Wednesday, February 22, 2017

[Friday Seminar Recap] Post-Toyotist Affect: Japanese Workers Working On Neoliberal Reforms

Post-Toyotist Affect: Japanese Workers Working On Neoliberal Reforms

Speaker: Nana GAGNÉ (Assistant Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Time: 1:00 – 2:30 pm, 10 Feb 2017 (Friday)
Venue: Room 115, Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK

The pursuits of stability and security have been the orientation of many Japanese and Japanese corporations since the post-war period. In recent decades, the state and corporations started to promote neoliberal reforms in an attempt to “correct” Japanese capitalism. To explore more about the neoliberal restructuring in Japan and its influence on Japanese employees, our department invited Prof. Nana Gagné to give a seminar on “Post-Toyotist Affect: Japanese Workers Working On Neoliberal Reforms” on Feb 10.

Prof. Nana Gagné
Prof. Gagné discussed two major issues in the talk——how neoliberal restructuring had affected Japan’s particular postwar relationship between welfare, corporations and individuals (i.e. the post-war Japanese system of “welfare corporatism”); and what restructuring had done to individual workers and their subjectivity, as corporate culture was transformed and rearticulated with new forms of organization, evaluation, and governance.

Neoliberal reforms had brought in deregulations of non-regular employment, discretionary work, and a new merit system that emphasized “management-by-objectives”. By promoting American-style management practices and performance-based strategies, it was intended to train up a group of “strong individuals”, in contrast to the “company man” enculturated in the past. But in practice, neoliberal restructuring was imbricated with complex realities of historical trajectories and local contexts. As a result, a number of unintended consequences arose. For instance, employees became defensive, stopped building companionship with colleagues, and had worsen workplace relationships. The liberation and flexibility introduced by the reforms, representing the best interest of the companies, in the eyes of the employees were alienating and dehumanizing.

The audience
As Prof. Gagné concluded, the emergence of a “post-Toyotist affect” revealed new kinds of alienation based on quantified output. The restructuring efforts did not produce a new discourse that enabled the transvaluation of older values into new values. Rather, the de-coupling of employment structures and individual stability led to an ambivalent nostalgia for the previous management style.

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