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Cultural Anthropology

TOKYO'S COMMUTER TRAIN SUICIDES AND THE SOCIETY OF EMERGENCE

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ABSTRACT

This article considers the treatment of commuter train suicides in Tokyo's commuter train network in an effort to think critically about the lived experience mediated by theories of emergence materialized through “smart” infrastructures. In so doing, it embarks from the question of how the commuter train network thinks the disorder of the commuter suicide in relation to how the network has been restructured in recent decades to handle irregularity as regular. This restructuring, I demonstrate, works to corporealize the network in accordance with an understanding of the body as a paradigm of decentralized complex emergence, which is a concept with roots in cybernetics and artificial life but which has also been adopted in recent political theory to rationalize social, economic, and environmental instability. Materialized in the commuter train network, this concept asks us to think the system as a kind of machinic life that, while generating the potential for new forms of value creation, potentially encourages the experience of commuter suicides as a necessary and recursive process of metabolic renewal within a totalizing system.

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