Joseph D. Hankins, "Working Skin: Making Leather, Making a Multicultural Japan" (U California Press, 2014)


Joseph D. Hankins's marvelous new ethnography of the contemporary Buraku people looks at the labor involved in "identifying, dismantling, and reproducing" the Buraku situation in Japan and beyond. Taking readers on a journey from Lubbock, Texas to Tokyo, India, and back again, Working Skin: Making Leather, Making a Multicultural Japan (University of California Press, 2014) brings a diverse range of ethnographic experiences to bear on understanding the conception, management, recognition, and experience of the burakumin, a "contagious category" of minority identity in today's Japan. In three major sections that each advance a particular argument, Hankins's book considers the production and non-production of signs of modern Buraku identity. These fascinating chapters offer thoughtful accounts of the making and remaking of bodily markers and ties of kinship, occupation, and residence that can be mobilized to make Buraku identity, the political strategies and embodied practices through which abstract ideals like "multiculturalism" and "human rights" are produced in that context, and the ways that international legal standards and political solidarity have been mobilized in the course of the labor that produces Buraku selfhood and otherhood. Working Skin also pays special attention to the ways that an impulse toward multiculturalism disciplines the subjects and objects of contemporary representations of social difference in Japan.

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