Issues of Scope and Scale in Comparative Race and Ethnic Relations
The comparative method raises questions about the methods of crossnational comparisons, the scale and definition of units of comparison, the context of comparison and the cultural production and conditioning of particular forms of classification. The central problem is attributed to the extent to which an investigator specifies the scope and scale of the variable.
First, it appears that problems can arise when comparative analyses conceptualize race and ethnic relations in terms of a limited number of qualitatively distinct configurations rather than as a multi-dimensional construct. One example discussed in this paper is African American-Burakumin comparisons. Although findings emphasize a common form of discrimination experienced by these two groups, findings tend to assume that racism is merely deducible to human psychology (e.g., Reuter 1945, Fredrickson 2000), and thus structural differences across the nations are not necessarily observable. In fact, once other ethnic groups in Japan are included in the analysis, Japanese society shows quite different aspects (see earlier discussions on Chinese and Koreans in Japan). However, the exclusionary practices against minorities in Japan are regarded as having the same empirical effect as the practices found in the U.S., which is Fredrickson’s (2000) concern (cited and discussed earlier).
Studies limited to the configurations of minority groups often tempt investigators to ‘force’ cases to fit into an artificially limited set of categories. Weiner (1994) argues that studies of racism have often been reduced to a preoccupation with the disadvantages associated with particular traits of minority groups. For example, in highlighting the outcaste status as the single defining factor of the Burakumin’s minority status, a range of other factors (e.g., socioeconomic mobility of minorities and cultural influences) have been obscured (see Berting et al. 1979). In comparisons, these intermediate meanings of race and ethnic relations seem to be avoided when the researcher is clear about the social dimension and its implication of the variable.
Studies limited to the configurations of ethnic minority groups do not possess sufficient explanatory power for some adherents to the comparative method (e.g., Dumont and Pocock 1957; Wong 1999); although transnational patterns are observed in a limited manner (e.g., Fredrickson 1995), nation-specific elements are not determined to demonstrate the cross-national differences (e.g., Przeworski and Teune 1966-1967). To give cross-national comparisons a clearer analytical framework, efforts have to be made to encompass a vast array of possible independent, intervening, and interdependent factors that define the functions of nation-specific elements in order to be incorporated in a more embracing synthesis (e.g., Przeworski and Teune 1966-1967). Because race and ethnic relations are context-bound, they are ‘related to various social conformations in such a way that their meaning is determined by the system, be it a culture, a historical period, a nation . . .’ (Berting et al. 1979, 94).
Cross-national comparison by nature has to have analogy at its heart. However, social configurations of ethnic minorities in Japan are compared with its analogue in the U.S. cases in a large part in separation from intertwined social contexts (Reuter 1945, Beer 1981, Frederickson 1998). Namely, specific components are laid out to represent the large Japanese context as the macrovariable of ‘race and ethnic relations’. These methodological issues and the unrevealed complex interplay of ethnic stratification lead to conflicting arguments about Japanese society in terms of the ‘caste-type’ stratification by Cornell (1970) and Howell (1996) (discussed earlier). Similar functions may be performed by differing means across nations (Fredrickson 1995), if a variety of dimensions such as the struggle over economic resources, political power, and cultural, symbolic and moral dimensions are included (see Wade 1997).
There is a good reason for being aware of the scope and scale of the variable. Fredrickson (1995, 604) claims that what we compare requires theoretical attention to the meanings of analytical categories. He asserts that John Dower’s War Without Mercy enforces racist potentiality of American nationalism,while Mills (1997, 81) gives Dower’s evidence for his argument that ‘the Japanese are inheritors of the global Racial Contract’. As Fredrickson (1995) points out, the literature shows that while the total regularity is emphasized, the absolute uniqueness is not given enough attention. Therefore, investigators have to be clear about what facets are emphasized in their comparisons.
I discussed issues of scope as a consequence of the ignorance of the comparative method. Nevertheless, it seems that studies of race and ethnic relations in Japan have suffered from another problem of making a specific case fit into one of a limited number of qualitatively distinct types of ‘race and ethnic relations’. One area where this can be seen is in the common practice of analyzing ‘race and ethnic relations’ in Japan primarily in terms of ethnic stratification dimension, or minority-majority relations.
U.S. American researchers have adopted a racial discourse in the U.S. to conceptualize the Japanese as ethnic dominants. However, the literature discussed above strongly suggests Japanese mode of ethnic relations does not constitute a U.S. type of race and ethnic relations due to a lack of shared components, such as minorities’ economic disadvantage (e.g., Gelfand and Lee 1973, Bowser ed. 1995) and the racial attitude of the majority. Rather, the central component of ethnic hierarchy in Japan is attributed to identity issues of ethnic minorities (e.g., abandonment of non-Japanese identities in favor of the pure Japanese identity). It is likely that the U.S. American concept of race and ethnic relations are used interchangeably and in various guises to account for the Japanese context, but the difference in the major components are not necessarily deducible even from large macro-level inquiries, unless the investigator identifies the driving force of social integration (see Weiner 1994).
Although the literature suggests macro-structural similarities in race and ethnic relations between the U.S. and Japan, findings are not persuasive enough to deduce the magnitude of minority-majority relations peculiar to the Japanese cases (Bower 1995). For example, the literature explains the attribution of Japanese ethnic relations to a multiplicity of social, cultural and historical reasons, but they often fail to discuss how innate national affiliations such as ‘uchi’ (inside), ‘soto’ (outside), and ‘invisibility’ are unique to Japan. To put forth an interpretation of the comparisons, researchers are required to observe cases by assuming that comparisons with careful considerations of macro-social contexts may still lead to empirically insufficient substantiations.
How one thinks about race and ethnic relations is often limited and distorted by the received knowledge that racism is ubiquitous in the world (Schlesinger 1943, Winant 2001). However, this is a very different matter from saying that the literature provides partial accounts, or we cannot examine cross-national similarities and differences between the U.S. and Japan because of the absence of any ‘true’ comparative studies; this is to say that as a consequence, discussions without clear scale of race and ethnic relations result in natural outcomes similar to Omi and Winant’s (1994) world-wide view of the definition of racial stratification.
Strictly speaking, there are many perceptions of Japanese ethnic stratification but they do not necessarily clarify for us the breadth in subtleties of Japanese ethnic relations. Nevertheless, conceptualizing race and ethnic relations as a multi-dimensional construct not only admits to the possibility that some dimensions of race and ethnic relations vary in qualitative ways while others vary quantitatively along a continuum, but it also entertains the possibility that these different dimensions can vary independently and do not necessarily occur in predetermined configurations.
The problem of alternative and competing narratives of Japan has been left largely unexamined (Doak 1997). Institutional and functional analyses emphasize how ethnic stratification is maintained and rationalized in the Japanese context, to emphasize empirical overlaps between the U.S. and Japan. However, the literature notes that Japanese ethnic stratification is not deducible from the examination of the national identities of the Japanese (e.g., Howell 1996, Hudson 1999). Furthermore, neither class distinction nor the color-line take precedence over minority status classifications (see Reubens 1981). Therefore, comparative analysis of the two systems of race and ethnic relations would be better served by recognizing that the ethnic stratification dimension may be less central to the overall configuration of ethnic relations in Japan compared to the U.S. and then analyzing ethnic relations in Japan accordingly.