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Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement$

Simon Avenell

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780824867133

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824867133.001.0001

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Transnational Activism, the Local, and Japanese Civil Society

Transnational Activism, the Local, and Japanese Civil Society

(p.211) Conclusion Transnational Activism, the Local, and Japanese Civil Society
Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement

Simon Avenell

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter reiterates the central argument that the experience with industrial pollution in 1960s and 1970s Japan nurtured an “environmental injustice paradigm” which, in turn, fueled transnational mobilizations in the coming decades. The chapter highlights the role of rooted cosmopolitans who served as the connective tissue between local movements and struggles abroad. Significantly, the chapter notes that the movements explored throughout the study were part of a broader Japanese grassroots reengagement with Asia from the 1970s onward, involving women’s advocacy groups, movements of minority groups, and nongovernmental organizations working on health and development issues. The chapter suggests that these transnational movements played an important role in introducing new ideas and practices into Japanese civic activism which contributed to the development of civil society. These border-crossing movements have been largely invisible in historiography to date because of a general focus on events unfolding within the nation.

Keywords:   transnational history, Japanese civil society, local experience, environmental injustice

The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular.

Donna Haraway1

In a fascinating reflection on the emergence of global environmental consciousness, science and technology studies expert Sheila Jasanoff poses a number of critical questions about the motivations for transnational activism.2 “What,” Jasanoff asks, “makes people from different societies and cultures believe that they should act to further common goals, even if these goals require them to sacrifice or postpone perceived economic and social interests?” How do activists “form commitments to collective action on a global scale, and from where do they derive notions of an international common good that are strong enough to override the intense but parochial pull of national self-interest?” And, given that politics in the contemporary world is usually practiced “through national institutions,” why have we witnessed “the rise of transnational coalitions, such as the contemporary environmental movement, that seem to articulate their objectives in defiance of the positions of nation states?”3

In this study I have attempted to address these questions by showing how a powerful environmental injustice paradigm born of Japan’s traumatic experience with industrial pollution informed and invigorated overseas involvements from the late 1960s onward. By providing a coherent vocabulary and concrete vision, this paradigm or “master frame” of environmental injustice offered an overarching worldview for groups involved in diverse transnational initiatives over many decades.4 Initially in the 1960s and early 1970s, the paradigm served as a persuasive explanation and source of (p.212) motivation for protestors in thousands of very local struggles across the archipelago. But, in the context of growing international attention to the environment, a small number of intellectuals, activists, and pollution victims began to realize that the country’s pollution problems—which were of a scale and intensity unwitnessed in human history—had significance beyond Japan. Their transnational involvement and that of subsequent groups propelled the Japanese environmental injustice paradigm “beyond the constraints of spatial [and] cultural particularity” into a range of environmental issues including mercury contamination in Eu rope and North America, the relocation of pollutive industries to East Asia, the planned ocean dumping of radioactive waste material in the Pacific, and global-scale environmental problems such as climate change.5 In all cases the activists involved drew on and referred back to the seminal national encounter with environmental pollution and injustice, which they put forward as Japan’s distinctive—if horrific—contribution to environmental knowledge worldwide.

This process of recalibrating and repositioning the local experience of environmental injustice in struggles and issues beyond Japan resembles what Saskia Sassen has called a “multi-scalar politics of the local”—in other words, a process in which “local initiatives can become part of a global network of activism without losing the focus on specific local struggles.”6 Central in this multiscalar politics of the local were individuals like Ui Jun, who not only communicated but also, importantly, interpreted the story of Japanese environmental injustice so that it could speak to issues and activists separated by geography, political systems, and culture. Their facilitative role cannot be underestimated in any attempt to address Jasanoff’s question about why transnational activism happens. Such rooted cosmopolitans served as the all-important “connective tissue,” translating the Japanese environmental injustice paradigm for different groups and situations and convincing local pollution victims within Japan that their experience could be meaningful—indeed lifesaving—for others far away. To borrow from Sidney Tarrow, these activists did not become “rootless cosmopolitans” in the process of transnational action but retained their links to place, to the social networks of those places, “and to the resources, experiences, and opportunities that place provide[d] them with.”7 Shared emotions such as “anger at injustice or exclusion, feelings of solidarity, or hope for change” helped foster in such activists the conviction that transnational collaboration could “produce desired (p.213) social transformation” and, on a personal level, satisfy their growing sense of responsibility as citizens of the world’s “most advanced polluted nation.”8 The result was a dynamic, multiscalar spectrum of transnational interaction that greatly enriched local struggles and multiplied the contexts in which activists lived their lives, institutions functioned, and ideas evolved.9

Although activists’ idea of environmental injustice underwent significant modification in its various iterations beyond the archipelago, its attention to the local, to inequity, to marginalization, and to fundamental human rights remained as common threads connecting movements and activists over time. Four enduring attributes stand out. First, the paradigm identified the root cause of environmental problems in discrimination and injustices against local communities and marginalized peoples, especially by powerful, centralized political and economic institutions. Industrial activity was certainly the immediate cause of environmental degradation, but it was the under lying structures of power and inequity that really mattered. Second, the paradigm identified a solution in local or endogenous empowerment. If marginalized communities or developing nations gained full autonomy and control of their living environments, then environmental injustices would arguably not occur. Third, in terms of strategy, although the paradigm was sensitive to the class implications of environmental injustice, it pointed to an alliance of the marginalized that might transcend orthodox class divisions and ideological divides. This implied a “chain of equivalence” that could even connect local industrial pollution victims in advanced economies to marginalized people in developing nations.10 Fourth, the paradigm was deeply skeptical of globalized discourses on the environment such as “only one earth,” “our common future,” or “Spaceship Earth” because experience in Japan taught that collectivist ideologies like “GNP” or the “national interest” often obscured fundamental injustices and discrimination against the marginalized in society.

At the core of these four attributes was a decidedly anthropocentric and “situated” approach to environmental problems—a distinctive feature of contemporary Japanese environmentalism produced by the postwar industrial pollution experience.11 Significantly, this attention to the local, inequity, rights, and marginalization closely resonated with environmental ideas and critiques emanating from the global South and burgeoning global discourses on human rights such that, by the time of the Earth Summit in 1992, Japanese environmental groups were proactively advocating for the (p.214) rights of developing nations alongside their traditional constituency of industrial pollution victims.

