Recherche FFJ Research Statement Anna K. SKARPELIS


Japan in War and Empire: Challenges for Historical and Comparative Welfare State Research from mid-20th century Japanese Welfare State Development

istories of the Japanese welfare state commonly situate its origins during the period of high economic growth of the mid-1960s (Estevez-Abe 2008; Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare [厚生省] 1960; Miura 2012). Frequently described as productivist and Confucian (Esping-Andersen 1997; Holliday 2000), the welfare state is understood as geared towards the adult male workforce and to consist primarily of occupationally based welfare and pensions for the elderly. Little heed is paid to the fact that the social, economic and political contexts of its genesis were saturated with consequential and partially contradictory conceptions of race and gender, and that fundamental and lasting social insurance institutions were set up under authoritarian rule, empire and war – the majority between 1930 and 1945, as Kasza shows (2002).

These policies, implemented under the duress and challenges of total war, envisaged disparate treatment for Japanese nationals, depending on their status in the intricate webs of colonial hierarchies of citizenship (see (Brooks 1998; Morris-Suzuki 1998; Uchida 2011) on identity and citizenship in Japan’s colonial empire). Hence, not embedding the Japanese welfare state’s policies and bureaucratic institutions within the larger context of empire and a total war economy means forfeiting on several reasons for its creation, the policy alliances leading to implementation, as well as the timing of its origin. Especially given that ideas about social policy reform had been discussed in Japan since the late 19th century (Garon 1997; Pyle 1974), understanding why policies were implemented under conditions of fiscal straits become a puzzle in need of solving.

Beyond the specificities of Japanese historical political development, the case of Japan raises interesting questions for East Asian welfare state development as well as comparative welfare state research. Suggesting that the Japanese welfare state originated in the post-war period means ignoring significant and path dependent early institutions, as well as on a normative level freeing oneself from the necessary engagement with exploitation through forced labor, imperialism, and war.

My dissertation, tentatively entitled Insidious Racialization: Welfare State Development in 20th Century Japan and Germany, investigates the importance of race, citizenship and migration for welfare state development in a period suffused by political regime changes, war and involuntary population displacement. In this research note, I abstract from results of my empirical archival research for the PhD to raise three issues and challenges for comparative social scientific research on the welfare state:

1) How do welfare state origin stories matter? And what can an exploration of war and empire contribute to our understanding of welfare states?

2) How can we think about life cycles and generations in welfare state research, and path dependence of initial institutions?

3) What role does ‘culture’ play in welfare state development, and how can we productively harness cultural sociology within welfare state research?

(1) Origin Stories.

Japan is not unique in having developed significant social insurance institutions under total war and deep racial antagonism – Britain’s 1942 Beveridge Report and the US’s New Deal reforms (1933-1938) respectively come to mind as examples of states setting up welfare state institutions under conditions other than peace-time class struggle. Thinking about the timing of welfare states’ origins breaks up existing interpretive frameworks of varieties of capitalism (Hall and Soskice 2001) and the three worlds of welfare capitalism (Esping-Andersen 1990) by suggesting for example that Japan, Britain and the United States’ welfare states might have more in common than usually acknowledged. The post-war consensus of an uncontested, Keynesian and social democratic welfare state disguises the fact that welfare states were neither planned in their contemporary instantiation, nor came about because of Keynesian logic pushed by social democrats (Pierson and Leimgruber 2010). This has potentially significant implications for comparative research by decentering the attention from decommodification to other, just as foundational, aspects structuring welfare state ideas and institutions.

In the European collective imaginary, the welfare state is the prerogative of the left, with theories of development and expansion of the welfare state most frequently invoking arguments of working class strength or cross-class coalitions (Baldwin 1990; Korpi 2006; Korpi and Palme 1998). Yet recent research is increasingly destabilizing these working class and power resources accounts through an investigation into the role of employers as no longer the antagonists, but potentially leading actors, of welfare state development (Hacker 2002; Paster 2011). In an age of neoliberalism, austerity and welfare state retrenchment, acknowledging the role of capital in forging welfare state alliances may appear strategically unwise, given the opposition of the contemporary moment to values of egalitarianism, fairness and justice. Yet, exploring the role of authoritarian governance and war in welfare state development is the next frontier in welfare state research. Rather than seeing research into capital, war and empire and its connections to the welfare state as detrimental, we ought to consider specific instances of rapid and disruptive historical change and what they can teach us for understanding path dependencies and macro-historical trajectories of political development.

(2) Temporality and the welfare state: Beyond political regimes, toward life cycles and ‘the problem of generations’.

Within welfare state research, the question of temporality most frequently emerges as a question of stages of welfares state development (emergence, expansion, retrenchment). But there are two other, if less frequently explored, temporal dimensions of welfare states. In The Problem of Generations (1928), the German sociologist Karl Mannheim suggests on a most fundamental level that understanding the social, political and economic background of individuals belonging to a ‘generation’ can help us understand social change. Martin Kohli’s work on individual life courses leads to a second reflection on temporality: That of the age orientation of welfare states. One argument frequently made is that the Japanese welfare state, by focusing expenditure on pensions and health care, is geared towards the elderly and working-age men, to the detriment of children and women. This is attributed to Japan’s welfare state’s productivist orientation, which itself is understood as the outcome of rapid economic development of the 1960s onward. But what if this presumed life cycle orientation is simply an artifact of a productivist interpretive framework that is at least partially informed by the 1990s discourse on ‘Asian values’?

