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In Session: Rethinking Space, Subject, and Body in Japan through Heterotopia
3: Child Welfare Residential Institution as Heterotopia: Paradoxical Relationships between the Body and Alternative Residential Care
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Akita International University, Japan
According to the Japanese government, the nation had achieved economic expansion between 2012 and 2019, the longest period to do so since World War II. The media, however, reported that its effect was not felt in the lives of ordinary people. Yet, during this same period, child abuse reports increased manifold, and many of these children were placed in child welfare residential institutions. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Tokyo, this paper raises questions regarding the body and alternative residential care for children. I depict the child welfare residential institution as heterotopia, where an experience of family life is provided in an inverted manner—the form of “the mirror.” Children occupy this unusual space, where their normal life is led, yet the place is carefully marked as an anomaly. The absence of “the reality” of family is acutely felt by small children as they continue to grapple with the notion of the family. In this heterotopia, the body takes on an extra layer of importance, perhaps providing the real sense of belonging for the children. They fight over the opportunities for bodily contact with their caretakers and visitors. Yet, the institution has to be vigilant in its avoidance of any sexual abuse allegations. The conventional family, however, is a space where bodies are taken care of by each other. This paper analyzes a paradoxical relationship between the body, alternative residential care, and the notion of family, and questions to whom the system is serving.