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Title: Shobodan : an ethnographic history of Japan's community fire brigades
Author: Robertson, Stephen Dixon
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis describes Japan's modern system of community fire brigades, a federated civilian paramilitary organization dedicated to localized fire prevention and response with a current active membership of over 800,000 men and women. Auxiliary firefighting institutions in Japan have had comparatively high rates of participation vis-à-vis those of other nations, but are now facing acute recruitment difficulties in the face of increased competition from alternative venues for civic engagement since the mid-1990s. This suggests both the tractability of civil society as an extra-statal sphere of institutionalized social organization as well as the inherent pluralism of its vernacular expression. I demonstrate that the nationalization of the fire brigade system in 1894 was predicated on the existence of an autonomous and normative sphere of age-graded practices of inter-household mutual aid in the villages of Tokugawa Japan. The gradual absorption and redirection of these practices into the nation-building projects of the Meiji state and its successors realized the creation of a functional emergency service organ with universal penetration at minimal expense. Nevertheless, drawing on Maurice Bloch's theory of rebounding violence, I argue that the secular rituals and state symbolism used to achieve this encompassment have conferred a legacy of structural ambivalence between civility and uncivility that continues to inform perceptions and representations of the brigade in public discourse. It follows that the phenomenon of organizational aging and questions of recruitment and succession should be seen as ideological in nature, rather than as simple indices of wider demographics or social transformation. This thesis is based on data collected during twenty months of research in Japan between 2008 and 2010, including eleven months of continuous participant observation with a brigade in Suwa District, Nagano Prefecture. Extensive ethnographic interviews with local firefighters, community members, and town officials are supplemented with data from primary and secondary historical sources, including online discussion forums. This thesis contributes to the literature on local voluntarism in Japan, as well as to the wider anthropological project of documenting non-western models of civil society.
Supervisor: Goodman, Roger; Gellner, David N. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Asia ; Anthropology ; Anthropology of policy ; Organisational behaviour ; Civil society ; Local Government ; Social services; associations ; Japan ; Suwa ; volunteering ; voluntarism ; fire brigades ; firefighters