The precarity movement (or antipoverty movement) represents a startling revival of public protest in Japan. This revival can be understood as a turn to a more confrontational stance within an already active current of freeter activism. My aim is to throw light on this shift by focusing on the General Freeter Union/PAFF in Tokyo and its emergence from the “Dame-ren circles” of Tokyo. I argue that the precarity movement has functioned to a large extent as a vehicle not only for external change in society but also for empowerment of its participants with particular attention being given to marginalized groups that have long been unable or unwilling to voice discontent in public, and that this has been a crucial element in the revitalization of protest. I give particular attention to, firstly, the formation of the category of the “precariat” in Japan and its relation to predecessor terms such as good-for-nothing” (dame) or lower stratum (kasô). Secondly, I turn to the vitalistic element in the precarity movement's discourse, which is evident in the celebration of fun and the sensual or bodily experience of being “alive.” The rhetoric of “life” in the precarity movement functions as a lens through which the shift to a more confrontational stance can be traced and nuances in this shift studied. In the precarity movement, “life” tends to be pictured in two different ways: one in which an older ideal of “simply living” lives on, but mainly as a dream of what would be possible in a better society; and another in which struggle and revolt are themselves seen as the source of a liberation of life. I conclude by arguing that many of these reorientations build on the legacy on Dame-ren but also crucially transform this legacy. These transformations have helped the precarity movement to not only open up new forms of participation for subaltern groups but also to present itself as untainted by older forms of radicalism, thus contributing to the revival of protest activism.
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Carl Cassegard; Let Us Live! Empowerment and the Rhetoric of Life in the Japanese Precarity Movement. positions 1 February 2014; 22 (1): 41–69. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-2383849
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