Recherche FFJ Research Statement Nanako INABA

Nanako INABA

Social movements against social exclusion in the era of Neoliberalism

Mouvements sociaux contre l'exclusion sociale à l'ère du néolibéralisme

Nanako INABA, Sophia University



The homeless people’s movements that emerged in the 1990s in Japan after the end of the bubble economy were largely domestic; however, they soon transcended national borders and converged into anti-globalist movements against neoliberalism after 2000. The primary issue addressed by anti-globalist movements in North America was the exploitation of the Global South by the Global North, while in Western Europe, such movements focused on the reduction of social security. These concerns were also prevalent in the Japanese movement, but the social exclusion of individuals deemed "losers" in the market economy gained precedence. Although each of these movements addressed different issues, an examination of their frames and repertoires reveals a commonality in their use of "occupation of public space" as a means to achieve their goals. In other words, the "occupation of public space" can be considered a fundamental tactic of movements that respond to the neoliberal power that demolishes "the social.”



1. Research Background

The movement against social exclusion in Japan emerged in the mid-1990s alongside homeless people’s movements. In the 2000s, movements that were initially domestic converged into anti-globalist movements that traversed the borders. The "freeter" labor movements of artists and young people in precarious employment joined the aforementioned movements., which reached its peak with protests against the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit in 2008. The anti-nuclear movement, which was subsequently revitalized by the Fukushima nuclear accident caused by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, also developed into a global movement by problematizing the precarity of nuclear workers.

In previous work, we examined movements against social exclusion through the lens of social categories, such as homeless people, precarious youth (“freeters”), and undocumented migrants (Inaba & Higuchi 2008; Tolentino & Inaba 2011; Suzuki, Ogawa & Inaba 2018, Takaya, Higuchi & Inaba 2021). In this study, we will clarify the process by which domestic movements, composed of homeless and "freeter" individuals experiencing social exclusion, shifted their focus toward anti-globalism. Specifically, we will examine how the frame of "neoliberalism" brought diverse movements together.

Anti-globalist movements are characterized by two major features. The first is a critique of the Global North’s consumer society, which is based on the exploitation of workers in the Global South (Smith 2008). Naomi Klein's book "No Logo" became a bible for activists in the anti-globalism movements; it is clear that the exploitation of the Global South by the Global North was a fundamental issue of the movements. This focus was mainly found in the movements of North America. The second is a critique of social security cutbacks. In Western Europe, industrial hollowing out proceeded more slowly than in North America, and it was not until the 2000s that companies began to relocate production to countries with lower wages. Therefore, anti-globalism movements began as movements of the unemployed focusing on job security (Mathers 2007; Giugni 2010; Chabanet et al. 2010). This characteristic was predominantly found in the Western European movement. Both characteristics can be placed within the neoliberal tendency.

Anti-globalist movements in Japan also present these two interests. Anti-globalism activists joined “Occupy” movements in New York in 2011 (Matsumoto, Higuchi, Kinoshita & Ikegami 2012). However, the forefront issue in Japan was that of individuals socially excluded by the domination of the market economy, one of the key factors that constitutes neoliberalism.

Protestors have interpreted neoliberalism in different ways. One interpretation asserts that neoliberalism denies the existence of those who are not economically useful (Holloway 2005). Japan's anti-globalism movement in the 2000s developed, in particular, around resistance to this logic. Therefore, individuals who experienced social exclusion were the main actors. This logic is not only applicable to Japan: the Zapatista movement makes a similar argument (Ramonet 2001).

As discussed in greater detail below, in Japan, companies provide social security and other “social goods.” Consequently, individuals who are precariously employed or unemployed are more likely to experience social exclusion. Social exclusion is not only an issue of economic deprivation; it extends to the denial of the individual's very existence in society.

Against this background, several studies in Japan discuss social exclusion from a social psychological perspective, as a problem of the lost "belonging” (Ibasho) of the excluded individual (Hashiguchi 2011). Our study empirically examines the anti-globalist movement that emerged in Japan around social exclusion. Furthermore, we analyze it as a structural problem created by neoliberalism and place it within the anti-globalization movement in Europe and the United States.

