States of Exception: Comparison and Temporality in Racialized Welfare States

Anna Skarpelis, Harvard University

Welfare states are immensely consequential institutions in their capacity as instruments of redistribution that significantly impact life chances and reveal nations’ moral and normative judgments as to who belongs and how they should be governed. This paper takes the case of three welfare states (Japan, the US and Germany) that are commonly depicted as exceptional cases in their racialization and suggests a framework for comparing these supposed ‘uncomparables.’ While the US and Germany are frequently compared on the basis of treatment of African Americans and the European Jewry respectively, Japan is pulled into comparison with Germany on the basis of fascism, losing the war and being occupied by the United States. The less frequently told story is that of Japan’s imperial-colonial past: Its subjugation of East and South Asian countries, and its geographically expansive ambitions for a racially stratified empire. If racism’s usual point of comparison to Nazi Germany and slavery America is apartheid South Africa, I will make the argument here that including Japan in the trifecta of racialized welfare states is useful for better understanding the historical emergence of racial categories within the welfare state, as well as their transformation as the three states transitioned out of explicit racialized authoritarian regime forms into ostensibly de-racialized democracies. The paper reorients comparative welfare state research in order to ascertain the problem of race in the non-American welfare state, and it contests the American exceptionalism literature on racialized welfare by carving out questions arising out of the particular historical trajectories of German and Japanese welfare state development. The paper seeks to make both a methodological/ontological contribution by rendering concepts and variables legible and comparable, as well as a causal and temporally-geographically revisionist intervention, by breaking up established sequences of temporally demarcated narratives.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 178. International Dimensions of Race and State Formation