Society and Identity
In Japan as elsewhere, the notion of “life” is ubiquitous but also particularly plural and complex. Several japanese words can be translated as “life”, but inochi いのち is the most obvious term meaning “life” as a notion. Used in biology, religious studies, philosophy, education, anthropology, mystical (shinpi) discourses, inochi is also used in bioethics. For example, historical studies which link abortion and conception of « life » (Iwata 2009) or ethical reflection about the technical manipulation of life (Shimazono 2016) refer to inochi.
Inochi is also a common term in daily life: in metro stations or parks, we see children’s drawings calling for protection of fauna: “Lets take care of life” (inochi o taisetsu ni); “Ways of eating life” (“Inochi no tabekata”) is the japanese title for the film “Our daily bread” about industrial food production (Geyrhalter 2005) ; the book “Life of cherry trees, heart/spirit of gardens” (Sakura no inochi, niwa no kokoro) is about horticulture (Sano 1998), etc. While “human life” (jinsei), or “daily life/living/livelihood” (seikatsu) refer to humans, we may wonder whether inochi is a common quality of living things.
According to Morioka (1991) in Japanese society, “life” as a notion has become a subject of high interest since the 1980’s. Its invaluable dimension, its uniqueness, its importance are praised. However, research referring to “conceptions of life” (seimeikan 生命観) and ranging from bioethics, environmental problems (Morioka 1994, Suzuki 2007, 2008), to kinship (Kawai 2009) and memorial services kuyō (Okada 2013) leads to put into question both the unity of the notion and its recurring celebration. This panel aims at discussing this question from the viewpoint of anthropology.
Many studies about “life” deal in fact with death and life (as in the field of “life and death studies” shiseigaku). However “life” has recently become a specific field in itself in japanese anthropology (Namihira 1996, Tanabe 2010), as it has in western anthropology (Helmreich 2016, Pitrou 2014, Praet 2013). Considering this trend, our contributions will be based upon factual field research to analyze how life is defined, bounded, manipulated, explained in daily life. What are, according to people, life’s properties, standards or norms? This four presentation panel lightens life and lives in action and in discourse, focusing on definition, education and normativity.