In the essay War and Social Policy, Titmuss uses the term ‘demostrategy’ to denote “those acts of Governments deliberately designed and taken to improve the welfare of the civil population in time of war”, the “organized attempts of Governments to control these [i.e. Social and biological consequences of war] consequences” (Titmuss 1987 [1958]). War, in this view, generates a set of problems (recruits’ health, sustaining the war machine and home front) that states will address in similar ways, among other things by improving access to health care and education, providing job security, food rations, and so on. Or in other words, what Michel Foucault in The Birth of Biopolitics calls ‘Pacts of War’, i.e. “not just international alliances between powers, but social pacts of a kind that promised—to those who were asked to go to war and get themselves killed—a certain type of economic and social organization which assured security (...): they were pacts of security at the moment of a demand for war.” (Foucault 2004 [1979]: 216). Looking into the historical origins of both national pensions and health care programs in Japan during the late 1930s and early 1940s reveals that the programs were designed with specific goals in mind — health care to improve soldiers’ and home front workers’ health, and pensions to reduce labor turnover in war-essential industries. In the long run, beneficiaries aged with the institution, so that it appears that the programs were set up with the purpose of benefiting the elderly; however, their original intent was targeted at a very different population. The age-orientation of the Japanese welfare state may then in part be attributable to the unintended consequences of wartime constraints translating into social policies structured by age.

3) ‘Culture’ and ‘values’ in welfare state development.

Esping-Andersen’s short article on the Japanese welfare state can be used as a stand-in for a specific type of research into Japanese welfare states. In Hybrid or Unique?, Esping-Andersen characterizes the Japanese welfare state as paternalistic and Confucian (Esping-Andersen 1997), an argument that fits well into the 1990s debate on ‘Asian Values’ and their role in economic development (Jenco 2009; Sang-In 1999). Given this fraught and largely Eurocentric history of interpreting the Japanese welfare state, can there be a productive role for questions of ‘culture’ that transcends cultural determinism? I will argue that yes, and will briefly outline two ways in which an engagement with ‘culture’ can contribute to an understanding of pathways and trajectories of state development.

The first way is through individual biography. Theoretically informed by the ideas of Karl Mannheim on generations, we can analyze how the specific biographies of influential bureaucrats and politicians were shaped by training and through geopolitical events. Kenneth Pyle outlines the lagged effects of an engagement with German Bismarckian social policy (Pyle 1974), and Mimura in her incisive monograph on wartime bureaucrats how experiences in the colonies shaped young bureaucrats and influenced their policymaking once back in the metropole (Mimura 2011). A second way in which we can productively engage cultural sociology is by looking at temporally and nationally situated histories of ideas on the welfare state. Irrespective of whether we label them ideas, terms, notions, or concepts, they matter insofar as in their ensemble, they are constitutive parts of discourse and therefore of how we speak of certain ‘social problems’, that are the result of collective definitions (Blumer 1971). Margaret Somers, in taking up Ian Hacking’s intuition on ‘conceptual space’, argues in favor of understanding ideas as located within ‘conceptual networks’ (Somers 2008).

Incorporating ‘culture’ without reference to institutions however can be lethal, as the never-dying approaches to Japan as a Confucian welfare state have show. This particular case shows the problem of Orientalism, but it contains features that many accounts of ‘exception’ exhibit. In these culturalist accounts, Japan’s residual welfare state is explained through a functionalist account of culture (in this case, Confucian thought). Rather than not having expanded for a variety of reasons -- such as failing advocacy due to unfavorable interest coalitions -- the argument is made that specific ‘values’, such as filial piety and an insistence on dealing with individuals’ problems in the realm of the family household, or ie, explain the minor contribution of the state to public provision. Beyond stereotyping faiths or prevailing ideologies, such culturalist approaches are also essentializingly ahistorical. This is troubling in the face of work such as Michel Callon’s on the socio-logic of translation; Benford and Snow’s work on framing and Fraser and Gordon’s work on untangling ‘keywords’ of the welfare state and tracing their diachronic mutations in response to a variety of changes (Benford and Snow 2000; Callon 2006; Fraser 2008; Fraser and Gordon 1995).

Translation, as Callon defines it, designates the process of problem-definition. An element of ‘translation’ emerges in it because we can only develop problematizations with reference to how issues have been previously addressed; an element of path dependence in the weak sense is present (Mahoney 2000). Previous problem definitions will have drawn up territories in which they were formulated, thereby constraining the ‘zone’ of the problem, in which the cognitive and the social are mixed. Problematization becomes a matter of drawing borders – by defining a territory, the inside is separated from the outside; what we include inside the borders becomes a closed domain with its own coherence and logic. Remaining within overly culturalist accounts will under-represent the possibilities for change and overstate the rigidity of specific ‘norms’ or ‘values’. In the context of welfare states, this means that specific ways of thinking about social provision and the role of the state can become reified, until external events and radical shifts alter inert equilibria. If we take seriously the declared intentions and ideas of our actors and treat these as categories of practice rather than analysis, we can make inroads into non-orientalizing understandings of Japanese welfare state development.

Anna Skarpelis est doctorante à l'Université de New York, département de sociologie. Elle détient un B.A. en Japonais et management (SOAS et Birkbeck College, Université de Londres), et un Master de la London School of Economics and Political Sciences, spécialité Management des Ressources Humaines et Relations d'emploi internationales. Ses sujets de recherches et d'intérêt portent entre autre sur l'Etat Providence, welfare state, nationalisme, sociologie culturelle. Elle est la lauréate 2015 du Prix SASE - Fondation France Japon de l'EHESS pour le meilleur article dans le cadre du réseau de recherche Network Q.

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