In this concluding chapter I reconsider the iterations of the Japanese environmental injustice paradigm of the preceding chapters in connection to two issues at the core of this study: first, the implications of the injustice paradigm for debates about the global and the local in contemporary environmentalism and, second, the insights a transnational historical approach offers for our understanding of the ideational trajectory of Japanese civic activism after the massive wave of protest in the 1960s and early 1970s. Here I state my conclusions upfront: I think the Japanese environmental injustice paradigm offers a compelling historical example of the relevance of local knowledge in a global age. Through their transnational interactions, the Japanese activists involved came to richer understanding of the local—not only as a besieged subnational space but also as a potent resource to generate and cultivate knowledge useful beyond the local and the national and, moreover, as a counterweight to homogenizing global discourses. In terms of the historical trajectory of Japanese civic activism, I think a transnational historical approach opens fascinating interpretive possibilities. In the case of the Japanese environmental movement, transnational involvement contributed to important ideational transformations. It encouraged a fundamental reconsideration of the victim consciousness in many earlier Japanese social movements and, in turn, opened the way for more reflexive and multidimensional activist identities and agendas.

The Local, the Global, and Japanese Environmental Injustice

There is lively debate among scholars of globalization studies over the role of the local and of place consciousness in a globalizing age. Some, such as the eco-critic Ursula Heise, are thoroughly committed to the “deterritorialization of local knowledge” and the formation of an “eco-cosmopolitanism” that envisions “individuals and groups as part of planetary ‘imagined communities’ of both human and nonhuman kinds.”12 Heise argues that the deterritorialization of knowledge need not “necessarily … be detrimental for an environmental perspective” and actually “opens up new avenues into ecological consciousness.”13 Others such as the social theorist Arif Dirlik, however, have championed “place consciousness” and “place-based imagination.”14 Dirlik is dissatisfied with what he sees as the “relegation of the local to subordinate status against the global, which is also associated with the universal.”15 Rather than viewing the local and place consciousness “as a (p.215) legacy of history or geography,” Dirlik envisages these as part of “a project that is devoted to the creation and construction of new contexts for thinking about politics and the production of knowledge.”16 Places, argues Dirlik, “offer not only vantage points for a fundamental critique of globalism, but also locations for new kinds of radical political activity that reaffirm the priorities of everyday life against the abstract developmentalism of capitalist modernity.”17 In this connection, Sheila Jasanoff and Marybeth Long Martello suggest that we should “resist the tendency to equate ‘global’ with progress or inevitability and ‘local’ with tradition or resistance,” and instead “explore the complementarity between the local and the global”—for example, how “different conceptions of the local help to authorize the turn to the global, or vice versa.”18

From its very origins, contemporary environmentalism has incorporated these global and local “modes”—and tensions—in ideas like “our common future” or “think globally, act locally.”19 Occasionally, of course, they have come into open conflict, as at UNCHE in 1972 when delegates from developing countries vehemently defended their right to development in the face of collectivist discourses such as “only one earth.” Indira Gandhi was the most forceful advocate of this position, arguing that “if pollution was the price of progress, her people wanted more of it.”20 Similar criticisms arose almost two decades later with the publication of the Brundtland Commission’s Our Common Future in 1987. Critics wondered just whose common future was “being protected”: “the local dwellers of the land or the bureaucracies and corporations that rule over them?”21 The core of the problem for Gandhi and other critics of this “Spaceship Earth” imagery was that putting every one on the same “ship” implied the existence of a “universal equality” that was clearly not the case.22 Arguments linking overpopulation to environmental degradation tended to underplay the fact that around 80 percent of the resources of the planet are being consumed by the 20 percent living in rich countries.23

Similar problems of inequity and historical injustice continue to confound the issue of climate change, for example. As Brian Doherty and Timothy Doyle put it, “The story of climate has become such a large meta-narrative that it almost embraces all elements of environmental discourse.”24 Such narratives, they warn, “are the songlines of ecological conditionality, mapping out the coordinates that determine which groups shall be included in agenda-setting and decision making; determining those who will be funded; selecting those who shall be corporatized into the global governance (p.216) state and relegating those who shall remain on the non-institutionalized outer.”25 From the perspective of the global South, of course, climate change is often perceived as receiving excessive attention. “It is seen as a matter endorsed by affluent-world, Western, science, and then utilized as an environmental security issue to control the less affluent from pursuing the very path of development that the minority world has pursued without restraint since the industrial revolution.”26 Indeed, renowned Indian activist Vandana Shiva provocatively argues that the focus on “global environmental problems, instead of expanding the perspective, has in fact narrowed the radius of activism.”27

Leading voices from the global South—but not only the South—have articulated their own alternative vision of environmentalism that refuses to separate global environmental issues from more immediate local issues such as securing the human food supply or health.28 Advocates of this perspective argue for attention to environmental issues, such as atmospheric pollution, that are directly affecting humans.29 As I noted in the previous chapter, in the climate change debate, some such as Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment in India even draw a distinction between what they call the “survival emissions of the poor” and the “luxury emissions of the rich.”30 Needless to say, common to all of these perspectives is the assertion that any measures to address global-scale environmental problems will have to genuinely address local viewpoints and prerogatives. In the language of emancipatory environmentalism: “Only by engaging with the subjective voices of the local, traditional and indigenous peoples” will “adequate ecological management strategies be assembled.”31 As the political theorist Leslie Paul Thiele argues, “Local activism must work in tandem with, not become subservient to, global thinking. To the extent that ecological care begins at home, relatively small, active, self-responsible communities of citizens are required. Cultivating such communities proves difficult within large nation-states and would be even more difficult within a global regime.”32 “A good rule of thumb for environmentalists,” says Thiele, is not to “globalize a problem if it can possibly be dealt with locally.”33

The seeming impasse between these global and local perspectives on environmental issues, of course, only serves to highlight how, to a great extent, “the global and the local are terms that derive their meanings from each other.”34 As Sheila Jasanoff and Marybeth Long Martello note, “What is interesting about the local in all these senses is how it comes into being, sustains itself, competes with other localisms, and sometimes … moves beyond (p.217) the constraints of spatial or cultural particularity.”35 This is what the geographer Ash Amin means about places having the potential to become “more than what they contain.”36

