Social Evolution, Economic Development and Culture
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Social Evolution, Economic Development and Culture

What it Means to Take Japan Seriously

Ronald Dore and D. Hugh Whittaker

Social Evolution, Economic Development and Culture brings together Ronald Dore’s key writings for the first time, making his work accessible across a wide range of social science disciplines. It produces a distinctive perspective with four interlinking themes – technology-driven social evolution, late development, culture and polemics. These are highly topical in the current context of rapid technological innovation and socio-economic change, globalization and accompanying policy choices.
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Chapter 19: In what ways a Japanese 'system'?*

Ronald Dore and D. Hugh Whittaker


Chapter 19 05/12/2000 13:12 Page 1 19. In what ways a Japanese ‘system’?* Among social scientists a favourite way of characterizing much of what has been described above is to say that economic transactions in Japan are, as compared with other societies, much more commonly ‘embedded’ in face-toface social relations. But note that this is not at all the Polanyi type of social embeddedness, the disentangling of which he sees as the pre-condition for the emergence of modern market capitalism.1 Polanyi was talking about what sociologists call ascribed social relations - those one is more or less born into, between uncle and nephew in an extended family or neighbours in the same village, for example. The social relations in which Japanese economic transactions are embedded are, in contrast, achieved - membership in the firm, for instance, through selection tests designed to make sure that each set of new employees starts off on its appropriate career track as a relatively abilityhomogeneous group. As a sub-contractor, one has to work one’s way through Categories C and B before one gets to be a Category A supplier of Toyota. The greater tendency of Japanese associations to develop community-like characteristics is part of this more general syndrome of the tendency for economic transactions to be ‘embedded’ in this kind of (achieved) social relationship. But to be more systematic about it, it seems useful to distinguish between two different mechanisms which create the system-ness of Japan’s economic system - institutional interlock and motivational congruence....

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