Brian J. McVeigh

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Brian J. McVeigh (BA, MA, PhD) (born 1959) is a scholar of Asia who specializes in Japanese pop art, education, politics, and history. He is also a theorist of cultural psychology and historical changes in human mentality. He received his doctorate in 1991 from Princeton University’s Department of Anthropology. While a graduate student, he studied under Julian Jaynes[1] whose influence is apparent in his research. He taught at the University of Arizona until 2013.


McVeigh has developed Jaynes’s ideas in How Religion Evolved: Explaining the Living Dead, Talking Idols, and Mesmerizing Monuments. He has also examined what he calls the super-religiosity of Bronze Age civilizations and proposed the "bicameral civilization inventory hypothesis" and the "embryonic psycholexicon hypothesis" of archaic societies.[2] He called for a “stratigraphic psychology” that acknowledges radical changes in human psyche by incorporating evolutionary psychology findings while steering clear of simplistic cultural evolutionism. Jaynes’s impact is also evident in McVeigh’s first project which explored the role of spirit possession in a Japanese religious movement. His findings were published in Spirits, Selves, and Subjectivity in a Japanese New Religion: The Cultural Psychology of Belief in Sûkyô Mahikari (1997) and “Spirit Possession in Sûkyô Mahikari: A Variety of Sociopsychological Experience.”[3] His other relevant articles include "Mental Imagery and Hallucinations as Adaptive Behavior: Divine Voices and Visions as Neuropsychological Vestiges",[4] “Standing Stomachs, Clamoring Chests and Cooling Livers: Metaphors in the Psychological Lexicon of Japanese”[5] and “The Self as Interiorized Social Relations: Applying a Jaynesian Approach to Problems of Agency and Volition.”[6]

Though McVeigh’s original interests were in Sinology and he studied at Beijing University for one year (1982-1983), his publications have been about Japan. He spent many years teaching in Japan, and from 2002 to 2003 was chair of the Department of Cultural & Women’s Studies at Tokyo Jogakkan College. His time in Japan significantly shaped his research focus and much of his writing is based on many years of participant observation in Japan’s education system. A fascination with the “staginess of social life” and simulation theory colors his work, and his interest in the intersection of psychology and politics is apparent in his linking of self-presentation with political economy. The theatricalization of gender roles is the topic of Life in a Japanese Women’s College: Learning to Be Ladylike (1997).[7] In Japanese Higher Education as Myth (2002) he asked “why do so many students pretend-study and so many faculty pretend-teach?” and investigated the disconnect between official policies and actual pedagogical practices.[8] He termed the loss of academic value and poor quality schooling “institutional mendacity,” a claim that earned him both criticism and praise in Japan.[9] The book was nominated for the Francis Hsu Book Prize (2004), Society for East Asian Anthropology, American Anthropological Association.

McVeigh is working on another book on American higher education, one to be based on his own experiences with students and administrators.

In his third book on Japanese education, The State Bearing Gifts: Deception and Disaffection in Japanese Higher Education (2006), the influence of Jean Baudrillard, Umberto Eco, and Guy Debord is evident. By linking the ideas of these simulation theorists to the “gift” as defined by the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss, he charted the “exchange circuitry” that links and transfers value among Japan’s education ministry, universities, instructors, and learners. With elite political and corporate interests determining policy, the purpose of education is lost and the value of grades and diplomas is diluted. The staginess of educational policies results from burdensome “exchange dramatics” among students (always being on one’s best behavior for teachers, preparing for too many exams, etc.). He contends that his arguments about Japanese higher education possess general applicability: the more intense massive bureaucratic forces become, the more we excessively dramatize ourselves for the wrong reasons. The consequence is a “parareality” that breeds self-deception, inauthenticity, and alienation.

His other works have also pursued the theme of how politics shapes the psychology of self-presentation. In The Nature of the Japanese State: Rationality and Rituality (1998) he explained how “state guidance” of educational structures and “moral education” are official attempts to ensure the values of hierarchy, centralization, compartmentalization, and standardization in Japan’s political economy and civil society.[10] In Wearing Ideology: State, Schooling, and Self-Presentation in Japan (2000) he turned his attention to the cultural psychology of how we stage our selves and looked at the role of material culture (school uniforms and other accoutrements) in the management of self-appearance.[11]

In Nationalisms of Japan: Managing and Mystifying Identity (2003) he explored the varieties of nationalist expression.[12] He stressed that Japanese policies are informed by “renovationism”: the more an ostensible Japanese authentic identity is threatened, the more modernizing national projects are pursued to refurbish Japan’s economic might. These latter policies ironically increase the perception of identity threat since modernization, at least from an idealized “traditional” perspective, makes Japan seem somehow more “foreign.” The result is an ideological positive feedback loop with practical consequences for Japan’s policy-making circles.

