Accepted paper:

'Something even I can do?' New communities of exchange in urban Japan


Iza Kavedzija (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the motivations of people involved in a local mutual aid organization in Japan, as an example of a ‘real utopia’. It seeks to answer the question of how people who are deeply sceptical of their ability to effect meaningful change ever bring themselves to act.

Paper long abstract:

Contemporary urban Japan is increasingly described as a 'society without ties' (muen shakai), and the problem of atomisation is widely discussed in the national media. Dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, many local community residents nevertheless aspire to create networks of support by engaging in a range of small scale projects that help people to imagine alternative institutions, thereby resembling what Erik Olin Wright has referred to as 'real utopias'. Building on Ernst Bloch's idea of 'ontologies of the not-yet', this paper explores the motivations of one such group of residents in South Osaka, who have drawn on the ideas of social activist Tsutomu Hotta to establish a local 'mutual aid' system of volunteer services. Looking for 'something they could do' about some of the problems they observed, these people did not however wish to revive the 'traditional community' or what they took to be the burdensome relationships of the 'old times'. Their wide ranging achievements nevertheless contrast dramatically with their typically modest assessment of their own abilities to bring about change, both as individuals and as a group. This raises an important question of motivation: in what ways do people who are sceptical about their own ability to effect change ever bring themselves to act? In considering utopian projects as practical endeavours, personal motivation is of central importance, since it is in this realm that the tension between the hoped-for and the possible plays out.

panel P04
Architects of utopia