The Japanese environmental injustice paradigm—precisely because of its focus on rights, marginalization, and discrimination—has clearly inclined toward the localist perspective in these debates. This has facilitated alliances with both environmental victims in other advanced industrialized nations and advocates from developing countries asserting their developmental rights. It has also influenced Japanese activists’ contribution to the critical globalism that emerged and evolved in the 1970s as a corrective to the extant internationalism in organizations such as the United Nations. This critical globalism certainly addressed the very big questions of planetary limits but, under the influence of Southern advocates and Japanese groups like the ILP, it also incorporated local perspectives sensitive to inequity and injustice. In 1972—a watershed year for environmental concern worldwide—the prominent UN official Philippe de Seynes was among the first to differentiate “internationalism” and “globalism” in a speech delivered at the University of California at Berkeley. For de Seynes, internationalism “derived from the dictates of political wisdom and a sense of human solidarity in a world of growing inter-dependence but of unlimited horizons opened up by technology.” Globalism, conversely, de Seynes described as a standpoint sensitive to “the ambivalence of technology, its negative effects on the degradation of the environment, the destruction of ecological balances, the limited capacity of the biosphere, the possible depletion of natural resources, the population explosion, the finiteness of the planet, and perhaps even the finiteness of knowledge.”37 In other words, a core element of the globalism de Seynes described was that we live in a world of limits, not unlimited possibilities, hence the need for “care and maintenance,” as René Dubos and Barbara Ward put it in their influential 1972 book Only One Earth. Of course, the burning question was, “care and maintenance” for what and for whom.

Japanese activists articulated their own distinctly anthropocentric and situated version of this critical globalism by invoking injustices toward environmental victims at Minamata, Yokkaichi, Toyama, and elsewhere throughout Japan. In key controversies over the environment and development stretching from the “limits to growth” to “sustainable development,” they concentrated first and foremost on questions of discrimination, inequity, and injustice. The Japanese case, they argued, taught that environmental problems occurred when local communities were excluded from decisions (p.218) about development in their own backyards. They pointed to state-endorsed and defended industrial development in Japan that proceeded—indeed flourished—on the basis of a litany of injustices toward marginalized local communities. What this taught, they argued, was not about the discord between the environment and development but, more fundamentally, about the injustices born of grossly distorted power relations between marginalized communities and powerful political and economic institutions whether within Japan or between the global North and South. This was a perspective Japanese groups articulated repeatedly at international gatherings, in person-to-person exchanges, and though influential English-language publications such as Polluted Japan.

Recall Ui Jun’s presentations and interviews on mercury contamination in European countries from the late 1960s. As much as the scientific facts of industrial pollution, Ui stressed its political causes in center-periphery disparities in Japan, which for him preordained the tragic human injustices in communities at Minamata and elsewhere. Harada Masazumi and the World Environment Investigative Mission brought a similar message about marginalization and suffering to the Native American communities affected by mercury contamination in Canada. Along with thorough medical investigations, Japanese activists and mercury poisoning victims conveyed a story of injustices against the very weakest in society that resonated deeply with the discrimination their Canadian hosts were enduring. Polluted Japan and other material documenting environmental injustices in Japan also served as damning indictments of economic development built on local disempowerment and environmental degradation. In Thailand, Polluted Japan’s message of human suffering fueled student mobilizations against Japanese industrial pollution in Bangkok in the 1970s. On the Pacific Island of Belau, activists such as Moses Weldon also used the pamphlet to convince residents that the human and environmental costs of a planned Japanese-US oil storage and nuclear reprocessing facility far outweighed any promised economic benefits.38 Just as Hiroshima and Nagasaki became iconic symbols in contemporary antiwar and antinuclear movements worldwide, in the global environmental movement Polluted Japan and Minamata: The Victims and Their World and other material emanating from Japan served as damning indictments of modern industrial excess, as if confirming the dire warnings of works such as Carson’s Silent Spring, Commoner’s The Closing Circle, and Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons.”

(p.219) In 1970s events such as UNCHE and in swirling debates over the “limits to growth,” Japanese activists’ mantra of environmental injustice found common cause with the ideas of those such as Barry Commoner who identified poverty, underdevelopment, and global inequity as key causes of environmental degradation worldwide. At the base of both positions was a conviction that environmental problems were inextricably linked to the violation of human rights—a position, needless to say, that differed markedly from the demographic approaches of Paul Ehrlich and others who singled out overpopulation among the world’s poor as a major source of environmental degradation. The same was true decades later at the Earth Summit in 1992. Japanese activists such as Iwasaki Shunsuke found common voice with activists from developing nations who argued that solutions to globalscale environmental problems like climate change must take into account the developmental rights of local communities and developing nations—not to mention recognizing the structural inequities resulting from centuries of Western and, for a time, Japanese imperialism. Iwasaki and others notion of “endogenous development” drew directly on the experience of local disempowerment and marginalization informing notions of environmental injustice in Japan, but now they used it to advocate for the relevance and the rights of local communities in an age of global concern.

This commitment to human victims and to defending a human living space resistant to the toxicity of industrial modernity and the intrusion of exogenous political power is a common thread running through the messages many Japanese activists conveyed over decades of involvement in transnational environmental initiatives. Along with its intrinsic symbolism, part of the paradigm’s appeal no doubt had to do with the historical juncture at which human rights were emerging as a central issue in international politics. As Samuel Moyn has provocatively put it, “Human rights … emerged in the 1970s seemingly from nowhere,” gaining “an unprecedented new prominence in world affairs.”39 Japanese industrial pollution victims and their environmental injustice paradigm exemplified the themes of this new age of human rights, as too did their advocates, who epitomized the mentality and approach of human rights advocacy and discourse. As Jan Eckle explains, the “political uses of suffering were widespread in the period and not the exclusive domain of human rights groups. More and more groups started to refer to their own history of suffering to justify claims for political participation and nondiscrimination; victimhood formed an integral element (p.220) of what came to be called ‘identity politics.’ This was notably true for Holocaust survivors but also for homosexuals and nativist groups, to name just a few.”40 The same might be said of the Japanese environmental injustice paradigm, which spoke directly and shockingly to these very questions of suffering and discrimination. Indeed, looked at in this way, we can see how Japan’s traumatic experience with industrial pollution converged with, benefited from, and actually fed in to the development of two central issues in contemporary international politics: namely, the environment and human rights.

