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Japan is arguably the first post-industrial society to embrace the prospect of human-robot coexistence. Over the past decade, Japanese humanoid robots designed for future use in homes, hospitals, offices, and schools, have become celebrated in the global mass and social media. Robo sapiens japanicus casts a critical eye on press releases and PR videos that (mis)represent actual robots as being as versatile and agile as their science fiction counterparts. An ethnography and sociocultural history of governmental and academic discourses of human-robot relations in Japan, this book explores how actual robots—humanoids, androids, animaloids—are “imagineered” in ways that reinforce the conventional sex/gender system and political-economic status quo. The granting of “civil rights” to robots is interrogated in tandem with the notion of human exceptionalism. Similarly, how robots and robotic exoskeletons reinforce a conception of the “normal” body is juxtaposed with a deconstruction of the much invoked Theory of the Uncanny Valley.
Jennifer Robertson is Professor of Anthropology and the History of Art at the University of Michigan and author of Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan, and Native and Newcomer: Making and Remaking a Japanese City.