Society for East Asian Anthropology
Jieun Cho and Aaron Su
December 1, 2023
On November 16, SEAA members gathered in Toronto for our annual Business Meeting, where the Board and section members reviewed this year’s activities, announced new board members, and awarded book and paper prizes.
Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize
Committee Members: Christine Yano (chair), Cathryn Clayton, Teresa Kuan, Chikako Ozawa-de Silva, and Seo Young Park
Spawning Modern Fish: Transnational Comparison in the Making of Japanese Salmon (2022), written by Heather Anne Swanson, Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University, published by the University of Washington Press.
By unanimous vote and enthusiastic discussion, the book award committee selected Heather Anne Swanson’s stunning monograph, Spawning Modern Fish: Transnational Comparison of Japanese Salmon, as the 2023 Francis L.K. Hsu Book Award winner. The committee found Swanson’s work on salmon production in Japan to be the best kind of ethnography – one that not only engages specialists on the topic, but incites new possibilities for a broad swath of readers. Swanson’s expansiveness extends to her framing this story as one of multispecies ethnography through time and space (including Japan, Oregon, Chile).
Spawning Modern Fish tells a richly complex story of salmon production in Japan through the critical lens of modernity, power and global status. The book’s key theoretical contribution is that of “comparison”—multiply wrought as the source of assessments, aspirations, alliances, frictions, connections, relationality, and material world-making. Swanson demonstrates that practices of comparison–a human activity–get into the flesh of fish, even remaking them at the genetic and conceptual levels, as part of multi-species, transnational relations. Practices of comparison follow vectors of power: the relatively powerless draw upon comparison as a means of aspirationally embedding themselves within a larger world. In this way, comparison acts as a relational device situated within hierarchies of prestige on a global scale.
Swanson’s book offers new frames, new questions, new ways of looking at things. The scholarship is solid, the writing is elegant, the throughline is well argued. But most of all, Swanson’s book brings together creative and conceptual rigor that makes us think differently. Spawning Modern Fishbreaks new ground with the seemingly benign concept of comparison, here deployed with a deftness that is not superficial, but profound in its far-reaching implications.
Dreams of Flight: The Lives of Chinese Women in the West (2022), written by Fran Martin, Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne, published by Duke University Press.
Dreams of Flight: The Lives of Chinese Women Students in the West provides a nuanced account of the youth experiences of border crossing and, more broadly, the increasing translocality in and across East Asia. Through a rich collection of narratives, observations, photos, and cognitive maps from the everyday venues and routes of young female “transmigrants,” the book artfully unravels the texture of the intersecting mental, physical, social, and media spaces they inhabit and transform. Ethnographically grounded in these sites of translocal urbanity connecting China and Australia, Martin’s analyses poignantly show how the dynamics of gender and educational mobility reconfigure nationalism, racism, and neoliberalism.
Administering Affect: Pop-Culture Japan and the Politics of Anxiety (2022), written by Daniel White, Senior Research Associate in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, published by Stanford University Press.
Administering Affect: Pop-Culture Japan and the Politics of Anxiety offers an exciting account of how Japan has invested in its “soft power” by branding itself as a “pop-culture nation.” Drawing on surprising access to the upper echelons of government and its institutions, observations at events, and textual analyses of commentaries as well as pop cultural products, White takes administration and the anxiety of male bureaucrats as an ethnographic object. The book is conceptually rigorous and thought-provoking, inviting a rethink of “soft power” and the notion of the unfeeling bureaucrat by analyzing everyday practice and cultural production in terms of gender, politics, and affect. Bridging the study of pop culture and the study of public diplomacy, debated concepts and concepts in practice, Administering Affect is a tremendous achievement.
2023 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Prize
“Why Does International Solidarity Matter? Parallelizing Circuits of Indigenous Political Movements between Taiwan and the Cordillera of the Northern Philippines since the 1980s,” by Yi-Yu Lai (Department of Anthropology, University of Hawaii).
[From the Abstract]
Since the 1980s, cultural exchanges between Indigenous peoples in Taiwan and in the Cordillera of the Northern Philippines have had a significant impact on their political movements. The primary purpose of this article is to figure out how and why those cultural exchanges led to the solidarity between these two Indigenous groups throughout the decades, given the historical and political differences between the two countries. While much of the literature on Indigenous solidarity activism focuses on the tensions and negotiations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, this case study critically examines the factors that contributed to the growth of activism between the two groups, providing insights into the transnational ties among Indigenous movements.
In this transnational, muti-sited, and longitudinal study, the author carefully lays bare the organizational dynamic, material conditions, and changing relations of power surrounding the two indigenous activisms connecting Taiwan and the Philippines. Using solidarity as a problematic, the author explores the emerging communities and their sustained commitment to heritage, justice, and equality, as shared by both groups. Combining rich historical research with transnational ethnographic fieldwork, the paper offers rare insight into interactions between two indigenous movements and their impacts that go beyond national boundaries. This paper demonstrates new directions in East Asian anthropology that engage with multilingual, multicultural, and transnational possibilities with the topic that is urgent, timely, and impactful.
“The Occult and the Hopeful: The Work of Hope among Ufologists in Post-socialist China,” Yadong Li (Department of Anthropology, Tulane University).
[From the abstract]
Almost simultaneously with Reform and Opening Up, the emergence of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) has become a hallmark event of the post-socialist transformation for many citizens of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Although the majority of these people have only scant certain knowledge of UFOs, they believe that UFOs can bring dramatic, and largely positive changes to the Chinese society and themselves. This article situates the stories about UFOs within the changing socio-political context of post-socialist China, discussing why and how the extraterrestrial imagination strikes resonance among China’s post-socialist generations.
Beautifully written, “The Occult and the Hopeful” captures transformative momentum of post-socialist China where fantastic objects such as UFOs are pursued with profound contemplation and captivating zeal. The author closely follows his ethnographic subjects, engaging with deep conversations, effectively delivering their introspection, which, on one level might reflect their anxiety, offers another interpretation, viz., hope for the unknowable future. With its unique topic, original discussion, and rich interpretation, this paper makes a significant intervention in the current ethnographic studies of China.
New Board Members and Anthropology News Column Updates
We also said goodbye to several outgoing members: Ellen Oxfeld (President), Jennifer Prough (Councilor), Yi Wu (Councilor), and Yookyeong Im (Student Councilor). We welcomed a cohort of new members as well: Hyang Jin Jung (President-Elect), Isaac Gagne (Councilor), Nan Kim (Councilor), and Xinyu Guan (Student Councilor).
Thank you to all of these members for volunteering their time and energy to keep SEAA a thriving forum for intellectual exchange! We also thank Guven Witteveen, who has deftly overseen SEAA’s Digital Communications.
Due to an unprecedented number of submissions, the SEAA Column in Anthropology News will continue to publish pieces in 2024 under our current theme, “The Future of the ‘Public’ in East Asia.” The column publishes SEAA members’ reflections and photo essays based on original ethnographic research. A call for submissions to fill our remaining column slots will be published in the coming year.
Jieun Cho is an editor for the SEAA section news column and a Postdoctoral Associate at the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke University. Her research investigates how middle-class families navigate the challenges of raising healthy children amidst the uncertainties of radiation risk in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
Aaron Su is an editor for the SEAA section news column. He is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at Princeton University writing up his dissertation on how new participatory design movements are transforming fields as far-flung as healthcare, environmental remediation, and Indigenous politics in Taiwan.