Victimhood, Aggression, and the Insights of Transnational History

Of course, engagement with the outside world was hardly a one-way street, so along with tracing the effects of Japanese activists and their environmental injustice paradigm overseas, a second major objective of this study has been to inquire into the reverse effects. In other words, how can a transnational historical approach enrich our understanding of the historical trajectory of Japanese environmental activism, especially after the massive wave of domestic protest in the 1960s and early 1970s? How did transnational engagement influence or transform activists’ mentality and the shape and content of their environmental injustice paradigm? And, what effect did such transformations have on political and economic institutions and civic activism in Japan more generally—Keck and Sikkink’s so-called boomerang pattern of influence?

Before answering these questions, it is worth reconsidering both the advantages and limits of a transnational historical approach. As Iacobelli, Leary, and Takahashi note in a recent volume on this topic, “Transnational history … as a category in its own right … remains a relatively new field within historical studies.”41 The same could be said—perhaps in more pronounced terms—in relation to the study of modern Japanese history, which has most often been approached within the container of the nation. That being said, I have not adopted a transnational approach in this study, because I think earlier national- or subnational-focused histories of pollution and environmental activism were somehow flawed or that national history, even in its most critical forms, merely authenticates the ideology of the nation-state as the only legitimate theater of history. As Richard White has perceptively observed, “There are no absolutely right or wrong scales” of historical analysis since “each scale reveals some things while masking others.”42 Indeed, one of my aims in transnationalizing the historical narrative of pollution (p.221) and environmentalism in Japan was to show just how deeply events within the country were interconnected to those in other countries and to environmental developments on a global scale.

As the morphemes “trans” and “national” imply, for me the idea encompasses both the nation and the phenomena that move across and beyond it or exist on the other side of it. As one of the pioneers of transnational history, Ian Tyrell, has noted, the original focus of the transnational concept was “the relationship between the nation and factors both beyond and below the level of the nation that shaped the nation and, equally important, that the nation’s institutions shaped.”43 Although the subsequent development of transnational history has arguably moved away from this somewhat nation-focused conceptualization, most studies continue to accept—as I do—the ongoing importance of the nation-state and “its capacity to control and channel border-transcending movements.”44 We might say there has been a gradual deemphasis of the nation and the nation-state in transnational history, such that the national, although an essential scale of analysis, becomes but “one spatial dimension among others ranging from global history and international dynamics to (supra- or subnational) regional to local and individual levels.”45 Bender usefully describes this as a process of historicizing the nation by relating “its dominant narrative … to other narratives that refer to both smaller histories and larger ones” and recognizing the “historical production of the nation and locating it in a context larger than itself.”46 The task is thus not one of substituting “a history of the nation-state with a history without or against the nation-state” but, as French historian Pierre-Yves Saunier suggests, finding “a way to study how nation-states and flows of all sorts are entangled components of the modern age.”47 How, for instance, is the history of pollution and injustice in Japan entangled in the global history of science, technology, capitalism, and warfare throughout the twentieth century?

In broad terms, then, the concept of transnational history I subscribe to and have attempted to employ in this study corresponds closely to the definition offered by David Thelen, who characterizes it as an exploration of “how people and ideas and institutions and cultures moved above, below, through, and around, as well as within, the nation-state” coupled with an investigation of “how well national borders contained or explained how people experienced history.”48 I was particularly interested in the ways transnational activism and spaces became resources for activists to address and overcome national issues such as pollution and environmental degradation and, (p.222) throughout the study, have attempted to use these transnational movements and moments as a way to “listen” to historical actors (many Japanese, some not) as they looked beyond and within Japan’s borders “to place in larger context and find solutions for problems they first discovered within” their countries.49 While I was certainly interested in the simultaneity of Japanese domestic movements with those in other countries and with the global movement, I devoted most attention to the concrete material and intellectual connections Japanese activists forged with non-Japanese activists because I feel that it is in these person-to-person exchanges and the translocal spaces or places that evolved that a transnational historical approach has most to offer.50

I believe that repositioning the contemporary history of Japanese pollution and environmental activism within such a transnational history can at once defamiliarize and enrich the national while continuing to accept its importance as a crucial historical perspective in itself. In fact, in terms of the critical project to address dominant methodological nationalism and the so-called complicity of modern historiography in empowering the nation-state to, as Prasenjit Duara puts it, “define the framework of its self-understanding,” transnational historians become kindred spirits with those who would write the subnational, shadow narratives of nations such as the micro-histories of local industrial pollution and overdevelopment throughout the Japanese archipelago.51 Both approaches interrogate what Bernhard Struck and his colleagues call the “normative macro-model of modernisation theory,” based as it was on “the successful building of states and nation states with their bureaucracy and institutions as an integral part of the Western story of successful modernisation.”52 Shadow narratives chip away at this ideology from the inside while transnational histories attempt to pierce its rigid external shell by connecting the sub- with the supranational. By excavating previously obscured or invisible histories, I believe historians of transnationalisms and shadow narratives together help in the deconstruction and disruption of the powerful naturalization of national space implicit in modernization theory, undermining “modernity’s strategies of containment” and opening up an “awareness of what was suppressed in a historiography of order.”53

I think the various transnational involvements and movements discussed in this book open up a new vista on the development of Japanese environmental and civic activism after the high point of environmental protest in the early 1970s. While not undermining or negating (and in some ways actually substantiating) the quantitative waning in contentious (p.223) protest—the social movement “ice age”—these and other movements challenge us to reconsider the scope of activism in this period stretching from the early 1970s through until around the late 1980s. As Daniel Aldrich, Jeffrey Broadbent, Hasegawa Kōichi, Peter Wynn Kirby, and others have shown, although smaller scale than the earlier cycle of protest, contentious domestic environmental activism continued throughout this period over issues as diverse as regional development, nuclear power plant siting, toxic urban waste, and bullet train vibration.54 Other environmental movements focusing on safe food, organic agriculture, and the improvement of local living environments also proliferated throughout the country.55 The transnational interactions and movements explored in this book were also unfolding during this period, but they have largely escaped the attention of historians and other social scientists who, for the most part, have been interested in national and subnational phenomena.56 I believe that this comes at a cost to our understanding for two reasons. First, empirically, these transnational involvements evidence a broader scope of civic activism complementing and feeding into the domestic movements. Second, ideationally, transnational involvement contributed in important ways to the evolution of activist identity and civic movement ethos.

