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Vol. 2 No. 1 (2022): Construction and Destruction of Subjectivity and Social Relations

When the “disease” concerns the social bond: the case of hikikomori syndrome in the Japanese and Italian context.

May 7, 2022


In the late 1990s, a new form of social withdrawal started raising concerns among the Japanese society. The expression “hikikomori”, composed by the terms “hiku” (to pull back) e “komoru” (island), is used to refer to this condition that, today, does not involve only the Japan but appears to have spread also in other countries, including Italy. Since its advent, health specialists have engaged in a debate on whether such a phenomenon should be considered a mental illness or a social condition. The present paper, after a brief excursus on the proposed criteria for a clinical diagnosis of hikikomori, poses the role of the socio-cultural context in influencing the way the behaviour is shaped, experienced, communicated, and responded to by others. The assumption framing this work is that the context may work as a source of malaise, lacking resources and opportunities and making hikikomori a kind of “silent” reaction to the difficulty to reach the paces and the standards of performance required by family, school, and society in general. The role of Internet in this extreme form of social withdrawal will be focused, considering that the hikikomori may over-indulge in the internet as a way to compensate his/her social isolation, as well as the excessive internet use may lead to prefer online social interactions till to a complete social withdrawal. Finally, future directions in intervention policies will be discussed.