Shakaijin, shadow education, & the entrepreneurial self: fabricating personhood in neoliberal Japan

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Under the neoliberal vision for free-market capitalism, discourses validating meritocratic competition reproduce homo œconomicus, narrowly self-interested human capital seeking to maximise its economic utility. Against this background, juku, Japan’s network of for-profit, deregulated shadow education institutions, eases educational transitions for enterprising citizens seeking advantage within the nation’s highly competitive exam and graduate recruitment systems. However, while ‘rational’ investments in juku aid neoliberal biographical projects (youth→adolescence→adulthood), they do so through panoptic systems of tension and accommodation, with pivots to individualistic self-interest producing docile entrepreneurs of the self. More damagingly, ‘agentive’ and ‘rational’ decisions to engage with juku anchor to transmissible cultural patrimony, creating opportunities to blame those who, through no fault of their own, lack the financial means to self-commodify within Japan’s enterprise society. The association between economic output and entrepreneurial selfhood shapes notions of ‘worth’ in increasingly neoliberal terms. Thus, only by relating juku investment to its social origin may we appreciate the corrosive impact of economic liberalisation on Japan’s learning ecology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJapan Forum
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2024


  • Bourdieu
  • Foucault
  • Japan
  • Neoliberal personhood
  • shadow education
  • social reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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