AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 206

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Session 206: Emotion, Nation, and the Formation of Gendered Subjectivity: Studies from Indonesia, Japan, China, and South Korea

Organizer: Ayu Saraswati, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Discussants: Jingyuan Zhang, Georgetown University, USA; Mariya Omelicheva, University of Kansas, USA

Emotion has often been juxtaposed to “reason” and dismissed as an unreliable source in the process of knowledge production. The four papers in this panel challenge this notion of emotions and argue for the importance of emotions as a mode of knowing and, in particular, of constructing one’s gendered subjectivity. Framing emotion as a site of critical inquiry in the process of knowledge production and subjectivity formation, this panel moves “emotion” from its personal and private spheres to a larger, more social and more structural space of analysis. Emotion, and in some cases, desire, is indeed shaped by the social fields of discourses, practices, and power dynamics (Foucault 1978; Butler 1987; Bellstorff 2007; Rofel 2007). In theorizing emotion as a tool for constructing one’s subjectivity and negotiating the gendered expectations of the nation, the papers in this panel focus on four different geographical locations and historical periods. From the New Order Indonesia (late 1960s-late 1990s), to post-Socialist China (1990s), to contemporary Japan (1990s-New Millenium) and South Korea, the papers in this panel closely read advertisements, magazines, novels, and interviews to show the intricate ways in which emotions intersect with discourses of gender, race, nation, religion, family, reproduction, romantic love and beauty and function as a crucial site of knowledge production and subjectivity formation.

Emotional Discipline and the Reconstitution of the Feminine Self in the Korean Evangelical Church
Kelly H. Chong, University of Kansas, USA

One recent approach to rethinking conventional approaches to religion has been to study religion as “lived,” the heart of which lies in moving away from the traditional focus on the “official” aspects of religion toward analyzing the myriad ways religion is experienced, understood, and practiced by ordinary people. This approach’s imperative on charting the politics of practice, however, also has resulted in interpretive orientations that sometimes tend to over-emphasize agency, improvisation, and resistance at the expense of religion’s “complicity” in sustaining alienation and domination. Based on my study of middle-class women in Korean evangelical churches, this paper examines the disciplinary dimensions of evangelical women’s religiosity. I argue that while the beliefs and practices of the female believers in my study, and the dynamics of religious power at work within their churches, do embody the dialogic tension between regulation and resistance, discipline and empowerment, the churches also serve as highly effective vehicles through which women are re-domesticated for the family/gender regime of contemporary Korea. As a disciplinary institution, the evangelical church accomplishes this not only through a process of ideological indoctrination, but through its program of intense spiritual and emotional discipline, which, by generating a set of “technologies of self,” aims at reconstituting the subjectivities of women. In particular, I explore core discursive and spiritual disciplinary technologies – especially as deployed in small group contexts such as cell-meetings, Bible study, and family/marriage seminars -- that are employed by the church for the purposes of generating specific feminine religious habitus.

From Iron Girls to Sentimental Mothers: Divorced Women in Post-Socialist Chinese Women’s Literature
Hui Faye Xiao, University of Kansas, USA

This paper re-examines the representation of divorced women in Chi Li’s novella “Good Morning, Miss,” an acclaimed Chinese feminist masterpiece. Having come of age during the Maoist era, the female protagonist is invested in the cultural imagination of socialist “Iron Girl,” the idealized femininity melding socialist heroism, political collectivism and labor aesthetics with the revolutionary subject of woman. However, as domestic order in post-Mao China has been regulated by new gender norms, the socialist “Iron Girl,” who threatens male dominancy in public spheres, is facing identity crisis and marital failure. Redeeming their social transgression and violation of the Father’s Law, sentimental motherhood replaces political sisterhood to bring together divorced women in this novella. Contrastive to male brotherhood that aims to overcome “the finality and contingency of biological reproduction,” the “secret code beyond human language” of woman’s maternal instinct and reproductive duty provides an imagined utopia for sisterly inter-subjectivity between divorced women. The maternal goodness bestows women moral and affective superiority over men, and defines domestic space as women’s sphere, separated from the masculinized outside that is marked by heartless market economy. The repeated emphasis on women’s separate sphere of soul, affect, and inner feelings based on their biological functions not only lends a ready excuse for the massive layoff of women workers, but also preludes a postfeminist (or post-Women’s Liberation in Chinese context) trend that seeks to idealize traditionalist feminine virtues and place women back at the center of the discourse of middle-class domestic and psychic interiority.

Affective Selves: Romance, Gender, and Neoliberal Japan
Akiko Takeyama, University of Kansas, USA

This paper examines the close relationship that exists between discourses on idealized romance and Japan’s recent socioeconomic restructuring, an association that is embedded in the neoliberal market logic of individual freedom, entrepreneurial creativity, and results-oriented competitiveness. By analyzing discourses and practices surrounding romantic love among Japanese female consumers, I contend that romance in Japan has been promoted as a means to cultivate a “self-producing” subject. The self-producing subject is not merely a performatively self-producing subject (i.e., who constructs a desirable self through repetitive signification of ideal femininity and symbolism of romance). It is also a master self who transforms one’s bodily capacities to skillfully maneuver the self and the other(s) so as to achieve personal goals. I call this performative and manipulative subject the “affective self” — a newly idealized way of being in Japan’s reformation era. The affective self is a self-producing subject but is neither a free agent nor a reflection of an ideology. The affective self is always already affected by, as well as affecting, one’s own and other’s conducts, social norms, and national agendas. Indeed, there is nothing new about such a ‘self’ as the self has been theorized to be relational and shift from one context to another. Nonetheless, the specific ways that the affective self is imagined manifest the intimate social field of desire, agency, and capital in contemporary Japan and invite us to think neoliberalism not as a new epoch but rather a constructivist project.

Emotionscape: Space, Race, and the Face of Beauty in Indonesia
Ayu Saraswati, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Through discourse and semiotic analyses of beauty ads published in Femina (1975-1998), this paper demonstrates how various spatial tropes and the affective meanings they signify were visually deployed in these ads to construct the racialized self and other. That is, the continent of Asia became a useful signifier to provide meanings for “Asian” racial category. The deployment of such spatial tropes, I argue, is implicit in and relies on the transnational production of “affects” (emotions) about these places and the racial categories that are signified by them. This transnational flow of emotions constitutes what I am calling as the “emotionscape”: the emotional environment that contains and carries transnational flows of emotions. This concept helps us understand how disjunctures and ruptures happen when emotions travel in a global context and how they are employed to justify the global hierarchy. Arguing for the importance of the emotionscape, this paper pushes us to consider the significant roles that emotions and their circulations play in this globalization process.