Dissertation Abstracts

Nation-Work: Making Tea Japanese

Author: Surak, Kristin , kristin.surak@soas.ac.uk
Department: sociology
University: UCLA, USA
Supervisor: Rogers Brubaker
Year of completion: 2009
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: nationalism , ethnicity , culture , Japan
Areas of Research: Historical and Comparative Sociology , Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Arts


Few practices are simultaneously as exotic and representative, esoteric and quotidian, instrumental and sensual, political and cultural as the Japanese tea ceremony. NATION-WORK: MAKING TEA JAPANESE offers the first comprehensive analysis of the practice that includes new material on its various historical metamorphoses, a detailed excavation of its institutional organization, and a careful analysis of the relationship between the national meanings of the tea ceremony and the actual experience and enactment of it. In so doing, the dissertation uncovers how the ritual became such a potent symbol of the nation while undergoing a radical transformation of its carriers, as what was once an aesthetic pastime of elite men has survived into the twenty-first century as a hobby of middle-class women. Simultaneously, it offers an analytical bridge between the largely separate literatures on macro-political nationalism and micro-cultural enactments of everyday nationhood by examining their shared repertoire of action. This “nation-work” is visible not only during the foundational phases of nation-building, but also in the more mundane routines of nation-maintenance thereafter. Each chapter applies a different interpretive lens – phenomenological, historical, institutional, and ethnographic – to capture the ways Japaneseness crystallizes in the tea ceremony both during the fervour of nation formation, and in the moment-to-moment interactions within the tea room. The conclusion sets the practice in comparative perspective, drawing on other classic venues of nation-work – gymnastics and music – in Europe and Asia, and returning the different dimensions of the tea ceremony to the overall framework under which they are viewed: as an exceptionally vivid illustration of one of the fundamental processes of modernity, the work of making nations.

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