To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
In Session: Technology and the Human “Touch”: Histories of Automation and Interconnection in Japan
1: The Emotional Life of Human Relations Discourse in Postwar Japan
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Indiana University Bloomington, United States
This paper examines the popularization of Human Relations discourse within Japan’s so-called postwar “management boom.” The theory of Human Relations, introduced in Japan in 1947, claimed to make the workplace more efficient by attending to the emotional life of its workers. Presented in an expanding landscape of management journals as a philosophy commensurate to the democratic values espoused during the postwar era, it purported to undo the dehumanization of the worker implicit in Taylorist Scientific Management practices while simultaneously “rationalizing” the worker’s emotional and social relationships long valorized by Japan’s historical system of corporate paternalism (onjōshugi). Drawing on media scholar John Durham Peters’s theory of communications, I argue that Human Relations in Japan—which emphasized the human’s desire to take pride in their work and belong in the workplace—were expressed within the framework of “communication” (as komyūnikēshon). Communication both reconceptualized the imperatives of white-collar labor within an emotional vocabulary as well as framed interpersonal relations within the terms of information transmission.
By examining the distillation of arguments advanced by management literature articulated in popular media such as advice books and films, I argue that this ideal of good or proper communication in Human Relations—framed as both emotional and informatic regulation— came to be framed not only as a managerial goal but a broader moral imperative operative outside the workplace. In turn, the model of the managed corporation came to subtend conceptualizations of intimate relationships, social organization, and the nation-state.