Dorinne Kondo’s Crafting Selves is a look at the multiple dynamics and complexities of the creation, use, and maintenance of power relations through the creation of identity. Kondo presents these ideas through theoretical exposition, vignettes, and pieces of interviews from multiple people (often accompanied by verbatim, translated and untranslated quotes). She presents the history and political relations as a basis for the traditional ideologies in which people live their lives. Specifically, Kondo examines the dynamics of the identities and relations within a small, family-owned factory in Japan. Kondo, a Japanese-American, also relates some of her own struggles with personal identity as the forces of sociality and tradition worked to conform her foreign identity to this microcosm of a world.
In this book, work is seen as an “axis of identity” for the people studied here (p 229). Kondo is very particular about limiting the scope of this analysis to this particular place, this particular time, these particular people, seen by this particular anthropologist (p 307). She examines other structures that contribute to the creation of identity, as well, including gender, class, neighborhood, age, links to the Western world, language, ethnicity, and so on. Two of the main points in this analysis are that identity is an individual creation, and that identity is very much tied to the relations of power that one is engaged in. Power is not as simple as one person having it and another not having it. Kondo points out that those who seem to have power over others are themselves dominated by historical and political and economical forces. Those who do not seem to have power may actually have limited amounts of power, as their roles in society are essential underpinnings of social structure.
This analysis has many types of theory, including feminist thought, critical theory (relating to hegemony), symbolic or interpretive aspects, and functional theory. The author is very careful, though, to present her own identity and presence during this participant-observation study. She also stresses the multiple interpretations that are possible. These last two points conform closely with post-modern ethnographies.
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A graduate student of biological anthropology. My favorite writers are Peter Straub, Alice Hoffmann, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, and E.O. Wilson … more
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