Producing People Who Have No One: Child Welfare and Well-Being in Japan

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Child welfare and well-being are fragile kin to each other. Such is the case in Japan, where the ethnographic data for this paper originate, but also across the world, as policy makers, caregivers, and people with experience in state care endeavor to imagine—and implement—child welfare systems that truly support well-being. Despite these efforts, social welfare systems too often “produce people who have no one,” in the words of one of my interlocutors. Child welfare policy and practice institutionalize particular visions of kinship relationships, with lasting effects on the people touched by these systems. Some of these systems cultivate the possibility for lasting relationships, and some do not. Relationships can injure and harm, but they can also transform. What are the conditions for a welfare system that nurtures well-being, that produces people who have people? This paper explores how cultural norms surrounding kinship, many deeply connected to national ideologies of Japanese identity, play out when kinship realities diverge from normative expectations surrounding nurturance and care.

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