulation and aging—and another that I believe will soon rise to that level: poverty.
Bob remained deeply engaged with Japan and with its anthropological study beyond his retirement; he is both a historical and a modern ancestor. And these two adjectives well characterize the nature of our brief friendship, which began in January 2014 with my initial email of thanks to him for the book review, and ended with his passing in October 2016. Our correspondence went across our shared countries—the United States and Japan—and through time. I addressed his questions about current politics in Japan, as we disparaged the country’s ruling administration, and he commented on the unfolding situation in the States, as we discussed the political ascent of “that rich guy who keeps on using my name.”
But Bob’s historical tales captivated me the most. He took me to 1946 Osaka, to a chance encounter with Japan’s emperor at Hayama, and to a conference at which “Meyer Fortes leaned across the table and said, ‘Smith, history is a red herring.’” Ichthyological nomenclature notwithstanding, Bob and I shared an interest in historical research, and I benefitted from his comments on my current investigations into the life and works of a farmer/ethnographer named Saburo Yoshida, who was writing about his home village of Wakimoto in Akita Prefecture in 1935-36, exactly when Embree was conducting fieldwork in the village of Suye in Kumamoto.
“I remember being impressed by the sense of continuity from long ago past” (in Japan) wrote Bob. I remember the same about Bob…and a lot more.
Donald C. Wood is an associate professor at Akita University (Akita, Japan) where he has worked since completing a doctoral degree at the University of Tokyo in 2004. He is editor of Research in Economic Anthropology and a member of the editorial board of the Japanese Review of Cultural Anthropology.
Discussions on the fate of discarded electrical and electronic devices (DEEDs, aka “e-waste”) and the configuration of the recycling sector in the Global South are riddled with the adjectives “formal” and “informal”. Scientists, engineers, corporate representatives, government officials, environmental activists and journalists make this distinction to categorize economic actors, often in ways that convey the impression there are two distinct, well delineated camps.
There’s no doubt that the “formal” vs “informal” dichotomy oversimplifies reality. In practice, one finds it difficult, if not impossible, to identify a clear-cut boundary within any country’s recycling sector. But, flawed as it is as an analytical tool, this dichotomy seems to do a fine job for a great number of people. Such a paradox requires further investigation. How to account for its success? Why do people use it? How does it shape the world? Below, I approach these questions by looking at the evolution of DEEDs recycling in mainland China.
The shape of China’s “formal system”
A mere decade ago, only a handful of countries had regulated DEEDs recycling and most of them belonged to the so-called “developed” world. China was among the first “developing” or “emerging” countries to follow suit. A common trait among those countries is that activities such as collection, repair, dismantling, pre-processing, aggregation, transport and resale were undertaken chiefly by small but well networked entities. The sector was composed of self-employed people, family businesses and small enterprises, all of which relied heavily on manual labor as well as on solidarity based on kinship or laoxiang (place of origin) ties. To a large extent, this still holds true in today’s China.
But a turning point was reached in the mid-2000s, when the central government started crafting regulations and policies that favor a different type of economic entities, namely corporations capable of operating capital- and energy-intensive recycling plants. Calls by a number of academics to integrate some of the existing businesses into the new “formal system” (zhenggui zhidu) went unheard. As this system progressively took shape, it became clear that the small guys would be left out. Among them, some, like collectors, still enjoy room for maneuver, thanks largely to their unmatched efficiency. But even they were not invited to participate in China’s transformation into a “circular economy” and an “ecological civilization”.
Pollution prevention as pretext
When meeting in specialized conferences in China, institutional experts chant the mantra of environmental protection. “Primitive” recycling operations generate a great deal of pollution, they claim, whereas “advanced” ones manage to control this pollution and at the same time extract more value out of DEEDs. Hence the necessity to replace “small workshops” (xiao zuofang) and their owners with large industrial plants and proper “companies” (gongsi). Images of contaminated lands populated by destitute people — a dominant trope in representations of “e-waste” (dianzi laji) — usually drive the point home, especially when displayed in conjunction with architectural models of clean and automated premises.
