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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Room 8/9, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Monday, 21 October, 2019 - 17:00 to 19:00

Dr David Spafford
(University of Pennsylvania)


Illicit Sex and Vendettas: Self-Redress, Law, and Power in Medieval Japan.

Vendettas and feuds, often aseptically labelled as “self-redress,” lurk just beneath the surface of medieval Japanese history. Since its beginnings, in the early thirteenth century, warrior law inhabited the uneasy middle ground between the statist judicial mandate inherent in the creation of a shogunate and warrior society’s marked preference for more familistic modes of conflict resolution and score settling. As this talk suggests, successive regimes attempted (with mixed results) to fulfil their peace-keeping roles while finessing definitions of permissible self-redress. It was only when sixteenth-century warlords made curbing disorder—rather than violence—their priority, that warrior law seemed to shift toward a more frankly interventionist posture. Yet even then the shift was selective, as the policing of those most recalcitrantly personalistic of vendettas—honour killings—remained curiously nuanced and tentative.    

David Spafford is Associate Professor of Premodern Japanese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Penn, where he teaches courses on samurai and the invention of bushidō (the famous and mostly fantastical Way of the Warrior), early modern urbanization, and premodern law and violence. He is the author of A Sense of Place: The Political Landscape in Late Medieval Japan (Harvard, 2013), which explores the resilience of medieval and supposedly outdated regional identities and cultural geographies during the late Muromachi and early Sengoku periods. Currently he is at work on a book about the role and bounds of kinship in late medieval society, provisionally titled, "Corporate Kin: The Warrior House in Japan, 1450-1650."