Dissertation

My dissertation, Politics and Prosthetics: 150 Years of Disability in Japan, examines the historical contingencies and geopolitical circumstances that allowed some disabled individuals to dictate how policymakers and members of the public understood ideas about impairment and chronic illness in modern Japan. The dissertation is divided into three parts: 1) “Creating the Concept of ‘Disability’ in Japan (1868–1949)”; 2) “The Rise and Fall of Institutions for Persons with Disabilities in Japan (1950–1980),” and 3) “Independent Living and Universal Design (1981–2020).” Each part draws on a wide range of sources including, but not limited to, magazines, newspapers, journals, government records, and documents from disability welfare organizations to demonstrate how activists and policymakers’ attempts to integrate some impaired individuals into mainstream society have marginalized others. Collectively, the three parts of my dissertation reveal that activist and legislative interventions do not always help persons with disabilities; in fact, they often make further interventions necessary. By exploring the relationship between disability politics and different kinds of institutional reform – physical, educational, and otherwise – the three parts of my dissertation describe how stakeholders construct notions of disability and who those notions have historically helped. The takeaway points of the work include not only the fact that notions of disability can exclude as much as they include, but also that policymakers and activists working on disability justice issues today must take these historical realities into account.

Eventually, I hope to expand my three-part dissertation into a six-chapter monograph with the following structure: 1) “Investigating Impairment in Prewar Japan (1868–1937)”; 2) “Creating ‘Disability’ in Postwar Japan (1938–1949)”; 3) “Economic Miracles and Eugenics (1950–1969)”; 4) “Disability Movements and Infrastructural Reforms (1970–1980); 5) “Independent Living and International Innovations (1981–2000)”; and 6) “Accessibility for an Aging Society (2001–2020).” The six chapters of my monograph will be bookended by a critical introduction and conclusion that take up the present and future of disability politics in Japan by exploring developments tied to the preparation, execution, and aftermath of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. I will argue that scholars and policymakers must look to the past if they are to understand why many Japanese institutions are unprepared to accommodate persons with disabilities in the present. I will also suggest that learning from Japan’s past will afford experts key opportunities to think through the creation of inclusive infrastructures in the future, not only in Japan but across the world. By using the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo as a framing device for my book, I will reveal how local ideas about access borne out of Japan’s past are exported to global audiences, and how global ideas about access are localized to reshape the domestic disability politics of Japan.