Empirically speaking, the movements explored in earlier chapters belonged to a small yet growing sphere of transnational engagement by Japanese civic groups from the late 1960s onward.57 This is an aspect of Japanese social activism that deserves more intensive historical research. Their areas of involvement were diverse and included environment, gender, minorities, peace and antiwar, anti–nuclear power, human and indigenous rights, and grassroots development. Pioneering groups such as the Independent Lectures on Pollution (1969–1985) and the anti–Vietnam War movement Beheiren (1965–1974) led the way, serving as models for overseas engagement and stepping-stones for later groups. In 1973, for instance, Oda Makoto, Mutoh Ichiyo, and other former Beheiren leaders established the Pacific Asia Resource Center, or PARC.58 One of the earliest advocacy-style nongovernmental groups in postwar Japan, PARC became a kind of quasi-national center for information about grassroots movements in the Asia-Pacific region, a hub for Japanese, Western, and Asian activists and intellectuals, and a launchpad for nongovernmental research on regional problems. As we have seen, the center’s English-language publication AMPO: Japan-Asia Quarterly Review also served as a mouthpiece for Japanese and other Asia-Pacific activists to communicate instances of economic and political exploitation in (p.224) their countries.59 Two years later, in 1975, the nuclear chemist Takagi Jinzaburō joined with other antinuclear activists and groups to form the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) to disseminate information on nuclear power and serve as a hub for antinuclear experts and activists nationwide. Importantly, Takagi and the CNIC had extensive transnational contacts from the outset, which they used to obtain information about nuclear power and protest worldwide as well as to communicate news from Japan through the CNIC’s English-language newsletter, Nuke Info Tokyo.60

Japanese women’s groups also began to develop new transnational ties from the 1970s, especially in Asia. In 1970 the prominent women’s liberation activist Iijima Aiko and others established the Shinryaku=Sabetsu to Tatakau Ajia Fujin Kaigi (Asian Women’s Conference Opposing Invasion= Discrimination), which took direct aim at the “victim consciousness” in existing women’s liberationism and called on women to recognize their complicity as the one’s “giving birth” to a Japan deeply implicated in the Vietnam War.61 Some women’s groups began to scrutinize the behavior of Japanese men abroad, notably in connection to kiseng or sex tourism in South Korea and other countries throughout Asia. The kiseng tourism opposition movement traced its origins to a historic July 1973 meeting of the South Korean and Japanese Councils of Churches in Seoul, at which women participants issued a declaration lambasting Japanese sex tourism. Groups in Japan such as the Association of Anti-Prostitution Activity immediately took up the issue. Representatives traveled to South Korea to conduct field research and, together with other women’s groups, in December 1973 they formed the Kīsen Kankō ni Hantai suru Onnatachi no Kai (Women’s Association to Oppose Kiseng Tourism).62 Among this association’s immediate activities was a demonstration at Haneda Airport in Tokyo in support of students from Ewha Women’s University who had protested kiseng tourism a week earlier at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul.63 Led by Matsui Yayori, a prominent journalist at the newspaper Asahi Shinbun, in 1977 this group was renamed the Ajia no Onnatachi no Kai (Asian Women’s Association) and thereafter became a hub for information and activism relating to Asian sex tourism, cultural exploitation, Japan’s war responsibility, women’s movements in Asia, and Japan-Asia relations.64

Japanese grassroots groups involved in development, education, and public health issues overseas also proliferated during the 1970s and 1980s. A few of these groups, such as the PHD Association, grew out of earlier (p.225) organizations—especially religions—but most were new.65 Among the earliest was Shalpa Neer (Bengali for “lotus house”), established in 1972 by Japanese youths who had participated in agricultural volunteering in the wake of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Initially the group focused on educational assistance by sending pencils and notebooks to Bangladeshi children. But this approach failed miserably, as locals simply exchanged these items for food. The group faced a further setback in 1977 when two Japanese volunteers were seriously injured in a robbery by a group of local bandits. After much internal debate and rethinking of the movement, in the 1980s Shalpa Neer discarded its self-confessed indulgent, ignorant, and patronizing approach of “saving helpless Asians” in favor of local empowerment and participatory development with Japanese serving in a backup role only—similar in many aspects to the endogenous development model advocated by Japanese environmental activists.66 Other developmental groups appeared around the same time, such as the Asian Rural Institute established by Toshihiro Takami in 1973 to train leaders from developing countries in sustainable agriculture, organic farming, community building, and leadership, and the Institute for Himalayan Conservation (1974), which focused on providing infrastructure such as mountain rope-lines to aid in the transportation of firewood and livestock, and pipelines for the provision of clean water.67

Considered alongside the environmental groups traced throughout this study, the above activism points to an expanding engagement with the outside world among Japanese civic groups, especially from the late 1960s onward. As already noted, this is an underresearched aspect of postwar Japanese history that deserves more attention for what it tells us about the growing internationalization of civil society in Japan as well as for charting the palpable effects of transnational interaction on many civic activists and their groups. On this latter point, I believe that the transnational involvements and movements explored in this study offer a novel perspective on our understanding of the ideational transformation of civil society in contemporary Japan, especially in the crucial 1970s decade. Throughout the study I have alluded to Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink’s notion of the boomerang pattern of influence of transnational activism on domestic politics. We saw this, for example, in the response of the Japanese government to the ILP’s publication Polluted Japan at UNCHE in 1972 and, later, to the protest against proposed radioactive waste dumping in the Pacific. But along with these political outcomes I have also tried to emphasize the boomerang (p.226) effect at the grassroots level. In other words, the ways activists, their movements, and their ideas (about environmental injustice, for example) were changed through transnational involvement. Taking this grassroots boomerang effect of transnationalism into account, I believe, offers a new angle on our understanding of the evolution of civil society in Japan.

