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On the Invention of Identity Politics: The Buraku Outcastes in Japan


  • Ramseyer J. Mark

    (Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA, USA)


Using 14 national censuses and a wide variety of first-hand accounts, I trace the creation of a largely fictive identity for Japan’s putative outcastes and the transformation of their nominal human rights organization into (on several crucial dimensions) a heavily criminal extortion machine. Scholars have long described the outcastes – the “burakumin” – as descended from a pre-modern leather-workers’ guild. Their members suffer discrimination because their ancestors handled carcasses, and ran afoul of a traditional Japanese obsession with ritual purity.

Suggested Citation

  • Ramseyer J. Mark, 2020. "On the Invention of Identity Politics: The Buraku Outcastes in Japan," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 16(2), pages 1-95, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:rlecon:v:16:y:2020:i:2:p:95:n:2
    DOI: 10.1515/rle-2019-0021

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Saito, Osamu, 2005. "Pre-modern economic growth revisited: Japan and the West," Economic History Working Papers 22475, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    2. Saito, Osamu & Takashima, Masanori, 2015. "Population, urbanisation and farm output in early modern Japan, 1600-1874: a review of data and benchmark estimates," RCESR Discussion Paper Series DP15-3, Research Center for Economic and Social Risks, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
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    More about this item


    ethnicity; extortion; organized crime; discrimination;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H30 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - General
    • I26 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Returns to Education
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • J49 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Other
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K38 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Human Rights Law; Gender Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law


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