For the conclusion to my ASPAC blogging, I want to talk about the panel which invited me to serve as moderator. It was a pleasure, and not just because three of the four of us were Harvard Ph.D.s., though catching up with gossip was fun. The papers covered a solid range of early modern and modern topics — outcastes in the early 19th century, historiography of rebel domains in imperial Japan, political violence in the 1950s — and was uniformly excellent research which should soon see publication. My introduction tried to tie things together thusly
Marginalizing discourses are, of course, actually intended to normalize. These are not out-groups for the sake of individuality or obtuseness, but groups trying to function within society, negotiating from positions of weakness, but using available leverage — function, ideology, resistance — which is considered legitimate. But there is a trend away from formal stratification, through uniformity towards equality: modernity shifts from marginalizing people to marginalizing behavior.
Maren Ehlers study of “The Koshirō of Ōno Domain: An Outcast Organization within Domain Society” made a strong case that hinin in small communities were both socially oppressed but also socially useful, and that they could leverage their position into new privileges as the needs of domain society shifted their functions. Their status within the community was clearly marked, but restrictions were often ignored due to the nature of small-town life. She presented a particularly interesting case where the Koshirō were asked to take on duties as executioners in exchange for new privileges (right to wear short swords, plus a stipend), even though those privileges were protested by commoners, but eventually the Koshirō asked to be relieved of those new privileges and the duties that went with them, on the grounds that it lowered their status to be associated with traditional eta work. This reinforces the argument Botsman makes in Punishment and Power: that the outcaste groups actively negotiated their status and function, from a weak but not powerless position due to their state functions. Maren’s dissertation is on poverty relief, and ought to add a nice new dimension to our understanding of the functions of government in the Early Modern era.
Hiraku Shimoda’s “Making and Unmaking a Cautionary Tale: Aizu Domian in Imperial Historical Discourse” was a fascinating look at how partisans of the Shogunal Loyalist domain reshaped the history of the Restoration wars with the collusion of central authorities who wanted to construct a uniform national narrative of Imperial service. I was quite taken with the way in which the former rebels were redeemed through a — largely fanciful and ahistorical — narrative of a nation in which everyone sought the greater good and were loyal to the same transcendant sovereign, even when they were shooting at each other. Hiraku’s larger work on regional identity will certainly be essential reading for those of us doing local history, and for those of you who haven’t yet taken it seriously enough!
Eiko Maruko’s chronicled two episodes in “Violence as a Discursive Weapon: Diet Politics in the 1950s” both of which involved Socialist v. LDP clashes. Both parties claimed the mantle of “Defenders of democracy”: the LDP claimed that the Socialists were trying to impose a minority will by violence, invoking the recent past; the Socialists claimed that the LDP were trying to steamroll minorities with an uncompromising majoritarianism which they likened to fascism. The LDP called on security forces (especially in the 1958 case) and successfully cast the Socialists as the aggressors, as an immature group in a maturing democratic society. These clashes were, in a sense, precursors to the 1960 Security Treaty conflicts, but Eiko didn’t go into that. Her larger project on political violence from the Bakumatsu to the Ampo Riots ought to be a solid attention-grabber for undergrads, as well as adding a very interesting dimension to the whole modernity/democracy discussion.1
There’s so much to look forward to in the next few years, in terms of what we’re going to be reading and what we can teach from.
I love the way in which it completely ignores conventional periodization, too. ↩