Dr Mitchell Sedgwick

Dr Mitchell Sedgwick

Visiting Senior Fellow

Department of Anthropology

English, Japanese
Key Expertise

About me

Mitch Sedgwick’s first ethnographic fieldwork – a study of a home for the elderly in Tokyo – led to a BA Honours Thesis in Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He has also conducted research with Japan’s Korean minority, and returns regularly to friends around Takayama, in the Japan Alps, where he lived for two years. Since the early 1990s, however, the bulk of Mitch’s research has concerned the Japanese state’s core actors – multinational corporations – and includes fieldwork at Japanese corporations’ ‘subsidiary’ factories/offices and their surrounding communities in Thailand, in France, on the Tex-Mex border, and, of course, in Japan itself. The project has variously addressed cross-cultural dynamics in mass production labour relations; authority, autonomy and personhood at work, and leisure, among members of huge organisations; and networks of communication and ‘control’, especially regarding engineering knowledge, in the context of technological evolution and change in the global political economy.

In 1991-92, while at Tokyo University with Japanese Education Ministry (Monbusho) funding, Mitch conducted research at headquarters of Japanese multinational corporations in Tokyo, among managers responsible for the recent burgeoning of overseas production in Southeast Asia. A second phase of fieldwork on this project took him to Thailand as a Fulbright Scholar (1992–94), where he focussed on Japanese manager/engineers and their Thai counterparts, who work together without the benefit of sharing the same language. (The project also compared cross-cultural conditions at Japanese manufacturers with those at Western subsidiaries, also operating in Thailand. Follow-up research in Thailand has been conducted in 2001, 2004 and 2010.) – Fieldwork at a Japanese subsidiary in rural France (1996-97) was the basis of his PhD in Anthropology at Cambridge, and led to the monograph, Globalisation and Japanese Organisational Culture: An Ethnography of a Japanese Corporation in France. – In 2011-12, Mitch was an Abe Fellow of the US-based Social Science Research Council, researching among Japanese, Mexican and American members of a Japanese corporation whose operations straddle the highly-militarised Tex-Mex border. This project also included fieldwork at the subsidiary’s, so-called, ‘mother factory’ in northern Japan. Tragically, early in the fieldwork this site and the community surrounding it were decimated by Japan’s 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Unexpectedly, Mitch has turned increasingly toward ‘disaster anthropology’, with a long term account of personal and organisational recovery in northern Japan on-going, including fieldwork in 2014.

Having followed particular informants for many years, Mitch has come full circle on his original fieldwork on Japan’s aged. He has a long term project called Life after ‘Lifetime Employment’, which assesses both the experience of Japanese salarymen and their families in anticipation of and during retirement, and problems of old age generally in contemporary Japan, the world’s most rapidly aging society.

Mitch came to the LSE in October 2013, having taught at Oxford Brookes University since 1999, supporting its well-known programme in Japan anthropology. At Oxford Brookes he was Director of the Europe Japan Research Centre, and served for two years as elected academic staff member on the university’s Board of Governors. While writing his PhD at Cambridge, Mitch was a member of King's College and, earlier, Yasuda Fellow in the Faculty of Oriental Studies. He holds an MA in International Relations from The Fletcher School (Tufts University) and, as above, a BA in Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was born and raised in New York.

Mitch is former Executive Director of the Program on US-Japan Relations, Harvard University, a research centre concerned broadly with Japan's international relations. He had an earlier career as an organisational anthropologist at The World Bank, focussing on government institutions in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos) and state-owned enterprises in West Africa (Burkina Faso). In 1993 he worked for the United Nations on Cambodia’s first post-war election. 

Expertise Details

Japan; economic anthropology; globalisation; anthropology of organisations; multinational corporations; cross-cultural relations/ethnicity and work; minorities and marginality in Japan; disaster anthropology; post-tsunami Japan

Selected publications

2022. ‘Long, hard labours of comparison: The Japanese salaryman distinguishing himself in his totalizing corporation’. In M. Pelkmans and H. Walker, eds., How People Compare. (LSE Monographs on Social Anthropology). Routledge (London).

