Dr. Jessica McLeod’s dissertation, “Living in Limbo: Western Immigrants’ Experiences in Japan as a Product of Japaneseness”, is described by her dissertation chair, Dr. Andrea Louie, as an important contribution to the existing literature on migration, Japaneseness, and intersectional identities. Dr. McLeod combined her experience as a foreigner who has lived in Japan with her expansive knowledge of the anthropology of Japanese and in-depth fieldwork to create a complex, nuanced ethnography.
Focusing on an understudied migrant population—Westerners who immigrate to and settle in Japan—Dr. McLeod used ethnographic interviews and participant observation to explore the ways Western immigrants’ obvious foreignnessbenefits them in the context of Japanese society. While roles and expectations are rigidly prescribed for Japanese people, she found that Westerners’ non-Japaneseness often exempts them from these norms, and functions as a “get out of jail free card” for behavioral faux pas (inadvertent and intentional). Dr. McLeod described Western immigrants in Japan as living in a permanently liminal space, never being able to fully belong due to restrictive immigration policies and race-based definitions of Japaneseness, but never able to fully disengage from the community they live in. However, despite this limbo state, many Westerners who settled in Japan ultimately found a welcome sense of freedom in this liminality.
After completing her PhD in 2021, Dr. McLeod is continuing her work as an editor and enjoying finally having the time to finish settling into her new apartment with her new husband, Ben, and their new kittens. Dr. McLeod is excited for future possibilities on the horizon, although whether they will be in editing, anthropology, or something else entirely will depend on her luck with the non-academic job market.
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