(2) Future Destinations of Self and Society

This subtheme focuses on the carriers of future conceptions, i.e., individuals, groups and larger collectives. Gender, age, and social class influence views of the future that are shaped by the shift towards aging societies, transnational mobility, greater gender equality and the change in social equality. This subtheme takes a temporal perspective starting from the phase of transformation in the early twentieth century up until issues of contemporary transnational mobility throughout East Asia.

In the Chinese Republican period, one of the most important of these topics is that of work under an industrial labour regime. This was a phase when Taylorism was introduced to Chinese production sites. The personal aspirations of the transmitters of Taylorist management principles, such as the industrialist Mu Ouchu (1876‒1943) and the politician Yang Xingfo (1893‒1933), require in-depth research as they show the mind-set of the non-Communist, liberal elites who were nevertheless sympathetic towards the Socialist ideal of datong (great unity) (Moll-Murata 2020).

At the same time in Tōkyō, industrialists also created urban spaces in the form of new cities and districts, and even now enterprises such as Toyota design futuristic cities. Urbanism is one of the paradigmatic fields of future thought, planning and construction, as well as of preservation and sustainability. Will decreasing population and the shift towards an ageing society result in a more liveable environment, less pollution, and less overcrowding? Will the civil society participate more actively in decision-making processes concerning the ‘shrinking, but smart’ cities of the future? To clarify these questions, special attention will be given to the role of citizens’ groups and associations, as has been done for earlier stages in the twentieth century (Schmidtpott 2012b). Their future visions will also be considered to identify the continuities and discontinuities over a period of roughly a hundred years.

A central research question for the contemporary study of Self and Society is how economic globalization in East Asia is taken as an opportunity for re-inventing forms of social protection and mutual support that minimize social insecurities and avert the social and political polarizations that currently characterize the advanced economies of the West. A starting point may be a sociology of knowledge about the future in East Asian language communities, an example of which is the University of Tokyo’s joint research programme on Hope (Kibōgaku 2022). A particularly important object of comparative study is the engagement with demographic aging, which all East Asian societies currently face. The shared experience of demographic aging and low fertility in East Asian national contexts, though already a focus of research in the region for decades, e.g., in Coulmas (2007), Shire (2008), Klein / Mosler (2021), continues to strongly inform government projections of the future.

Of particular interest are the future aspirations that are being taught at schools and in civic education institutions. On the one hand, decades of developmental dictatorship and compressed modernity have made South Korea the 11th strongest economy today, but at the same time brought about a social Darwinian achievement-oriented society with the world’s greatest inequalities. The education system, which is key for the development of alternative future paths of a society, has also fallen prey to this development. As for the underlying visions of the future in this high-pressure school system, it is feasible to hypothesize that the underlying mode of future approach is that of planning, with the intention of raising a highly efficient next generation that can compete with one another and on the global level. Education in general and civic education in particular are crucial to developing a vision of what constitutes a good society and a good life and how best to implement it. These are vital elements when facing the challenges of (post-)democracy in South Korea (Mosler 2020a). The analysis of curricula and a focus on the actors in this arena will be a promising venue for investigation, e.g., whether the visions of individual and societal future have changed and which underlying factors and socio-political dynamics have led to the conspicuous institutional innovations that extend and promote civic education to generate a more progressive civic culture in the future. A transition to a future of preservation with a concomitant change of values might just be taking place, which offers a worthwhile topic for doctoral research.

In the context of self-understanding, regional and national identity, language plays an important role. The rise of the nation state promoted national standard languages and endangered many dialects and minority languages. Yet globalization has also stimulated the preservation of local identities and native local languages and dialects. Is this, in Graf and Herzog’s (2016) definition, a mode of the future of preservation in the sense of a “trusteeship for the future” that motivates its proponents to revive and conserve what might get lost? This perspective will provide insight into the future of the East Asian national and minority languages, and into the identification of both the speakers of dialects and minority languages, and of transnational migrants with their respective communities. Concentrating on Japan and Taiwan, this research approach can include a comparison of initiatives to revitalize the indigenous Ainu language in Japan, and the indigenous Austronesian languages in Taiwan, as well as a comparison of policies on the mainland Japanese dialects and languages of the Ryūkyūs (De Boer 2017), and on Hoklo and Hakka in Taiwan.

Possible dissertation themes

  • Machizukuri and Citizens’ Visions of Urban Development in Post-high growth Japan (Schmidtpott / Shire)
  • The Future of Work: Utopias in China’s Early Industrial Phase (Moll-Murata / Taube)
  • The Future as a Social Fact in East Asia: Perceptions of the Future in Japanese, South Korean and Taiwanese Social Sciences (Shire / Eggert)
  • Conceptions of the Good Society of Tomorrow in South Korea’s Diversifying Civic Education Institutions (Mosler / Schmidtpott)
  • Perspectives on the Future that Guide Identity, Language Change and Language Preservation Policies in East Asia (De Boer / Shire)