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The Relative Strengths of Cultural Hegemony and Counter Hegemony in Japan: An Anthropological Perspective.

Posted By admin On May 21, 2013 @ 1:28 pm In Abstracts for 2013, Social Sciences | Comments Disabled

Darrell Moen, professor

Shibaura Institute of Technology


I intend in this presentation to give a brief overview of the strength of cultural hegemony in post-WWII Japan and the ways in which this has enabled the dominant culture to proceed to implement its policy objectives. I will introduce Japan’s role in what I call the “postwar US-led Imperial Alliance System” and relate the ways in which concerned citizens started to question that role in grassroots-based social movements that have increased dramatically since the early 1970s. This has led to a discernible process of counter hegemony in recent years with the use of the Internet by Japanese activists involved in a rapid proliferation of grassroots-based NGOs and social movements. I will argue that Japan is at a crucial historical juncture in which it can either continue along the path it has taken in the postwar era of opposing participatory democracy, promoting corporate globalization, and supporting violence both at home and abroad or enter a new path working with concerned citizens not just in Japan but in global solidarity to realize such universal principles as human rights, social/economic/political justice, environmental sustainability, and peace.

Prologue to Presentation:

As a cultural anthropologist specializing in anthropology of human rights and anthropology of new social movements teaching content-based courses in English at universities in Japan, my primary aim is to give students an opportunity to be exposed to various perspectives and interpretations of social phenomena in order for them to discuss socially relevant issues by developing and utilizing their critical thinking skills.

I strongly feel that exposure to socially relevant, critical analyses of history, contemporary society, and international relations is an important component in quality university-level education, in language studies as well as in the social science disciplines. Social science boundaries are no longer clearly defined, and I believe that the increasing recognition by social scientists of the overly fragmented state of academic disciplines offers a much-needed counter-balance to a previous preference for narrowly defined specializations.

Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of courses offered in all academic disciplines in universities help to produce graduates who have learned that the fastest and surest road to “success” is to maintain the present structures of power and privilege intact, and not become involved in any attempt to question the legitimacy of that power or attempt to effect basic structural changes that may threaten the stability of the status quo. Politically sensitive topics can barely be discussed within the ideological institutions managed by the educated classes such as the media, schools, universities, or journals of opinion. Therefore, the commitment of the state to serving private power in the domestic and international arena, and the commitment of the ideological institutions to limiting popular understanding of social issues, are firmly rooted in the institutional structure of society and are highly resistant to change.

The status quo within elite dominated societies (such as the United States and Japan) is maintained, with slight modifications, through the media system and the education system that are geared to hinder the development and utilization of critical thinking skills in the public at large. Children as students become adults as workers who have been socialized to internalize the cultural values and social assumptions of the dominant culture, and accept them as common sense. They are thus, for the most part, unable or unwilling to ask critical questions regarding their assigned role in the workplace, home, and society.

This is where we, as progressive educators, can take advantage of cracks in the education system that will enable us to introduce students to dissident and critical analyses of historical and contemporary social phenomena to help awaken their political consciousness. This will in turn, hopefully, motivate students to search for answers on their own. By the end of the courses that I teach at university, students are in position to question the validity of the dominant culture’s truth claims. They start to question the ways in which we have been conditioned and socialized to accept as “objective truth” what we’ve been taught in our schools and what we’ve been told is “objective analysis” in mainstream media.

My primary topical area of interest is new social movements, and how people united in grassroots-based organizations are working to effect the basic structural changes necessary to transform society to be more participatory and inclusive, democratic and equitable. I consider myself very fortunate to be in a position to share with Japanese university students information that helps them to start to question the accepted dogma and engage in critical analyses of diverse, pressing social issues.

In this presentation, I will give a brief account of my attempt to use an engaged pedagogical approach to introduce students to a critical assessment of the hidden dimensions of power, control, and domination in international relations, including a look at Japan’s important supporting role in the maintenance of what I call the “postwar U.S.-led imperial alliance system” and how a critical understanding of this system relates to how they might understand the various issues they face in their everyday lives. And, hopefully, they come to realize that they can become engaged citizens, involved with others in helping to establish a new world order based on such universal principles as peace, human rights, and social justice.

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