Accepted Paper:

To risk and to hope: the labor of science in contemporary Japan  


Ieva Puzo (Riga Stradins University)

Paper short abstract:

My paper explores scientific work in contemporary Japan as a labor process. It argues that, under the circumstances of increasing job insecurity, it is a coupling of risk-taking and hope that allows young scientists to make sense of their daily lives and envision their work futures.

Paper long abstract:

In the wake of prolonged economic recession, a sense of uncertainty about the sustainability of Japan has been increasingly exacerbated in contemporary political and popular discourses. To project a socio-economically secure future of Japan, such narratives mobilize scientists as innovators of technologies that are not only profitable, but also essential to the continuity of the country. Development of "excellent human resources" is posited as one of the bases of scientific innovation in Japan's recent science and technology policies. However, while scientists are tasked with the production of technologies that would ensure socio-economic security in Japan's future, their labor conditions are becoming more insecure amidst the increase in performance-based research institutions, focus on short-term projects and flexible employment.

My paper asks: What meanings do scientists imbue in their work when they are held responsible for securing the sustainability of the country while at the same time experiencing growing uncertainty regarding their own work futures? Based on an ethnographic study among young scientists - those most affected by the transformations in scientific labor regimes - in various public research institutions in Japan, I suggest that researchers experience scientific work as a process of highly individualized risk-taking and gambling for certainty in their personal futures. Conceptualizing contemporary scientific production as a form of "venture labor" (Neff 2012), I argue that, under the conditions of continuous withdrawal of job security and disappearance of permanent work structures, it is the convergence of risk-taking and hope that allows for "bargaining with normalcy" (Berlant 2007) among young scientists.

Panel P041
Scientific lifeworlds