In The Propertied Self: The Psychology of Economic History McVeigh explored the political implications of a Jaynesian psychology. He argued that whether neoliberal, social democratic, communist, or postsocialist, feverish consumerism characterizes political economies. McVeigh sees two trends characterizing history, the steady accumulation of wealth and an “inward turn” or “psychological interiorization” which legitimizes and promotes a “propertied self.” For McVeigh this describes how the inner world of feelings and thoughts justify the individual-centered acquisition of possessions. He traces the transition from a worldview discouraging economic mobility to one that seduces us to “keep up with the Joneses.” This development heralded the shift from sumptuary restrictions on consumption to faith in the liberating power and inherent goodness of property rights and unfettered self-expression.

In A Psychohistory of Metaphors: Envisioning Time, Space, and Self through the Centuries McVeigh applies a Jaynesian analysis to how over time increasing abstraction and analogizing have radically altered our perceptions of time, space, and psyche. In another book McVeigh continued his interest in a Jaynesian perspective in research on the history of Japanese psychology in an effort to illustrate global shifts in nineteenth-century definitions of human nature that resonate with the emergence of the independent citizen as the building block of national state construction, the autonomous producer and consumer of economic liberalism, the “inward turn” to a privileged protagonist in art, and the individualized subject as the crucial unit of analysis in academic psychology.


  1. ^ Julian Jaynes Society: Exploring Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind Theory since 1997
  2. ^ McVeigh, Brian J. The Super-Religiosity of Bronze Age Civilizations: Linguistic Evidence of Bicameral Mentality.
  3. ^ McVeigh, Brian J. "Spirit Possession in Sûkyô Mahikari: A Variety of Sociopsychological Experience." Japanese Religions 21(2):283–97, 1996.
  4. ^ McVeigh, Brian J. Mental Imagery and Hallucinations as Adaptive Behavior: Divine Voices and Visions as Neuropsychological Vestiges. "The International Journal of the Image," Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.25‒36.
  5. ^ McVeigh, Brian J. “Standing Stomachs, Clamoring Chests and Cooling Livers: Metaphors in the Psychological Lexicon of Japanese.” Journal of Pragmatics 26:25–50, 1996.
  6. ^ McVeigh, Brian J. “The Self as Interiorized Social Relations: Applying a Jaynesian Approach to Problems of Agency and Volition.” In Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited. Marcel Kuijsten, ed. Julian Jaynes Society, pp. 203–232, 2006.
  7. ^ Reviewed in The Economist (“Japanese Women: Serviceable”), June 7, 1997, and by William W. Kelly in The Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 25(2), 1999.
  8. ^ International Herald Tribune/Asahi News, September 18, 2002, and in World Studies in Education, WSE 4(2), 2003; Victor Kobayashi in Comparative Education Review, Vol. 47(3), p. 338, 2003; Mark Lincicome in History of Education Quarterly, 645–648, 2003; J.S. Eades in Journal of Japanese Studies, 30(1), 2004; Anthony Robins in Japan Society: News and Reviews, Issue 41, 2004; Jeff Kingston in The Japan Times, April 27, 2003.
  9. ^ The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Women's Universities Struggle in Japan,” November 14, 2003; The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Japan's Junior Colleges Face a Grim Future," November 14, 2003; The Language Teacher, "An Interview with Dr. Brian J. McVeigh: A leading social anthropologist talks about the culture of the language classroom in Japan," Vol 27, No. 8: 9–12, 2003; Kodomo wo wasureta kyouiku ronsou no shikaku (Missing the Point: An Education Debate that Forgets about the Children). Newsweek Japan, November 5, 2003. See "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-05-25. Retrieved 2008-03-26.  and "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-10-12. Retrieved 2008-03-26. 
  10. ^ Reviews by Jerry Eades in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 5(4): 664–65, 1999; Duncan McCargo in Japan Forum, Vol. 13(1):133–135, 2001; David Williams in The Japan Times (“The shaping hand of invisible institutions”), February 24, 1999; Ken Henshall in Asian Studies Review, Vol. 22(4):545–547, 1998.
  11. ^ Reviews by Christine Yano in Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 59(2): 273–75, 2003; John Zitowitz in The Japan Times (“Uniformly stylish Japanese”), August 19, 2001; Sophie Woodward in The Journal of Material Culture, Vol. 7, 3, 2002; Eyal Ben-Ari in The Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 28(1), 2002; Jerry Eades in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 8(2): 401–402, 2002; T. Udagawa in Anthropological Science, Vol. 110(2): 223–27, 2002; Ann Wehmeyer in Japan Studies Review, Vol. 6, 2002; Jane E. Hegland in The Journal of Consumer Culture, Vol. 2, Issue 3, 2002; Matthew Allen in The Australian Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 14, No. 2:289–2290, 2002; Kevin Willoughby in Journal of Fashion Theory, Vol. 6, Issue 3, 2002.
  12. ^ Reviews by Lucian W. Pye in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 80(3), 2004; Ian McArthur in Japan Studies, Vol. 24(2), p. 273, 2004; James Joseph Orr in The Journal of Japanese Studies, 31(2), pp. 498–502, 2005; Elise K. Tipton in Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 64(4):1027–1028, 2005; Harumi Befu in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 12(2):478–79, 2006.

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