Civil Society, the State and Culture in Comparative Perspective
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Special Research Project on Civil Society, the State and Culture in Comparative Perspective
- New Values in the Age of Globalization and Reconstruction of the Public -

April 1, 2003

The present age is the age of globalization, and with the momentum towards globalization there have emerged fundamental challenges for the world community. Thus we are challenged to establish properly founded values that are capable of being agreed on by nations, and by regional groupings of nations, which while differing markedly in their individual social and cultural traditions and histories are all unavoidably implicated in the process of globalization. So also are we challenged to identify a sphere of public interaction for peoples and nations that will have global application and to identify the principles and framework for a fully global form of public policy, and so, through this, to establish the terms and conditions for the co-existence of the nations and the regions at the global level. It is in the context of these challenges that there has been instituted in the University of Tsukuba the new five-year Special Research Project (2003-2008) on Civil Society, the State and Culture in Comparative Perspective.

The procedures followed in this Special Research Project are inter-disciplinary research procedures that draw on the methods and approaches particular to the social sciences and the humanities. As for the goals of the Special Research Project, these are pure theoretical, formal educational and practical applied: pure theoretical, in that the Special Research Project inquires as to the common meanings that it is proper to assign to such concepts as civil society, public policy and culture; formal educational, in that the Special Research Project directs itself to establishing comparative civil society, comparative public policy and comparative cultural values as new subjects of academic study to fall within the conventional disciplines of the social sciences and the humanities; and practical applied, in that the Special Research Project focuses on the practical role that Japan should now assume for itself in the global contexts that will increasingly structure the policy options open to states and governments as the twenty-first century unfolds.

The course of globalization has to a large extent been subject to the norms and standards set by the nations with the highest levels of economic development, and most particularly, as it is said, those set by the United States of America. However, there has been strong resistance to this course of globalization on the part of those nations and societies that, if less developed in their material economic conditions, are nevertheless firmly committed to the preservation of the cultures and social traditions that define their own individual identities. Thus it is that globalization has gone together with the deepening sense of the clashing of civilizations, with the growing resurgence of nationalisms, with the widespread repudiation of the economic and political development strategies associated with the Western nations, and with the increasing opposition to the hegemony of international market capitalism as voiced in the name of equity and social justice, the environment, and the primacy of the interests and values of local communities.

It is evident that globalization presents itself as a process that has occasioned, and will continue to occasion, mutual conflict and antagonism among nations and societies. To overcome this condition of conflict and antagonism is the leading imperative for our age, and it is in recognition of this that the Special Research Project has fastened on the challenges bound up with the search for shared values and public policy frameworks adequate to bringing the different nations and societies together under globally applicable terms and conditions of co-existence. Here, the key concept for the Special Project is that of civil society, and with this as encompassing the concepts of state and culture and as closely bound up with the allied concept of public policy. The central position of the concept of civil society is everywhere pointed to in the substantive research agenda that is being followed by the members of the Special Research Project in their respective groups.

The primary task set for the members of the Special Research Project is to subject the concept of civil society to critical scrutiny, to eliminate from the concept all elements that involve bias, partially and arbitrariness, and then to reconstitute, or as it is said to reconstruct, the concept to the end that it comes to acquire a universal status and application. The related task that follows from this is one of taking up the reconstructed concept of civil society and adopting it as the basis for the formulation of new values in the spheres of state, society and culture, while also linking the concept of civil society to the current process of globalization to the end that we establish a concept of global civil society appropriate for the realization of these new values. In this task the combined efforts of researchers representing the social sciences and the humanities are involved and harnessed, in line with the inter-disciplinary character of the Special Research Project.

For the researchers in the social science, the concern is with the concept of civil society as a concept that is to be explained through empirical study and investigation directed at the actual condition of modern societies. The focus of the social scientists is with the organization and functioning of societies, as so, for example, with their state institutional structures, non-state associations, market practices and facilities for the dissemination of knowledge and information. The method of study here is comparative in form, and it is exemplified in the work and findings of two survey studies that were completed as a preliminary for the Special Research Project: the Interest Group Survey, where the interest group structures of five countries, were compared, and the Global Environmental Policy Network Survey, where a comparison was made of the environmental policy networking structures established in four different countries.

For the researchers in the humanities, the concern is with what we refer to as the deep structure of societies. This is the sphere of values, and, as such, it is something that belongs to the concept of civil society but that goes beyond what is immediately available as the object of the empirical enquiries engaged in by the social scientists. To the deep structure of societies pertain their cultures, histories and languages, and included also are the imaginings and the self-understandings, whether conscious or unconscious, of the peoples who comprise societies as these are embodied in cultures, histories and languages. The deep structural form of societies, as here understood, is determinative of their identity and particularity as societies, and so the various aspects of deep structural form are essential for inclusion in the reconstructed universal concept of civil society as a concept being linked to a globalization process that comprehends the wide diversity of the different nations and societies.

It is intended that the Special Research Project will, through its enquiries in the social sciences, enlarge significantly the scope of empirical data available for the understanding of actually existing societies, and specifically so with the cases of Japan, the Untied States, and the nations of Asia and Europe. At the same time, it is intended that, with its enquiries in the humanities, the Special Research Project will enlarge understanding of the deep structure of societies and, through this, bring out the essential part that is to be taken by the consideration of values in strategies for the forward development of societies both as to themselves and as to their interactions together within the now emerging global framework. Hence the collaborative endeavor of the researchers in the social sciences and the humanities that is the distinctive feature of the Special Research Project will yield conclusion that are not only explanatory, but also normative in their application, and here, as it is hoped, the Special Research Project will culminate in the articulation of a concept of global civil society where mutual understanding among nations and societies is affirmed as the supreme value for the age of globalization.

University of Tsukuba Special Projects

The University of Tsukuba conducts large-scale interdisciplinary research projects that are difficult to envision on an individual institute basis. Projects are staffed both by university staff members and by research colleagues from various institutions in Japan and foreign countries.

These special research projects are established for a fixed period (usually 5 years). After a project achieves its envisioned results, it is replaced by a newly recruited group of researchers.