What Have We Gained and Lost Along the Way?: The Rise and Institutionalization of Environmental Sociology in Japan

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:48
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Saburo HORIKAWA, Department of Sociology, Hosei University, Japan
Japanese environmental sociology is like a “black hole.” It constantly absorbs the world’s latest theoretical innovations so diligently but without emitting any research findings of its own, making itself unavailable to the world outside. It is because almost all its entire literature has been written in a minority language, Japanese.

But is that the only reason for being a “black hole”? The Japanese Association for Environmental Sociology (JAES) is the world’s largest academic association in the field of environmental sociology. It has been publishing the world’s very first journal dedicated to the discipline since 1995. Why, then, has the established field of study as such become a “black hole”? The language barrier does not seem to explain it all.

This paper, therefore, tries to make the ”black hole” visible, by portraying the present state of Japanese environmental sociology and the recent challenges it faces. By adapting the “institutional approach” by Philip Selznick, the author analyses the rise of the discipline in Japan in the 1970s-80s, focusing on what it has gained and lost through the process of growing into such an established field. In the days when the term “environmental sociology” still did not exist, researchers (who would later become the first environmental sociologists) in different sociological sub-disciplines struggled to analyze pollution problems by applying the concepts of their respective fields. Japan’s environmental sociology arose out of the process of grappling with Japan’s grave pollution problems. For that reason, going to pollution-ravaged communities and performing long-term research has become a tradition. The JAES has grown into an “institution” reflecting this tradition (“the infusion of values”) and in turn shapes the mind-set of its members. The JAES no longer is a mere “organization” but, the author claims, has become an “institution” that demands internal commitment to its core values.