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UBC Theses and Dissertations
Japanese irregular workers in protest : freeters, precarity and the re-articulation of class O'Day, Robin
The subject of my dissertation is Japanese freeters, youth who work part-time or move from job to job. Within Japan’s protracted economic downturn, freeters have become a complex symbol that at times are blamed, other times pitied and sometimes even celebrated for structuring their lives around jobs that are unstable, but also less demanding and potentially freeing. Ideally, working as a freeter is a temporary period to be replaced by full-time employment. However, many freeters are finding this “temporary” state difficult to move beyond. Within the last decade, some freeters have begun to protest against jobs that many see as exploitative and as demanding as full-time positions without the added benefits and security. This dissertation approaches some of these sites of freeter protest ethnographically. Drawing upon twenty months of participant observation research with four union movements attempting to organize freeters and other young irregularly employed youth, I look at how these groups attempt to politically mobilize freeters. This dissertation explores some of the strategies the union movements use in attempting to cultivate class-consciousness amongst freeters and other young irregular workers that feel disaffected by the limiting circumstances of the employment system and seek to confront and change their working condition. Through the descriptions presented in my ethnographic chapters on these union groups, I argue that the loss of place for young irregular workers is contributing to the re-articulation of class politics and protest in post-industrial Japan. However, I also show that instilling class-consciousness in freeters is itself a complex process full of resistances, negotiations, contradictions and even rejections. I situate this study within a variety of critiques surrounding the fields of the anthropology of Japan, the anthropology of labour and the anthropology of social movements. This study seeks to contribute to the critique that although the anthropology of Japan has taken the experiences of difference and diversity seriously, the field has paid less attention to the role of social class. Moreover, studying union movements ethnographically supports the argument that anthropology can provide greater appreciation of the cultural dimensions and lived experiences of activists involved in organized labour and social movements.
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