Pollution arising from DEEDs processing is an undeniable fact. But comparisons between the “formal” and the “informal” sectors (or systems) are biased and highlight only one aspect of the problem, namely end-of-pipe pollution. More importantly, the apparent centrality of pollution prevention as rationale for revolutionizing the recycling sector diverts our attention away from other factors that arguably better account for this change. Below, I focus on four of them.
“Systemization” overlaps partly with “formalization” proper or “regularization” (zhengguihua). Experts lay great emphasis on regulations, authorizations and certifications and many of them consider compliance to this set of rules necessary and sufficient: it obviates the need for further inquiry. Conversely, non-compliance disqualifies entities almost automatically.
This, in turn, brings us to “standardization” (biaozhunhua). Institutional experts stress that, despite recent progress, China still lags behind “the rest of the world” (guowai) — read “developed countries” — and should strive to reach “international standards”. They keep track of technical developments in countries like Japan or Germany and call for similar solutions to be implemented in China. In every area of interest for recycling (e.g. processing, management, administration), techniques from abroad enjoy a positive aura as tokens of progress. They prove — be it only symbolically — that China has caught up with older industrial powers.
“Industrialization” (chanyehua). Entities and techniques that do not qualify as “industrial” are not considered as potential elements of the new system and ignored. A Chinese researcher explained to me: “you just don’t get any funds for that kind of research.” In extreme cases, this trend leads to denial: several foreign experts reported having heard Chinese colleagues claim that China has no informal sector. Experts also advocate “scaling up” (guimohua) the industry, which means increasing volumes of treated DEEDs as well as companies’ average size. The central government seeks to reorganize DEEDs recycling by keeping only large entities, which are easier to monitor and control.
Informality and exclusion
What is at stake in discourses on (in)formality in the Chinese recycling industry are dynamics of in- and exclusion. Large entities are deemed worthy protagonists in China’s development, whereas small ones are not. Contrary to what is routinely claimed, this has little to do with their respective environmental performances and much more with what progress means and who spearheads it in present-day China.
This is the second short piece in a series of five which are focused on the generativity of waste and its various modalities of power in contemporary China and Taiwan. The series provides a follow-up to the panel “Living through Waste and Waste as Lively” presented November 21, 2015 at the 114th American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado.
Yvan Schulz is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Neuchâtel. He explores the so-called “afterlife” of discarded electrical and electronic devices in Guangdong Province and other ares of China. His research is supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation.
This year’s theme is at the heart of the anthro project – making the familiar strange (and the strange familiar)
Our annual business meeting takes place at 7:45 p.m. Friday, November 20.
The room location does not display online, but on-site you should have all session room locations.
Come to learn this year’s awardees:
—Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize
—Theodore C. Bestor Prize for Outstanding Graduate Paper
—David Plath Media Award
4-1560 SOCIETY FOR EAST ASIAN ANTHROPOLOGY (SEAA) BUSINESS MEETING
Organizer: Li Zhang (University of California – Davis)
See the full list of SEAA sessions in the online program, “browse by section”
Our parent association, the American Anthropological Association, has revised its website with the address “AmericanAnthro” at www.americananthro.org and so, too, of the many sections the URL has changed, as you see in your address bar above.
During the transition your bookmark to the old address will automatically take you to the new one: http://seaa.americananthro.org
SEAA has had great success in hosting meetings independent of AAA sessions at the Annual Meeting.
Come to Hong Kong to engage with colleagues from 19 to 22 June 2016, where the conference theme is “East Asia and Tomorrow’s Anthropology.”
Download proposal forms for paper or panel at the “Call for Papers” tab, http://arts.cuhk.edu.hk/~ant/SEAAconf/
Deadline for registration is Dec. 1. After the program is announced in January, the conference registration will begin and accommodations will be arranged.
Consider presentations you can make or panels to join in. Please, also invite colleagues near and far to participate.