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date: 03 July 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the ways in which the trade in raw cat and dog skins and processed goods in the shamisen (Japanese three-stringed lute) industry has changed in the last five decades. It employs Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics in order to analyze the causal relationship between the changing systems of governance through life and the historical trajectory of shamisen skin making and trade. Biopolitics, it argues, is not merely a means to incorporate different forms and modalities of life into political discourse, tactics, and rationalities, but it can also operate to marginalize the political presence, existential vitality, and ontosecurity of nonlife—individuated entities, such as the shamisen, that are conceived as “inert,” “inorganic,” or “nonliving” in society. This chapter approaches the political-economic history of music by closely examining the distribution and exercises of biopower and their effects on specific economic activities that surround the making of the instruments in historical times.

Keywords: biopolitics, biopower, critical theory, Japan, new materialism, nonlife, organology, political economy, shamisen, trade

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