The apparent burgeoning of the country’s civil society in the 1990s stimulated a veritable flood of scholarship that attempted to explain its historical contours and internal dynamics and the reason for its rise to prominence at that moment. In very broad strokes, this scholarship proposed three key causative factors to explain the nature and development of civil society in the country: political institutions and regulations, globalization and international norms, and the role of civil society actors.

Institutional explanations have pointed to the crucial role of the Japanese state—purposively and inadvertently—in “molding” or shaping civil society.68 Susan Pharr, for instance, argues that the Japanese state “has taken an activist stance toward civic life, monitoring it, penetrating it, and seeking to steer it with a wide range of distinct policy tools targeted by group or sector.”69 More specifically, Robert Pekkanen persuasively shows how the legal framework, limited funding, indirect regulations, and the limited opportunities for influencing policy in Japan have determined the contours of Japan’s “dual civil society.”70 In the case of nuclear power plant siting, Daniel Aldrich compellingly shows how authorities chose “rural communities, which were less coordinated and more fragmented, and, hence, less likely to successfully mount antinuclear campaigns. To overcome any remaining opposition … the government often offered jobs and assistance to fishermen to ensure that the nuclear power plant would not be seen as curtailing their livelihoods.”71 The impact of the Japanese state on civil society utilizing hard and soft techniques is undeniable and, as we have seen in this study, Japanese environmental activists expended a great deal of energy attempting to counter state initiatives through transnational bridge-building. Nevertheless, institutional analysis focusing on the role of the state in shaping Japanese civil society—precisely because of its focus on the state-society nexus—tends to underplay the influence of exogenous factors on civil society such as the border-crossing movements outlined in this book.

Working from an “outside-in” perspective, another stream of scholarship directly addresses this issue by highlighting the role of international norms in the development of Japanese civil society. Notably, Kim Reimann has cogently demonstrated how international norms supportive of (p.227) state-NGO cooperation from the 1980s effectively pressured (even “shamed”) Japanese officials into recalibrating and strengthening their relationships with and support for NGOs.72 This scholarship pointing to the effects of globalization and international norms on civil society resonates closely with my emphasis on the transformative aspects of transnational activism. The difference, however, is the level of analysis. Whereas Reimann highlights the impact of international (top-down) norms on the Japanese state and, in turn, civil society, I emphasize the role of ideational factors shaped by the transnational interactions of civil society actors from the bottom up.

Another stream of scholarship—including that of Wesley Sasaki-Uemura and my own earlier work—looks to ideational factors and civic actors themselves, arguing that grassroots activism and the ideas that emerged from this have shaped the development of civil society in contemporary Japan.73 Koichi Hasegawa, Chika Shinohara, and Jeffrey Broadbent have pointed to “initiatives taken by NGO leaders, scholars, younger liberal politicians, and the media to encourage civil activism in Japan.”74 Historians trace the constructivist role of civil society actors back even further. For instance, I have explored the instrumental role of civic activists and their movements in shaping visions of nonstate or “shimin” citizenship in contemporary Japan.75 The argument there is that civic activists’ ideas and their movements have helped to shape the dynamics and development of civil society in contemporary Japan. While that approach also resonates with my ideational perspective in this book, for the most part, in that earlier work I limited analysis to the national level and below, arguing that transformations in activists’ consciousness and modes of behavior were attributable to endogenous factors, whether of an institutional or ideational nature.76

Although occasionally implicit in the above scholarship, researchers have not carefully considered the role of grassroots transnational interactions on the evolution of Japanese civil society. Yet, as I have shown in this book, looking abroad and engaging in transnational grassroots initiatives encouraged some activists to resituate their environmental injustice paradigm in the context of broader movements (regional and even global in scale) and, moreover, to rethink their activist identity and agenda. Indeed, in ideational terms, I think that these transnational involvements were extremely important in stimulating a more reflexive and multidimensional—perhaps even post-national—mentality among the activists involved, which broke sharply with long-established notions of victimhood within much civic activism and discourse in postwar Japan. Engagement with issues and movements in Asia (p.228) and the Pacific in the 1970s and 1980s was particularly important in this respect. In the case of the environmental injustice paradigm, in each of its iterations activists had no choice but to reimagine injustice beyond its origins in discrete local experiences of industrial pollution in Japan. What began as a somewhat insular account of local Japanese pollution victims by necessity expanded to incorporate environmental victims in other countries as well as the perspectives of marginalized communities at the wrong end of so-called global economic development. Engagement in environmental problems overseas brought the aspect of victimhood in the environmental injustice paradigm into question by exposing the complicity—albeit indirect—of all Japanese in the operations of Japanese political and economic institutions abroad. The more reflexive and multidimensional conceptualization of environmental injustice that resulted resonated with similar ideational transformations under way in the peace and antiwar movement, women’s movements, and the development NGOs discussed above. Historically, I believe this enriched concept of environmental injustice marks an important ideational transformation in postwar civic consciousness.

We saw this transformation under way in the 1974 Conference of Asians, where Oda Makoto and others from the anti–Vietnam War movement encouraged their environmentalist colleagues to draw direct connections between Japanese imperialism and colonialism of the past and the country’s contemporary military alliance with the United States and its economic expansion throughout Asia. As Oda explained, this was not merely an intellectual exercise but a frank admission of Japan’s ongoing aggression toward the people of Asia. Activists opposing the planned radioactive waste dumping in the Pacific pushed this self-critique even further, provocatively questioning the narrative of “national victimhood” built around the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When viewed from the perspective of regional and global history, they realized, the notion of victimhood appeared very brittle and even contradictory. Japanese claims about being the only nation to have suffered from atomic bombing, for instance, became problematic when the misery of people in the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia subjected to US and French nuclear weapons testing was taken into account. It appeared self-contradictory to many that a nation that proclaimed to understand the side effects of radiation firsthand would so nonchalantly consider a policy to dump such material despite there being no scientific consensus on the safety of ocean disposal. Moreover, as much as nuclear power was conceived of as a phenomenon and problem of the postwar (p.229) era for many Japanese activists, the arrival of Pacific activists in Japanese localities opened residents’ eyes to the concrete links these visitors drew to earlier Japanese imperialism and colonialism. Thus, while on one level involvement in Asia and the Pacific helped make the regional “local” by drawing activists into regional communities of fate, on another level, it also laid bare their ambivalent position as citizens of a nation perpetrating environmental injustices against these very same regions. In turn, this realization opened the way for a reconsideration of the motivations and methods of civic action that broke sharply with earlier models based on victimhood and domestic struggle alone.77

