Research and

Reviews and


Curriculum Vitae

The Too-Good Wife




Amy Borovoy
Associate Professor of East Asian Studies
Princeton University


Democracy in postwar Japan has emphasized the production of shared values through community, family, and equality and de-emphasized individual rights and tolerance of difference. These priorities have produced a cohesive and in many respects caring society, but there have also been social costs. My first book, The Too-Good Wife: Alcohol, Codependency, and the Politics of Nurturance (University of California Press, 2005), explores these costs through the problem of men's heavy drinking and the wives who care for them. The problem of alcoholism and the language of "codependency," currently embraced by many Japanese clinics, offers housewives a language to identify unhealthy and exploitative forms of care, trust, and closeness in married life-and in social life more broadly. At the same time, the sense of care-giving as public and productive labor supported by the state promotes the women to resist the excesses of individualism in American popular psychology. The book explores the fine line between trust and exploitation in postwar cultural cosmologies.

Subsequently I have written on mental health care in Japan as a window into the way in which Japanese psychiatrists, social workers, and teachers attempt to maintain cohesion and equality among Japanese youth. The problem of hikikomori (youths who will not leave their homes) in particular reveals the reluctance to differentiate and diagnose troubled youth, and the propensity to manage deviant behavior through rest, withdrawal, and rehabilitation rather than labeling, problem-solving, or "curing." I have also written on similar cross-cultural issues in the American context, exploring the clinical emphasis on autonomy and self-control.

My current project, tentatively titled, The Question of Community: Japan in Anthropology and American Social Thought, explores the role of Japan studies as a "laboratory" for imagining alternatives to liberalism and individualism. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s American attention was trained on Japanese education, labor unions, and families. And yet, community in Japan had historically been associated with nationalism, imperialism, and imposed homogeneity. Even in the context of postwar democracy, it has rarely meant liberalism, but rather inclusion through assimilation and socialization. How did earlier Japanese intellectual writings which attempted to explain Japan to the West allow American social scientists to see something different in Japanese articulations of community? And what crises within liberalism were Americans responding to in looking to Japan in the postwar decades? The project begins with Ruth Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, weaves back to prewar and postwar Japanese writings on Japaneseness, and then explores the reconciliation of community with "modernity" in anthropology in the wake of the war and after.

Selected Publications
"Doi Takeo and the Rehabilitation of Particularism in Postwar Japan," The Journal of Japanese Studies, 38(2): 263-295, 2012 (article)

"Decentering Agency in Feminist Theory: Recuperating the Family as a Feminist Project," with Kristen Ghodsee, Women's Studies International Forum, 35(3): 153-165, 2012 (article)

"Doi Takeo no Bunkaron (Takeo Doi's Culture Theory)," in Kindai no 'Nihon Ishiki' no Seiritsu (The Making of Modern National Consciousness), edited by Josef Kreiner, Tokyo: Tokyodo, 2012

"Benedikuto no Kiku to Katana: Minshushugi no Dotai to Shite no Hokenshugi (Ruth Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: The Feudal Foundations of Japanese Democracy)," in Kindai no 'Nihon Ishiki' no Seiritsu (The Making of Modern National Consciousness), edited by Josef Kreiner, Tokyo: Tokyodo, 2012

"Beyond Choice: A New Framework for Abortion?" Dissent Magazine, Fall 2011 (article)

"Japan as Mirror: Neoliberalism's Promise and Costs," in Ethnographies of Neoliberalism, Carol J. Greenhouse, editor, University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 60-74, 2010

"What Color is Your Parachute? The Post-Pedigree Society," in Social Class in Japan, Hiroshi Ishida and David Slater, editors, Routledge Press, 2010

"Japan's Hidden Youths: Mainstreaming the Emotionally Distressed in Japan," Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, vol. 32, 552-576, 2008 (article)

"Managing the Unmanageable: Elderly Russian Jewish Emigres and the Biomedical Culture of Diabetes Care," with Janet Hine, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 22(1): 1-26, 2008 (article)