John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 5 Apr 1995 11:55:47 JST

As a self-proclaimed male feminist (and a guy who makes his living in
marketing and advertising) I wonder if it mightn't be useful to promote
the work of female anthropologists by talking about work that we,
personally, really like. To start the ball rolling, I'd like to say a few
words about _Crafting Selves_ by Dorinne Kondo. The book is a highly
reflexive one in which Kondo talks openly about coming to Japan as a
strongly committed feminist prepared to be highly critical of what is--
no question about it--a highly sexist society. Her fieldwork, spent
working in a Tokyo confectionary factory, challenged her to reconsider
her assumption that in such a society women should feel oppressed and
miserable. What she writes, however, is far from confirming a sexist's
dream of oriental women delighting in submission. It is, instead, a lucid
account of how human beings use language to craft the selves they see
themselves as being. Three cases are central to the story.

First is a description of life at a Moral Training Center to which the
factory's owner likes to send his employees. Activities at the center are
governed by an explicitly formulated ideology which, predictably,
emphasizes submission to the group and obedience to seniors who
stand in loco parentis. The principles are explicitly formulated, but the
training itself is largely non-verbal: learning through doing in a classic
boot-camp-like rite de passage process. The emphasis on repeated
practice whose goal is perfection of form and the notion that true
learning requires physical embodiment is familiar to anyone familiar
with martial arts.

Second is the autobiography of a senior and highly respected craftsman.
When he talks about himself he talks about the experience of moving
from job to job, staying just long enough to add something to his skill
then moving on. Learning through doing is still central. Loyalty to a group is
replaced by commitment to craft; sensitivity to the seasons and customers'
tastes replacing sensitivity to a group's demands.

Third is an analysis pieced together from interviews with women who
work in the factory. Here Kondo confronts directly that while the Moral
Training Camp has its ideology and the craftsman a well-crafted story,
all that she hears from these women, when she tries to discuss their
work, is fragments . Like the craftsman, these women have moved from
job to job, but the jobs themselves have been varied. There is no story,
no sense of developing craft. The women's stories become coherent only
when they talk about their children and the families on which their
lives are centered. The world of work is a realm of unconnected

It would, of course, be easy to describe these women as victims of false
consciousness and berate the norms which define their life possibilities.
That Kondo transcends this all-too-easy end to discussion to explore in
detail the ways in which various selves are crafted in what is so often
described as a homogeneous society is a first-class piece of
anthropological writing. It is one I would cheerfully recommend to any
reader, anthropologist or not, a remarkable achievement.

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)