2019. ‘Islay, a Very Tasty Idea: Inventing, Embedding, and Selling Tradition in the Contemporary Scotch Whisky Industry’, in H. Nakamaki, K. Hioki, N. Sumihara, I. Izumi, eds., Enterprise as a Carrier of Culture, Springer (New York, London). 

2018. F Frenzel, P Case, A Kumar, MW Sedgwick, ‘Managing International Development: (Re)positioning Critique in the Post-2008 Conjecture’, ephemera, 18:3.

2018. ‘Entwined Biographies of Work and Trauma: Taking Time in the Study of Corporations’, Social Anthropology, 26:1. 

2017. ‘Complicit Positioning: Anthropological Knowledge and Problems of "Studying Up" for Ethnographer-Employees of Corporations’, Journal of Business Anthropology. 6.1

2015. ‘“Cutting the Network”: Mobilisations of Ethnicity/Appropriations of Power in Multinational Corporations’, in L. Josephines, ed., Knowledge and Ethics in Anthropology: Obligations and Requirements, Berg (London). 

2015. Review of ‘Arbitraging Japan: Dreams of Capitalism at the End of Finance’, by Hirokazu Miyazaki, Japan Forum, 27:1. 

2014. ‘Contextualising the Irrelevance of “Values” to the Study of International Business’, Journal of Business Anthropology, 3:2.

2013. ‘Secular Ethics and the Continuations of Capitalism: Fetishes of Production, Career Hierarchy, and the Cult of the Leader in Japanese Industrial Corporations’, in H. Nakamaki and M. Sedgwick, eds., Special Issue: ‘Business and Anthropology: A Focus on Sacred Space’, Senri Ethnological Studies. 82.

2011. ‘At a Tangent to Belonging: “Career Progression” and Networks of Knowing Japanese Multinational Corporations’, Special Issue: ‘Long Term Fieldwork’, Anthropology and Humanism 36:1. (June).

2009. ‘Movements in Corporate Space: Organizing a Japanese Multinational in France’, in P. Kirby, ed., Boundless Worlds: An Anthropological Approach to Movement. Berghahn (Oxford).

2008. Globalisation and Japanese Organisational Culture: An Ethnography of a Japanese Corporation in France. Routledge (London). http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415492164

2007. ‘Marketing Minds, Markets in Place’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI) 13:4. (December).

2006. ‘The Discipline of Context: On Ethnography among the Japanese’. In D. Wong and J. Hendry, eds., Dismantling the East-West Dichotomy: Essays in Honour of Jan van Bremen. Routledge (London).

2005. ‘Time in Research among Engineers in Industry’. In D. Caseby, ed. In Search of Time. Fabio Orlando Editore.

2004. ‘Distilling Tradition: Re-inventing Single Malts in Scotland’. In H. Nakamaki, ed., A Comparison of Management Culture in Japan and the UK. Research report, Japanese National Museum of Ethnology.

2003. ‘Nihon no fuomaru na soshiki ni akeru infuomaru katsudo, [Informal Activities in (Formal) Japanese Organisations]’. In M. Sedgwick and H. Nakamaki, eds. Nihon no soshiki: Syaen bunka to infuomaru katsudo, [Japanese Organisations: Associational Culture and Informal Activities], Toho Shupansha (Tokyo).

2001. ‘Positioning “Globalization” at Overseas Subsidiaries of Japanese Multinational Corporations’. In H. Befu, S. Guichard-Anguis, eds., Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of the Japanese Presence in Asia, Europe and America. Routledge (London).

2000. ‘The Globalizations of Japanese Managers.’ In H. Befu, J.S. Eades and T. Gill, eds., Globalization and Social Change in Contemporary Japan. TransPacific Press (Melbourne).

1999. ‘Do Japanese Business Practices Travel Well?: Managerial Technology Transfer to Thailand.’ In D.J. Encarnation, ed. Japanese Multinationals in Asia: Regional Operations in Comparative Perspective. Oxford University Press (New York).

1999. ‘Japanese Manufacturing in Thailand: An Anthropology in Search of “Efficient, Standardized Production”.’ In I. Reader and M. Soderberg, eds., Japanese Influences and Presences in Asia. Curzon/University of Hawaii Press (Richmond/Honolulu).

My research