This research is based on fieldwork conducted since 1998 on the movements of poor people in Japan and France. The homeless people’s movements in Japan took inspiration from “European marches against unemployment,” which led to the March of G8 Okinawa in 2000. The homeless people’s movement have participated in every World Social Forum since 2001, as well as in the counter-movement against the G8 in Gleneagles (2005), Heiligendamm (2007), and Toyako (2008). The "Haken Mura" (the occupation of Hibiya Park in Tokyo by unemployed dispatch workers) at the end of 2008 led to the change of government from the Liberal Democratic Party to the Democratic Party of Japan in 2009. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, various activist groups converged into anti-nuclear movements. Social movement organizations against social exclusion held an anti-nuclear social forum in Tokyo in 2016 and participated in an anti-nuclear social forum in Paris in 2017, making the issue of precarious nuclear workers more perceptible. We accounted for the participants’ observations and interviewed key activists. This study is situated within the process of this research.

2. Domestic homeless movements as a beginning

In Japan, construction workers were most affected by the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s. Construction workers stayed in dormitories on construction sites or in cheap hotels near places where they were offered jobs, such as San’ya in Tokyo, Kotobuki in Yokohama, Sasashima in Nagoya, and Kamagasaki in Osaka.

In the early 1990s, tents constructed of cardboard and blue polytarp could be seen in parks and riverbeds in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, where unemployed construction workers camped out. The concourse at the west exit of Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, the station with the largest number of daily passengers in Japan, was occupied by approximately 200 cardboard tents of homeless people from around 1992 until they were removed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1998.

Homeless people in Japan are supported by a variety of actors, including youth volunteer groups and religious organizations. Because many homeless people were construction workers, the labor unions of day laborers exerted strong influence on these movements. Furthermore, they were carried by radical leftist movements that originated in the student movement of the 1970s. The anarchist "non-sect radicals” also held sway

3. Joining young freeters and global development of movements

The recession affected young people as well as construction workers. After the collapse of the bubble economy, Japanese society experienced a prolonged recession known as the “lost decade.” Regular employment declined and young people who sought jobs during this period found themselves in precarious employment.

Furthermore, non-regular employment was promoted as a "flexible employment" policy in 1990s Japan. When the economy was booming, this was a symbol of freedom for workers, but it later became a symbol of precarious employment.

Neoliberalism attributes unemployment and the resulting poverty problems to personal responsibilities. This trend was accelerated by Prime Minister Koizumi’s policies from 2001 to 2006.

4. Birth of a movement against neoliberalism in Japan

In response to Koizumi's neoliberal reforms, anti-poverty activism based on radical leftist movements, such as the homeless people's movements, the "Freeters" unions, and the Anti-Poverty Network, flourished in Japan. These movements initially challenged the neoliberal economic reforms and joined anti-globalization movements, such as those against the WTO and G8, to form contentious movements. However, the importance of this movement gradually shifted toward creating an alternative space against neoliberalism. The reason for this shift was, in part, to contest the neoliberal policies that were replacing the "social" principle with that of the market economy. Individuals who were blamed for their own poverty did not see the causes of their poverty in the social structure but rather became isolated by blaming themselves and excluding themselves from the social movements. Therefore, social movement organizations needed to create spaces in which isolated individuals could feel a sense of belonging.

Social movements are typically evaluated based on their accomplishments. However, in Japan, participation in social movements was seen as a source of refuge for lonely, isolated individuals who had lost their sense of belonging. The strange term "Ibasho” (place to belong) came to be used both by social movements and by the government as a solution to the problem of poverty. This can be considered as a social movement in response to the inward appearance of socially excluded individuals. However, individuals did not simply turn inward and lose their social interests. If we think of a “Ibasho” (place to belong) as a creation of commons, we can think of it as a social rather than inward-looking act.

This is why the radical leftist movements do not seek to amass "power," but are oriented toward creating spaces to reconstruct the “social” that neoliberal power destroyed. Social movements not only claimed social rights, they also focused on the creation of the commons.

5. The "occupation of public space" as a common tactic of anti-globalism movements

Are Japanese movements the only ones with an inward-looking tendency, where sociopsychological issues are prominent? In fact, individuals who have experienced social exclusion in France and elsewhere in Europe also have psychological problems (Lahusen & Giugni 2016). However, this has not been the focus of research on social movements. The creation of the commons observed in Japan seems to have been realized differently in social movements against neoliberalism in France. Specifically, squatters and public square occupations function in the creation of the commons.

If the frames and repertoires of social movements take forms that are adapted to their times and the power configurations of their societies (Tilly 1976), it should be possible to analyze frames and repertoires from the anti-globalism movement that corresponds to neoliberalism, which influences political and economic structures beyond national borders.

By introducing the concept of the "occupation of public space," this study aims to place the Japanese movement in a global context by identifying the process by which various Japanese movements for social exclusion converged into a global movement against neoliberalism.


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