Welcome to my homepage. I am a scholar of modern Japanese history based at the Institute for the Research in Humanities 人文科学研究所 at Kyōto University, Japan. I research and teach the social and intellectual history of twentieth-century Japan, focusing on social movements, technology, and environmentalism.
In more practical terms, I have researched talked and written on how, and why, New Left militant groups during the Japanese '1968,' like the Red Army Faction (Sekigun) or the East Asian Anti-Japanese Armed Front, highjacked airlines or bombed company buildings. Far from 'senseless' violence, their actions where based on strong political beliefs, globally entangled in de-colonization. Ultimately, their theory and practice led them to the abandonment of class politics.
November 13, 2023
Ran Zwigenberg is giving a book talk at Kyoto University’s Institute for the Research in Humanities on December 15, 2023. 15:00-17:00 (Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University, Seminar Room 1 (1F), Jinbunkagaku Kenkyūjo-honkan).
The topic is his newly published book “Nuclear Minds: Cold War Psychological Science and the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” that came out at Chicago University Press in 2023.
In 1945, researchers on a mission to Hiroshima with the United States Strategic Bombing Survey canvassed survivors of the nuclear attack. This marked the beginning of global efforts—by psychiatrists, psychologists, and other social scientists—to tackle the complex ways human minds were affected by the advent of the nuclear age. Nuclear Minds traces these efforts and the ways they were interpreted differently across communities of researchers and victims. The book sets out, first, to understand the historical, cultural, and scientific constraints in which researchers and victims were acting and, second, to explore the way suffering was understood in different cultural contexts before PTSD was a category of analysis.
Ran Zwigenberg is an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on modern Japanese and European history, with a specialization in memory and intellectual history.
October 2, 2023
The struggle between the students of Yoshida Dormitory and the Kyoto University administration has been going on for years, and a decision by the Kyoto District Court on the university's lawsuit against the residents is expected in early October. Lola Simon of Brown University (US) has written a great article about the situation there, after her stay in Kyoto to research the memory politics of Yoshida Dormitory.
August 4, 2023
I had a fantastic time on Wednesday listening to Edward Jones-Imhotep's talk here at Kyodai on the social history of technology in the United States. Presenting on the scientific management ideology of Henry Gantt and Frederick Taylor in their efforts to overcome human-machine "failure," Jones-Imhotep showed how Gantt and Taylor both sought to bust unions in the factories where they were employed as consultants. Taylor strategically hired black workers to break up labor gangs organized around machines and along ethnic lines to break their ability to bargain collectively. His student, Henry Gantt, on the other hand, came from a former slaveholding family and was convinced of the racist notion that black workers did not belong in the industrial North. Therefore, Jones-Imhotep argues, he applied his scientific management theories, like the "Gantt-Chart," with the goal of increasing productivity among non-black workers, breaking social cohesion by individualizing the measurement of productivity, without hiring black workers like Taylor. Very fascinating story that the fact that socio-ethnic discrimination, union busting, and efforts to increase productivity always go hand in hand.
July 21, 2023
Update with my latest publications and talks. I intend to upload some of the drafts of papers I have written, and eventually link to my published work (since I do not command legions of lawyers or live in the Bahamas to protect me from copyright claims, I will not make published material available for download). Anyway, you can now find more information about my research projects that I am currently working on.
July 19, 2023
I recently started to reconstruct my homepage. For now there is not too much content on this site and the list of publications is incomplete. You can refere to my work at Researchmap, although the entries are in dire need of an update as well.
You can contact me under this email-address.
Between the 1970s and the mid-1990s, millions of Japanese microcomputers, also known as personal computers (pasokon), home computers (maikon), or word processors (wāpuro), were sold to Japanese consumers. For two decades, Japanese computer technology from dozens of manufacturers and hundreds of software houses transformed society by making consumer-users and shaping current and future uses of technology. This history of Japanese computer technology, remembered with nostalgia for "the nation's personal computer" (kokumin no pasokon), peaked in the mid-1990s. After 1995, the globalizing force of the Internet and U.S.-made corporate computer standards prevailed in the form of the Web browser and Microsoft Corporation's Windows 95 operating system.
Early proponents of computer technology, some from the Japanese radical New Left, constructed an ideology about the artistic nature of the computer in making art or "things" (monozukuri) that was instrumental in propagating the use of the computer and that differed significantly from the "California ideology" that has framed the ideology of Silicon Valley since the late 1970s. Japanese computer users sought to gain agency over the computer machine by making it, reconstructing it, using it, and resisting it. Their interest in doing so was based on pure enthusiasm, but also on notions of class, gender, and national ideology. In the process, they invested their available social time in the computer machine, which ultimately accelerated the process that made the computer a universal tool of labor, but failed both in technological and national idealism and in the drive to overcome class and gender differences. Thus, in the second half of the 1980s, the Japanese microcomputer was "normalized" by bringing it to the consumer. Japanese families bought microcomputers for professional, educational, business, or recreational purposes. While some of the uses were quite different from those in other industrialized nations, the normalized use of the computer machine distanced the user from mastering the technology. Computer technology became a universal tool that, in Japan's liberal capitalism, served not only to automate and rationalize, but also to universalize labor time. The universalization of labor means that waged labor time and unwaged disposable social time ("leisure time") intermingle until the latter can become fragmented and insignificant. Through these universalizing efforts, which were not tied to the physical location of the factory but could integrate labor into production down to the family unit, capitalist agencies could extract more time from workers' social time without (in the short term) lowering wages for highly specialized knowledge labor.
In the mid-1970s, religion, counterculture, and Third World anti-imperialism intersected in a small hippie commune on the island of Amami Ōjima and its involvement in local environmental protest. This group, led by the hippie "Pon," or Yamada Kaiya, had evolved from the "Buzoku," or "tribes," the mainspring of the small but even more influential Japanese hippie movement. Although the hippies numbered only a few hundred "members" in their heyday, between 1965 and 1989 they forged transnational connections with key actors in the California counterculture, US environmentalism, the Japanese peace movement, local Communist Party mayors, and networks of support for imprisoned members of the left-terrorist Anti-Japanese Front. These environmental activists, members of small hippie communes on the fringes of the Japanese New Left, were entangled in a global personal network that linked countercultures such as California Beat and Westcoast Zen in the United States with environmentalist protest, postwar religiosity, and New Left theory and practice in Japan. However, the impact of the Japanese New Left on Japanese environmental politics from below after the student protests and street battles of "1968" has been surprisingly understudied. My research aims to fill this gap by focusing on how essentialist notions of a "nature" to be protected actually influenced environmental movements in the 1970s, and how the New Left contributed to theory and practice.
This Kaken-funded research project aims to collect, process, digitize, and make available source materials from social movements, civic groups, and political factions associated with the New Left. As these materials are becoming increasingly scarce and, unfortunately, often lost, the project aims to preserve them and make them accessible to researchers and the public. The project was launched in 2023, and the latest activities are the creation of an index of the available material.