Thursday, March 29, 2007

Robo One

This past weekend I attended the Association for Asian Studies Conference in Boston. One of the papers I heard was entitled "Robot Dreams: The Formation of Self and Masculine Identity in Japanese Techno-Culture" written by Hirofumi Katsuno of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. An anthropologist, Katsuno was interested in examining the cultural make-up of Japan's amateur robot-building community. One prominent topic of his paper was Robo One, an annual robot-building competition:

Katsuno had several interesting points to make, but three in particular were especially poignant given our discussions in class. First, Katsuno argued that many Japanese men were attracted to robot building because it offered some sense of control for people whose lives are often dominated by a very hierarchical corporate culture; although subject to strict relationships and requirements at work, robot builders find that they can control their own creations in their hobbies. Second, human-shaped robots were far more popular than any other kind of robot. Katsuno suggested that this was, in part, related point one above, that a human-shaped robot increased one's sense of dominance over an other. However, he also pointed out that robot-builders often commented that human-shaped robots were simply more interesting, often more challenging, but also much more relevant to theri own lives since the robot builders could relate their own bodily movements to their efforts to replicate these movements with their robots. (Katsuno provided an interesting example of one robot builder who was working to replicate the precise movements required in karate in his robot; his dream was to create the perfect martial arts master in robot form.) Third, however, Katsuno commented on the prevalence of parental language used within the community; robot builders, it turns out, do indeed view their creations as "children" and often refer to them as such.

I found these to be interesting examples from an actual techno-culture community. You might consider how these points related to certain aspects of the material we have been discussing, perhaps especially in regard to the relationship between Avram and Yod in He, She, and It.

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