Callan Sait

PhD Candidate in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Dr Eli Elinoff and Dr Jeff Sissons

“The more it gets to know you, the more attached you become”: Personhood in human-robot care relationships in Japan

Japan’s “crisis of care” – brought on by a rapidly aging population, declining birthrate, lingering economic uncertainty following the bursting of a bubble economy, and the accompanying changes in social structure – has inadvertently thrust experimental robotic technologies into the limelight.

Care for the elderly is increasingly situated outside of the home, and given low wages for care staff and the subsequent inability to provide enough staff to meet demand – alongside restricted (but growing) immigration for care work – Japan has turned to robots for support. This crisis, situated within Japan’s unique historical, political, and religious setting, provides a rich context for engaging with contemporary debates regarding definitions and practices of ‘good’ care, personhood, and ontological engagement with the world.

My research primarily aims to understand how people make sense of their own personhood in relation to the personhood (or lack thereof) of their robotic interlocutors, how ‘care’ as a concept is conceived by patients, carers, and roboticists, and how this is enacted in practice within the context of Japan – while remaining attentive to the interwoven historical, social, political, and religious factors that shape these discourses.