Phone (212) 772-5427
Ph.D. Columbia University 2008; Assistant Professor
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)
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My current research explores the generational transfer of unaccounted-for pasts stemming from Japanese imperialism in China. I inquire what it means for both Chinese and Japanese to come to terms with the Japanese imperialism seventy years after Japan’s original violence and injustice in China ended with the Japanese defeat and the disappearance of its empire in 1945, and how the introduction of the market economy in China has created a new dynamic concerning the contested yet under-explored past for both Chinese and Japanese. My first book project takes place within a burgeoning economic sphere in Northeast China, while my second and third projects take place within a transnational legal sphere.
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My forthcoming book, Inheritance of Loss: The Political Economy of Redemption After Empire (The University of Chicago Press), 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. Situated at the height of China’s socio-economic transformation in the 1990s and 2000s, this ethnography shows how the economic realm has become a key site for the generational transfer 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. This book uses the concept of “colonial inheritance” to make 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.” My ethnography explores this capitalization of colonial inheritance, orchestrated by the municipal governments in Northeast China in their attempts to position their respective cities within the global economy. I examine the face-to-face interactions between Chinese and Japanese set in motion at these sites of inheritance. 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.” Here, 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 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.
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My second project, Accounting for Silence: (For)given Time and the Politics of Redress in China and Japan, is an ethnographic and historical exploration of compensation for Japanese wartime use of Chinese forced labor. Using historical, ethnographic, and legal analyses of archives, survivors’ testimonial practices, and the recent lawsuits seeking official apology and compensation, I examine how, in both Japan and China, the dramatic disappearance and reappearance of the survivors, the bodily remains of those who died, and their archival traces show an underlying debt economy––moral and monetary––in postwar Sino-Japanese relations. I elucidate how accounts and accounting address overdue responsibility for postwar generations and, against the background of generational shift and the changing balance of economic power between China and Japan, show how the crux of the issue has shifted from apology to inheritance and accountability. At the center of this inquiry is the role of the victims in the circulation of bodies that drives the economy of compensation. I enquire into the human, legal, and theoretical impact of accounting for silence in pursuit of the politics of redress.
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Since the early 1990s, Chinese and Korean victims of Japanese imperialism in the first half of the twentieth century filed scores of lawsuits against the Japanese government and corporations within Japanese jurisdiction, and more recently within South Korean and Chinese jurisdiction. These lawsuits have become a prime site for belatedly redressing past violence and injustice years after the original violence ended with imperial Japan’s defeat in 1945. My third project, Between the Law: The Unmaking of Empire and Law’s Imperial Amnesia in East Asia, examines this emergent transnational legal space and explores the role of law in the unmaking of empire. I show how the legal process itself has paradoxically produced a legal lacuna—a new transnational legal space for historical redress, where the plaintiffs are effectively caught between the law. Through historical, legal, and ethnographic analyses of this absence of law within the emergent transnational legal space, I explore a post-imperial legal space, created through the erasure of empire and imperial and colonial subjects in the post-imperial legal framework after the formal disappearance of Japanese empire. Through the optic of “between the law,” my book explores the uneven terrain of legal space that embodies temporal and spatial disjuncture, rupture, and asymmetry of after empire, and, in doing so, to capture the role and place of law. I demonstrate how, at the intersection of law and economy, 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.
- Yukiko Koga, “Between the Law: The Unmaking of Empire and Law’s Imperial Amnesia,” Law & Social Inquiry, forthcoming.
- Yukiko Koga, "Accounting for Silence: Inheritance, Debt, and the Moral Economy of Legal Redress in China and Japan," American Ethnologist, Vol. 40, No. 3 (2013), pp. 494-507.
- Yukiko Koga, "'The Atmosphere of a Foreign Country': Harbin's Architectural Inheritance," in Consuming the Entrepreneurial City: Image, Memory, Spectacle, edited by Anne M. Cronin and Kevin Hetherington with a Foreword by Sharon Zukin (New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 221-253.
- Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (ANTHC101)
- Law and Anthropology (ANTH702.30/ANTHC320.75)
- Anthropology of Violence (ANTHC321.66/HR321.00)
- Anthropology of Urban China (ANTH730.00/ANTHC325.56)
- Anthropology of East Asia: History, Memory, Inheritance (CUNY Graduate Center)