Making of the “Feebleminded”: Gender and Family for the Medical Discourse Around Eugenic Sterilization in 1950s Japan

This lecture examines the medical discourse of the ‘feebleminded’, which emerged in 1950s Japan in the process of implementing involuntary sterilization under the Eugenic Protection Law (1948-96). It shows how the medical discourse was gendered and caricatured their sexuality as a threat to social order. It then argues that the making of the medical knowledge about the ‘feebleminded’, though appearing as scientific, was a social act, by describing how the patient’s families were involved in the making of the knowledge.

Aya is Reader in Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester. She has long worked on the history of reproduction and population in modern Japan and most recently published Science for Governing Japan’s Population from Cambridge University Press (2023). Currently, Aya is writing a book manuscript tentatively entitled Negotiating for Asia’s Population: Japan in the Transnational Network of Family Planning, Development Aids and Global Health.