What Can Be Said? Communication and the Intimacy of Ethnographic Fieldwork
Dept. of Anthropology & Sociology, Lafayette College
June 24th, Thursday, 5:30,
10-301, 3F Building 10
As the divorce rate in Japan continues to climb, suggesting that over one third of current marriages will eventually end in divorce, a new market for marital counseling has boomed. Despite all the diversity in styles and content of counseling, marital difficulties are increasingly likely to be linked to "communication" problems. Although "communication" can euphemistically describe a variety of behaviors, verbalization of the phrase "I love you" has come to be a seen as a contested marker of marital health. To some, marriages are stronger when spouses say, rather than only demonstrate, love. As outlined in popular media on the topic, this advice marks a shift from commonly acceptable styles of intimacy, specifically the idea that (good) love "should be like air" – always present but not verbalized. This older ideal represents true conjugal affection as unvoiced, and suggests that love that has to be declared might not be real.
This presentation considers divorce, and the moves people make to avoid it, to trace people's debates over how intimacy should be performed and articulated. I use these discussions about what makes a good marriage, or reduces divorce risk, to ask questions as fundamental to anthropology's representational project as they are to determining the strength of Japanese marriages: What can be communicated? What should be communicated? With my informants who are struggling to determine when talking helps and when it hurts marriages, I describe my research methods to ask what I can say of what I heard and saw.
Allison Alexy is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Lafayette College. She is a cultural anthropologist focusing on contemporary Japan, with interest in ideals and experiences of family lives, constructions of intimacy, and romantic failures. My book manuscript, "Intimate Separations: Divorce and its Reverberations in Contemporary Japan," considers divorce as an idea and lived reality in Japan. My newer research project considers the intersections of intimacy and citizenship in transnational relationships, particularly international child custody disputes.
Lecture in English. No prior registration required.
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