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Critical Discourse Analysis and the Politics of Reproduction in Contemporary Japan
Isabel Fassbender, Doshisha Women’s College, Kyoto
With ongoing attempts since the early 1990s to elevate the low birth rate in Japan, politics of reproduction are a highly contested realm in Japanese society. While policy makers’ attempts to influence reproductive behavior on an individual level – often without sufficiently addressing social frameworks on a macro level – have been scrutinized in diverse analyses, the role of the biomedical business and mass media has been mostly overlooked. Isabel addresses this lacuna in her recent publication Active Pursuit of Pregnancy: Neoliberalism, Postfeminism and the Politics of Reproduction in Contemporary Japan (Brill, 2021) by using Critical Discourse Analysis on the “active pursuit of pregnancy” (ninkatsu), a narrative that – on first sight – encourages individual reproductive life planning or promotes assisted reproductive technologies, and has been broadly circulating in various contexts since 2011. Trying to disentangle the interplay of power/knowledge and the roles of the involved actors in contemporary politics of reproduction through the “window” of ninkatsu, her analysis relies on a theoretical framework combining neoliberal subjectification strategies, postfeminism, and biomedicalization.
Isabel’s talk focused not only on Critical Discourse Analysis as a research method in theory but also tried to show a possible practical implementation by presenting concrete examples from her work. The lively discussion after Isabel’s presentation addressed methodological issues (incl. details of CDA, tools used, analogue/digital approach) and content-related questions regarding the trademark registration of the term ninkatsu, stigmatization of fertility treatment, ‘regretting motherhood’ discourse in Japan, abortion and sex education. Fifty participants from around the world joined this session.
Isabel Fassbender received her Ph.D. from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (2020) and is currently an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Studies at Doshisha Women’s College in Kyoto. Her research field is Japanese studies, focusing on gender, family sociology, and governmentality.