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Title:Place-making under Japan's neoliberal regime: ethics, locality, and community in rural Hokkaido
Author(s):Chang, Cheng-Heng
Director of Research:Gille, Zsuzsa
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Gille, Zsuzsa
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ghamari-Tabrizi, Behrooz; Schulz, Markus; Lee, Kristen Schultz
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:How should people live in rural Japan today? And how can they live together in declining communities? As counter-urbanization and the trend of rural revitalization have become a major scene of cultural politics in contemporary Japan, these fundamental questions become more and more important. To respond to the puzzle, it is necessary to re-conceptualize community for the sake of capturing the changing nature of rural society and delineating the current configuration of rural communities. Rather than viewing the countryside as a construct of urban consumerism, the active role and subjective meaning of local advocates of rural revitalization require systematic study. Only with a better understanding of rural community can researchers make a fair evaluation of the practices of place-making in Japan today. To answer the questions, I conducted a yearlong fieldwork on a rural revitalization project called the BVP in a rural town of Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. A local non-profit organization, the ODC, sponsors this project, which aims to recruit retired urbanites to settle in their depopulated town to practice pesticide-free farming. During my residency in Hokkaido, I did participant observation in the activities and events of the BVP, and followed the daily practices of the major participants. In addition to that, I also did archival research and in-depth interviews to collect necessary data. Through the long-term fieldwork, I found that the implementation of the BVP has created a new form of communal life, which I term, a “rhizomatous community.” Urbanite newcomers settle down in different corners of the township via the assistance of the ODC, and work with native residents on the same ground. The ODC members mobilize available resources to realize the BVP, including people, extra income and food, and public assets. In so doing, the BVP grows into a discursive community that does not physically exist but that is substantially constituted by face-to-face contact, seasonal events, gift exchange, and various interactions with nature. In this respect, the BVP can be imagined as an assembled network that is composed of heterogeneous actors and things. The BVP as a rhizomatous community is embedded in the specific context of a regional society and its natural environment. The study contributes to community studies by challenging the understandings of community in classical and contemporary theories. A rhizomatous community is neither an interpersonal network existing in a socio-geographic vacuum, nor a traditional or newly invented neighborhood situated in a spatially bounded place. Rather, it is a heterogeneous assemblage discursively constituted through the process of producing locality. It is liberated from while remaining associated with traditional bonds such as family, kinship, and neighborhood.
Issue Date:2015-04-24
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Cheng-Heng Chang
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-07-22
Date Deposited:May 2015

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