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Accepted Paper:

The Soft Aesthetics of Hard Policy: Cross-Sections of Cute Design in Japanese Popular, Political and Technological Cultures  
Daniel White (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

The aesthetics of cute design underlies not only creative but also political projects in Japan. Citing examples from popular culture, politics and robotics labs, this paper discusses how cute forms of soft power produce hard policies with disarming consequences for both policy makers and publics.

Paper long abstract:

Soft power strategies coming from Japan's public diplomacy offices are notoriously cute (kawaii): young female fashion ambassadors dispatched to Brazil, a foreign minister in cosplay, a humanoid robot kicking a soccer ball with President Obama. The images offer a deliberately friendly, even obsequious appeal to a global audience. And yet, underneath the sheen of these soft strategies of national PR lie the harder policies with which they are inextricably entangled: an estimated 'surplus' of migrant Brazilian laborers invited to Japan to build its automobiles were offered one-way tickets back to Brazil in 2009; that same foreign minister in cosplay cited above previously held a position organizing public relations efforts for Japan's Self-Defense Forces in Iraq; and in Jennifer Robertson's now iconic citation of a statistic illustrating the more conservative trends in Japan's palliative robotics industry, while a majority of elderly Japanese claim they would prefer a human caretaker to a robot, they also admit a preference for a robot caretaker over a foreign human. Drawing on these and other examples of soft power policy-making collected during 16 months of fieldwork in Japan, this paper analyzes how the disarming appeal of Japan's cute culture softens the justifications for soft power initiatives among its strategists and hardens the wider effects of those and related policies.

Panel P134
What is soft about soft power? Critical engagements with an emerging form of statecraft
  Session 1 Friday 17 August, 2018, -