I came from Japan to the Department of Sociology at Essex University in 1997 to do MA in Sociology of Culture. After one year interval (during which I took another master in Social Anthropology in London), I came back because I didn’t find a better place than Essex to be a postgraduate student. I finished my PhD under the supervision of Colin and Ted in 2004 (my research topic was the cultural aspects of whales and whaling), but stayed one more year as a teaching assistant and course tutor. I enjoyed my days at Essex so much — full of readings, lively discussions and delightful gatherings in and outside the Department.
I went back to Japan for job hunting in 2005. After engaging in some research projects on a part-time basis, I was employed as a lecturer by Kobe International University in 2007. The following year, I have moved to Gunma University, where I currently teach such subjects as mass communication theories, contemporary culture, journalism and ENGLISH (I’m not joking) in the Faculty of Social and Information Studies. I also work on some research topics on environmentalism, focusing on human-animal relations.
Japanese universities have been idyllic places for both students and staff in the past, but things have changed dramatically after the British-style certification system was introduced in the early 2000s. Accountability and competition are now the buzzwords. In the name of efficiency, university executives have pursued the concentration of power and they now keep a firm grip on management, especially personnel and educational matters, which were traditionally controlled by the faculty staff in a democratic way. Many of the staff members are stressed out because of overwork and pressure, although universities are still relatively in a better situation than other workplaces.
There is no denying that dehumanization of society is progress in some respects, and there seems to be little hope that we can turn back the situation in the near future. Nonetheless, there are also some positive changes in the world, at least when it comes to the abolition of institutionalized discrimination. It is clear that discrimination against minority groups is not tolerated in contemporary society. Racism and sexism are, for example, outlawed in many parts of the world. If human history is a struggle to expand our moral horizons, we have undoubtedly made a great progress in so far as humans are concerned. I think the next target we should focus on is the alleviation of our exploitation of animals. Speciesism, i.e. arbitrary discrimination on the basis of species, is arguably the last forms of discrimination. In the early 2000s when I was studying human-animal relations, my topic seemed to be taken less seriously than other topics such as gender, ethnicity, globalization and cultural identity by my sociology friends. But things have gradually been changing. We are now creating a society where animals are admitted to have some moral standing, and the study of human-animal relations is accepted as a serious sociological inquiry. Animal are important to us, because, all things considered, the controversy surrounding animals is about what we are and how we define our society.
This is an entry from the book: Imaginations- 50 Years of Essex Sociology.