THE FAILURE OF CIVIL SOCIETY?: AN ETHNOGRAPHY OF NPOS AND THE STATE IN CONTEMPORARY JAPAN

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This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the emergence of nonprofit organizations (NPOs), which have been proliferating in Japan since the passage of the Law to Promote Specified Nonprofit Activities (so-called NPO Law) in 1998. My research analyzes the dynamic micro-politics of everyday interactions between the state and ordinary people in the creation and ongoing activities of an NPO. It especially focuses on how different levels in the Japanese government shape these civil-society organizations into a structure that supports the state?s goals, and how people at the grassroots level respond to the state?s actions. Furthermore, this dissertation examines the meaning of civil society in an anthropological context. My approach explores the mutually constitutive roles of state and society, avoiding any easy essentialism or stereotyping of Japan?s social and political development, but it does aim at destabilizing some of the key assumptions regarding civil society.
Based on twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork, from September 2001 through April 2003, in Tokyo, I document the transition that Japanese society at a grassroots level has undergone since this epoch-making law allowed thousands of civic groups to be acknowledged as proactive participants in Japanese social and political life. My fieldwork involved intensive participant observation as an unpaid staff-researcher at an NPO promoting continuing education in the local community; this field research was supplemented by extensive interviews with NPO participants, Japanese NPO experts in academia, and government officials, attendance at workshops for NPO practitioners across the country, as well as discourse analysis of mass media coverage about NPOs. What I did not see was evidence of a transition, however. The state continues to be strong, and NPOs ? a product of the state?s deliberate institutionalization of civil society ? are now even synonymous with the state. The state is an unusually strong actor, retarding development of a healthy, dynamic civil society. The state is using underhanded tactics for institutionalizing civil society to meet its goals. The case calls into question the relationship between state and society in contemporary Japanese life, and raises the issue of whether civil society can be created through the actions of the state.

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2004-07-06T15:52:18Z
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civil society; Japan; volunteerism; NPOs; third sector; education; action research
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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