Dissertation Abstracts

Amateurs' Riot! Alternative Lifestyles as Activism in Japanese Urban Spaces

Author: Obinger, Julia S., julia.obinger@uzh.ch
Department: Japanese Studies, Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies
University: University of Zurich, Switzerland
Supervisor: David Chiavacci
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: German

Keywords: alternative lifestyles , urban activism , Japan , ethnography
Areas of Research: Social Classes and Social Movements , Participation, Organizational Democracy and Self-Management , Political Sociology


Younger generations' reactions to socioeconomic shifts in light of globalization and neoliberal reform are central issues in present sociological research in Japan, but diagnoses often lack perspectives on social innovation and alternative lifestyles. While rising disparity and insecurity are persistent problems, current developments should also make way for alternative readings beyond "black-and-white" interpretations of the "winners" and "losers"-model of Japanese society.

Within this context, this thesis offers a tentative mapping of possibilities for alternative social participation and identity construction in urban Japan, based on a case study of individuals affiliated to the network Shirōto no Ran (Amateur's Riot) in Kōenji, Tōkyō. Though a marginal group of no more than a few dozen actors, I see them as avant-garde in creating and living alternative forms of sociality in urban Japan. Based on their fundamental ideal of 'anarchy' as emancipation from oppressive social conventions and norms, their lifestyles radically disengage from traditional and idealized notions of career, success, and wealth in Japan. But instead of practicing 'social exit' or striving for systemic revolution, they presently create new networks and spaces – virtual and real, local and transnational – within which they experiment with new modes of community building and economic agency, as well as flexible forms of political, social and cultural participation. It must be noted that one of their biggest successes so far has been the organization of the 2011 anti-nuclear demonstrations in Tokyo.

This thesis explores the motivations of the actors of Shirōto no Ran and interprets their alternative lifestyles against the background of contemporary Japanese society. The focus of this study lies on analyzing their alternative economic experiments, alternative spaces and alternative media production. Moreover, this thesis maps the activists’ alternative protests since 2005 and their role within the demonstrations after the triple disaster in 2011.

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