Accepted Paper:

Working the Excellence: Foreign Scientists in Japan's Research Institutions  


Ieva Puzo (Riga Stradins University)

Paper short abstract:

Focusing on the experiences of foreign scientists in Japan’s research institutions, the paper examines excellence discourses from the perspective of labor, highlighting the lived realities and the human cost of excellence-oriented science policies.

Paper long abstract:

Along with science policy makers around the world, the Japanese government has embraced the rhetoric of research excellence in recent decades. Internationalization of research is perceived as a crucial facet of the national project to improve the country's scientific institutions and ensure excellence. Importantly, recent science and technology policies in Japan also posit development of "excellent human resources" as the basis of scientific innovation. One of the means of achieving this goal is the recruitment of international researchers in temporary positions.

However, as participants in the increasingly transnational circulation of academic knowledge workers, the foreign scientists enlisted to advance Japan's research sector encounter considerable uncertainties in their work and personal lives. Based on ethnographic research with early career life scientists in Japan's Kansai region, my paper examines the dissonance that emerges between discourses of excellence and the lived realities of those who are recruited to produce it. Focusing on the ways young foreign researchers make sense of being scientists at Japanese institutions, I suggest that, first, researchers engage in highly personalized forms of emotional labor in order to retain employment and, second, they explain these investments as a feature of a peculiarly Japanese framework of excellence, thus disguising the increasing demands of the transnational scientific labor market. In line with the panel's goal of unpacking the notion of excellence, the contribution of my paper to the STS literature lies in its aim to examine and problematize the human cost of research excellence discourses.

Panel T020
Governing Excellent Science