The result, I argue, was an enriched comprehension of environmental injustice, which combined the earlier consciousness of victimhood with a more reflexive, proactive, and multidimensional outlook. Together with the ideas of Oda Makoto in the peace movement and women’s groups involved in the kiseng problem, I believe that this conceptual enrichment of environmental injustice served as another fertile intellectual springboard for the imagination and development of Japanese civil society in later decades. It offered a powerful model of open, advocacy-focused civic activism. As the debate and movement for civil society unfolded in Japan throughout the 1990s, transnationally active groups such as the JVC, the Kiko Forum, JATAN, and CASA became prominent models for the kind of civil society many civic advocates hoped to construct in Japan. These groups exemplified the image of civil society as a progressive, open space with solid domestic roots yet deeply cognizant of and connected to the multiple contexts in which the local and national were enmeshed. Such groups contributed to this enhanced vision of civic activism and civil society by employing novel ideas, approaches, and perspectives garnered through their interactions with foreign groups (recall how Kiko Forum activists learned from Klima Forum activists). A key factor fueling the resurgence of civil society in 1990s Japan was the notion that the country’s institutions—political, economic, and social—were far too insular and that, in a globalizing age, Japan needed to become more open. A strong and independent civil society was seen as one crucial method of achieving this more open society. Transnationally active groups, as we have seen, had been practicing such open, multidimensional activism for many decades. In particular, their rethinking of victimhood and their formulation of a more reflexive activist identity (i.e., that victims might also be aggressors) offered a powerful vision for civil society in the country.

(p.230) As Janet Conway has observed, “People, communities, organizations and movements are being political in ways that are not intelligible in the conventional narratives of liberal citizenship contained in the national (welfare) state.”78 Rather than “looking for the new sovereign,” Conway advises us to search for “new citizens, in social movements whose practices are calling into being new sovereignties and new citizenships.”79 As I have attempted to show throughout this book, transnational involvement has been an important method for some Japanese activists to negotiate the dynamics of these new sovereignties and citizenships of civil society, especially with regard to conceptualizations of environmental injustice and local struggle in a globalizing age. To the extent that transnational interaction encouraged these Japanese activists to reconsider environmental injustice beyond the locality and the nation, it undoubtedly made their injustice paradigm less insular and more thoroughly global, cosmopolitan, and inclusive in outlook. In turn, this perspective arguably flowed back into and influenced the development of Japanese civic activism more generally, undermining entrenched notions of victimhood.

But neither globalism nor cosmopolitanism offered the initial spark for the environmental injustice paradigm. This came from attention to, and involvement in, local, situated struggles involving victimized people and communities. As Joachim Radkau argues, “Today it is frequently implied that the global perspective is morally superior, and the focus on the protection of one’s own immediate environment is ridiculed as a short-sighted NIMBY … syndrome.” But, in the end, the real task is one of forging genuine connections—to issues, to people, and to principles—rather than one of choosing a “better” scale.80 Extending this to the case of Japanese transnational involvement, it was the national trauma of industrial pollution and the suffering of people in localities across the archipelago that provided the initial emotional, intellectual, and ethical spark for the Japanese environmental injustice paradigm. Although the paradigm was recalibrated and repositioned in subsequent iterations abroad, its anthropocentric focus on victims and marginalization endured as common, connecting threads. Indeed, this attention to injustice and fundamental human rights arguably represents one of the key contributions of the Japanese environmental experience to the evolution of environmentalism in the contemporary world.


(2) Sheila Jasanoff, “Image and Imagination: The Formation of Global Environmental Consciousness,” in Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance, ed. Clark A. Miller and Paul N. Edwards (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 312.

(p.270) (3) Ibid., 312.

(4) On “master” conceptual frameworks see Snow and Benford, “Master Frames,” 133–155.

(8) Sonja K. Pieck, “Transnational Activist Networks: Mobilization between Emotion and Bureaucracy,” Social Movement Studies: Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Protest, 12:2 (2013): 123.

(9) Thomas Bender, “Introduction: Historians, the Nation, and the Plenitude of Narratives,” in Rethinking American History in a Global Age, ed. Thomas Bender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 8.

(11) Also see Walker, Toxic Archipelago, 218; and Mike Danaher, “Whaling: A Conflict of Environmental and Human Rights,” Social Alternatives 23, no. 3 (2004): 42–43.

(13) Ibid., 55.

(15) Ibid., 41.

(16) Ibid., 38.

(19) Lawrence Buell, Ursula K. Heise, and Karen Thornber, “Literature and the Environment,” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 36 (2011): 421.

(22) Ibid., 126.

(24) Timothy Doyle and Brian Doherty, “Green Public Spheres and the Green Governance State: The Politics of Emancipation and Ecological Conditionality,” Environmental Politics 15, no. 5 (2006): 889.

(26) Ibid., 890.

(27) Quoted in Joachim Radkau, Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment, trans. Thomas Dunlap (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 294.

(28) Ibid., 4.

(p.271) (31) Doyle and Doherty, “Green,” 889. Robyn Eckersley, Environmentalism and Political Theory: Toward an Ecocentric Approach (New York: State University of New York Press, 1992), chapter 1.

(33) Ibid., 132.

(37) Philippe de Seynes, “Prospects for a Future Whole World,” International Organization 26, no. 1 (1972): 1.

(38) Yokoyama Masaki, “Genchi Hōkoku: Nichibei no Kan-Taiheiyō Senryaku vs Taiheiyō Shominzoku no Hankaku-Dokuritsu Undō—Ponape Kaigi ni Sanka shite,” GKN 75 (Jan 1979): 11–12.

(39) Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010), 3; and Moyn, “Return,” 2.

