Cool Japan 2008

Ian Condry, Professor, Comparative Media Studies / Head, Foreign Languages and Literatures



Ph.D. Yale (1999) Anthropology; B.A. Harvard (1987) Government



Ian Condry


CONTACT: condry (AT) mit.edu

I am a cultural anthropologist who specializes on media, popular culture, and globalization with a focus contemporary Japan and the US. My current research interests include social media, in particular the ways platforms for creative communities offer new possibilities for education, the arts, global health, business and political participation. These areas relate to my earlier research on Japanese hip-hop and anime by attending to practices of cultural innovation that go global.

In my most recent book, The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story, I explore the emergence of anime, Japanese animated film and television, as a global cultural phenomenon. Drawing on ethnographic research, including interviews with artists at some of Tokyo's leading animation studios—such as Madhouse, Gonzo, Aniplex, and Studio Ghibli—I discuss how anime's fictional characters and worlds become platforms for collaborative creativity. I argue that the global success of Japanese animation has grown out of a collective social energy that operates across industries—including those that produce film, television, manga (comic books), and toys and other licensed merchandise—and connects fans to the creators of anime. For Condry, this collective social energy is the soul of anime.

My first book Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization was published in October 2006 from Duke University Press. The Japanese translation Nihon no Hip-Hop was published in 2009 by NTT Publications. It is an ethnography of the Japanese rap music scene, exploring issues of race, gender, language, popular music history, and cultural politics primarily through the perspectives of Japanese musicians. Through fieldwork starting 1995-97, I focused on the "genba" (nightclubs, or "actual site") of Japan's hip-hop scene. I argue that the paths of cultural globalization lead through specific sites of performance, such as nightclubs and recording studios. Such locations help us more deeply understand the dialogue between global/local, producer/consumer, artist/industry.

I have begun a new research project on social media, online platforms, and creative communities. My current interests build on the findings of my hip-hop and anime research. From hip-hop, I learned that night clubs were crucial for building the music scene by providing spaces for socializing, networking, and performance. Competition and cooperation amidst J-Hip-Hop's "families" of rap groups led to a diversity of voices and styles that evolved over time. From anime, I found that the global success of Japanese animation hinged on collaboration across categories of producers, including the connections between manga (comics), toys, and other merchandise, as well as building on the creative energy of fans. This perspective contrasts with those that focus on "the anime industry" or those that maintain a distinction between producers and audience. Instead, I found that "collaborative that operates across categories of producers and which connects producers and fans is key.

Since January 2006, I have been organizing the research project MIT/Harvard Cool Japan research project. The project involves colloquia, cultural performances, and international conferences to examine the cultural connections, dangerous distortions, and critical potential of popular culture.

A word from my research sponsors: I gratefully acknowledge support from the the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the National Science Foundation, Fulbright, the Japan Foundation, the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies (Harvard), and Harvard's Program on US-Japan Relations, along with the generous support of MIT, including the MIT Japan program and Foreign Languages and Literatures.