5in10 with Nora Kottmann

Nora Kottmann

Nora Kottmann is a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Weber Foundation’s German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) since September 2018. From 2008 to 2018 she has been working at the Institute of Modern Japanese Studies at the University of Düsseldorf. She there received her PHD with a study on the meaning of marriage in times of declining marriage rates. Under the DIJ research program “Risks and Opportunities in Japan”, she is currently working on her research project (Re)Locating Intimacy – Spatial Perspectives on Personal Relationships in Contemporary Japan. Main research interests include personal relationships, intimacy (‘spaces of intimacy’), mobile and multi-local biographies/relationships, expat communities, sociology of family, sociology of space, and methods in social science research on Japan.

How do you explain your current research project to your students?

Generally speaking, I am interested in the interrelation of ‘intimacy’ and ‘space.’ In my current research project (Re)Locating Intimacy. Spatial Perspectives on Personal relationships in Contemporary Japan I ask questions like “Where do people ‘do’ relationships?”, “Which influence do mobility, multi-locality, proximity, distance and other spatial factors have on relationships?” “Which spaces/places are available, which are (possibly) newly created?”. My empirical focus is on unmarried individuals (25 – 49 years) in the greater Tokyo area. The background of the research project is twofold: On the one hand, we have a public discourse on the emergence of a so called ‘Hyper-Solo-Society’ in Japan, as more and more people are getting married later on in life or not at all. On the other hand, mobility and multi-locality as well as, for example, hybrid spaces, are increasingly defining individuals lives and relationship worlds. This is obviously not only the case in Japan. However, due to some contextual specifics like gender-segregated spaces, adults staying in their family home or a general spatial density, Japan (and especially Tokyo) can serve as a great case study.

What were academic or personal inspirations that led to your current research?

I was always interested in the question of how individuals live various forms of personal relationships. During my PhD on the meaning of marriage for young adults and their lives, I found some of my interviewees living diverse relationships ‘beyond’ marriage—in such situations, for example, as living in a shared house or having close friendships. This caught my interest and I wanted to pursue my research in this direction. At around the same time, I was able to participate in two workshops on ‘multi-locality’ and ‘space’ – topics that were totally new to me at that time but that turned out to fit my research interest like jigsaw pieces.

How are you ‘doing’ research? What are your most important research methods?

I mainly rely on interviews, (in)formal conversations and (participant) observations. Now in Tokyo, after many years at a German university, I currently very much enjoy the luxury of ‘constantly being in the field’ – I speak with friends, colleagues and strangers, watch TV, do a lot of (participant) observations, read newspapers, collect (and read/enjoy) topic-related magazines and so on. Although my focus on qualitative methods will always continue, I guess, as I am just fascinated by daily encounters, observations and individuals’ stories, I am more and more convinced by mixed-methods approaches and respective research designs. In my case, besides using a variety of qualitative data, I am currently planning to conduct a rather big survey (in collaboration with a research institute) to better frame and contextualize my qualitative data on the one hand and to establish possibilities for further comparison on the other hand.

Which publications or academic events did inspire you recently?

There are a lot! Besides the workshops mentioned above, I recently attended a talk by Stevie Jackson on Globalizing/Deprovincializing the critique of heterosexuality in Tokyo, which impressed me. With regard to books, Eva Illouz and her writings on love and capitalism had (and have) a big impact on me. Isabell Lorey’s works on precarization as well as the respective works of Lauren Berlant inspired me as well. Rather recently I “discovered” Berlant’s works on intimacy, love and sexuality, and I couldn’t stop reading. The same happened with Mapping Desire (David Bell/Gill Valentine, 1995). And, last but not least, Doreen Massey’s publications on space continue to fascinate me.

Do you think that academic mobility changes the way in which research projects are conceptualized?

Mobility definitely not only changes the way in which research projects are conceptualized, but also changes research questions, ideas, the way one ‘does’ research, and the researcher her- or himself. It can blur boundaries between disciplines and academic backgrounds, too. I myself found many new influences and was able to reframe and reconceptualize my research, to establish new collaborations and to sharpen my arguments through discussions in various new environments. In short, mobility opens new horizons on a personal as well as a professional level. However, one has to be aware that mobility in academia is not always voluntary or by mere chance. Rather, it is often based upon or induced by insecurity and precarious working conditions. This definitively makes it less beneficial – especially if one has kids, parents or friends to care for, or if one has a working partner. Having a safe base to come back to or good and long-term prospects for the professional future would enhance the benefits of mobility a lot.


Citation: 5in10 with Nora Kottmann, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 14.06.2019, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/18792.


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