Blog Review: Sociological Images


Sociological Images, run by Drs. Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp, is one of the most varied and thorough visual sociology/anthropology blogs on the Internet. The mission of the blog is  “to encourage all kinds of people to exercise and develop their sociological imagination by presenting brief sociological discussions of compelling and timely imagery that spans the breadth of sociological inquiry.” Why review Sociological Images on Shinpai Deshou? Area studies are, in and of themselves, tied to sociological and anthropological studies. Visual anthropology treats visual media from high art to magazine and TV ads to greeting cards as cultural artifacts–that is, looking at culture through way in which a photo is framed, an ad is composed, or a color scheme is used. While the site does not deal specifically with Japanese culture, images from and of Japan and Japanese culture frequently appear on the site.

Peter Menzel's photo of an average Japanese's family's possessions, from "What We Own"

Some of the articles use images from contemporary Japanese culture to compare it to contemporary American cultural customs. For example, Sharp discusses Valentine’s Day in Japan via pictures of Valentine’s Day and White Day chocolate displays.  Sharp writes of the Japanese custom of women giving men chocolate on Valentine’s Day,

It’s a good example of the social construction of holidays and food. In the U.S., chocolate is highly feminized–we think of it as a food that women particularly like, and ads about chocolate, especially fancy chocolates, are usually aimed at women (or men buying for them). Valentine’s Day and big heart-shaped boxes with large bows on them are likewise feminized… [but] in Japan, clearly chocolates for Valentine’s Day (even expensive, fancy chocolate), heart-shaped boxes, and big bows are considered appropriate gifts for men. It makes it clear how our association of chocolate with women is culturally specific.

Since much of my own writing has been about how gender is cultural, it was refreshing to read this statement in an accessible academic blog.

Other articles deal with Japanese cultural imports to the US. One of the most debated articles is “Why Do the Japanese Draw Themselves as White? ” by guest blogger Julian Abagond. I wrote my senior thesis on the anime of Miyazaki Hayao and have been asked this question more than a few times, so I really appreciated his problematizing American views of  Othering, race, and perception. The discussion in the comments is also quite interesting.

Regarding the relation of Japan fashion in the US, Lisa Wade wrote a piece on  “Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls,” in which she posted images of the singer’s entourage and young women spotted in Harajuku, asking the readers to comment about whether this was exploitation. This is a great way to add your knowledge to the discussion, as Wade and Sharp often edit their articles to include comments from readers who study the topics; in this article, Wade notes,

In our comments, SG asks that we include the following clarification:

This article is really misrepresenting a whole fashion scene and I would like to ask that you correct it- It is just perpetuating the idiocy and ignorance surrounding these styles. “Harajuku is a style for teenagers in a region of Japan”. “Harajuku style” Is a term coined by western media because they are too ignorant to actually research the names of these actual styles. Harajuku is not a style. It is a location. The females you have pictured are in Decora (and two in Visual Kei). The only “harajuku style” that exists is the fictional one made up by Gwen Stefani and the western media.

Additionally, there are quite a few articles about images of Asians and Asian Americans. Sharp recently published an article featuring photos of women of Japanese descent who were sent to internment camps during World War II, “Life in World War II Japanese American Internment Camps.” Wade and Sharp also test out interactive tools from useful websites: in “Interactive Map of Immigrant Settlement Patterns in U.S.,” Wade tries out Census data tool to track Japanese-, German-, and Mexican-born immigrant populations in the US.

The images are a great resource, and the articles and commentary are well researched and presented. This is also a good opportunity to submit your own images, or, if you are a researcher or specialist, to write a guest post and make the voices of Japanese Studies heard.


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