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Call for Papers: Conference "Desired Identities: New Technology-based Metamorphosis in Japan"

EMTECH announces its second international conference (to be held on April 29–30, 2020 in Paris).

News from Nov 16, 2019

Call for Papers

Desired Identities:
New Technology-based Metamorphosis in Japan


Event Date: April 29–30, 2020

Abstract Submission Date: December 23, 2019

Location: musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac (Paris)

Organizers: Elena Giannoulis, Agnès Giard and Berthold Frommann

Disciplines: Japanese studies, socio-anthropology, cultural studies, semiology, digital humanities.

This conference is organized by the ERC-funded research project ‘Emotional Machines: The Technological Transformation of Intimacy in Japan’ (EMTECH) at Freie Universität Berlin in cooperation with the Department of Research and Higher Education of the quai Branly museum – Jacques Chirac.


In 2019, the population of Japan is at 124.9 million, but what if we include ‘character residents?’ As if to compensate for the declining birth-rate, characters proliferate. They welcome you in front of restaurants. They invite you for countryside tours. They smile on key holders, transportation cards, bags, screens and panels. Acting as interfaces between people, objects and spaces, they now invade social networks up to the point where a whole industry of character-camouflage is now prompting web users to merge with videogame-like creatures. How can we understand this phenomenon? What social changes does it contribute to shape and to mirror? So-called ‘emotional technologies’ play an increasing role in our everyday life. Machines have come to be perceived not just as technical artifacts or lifeless objects that assist workflows in industry or act as service robots. Instead, they are viewed as ‘interaction partners’ to which affective bonds or even relationships of varying shape or intensity may be formed. An early example of this was the Tamagotchi of the 1990s, an electronic toy whose owner had the task of raising a virtual chick and caring for its well-being.

In the course of an international conference, researchers from various disciplines are invited to share their experiences and outcomes concerning this phenomenon, in Japan (as well as in Korea or in similar research fields). This phenomenon has been termed kyara-ka, ‘transforming into a character’ (Aihara Hiroyuki, 2007) and it is now giving birth to what Nozawa Shunsuke (2013) calls ‘an emerging art of self–fashioning.’ Based on elaborate disguise techniques, the kyara-ka phenomenon covers a variety of communication strategies and practices. The most famous is of course cosplay, which enables men and women to conceal their identity and to act as a character. Kigurumi, the radical version of cosplay, implies the making of a second skin, a helmet like head and, recently, a vocoder. As a matter of fact, kyara-ka has also generated a movement of people who record their voices using synthetic voice technology, in order to become what they call an utaloid (artificial singer). The phenomenon is also accountable for huge trends such as the use of image filters to upload TikTok viral videos, or the development of software applications that turn humans into animated avatars. Virtual-Tubers, who are real people with a digital manga-style appearance, are now becoming celebrities on YouTube. The most famous pretend to be Artificial Intelligences. Some of them may indeed be the equivalent of Virtual Idols (i.e. products designed by talent agencies) and their popularity is so high that they now become characters in Love Simulation Games. As nobody knows their real face, they may as well be purely fictitious persons.

Exploring all the aspects of this ‘thingification of humans’, the conference will reflect on how and why a growing number of people market themselves as characters. In contemporary societies, where individuals must compete (Pierre Bourdieu, 1979), the need to differentiate paradoxically results in the adoption of customized identities and normative e-bodies shared by media culture consumers. It would be easy of course to denounce this ‘Society of the Spectacle’ (Guy Debord, 1967) where branding yourself is a form of salvation, but such analysis would fail to acknowledge the specificity of these auto-commodification acts. The singular dimension of the kyara-ka phenomenon is the desire to be erased as a mortal being and to be reborn as a member of a collective fantasy. It is not only about role-playing or promoting your self, it is about seeing the world from a floating or spectral point of view, the point of view of someone (something?) which is inside the character shell. To what extent can we consider kyara-ka as part of the real digital revolution that Dominique Boullier (2016) describes in terms of an ‘immersive framework of thinking?’

The conference goal is to address the complexity of issues raised by these voluntary and, perhaps, ironical acts of obliteration. What is the profile of men and women who transform themselves into computer-graphic creatures? How do they deal with being loved only through their digital alter ego? How do they cope when the alter ego is not of the same gender? What image/voice-processing filters do they use, and in which contexts? What little or grand narratives are being produced alongside? Can we still deal with the phenomenon in terms of authenticity (original) versus artificiality (copy)? How does such a phenomenon affect networked sociability? What negotiations or refusals underly the use of characters as social masks?
For Social and Human Sciences, this rising phenomenon constitutes a strategic research object as it offers a particularly interesting vantage point on social phenomena such as the Construction of Digital Identities and the Business of Gamification.


- Aihara Hiroyuki, Kyara-ka suru Nippon [Japan turning into character]. Tōkyō: Kōdansha, 2007.
- Boullier Dominique, Sociologie du numérique. Paris: Armand Colin, 2016.
- Bourdieu Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1984 (1979).
- Debord Guy, The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone books, 1995 (1967).
- Nozawa Shunsuke, “Characterization”, in: Semiotic Review, Issue 3, 2013.

Submission guidelines

Abstracts must be submitted in English and sent by email to agnes.giard@fu-berlin.de in PDF format. The submissions (between two and three pages) must include a title, an abstract and a short biography of the author (including name and affiliation).

Key dates

Abstract Submission Deadline: December 23, 2019
Notifications: January 3, 2020
Conference: April 29 (Wed) – April 30 (Thu), 2020

Language of the conference


Scientific Program Planning Committee members

Elena Giannoulis, Agnès Giard, Berthold Frommann


Anna Gianotti-Laban, responsable de la coordination des manifestations scientifiques, musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. Email: anna.gianotti-laban@quaibranly.fr

Liudmila Bredikhina




All questions about submissions should be emailed to agnes.giard@fu-berlin.de

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