(41) Pedro Iacobelli, Danton Leary, and Shinnosuke Takahashi, Transnational Japan as History: Empire, Migration, and Social Movements (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 1–2.

(42) Richard White, “The Nationalization of Nature,” Journal of American History 86, no. 3 (December 1999): 978.

(43) Ian Tyrell, “Reflections on the Transnational Turn in United States History: Theory and Practice,” Journal of Global History 4 (2009): 460.

(44) Matthias Middell and Katja Naumann, “Global History and the Spatial Turn: From the Impact of Area Studies to the Study of Critical Junctures of Globalization,” Journal of Global History 5 (2010): 160.

(45) Bernhard Struck, Kate Ferris, and Jacques Revel, “Introduction: Space and Scale in Transnational History,” International History Review 33, no. 4 (2011): 576.

(46) Thomas Bender, “Preface,” in Rethinking American History in a Global Age, ed. Thomas Bender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), vii.

(47) Pierre-Yves Saunier, “Learning by Doing: Notes about the Making of the Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History,” Journal of Modern European History 6 (2008): 169.

(48) David Thelen, “The Nation and Beyond: Transnational Perspectives on United States History,” Journal of American History 86, no. 3 (December 1999): 967.

(49) Ibid., 973–974.

(p.272) (51) Prasenjit Duara, “Historicizing National Identity, or, Who Images What, and When,” in Becoming National: A Reader, ed. Geoff Eley and Ronald G. Suny (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 151.

(55) Maggie Kinser-Saiki, ed., Japanese Working for a Better World: Grassroots Voices and Access Guide to Citizens’ Groups in Japan (San Francisco: Honnoki USA, 1992); André Sorensen and Carolin Funck, eds., Living Cities in Japan: Citizens’ Movements, Machizukuri, and Local Environments (New York: Routledge, 2007); Karan and Suganuma, eds., Local Environmental.

(56) There are some important exceptions, especially with respect to Japanese movements addressing more recent global environmental issues such as deforestation and climate change. See, for example, Wong, “The Anti-Tropical,” 131–150; Reimann “Building Networks,” 173–187; Sato, “Beyond.”

(59) “AMPO” referred to the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan (Nippon-koku to Amerika-gasshūkoku to no Aida no Sōgo Kyōryoku oyobi Anzen Hoshō Jōyaku).

(60) On the CNIC and Takagi, see Simon Avenell, “Antinuclear Radicals: Scientific Experts and Antinuclear Activism in Japan,” Science, Technology, and Society: An International Journal 21, no. 1 (2016): 88–109.

(61) See Kanō Mikiyo, “Shiryaku=Sabetsu to Tatakau Ajia Fujin Kaigi to Dainiha Feminizumu,” Joseigaku Kenkyū 18 (2011): 149–165.

(62) Kīsen Kankō ni Hantai suru Onnatachi no Kai, Sei Shinryaku o Kokuhatsu suru: Kīsen Kankō (Tokyo: Kīsen Kankō ni Hantai suru Onnatachi no Kai, 1974).

(64) Ibid., 120.

(65) PHD stands for Peace, Health, and Human Development. On this movement see http://www.phd-kobe.org/.

(66) On Shalpa Neer, see http://www.shaplaneer.org/.

(67) On ARI, see http://www.ari-edu.org/en/about-us/. On IHC, see http://ihc-japan.org/. (p.273)

(68) Seminal scholarship includes Pekkanen, Japan’s Dual Civil Society; Sheldon Garon, Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997); Frank J. Schwartz and Susan J. Pharr, eds, The State of Civil Society in Japan (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2003).

(69) Susan Pharr, “Conclusion: Targeting by an Activist State: Japan as a Civil Society Model,” in The State, ed. Schwartz and Pharr, 325.

(71) Daniel Aldrich, “Post-Crisis Japanese Nuclear Policy: From Top-Down Directives to Bottom-Up Activism,” Asia Pacific Issues 103 (2012): 3; and Aldrich, Site Fights.

(72) Kim Reimann, “Building Global Civil Society from the Outside In? Japanese International Development NGOs, the State, and International Norms,” in The State, ed. Schwartz and Pharr, 301–304. Also see Reimann, Rise, and Reimann, “Building Networks,” 173–187.

(73) Wesley Sasaki-Uemura, Organizing the Spontaneous: Citizen Protest in Postwar Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawai’I Press, 2003).

(74) Koichi Hasegawa, Chika Shinohara, and Jeffrey P. Broadbent, “The Effects of ‘Social Expectation’ on the Development of Civil Society in Japan,” Journal of Civil Society 3, no. 28 (2007): 183.

(76) But see my discussion of the Japanese anti–Vietnam War movement, Beheiren, which was a quintessentially transnational endeavor. Avenell, Making, chapter 4. (p.274)

(77) Interesting also is the fact that very few of the environmental activists explored in this study wholeheartedly adopted the cause of groups in Japan opposing nuclear power plant construction. As I have argued elsewhere, a major difference between industrial pollution disputes and anti–nuclear power plant movements was the somewhat more ambiguous nature of injustice in the latter. Whereas the victims were easy to identify in cases of industrial pollution, in the case of nuclear power plants the risk was always potential, at least until a major accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011. Even then, victimization was more about displacement (temporary in many cases) and the effects of radiation on humans, never as clear-cut as industrial toxins. After March 11, for instance, the media was not flooded with disturbing images of human disfiguration and illness like those from Minamata and Yokkaichi in the 1960s—images that put fire in the belly of Ui Jun, Tsuru Shigeto, and other leading environmental activists. Moreover, as Daniel Aldrich has shown, communities that accepted nuclear facilities were richly rewarded, muddying the issue of victimization and injustice from the outset. See Aldrich, Site Fights, and Simon Avenell, “From Fearsome Pollution to Fukushima: Environmental Activism and the Nuclear Blind Spot in Con temporary Japan,” Environmental History 17, no. 2 (2012): 244–276. Some, like the nuclear chemist Takagi Jinzaburō, warned of the dangers of nuclear power and plutonium (see Avenell, “Antinuclear”).

(78) Janet Conway, “Citizenship in a Time of Empire: The World Social Forum as a New Public Space,” Citizenship Studies 8, no. 4 (2004): 370.

(79) Ibid., 369.