Social formation of Japanese subjecthood between 1868 and 1905.
For over two centuries prior to 1868, the Tokugawa government consistently refused to
have official relations with the outside world, and took a strict policy of isolationism.
However, with the ever-increasing encroachment of western naval powers onto its
shores, 'Japanese' authorities began to recognise the need to take a different attitude
toward its relations with the outside world, especially with the 'West', and began the
process of 'modernising' the 'nation'. This thesis will critically investigate what this
process of 'modernisation' entailed, by focusing upon the social formation of Japanese
subjecthood between 1868 and 1905.
Undertaking a semiotic analysis of advertisements and a genealogical analysis of
ethical school textbooks, this thesis argues that the subjectification of Japanese national
identity was specifically different from the western one. Through a semiotic analysis of
advertisements, it suggests that the operative symbolic system which formed the
Japanese subject was one premised upon hybridity rather than essentialism. Through a
genealogical analysis of ethical school textbooks, it argues that the subject was
constituted through governing the bodily performance of the subject, and one which
naturalised the uniqueness of the Japanese race.
These analyses will indicate that the forms of subjectification which may be identified in
the process of Japanese modernisation are cognisant of some of the radical models of
the subject proposed by some post-1968 theories. These proposals were intended to
beget or designate a model of the subject which can resist and overcome the legacy of
violence inherent in western thought, particularly of the kind that legitimated its history of
imperialism. However, I argue that since these alternatives bear semblance to thoselocated in the historical formations that resulted in Japanese imperialism, a critique of
thought alone cannot be the basis of social critique, but that thought must be continually
apprehended as part of a system of practice in academic activities