Akihiro Ogawa is professor of Japanese studies at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute. He completed a PhD. in anthropology in 2004 at Cornell University, followed by two years of postdoctoral work at Harvard University’s Program on US-Japan Relations and Department of Anthropology. He then taught at Stockholm University, Sweden, from 2007 to 2015. His major research interest is in contemporary Japanese society, focusing on civil society. He is the author of two books: the award-winning The Failure of Civil Society?: The Third Sector and the State in Contemporary Japan (SUNY, 2009) and Lifelong Learning in Neoliberal Japan: Risk, Knowledge, and Community (SUNY, 2015). He recently edited the Routledge Handbook of Civil Society in Asia (Routledge 2017). He is writing extensively on politics, social movements, and peace.
For one year from September 2010, I will expand the research scope for my second book, entitled New Knowledge and Globalization: Lifelong Learning in Japan for the 21st Century. Lifelong learning has come into greater focus recently, as globalization has gathered pace and people face uncertainty in their everyday lives. I believe promoting lifelong learning is an action that directly reduces risks for both the state and the individual. Employing Ulrich Beck’s notion of individualization (Beck 1992), I will use European experiences of lifelong learning as a foundation for my research, as well as for a comparative perspective with Japan. We are now experiencing an institutional change – the rollback of welfare-state provisions and the rise of neoliberal politics – which has rendered the social safety net inadequate for a large section of the population. This is particularly on display in the current economic crisis. In Europe, lifelong learning is considered a crucial determinant of people’s life chances, and it particularly affects the integration of youth into labor markets. Employability and social cohesion are in fact at the heart of strategies implemented to promote European lifelong learning. In my preliminary research, I found out that European countries have endeavored to build strong alliances with broad ranges of civil society organizations in the process of implementing a lifelong learning policy. In this project, I ask: What is the role of civil society in promoting European lifelong learning? I am interested in exploring the dynamics of lifelong learning at the grassroots level in a European civil society faced with pronounced institutional changes. Ultimately I will examine how institutional arrangements in different countries have succeeded in filtering or mitigating the disruptive effects of neoliberal globalization through the case of lifelong learning. My analysis will also provide lessons for Japan’s lifelong learning, which has traditionally been considered a cultural construct revolving around personal learning centering on hobbies and the liberal arts. Furthermore, by employing the idea of “globalization from below” (Appadurai 2001), I will document the challenges encountered at the grassroots level in pursuing lifelong learning and in surviving the risks of contemporary times.