electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Book Review 2 in 2008
First Published in ejcjs on 15 February 2008

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Youth Deviance and Adult Control


Kaori Okano

Associate Professor/Reader
LaTrobe University

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About the Author

Yoder, Robert Stuart (2004) Youth Deviance in Japan: Class Reproduction of Non-conformity. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press, hardcover, ISBN-10: 1876843179, 200 pages.

Youth Deviance in Japan: Class Reproduction of Non-conformity examines how and why some contemporary young Japanese are engaged in deviant behaviours, and how this has impacted on their subsequent life trajectories. Drawing on interviews with groups of young people in 'upper middle class' and 'lower class' suburbs, the book depicts the actors' own accounts of ground-level experiences of 'deviant behaviours' and helps us to understand how they made sense of these experiences. It gives an insight into what are popularly perceived to be 'deviant behaviours', these young people's relationships with significant others and schools, as well as their experience of early adulthood.

The book sees youth deviance as a form of rebellion against adult control. Observing the high degree of youth deviance in lower working class suburbs, it argues that class-specific material circumstances influence the level of youth deviance, and that more stringent 'adult social controls' are imposed on youths in working class suburbs than on their middle and upper class counterparts. It concludes that 'adult social controls of youth deviance actually contribute to the very thing they purport to prevent—youth deviance itself' (page 1). Yoder explains that an anti-school subculture at lower class middle schools (which many lower class young people attended) contributed to non-conformity and deviant behaviours, and that this trend continued at lower ranked high schools, or outside schools when the youths were dropping out of school. The very act of labelling certain students as problematic exacerbated this process.

I enjoyed reading this book enormously, but was left with a few questions. First, the term 'adult social control', which is said to be a contributing factor to youth deviance, does not seem appropriate. To which adults does the author refer? Adults do not present a monolithic entity. Parents in both classes, according to Yoder, maintain conducive relationships with their children (chapters 4 and 5). Lower class parents often saw deviant behaviours as a healthy aspect of the growing up process. Some significant adults (e.g. empathetic teachers, youth workers) do not seem to exert the kind of coercive control that the author describes. I wonder if the word 'institutional control' might more accurately denote what the author refers to. In addition, institutional mechanisms intended to counter youth deviance may not be as uniform as the book makes them out to be, in terms of their intentions, approaches and consequences. Ethnographic studies suggest that some schools in disadvantaged catchment areas do produce positive results in collaboration with the communities (e.g. Shimizu and Tokuda 1991). It may be more helpful for our understanding of youth deviance to ask what kinds of institutional mechanisms contribute to youth deviance, rather than seeing 'adult control' as a monolith.

Second, as part of rich ethnographic descriptions, I would have liked to have seen, to a greater extent, a sense of human agency which I think these young people deserve. While social reproduction of youth deviance occurs, mediated at least partially by one's class location, these young people had some space and capacity to negotiate class-specific material and cultural circumstances. The cases of 'exceptions' (e.g. lower class youth who avoided deviant behaviours and 'succeeded' in mainstream society) and the diversity within lower classes presented in the book are interesting, complementing Roberson's (1998) study. These cases would have been a good starting point for exploring intra-group variations—how and why they emerged, and with what consequences, both to individuals and to the society as a whole (e.g. pages 84–85).

It is partly because of this weak sense of human agency that Youth Deviancy in Japan presents a somewhat dichotomous view of youth socialisation, deviant behaviours, social classes, and the education system. The juxtaposition of the 'lower working class' and 'upper class' areas of Minami and Hoku effectively illuminates the contrasting class ecologies. However, readers need to be reminded that the majority of people live in areas located somewhere on the continuum between them. The system of education is more complex than unilaterally deciding its own policies and implementing them, and is better understood to be a site of struggles by different interest groups. Contradictory activities are often observed between the national government and local levels (which are typically more responsive to resource differences of local schools and families by, for example, funding more teachers and scholarships). The 2002 education reform would be more appropriately understood as pursuing a mixture of divergent, sometimes opposing, directions in an attempt to accommodate diverse external and internal demands (Okano in press).

The book's major contribution is its presentation of the voices of young people with 'deviant behaviours'. In so doing, it elaborates on the popular and the academic literature which links poverty and family circumstances (i.e. class-specific material circumstances) with youth deviant behaviours, and subsequently with later life chances (e.g. Kudomi 1993; Kariya 2001). A longitudinal approach offers a diachronic perspective in understanding how and why young people make choices, and to what consequences such choices lead. The book will appeal to a wide audience: those interested in youth, subculture and deviance in general, as well as students of contemporary Japanese society.


Kariya, Takehiko (2001) Kaisōka Nihon to Kyōiku Kiki: Fubyōdō Saiseisan kara Iyoku Kakusa Shakai (Insentibu Dibaido) e, Tokyo: Yūshindō Kōbunsha.

Kudomi, Yoshiyuki (1993) Yutakasa no Teihen ni Ikiru: Gakkō Shisutemu to Jakusha no Saiseisan, Tokyo: Aoki Shoten.

Okano, Kaori (in press) 'Education Reforms in Japan: Neo-liberal, Neo-conservative, and "Progressive Education" Directions', in Dave Hill (ed.) The Rich World and the Impoverishment of Education: Diminishing Democracy, Equity and Workers' Right, New York: Routledge.

Roberson, James E. (1998) Japanese Working Class Lives: An Ethnographic Study of Factory Workers, London: Routledge.

Shimizu, Kōkichi and Tokuda Kōzō (1991) Yomigaere Kōritsu Chūgaku: Amagasaki Shiritsu 'Minami' Chūgakō no Esunogurafii, Tokyo: Yūshindō Kōbunsha.

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About the Author

Kaori H. Okano is a reader/associate professor in the School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Her publications include Education in Contemporary Japan: Diversity and Inequality, written with M. Tsuchiya and published by Cambridge University Press in 1999, School to Work Transition in Japan: an Ethnographic Study, published by Multilingual Matters in 1993, and various journal articles in the field of sociology/anthropology of education. She is also the editor of Language and Education in Asia: Globalization and Local Forces, published by Multilingual Matters in 2006.

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Copyright: Kaori Okano
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