Accepted Paper:

Sharing company: fictive kinship in post-'11 March' Japan  


Mitchell W Sedgwick (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes trauma experienced 'at a distance', among Japanese managers abroad, 8000 miles from their homes and 'mother factory' in Tohoku, during Japan's March 11 disaster. I examine evidence of fictive kinship with their corporation in mediating their outrageous helplessness.

Paper long abstract:

This paper addresses 'fieldwork' or, better, 'the sharing of experience' with the extended community of a Japanese factory partially destroyed by Japan's '3/11' disaster. (Although I discuss here the situation in the immediate two weeks after the disaster, periodic research continues to the present.)

I examine the experience of a group of Japanese managers of a major Japanese multinational corporation charged with overseeing a subsidiary factory located on the US-Mexican border, some 8,000 miles from Tohuku: where their 'mother factory', their communities and, for some, their homes were devastated. I recount an intimate drama experienced in real time, as they desperately sought to communicate with loved ones and, as the days unfolded, gradually weighed up consequences, and attempted to make sense of things.

My analytic focus is trauma experienced 'at a distance' and the personal impact of observing - through the media but, for a period, without private contact with loved ones - one's 'world' being literally torn apart while being, in practical terms, entirely disengaged. Their outrageous helplessness - no doubt, deeply psychologically damaging - required, at least in the short run, a pretense of recovery. Lifetime employees one and all, they placed an impressive emphasis on the role of their company itself as a practical and emotional life raft. I examine here, then, in crisis, the (fictive) kinship between themselves - as well as, by extension, their actual families and local communities - and the weave of their corporate sociality.

Panel P023
Living with disaster: comparative approaches (JAWS/JASCA joint panel)