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You are here: Home Anthropology PEOPLE Full-Time Faculty Koga, Yukiko

Yukiko Koga

Associate Professor



Tel: (212) 772-5427
Fax: (212) 772-5423
Room: Hunter North Room 523B


Ph.D. Columbia University, 2008

Areas of Specialization
Political economy, historical anthropology, legal anthropology, law & human rights, urban space, colonial inheritance, post-colonial & post-imperial relations, history & memory, transnational East Asia (China and Japan)

Overview of Research
My research revolves around the question of what it means to come to terms with catastrophic state violence that remains unaccounted for, even decades after the formal end of the violence. More specifically, I explore the generational transmission of losses inflicted by Japanese imperialism in East Asia through historical, legal, and ethnographic research in China and Japan. Driven by a concern with persistent tensions in the region deriving from the lack of reckoning with Japanese imperial violence at both the level of high politics of and the everyday, I ask how contemporary generations of Chinese and Japanese come to terms with the distant, yet still alive, past. Most importantly, I ask how descendants of perpetrators and victims establish new relations today despite and because of what remains unaccounted for. My first book explores these questions within a burgeoning economic sphere in Northeast China, while my current book project within a transnational legal sphere.

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My book, Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption After Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2016),explores how the current generation of ordinary Chinese and Japanese, two to three generations removed from the direct experience of Japanese imperialism, encounter each other and experience and navigate colonial inheritances in the urban everyday of Northeast China, the former site of the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo. Situated at the height of China’s socio-economic transformation in the 1990s and 2000s, my ethnography shows how the economic realm has become a key site for the generational transmission of difficult pasts. While the concepts of memory and trauma are often used to show the lasting effects of original violence, I suggest that these concepts may have limited our political imagination about what is at stake for second and third generations in East Asia in coming to terms with the distant, yet still alive, past. Using the lens of “colonial inheritance,” my book makes visible contemporary generational responses to the losses incurred through colonial modernity, as set in motion through China’s transition to a market-oriented society. My ethnography shows how beneath the rationalized rhetoric of economic prosperity and the pursuit of “modern life” lurks the tenacious question of reckoning with the past through quotidian encounters in the workplace, on the streets, and in residential complexes.

Inheritance of Loss examines sites where long neglected colonial remnants are transformed into newly minted capital through the rhetoric of “inheritance" used by municipal governments in Northeast China. These cities now court Japanese as investors and tourists by restoring colonial-era structures to boost tourism and inviting former colonial industries to create special economic zones. My ethnography explores this capitalization of colonial inheritance and examines the face-to-face interactions between Chinese and Japanese set in motion at these sites. Through encounters in the realm of tourism and foreign direct investment I identify a new mode of generational transmission that I call the “political economy of redemption” where the moral economy of seeking redemption for the unaccounted past is inexorably linked to the formal economy of exports, consumption, and the citywide pursuit of middle class dreams. For both Chinese and Japanese, China’s growing economy is channeling contradictory impulses towards erasing, confronting, or capitalizing on the past into new forms of production, consumption, and accumulation, while, at the same time, revealing new forms of anxiety arising from inherited legacies of colonial modernity.

Inheritance of Loss thus demonstrates how the political economy of redemption makes visible the entangled processes of “after empire”––the often invisible, displaced, or seemingly separate post-colonial and post-imperial processes that give shape to the afterlife of losses and their redemptions, and the envisioning of present and future in relation to what remains. By illuminating the topography of after empire, my ethnography demonstrates how post-imperial, post-colonial, and post-war entanglements reveal a landscape of responsibility for the past and from the past that complicates not only the expected narratives of victimhood and perpetration but also how loss is recognized and articulated as loss. It directs us to see structures of violence and injustice after empire as an integral part of the colonial inheritance that the current generations have no choice but to inherit.

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My second and current book project, Post-imperial Reckoning: Law, Redress, Reconciliation, further explores the landscape of responsibility after empire. Against the backdrop of the recent upsurge of xenophobic nationalisms in East Asia and political impasse over the history problem, most notably over the so-called comfort women issue, Post-imperial Reckoning charts a significant sea change being carried out in the legal sphere over the past two decades by ordinary citizens seeking redress for Japanese imperial violence through unexpected collaborations––Chinese survivors and bereaved families, Japanese lawyers representing them pro bono as a way to repay moral debt inherited from the war generation, and citizen activists in both countries. I examine this emergent transnational legal and moral landscapes and explore the role of law in imperial reckoning.

At the heart of the book is a series of collective lawsuits that emerged from a wave of litigation starting in 1995 by Chinese victims against the Japanese government and corporations, and which took place in courts across Japan. These lawsuits sought official apology and monetary compensation for forced migration and slavery, sexual slavery, massacres, and human bio-chemical experiments. These lawsuits became a catalyst for the victims to break decades of silence and social obscurity. Over the past two decades, they have sought redress for Japan’s imperial violence, culminating most recently in the historic 2016 settlement between approximately 4,000 Chinese forced labor victims and Mitsubishi Materials that enslaved them.

By looking at this process from the ground up, my ethnography compels a rethinking of what reconciliation and redress mean, how they are practiced, and where accountability lies. It expands the notion of imperial reckoning beyond the imperial nation itself to include the entwined and underexplored processes of de-colonization and de-imperialization that I call "the unmaking of empire," which left certain groups of population outside of the purview of accountability for decades in both perpetrator and victim nations. I show how actions, inactions, and abandonment that took place after the demise of the Japanese Empire have produced a double task of accounting for both the original violence and for complicity in producing victims' silence decades after the empire's end. At the intersection of law and economy, I demonstrate how post-imperial reckoning is emerging as a new legal frontier, putting at stake what I call "law's imperial amnesia" within the post-1945 legal framework, which has deferred the unmaking of empire.



Articles & Book Sections in English:

Courses Taught

  • Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (ANTHC101)
  • Law and Anthropology (ANTH702.30/ANTHC320.75)
  • Politics of Memory (ANTHC310.01)
  • Anthropology of Violence (ANTHC321.66/HR321.00)
  • Law, Justice, Reconciliation (ANTHC355.01) - Spring 2020
  • Anthropology of Urban China (ANTH730.00/ANTHC325.56)
  • Anthropology of East Asia: History, Memory, Inheritance (CUNY Graduate Center)

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