- A Social Research Hub: Creating a Society that Values Cultural Diversity -
Kwansei Gakuin University launched a research project called a “Study of Social Research for the Enhancement of Human Wellbeing: Creating a Society that Values Cultural Diversity” as a 21st century COE Program of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. While a considerable amount of social research is carried out today, the aim of this project was to consider the social issues that should be empirically addressed in the 21st century.
This five-year program critically considered existing social research principles and methods, as well as new social research methods (e.g., ones that use videos). Furthermore, based on an understanding of the local characteristics and environments of research sites (both inside and outside Japan), the program sought ways to collaborate with local residents in these places, and it constructed a network comprised of research and educational hubs overseas. A “Social Science Shop” (commonly referred to as an “S-cube”) for research was also established to connect these elements. In addition to the above undertakings, the program offered training and support for young researchers, which were intended to heighten their abilities to share and exchange information in international settings. (Click the link below for more information about the 21st Century COE Program’s accomplishments, as well as its relationship to the Institute for Advanced Social Research.)
In April 2008, the Institute for Advanced Social Research was established to further develop the fruits of the 21st Century COE Program. In April 2016, the institute made its aim clear: to carry out advanced social research for the creation of a society that values cultural diversity, establish four new research divisions, and work to rapidly develop its activities even further.
Due to the amazing development of science, technology, and the market economy, people’s lives have been massively improved, including their affluence, convenience, health, and diversity of opportunities. However, problems such as poverty, inequality, discrimination, and religious conflicts still exist—as they have throughout history. It is also a fact that violence, terrorism, and wars are still arising as a result of these problem.
Modernity has emphasized economic development and affluence, which has tended to bring about standardization and uniformity. For example, mechanisms have been established to evaluate people, which were based on their educational background and social status. It was also intended to promote a period of time when the model of a nuclear family was premised upon the existence of a full-time housewife. Furthermore, the nation-state ideal has emphasized national homogeneity, brought about the exclusion of that which is different, and forced assimilation.
Taking these problems into account, the 21st Century COE Program sought to open up a space for new social research, which emphasizes diverse forms of happiness amidst conflicts between economic globalization and the cultural values that differ from it. Since its establishment, the institute has continued to prioritize interdisciplinary, collaborative research, which makes “the other” and “alterity” key concepts; they include the joint research projects “Societies Forged by War” and “Public Sociology in Asia: Social Survey beyond the Dualism of ‘Exclusion’ and ‘Inclusion.’”
Today, even though globalization’s progression, or rather, because this progression, is replacing modernization’s standardization and uniformity, there is a need to construct societies in which different, contrasting ways of life and cultures (e.g., minority groups) are respected and can coexist without being excluded. This valuing of cultural diversity is closely related to the elimination of poverty, exclusion, discrimination, and prejudice.
Precise, thorough social research about the diverse ways that people live (and interact with the cultures surrounding them) is an indispensable part of approaching these problems. In addition to local, on-the-ground surveys, this research can include international comparisons and large-scale quantitative scholarship. However, it must be noted that such scholarship can be problematic, as it takes the perspective of those engaging in it for granted; the viewpoints of the subjects being studied are sometimes ignored or neglected. In the case of this institute, emphasizing cultural diversity means engaging in scholarship, while reconsidering the form that social research itself should take.
With this basic approach in mind, the institute established four new research projects during the 2016 academic year. Information about them can be found on their individual webpages. Through these projects, the institute aims to become a worldwide hub for social research, which is rooted in respecting cultural diversity.
One of the aims of the 21st Century COE Program was to train young researchers, and many of them have gone on to work at research and educational institutions. In order to continue this tradition, the Institute for Advanced Social Research always has three research fellows and one research assistant. These young scholars are the core of the institute. They take part in its research and the construction of its data archives.
As part of the support project of this graduate school, the institute holds a university-wide research competition for graduate students and researchers. Furthermore, in cooperation with the Graduate School of Sociology, it also works to provide various forms of educational support to graduate students.
Working with Society
The Institute for Advanced Social Research returns the fruits of its research to society— through symposiums, seminars, workshops, and other events. These fruits emphasize dialogue with members of the communities being studied, as well as local residents, and the institute works within society to connect its research and practice.