Culture, Class, Connection: Bridging Debates on Contemporary Inequality in the UK and Japan

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Geography Politics and Sociology


This proposal will build a network of scholarship between the UK and Japan with a long-term focus on the development of a shared understanding of social class and how it might best be used as a tool to address one of the greatest challenges to sustainable development the world faces today: rising social and economic inequality. We are aware of the role of geography here, for whilst north-south income inequalities may be easing at the global scale due to the rapid growth of economies like those of China and India, [F1], within both countries it is clear that such uplifts are highly uneven [F2;F3]. Likewise, in advanced economies like the UK, USA and Japan, we have long been aware of socio-economic inequalities between regions, but only now are we being faced with the profound political consequences of them.

In the first instance the proposal provides the means to bring together academics working on these issues in the UK and Japan in the Core team of PI (Cunningham) and CO-Is (Majima, Miles, Savage and Slater). It will then provide the resources for a programme of meetings in different parts of Japan and the UK that will allow the opportunity for us to engage a much wider body of scholars to exchange knowledge on different aspects of class structure and identity today. We will hold five exchange workshops across two periods in early-2019 and early-2020. Each will provide the opportunity for the involvement of one prominent keynote of international stature from a third country and five national thematic specialists, in addition to a wider open audience of participants. Our themes and leaders are: (i) Class, inequality and the lifecourse (Slater); (ii) Consumption and histories of class formation - (Majima); (iii) Cultural value, cultural practice, class and inequality - (Miles); (iv) Class and spatial divisions of inequality - (Cunningham); (v) Globalising debates on class and inequality - (Savage).

Bringing together leading scholars of social class and inequality around these themes will provide the basis for the development of a robust and extensive research network between the two countries. This network will act to bridge the current divide identified by the ESRC between academics working in these fields, leading to dynamic new research collaborations. A specific goal is to use this connectivity funding as a launchpad for a large-scale comparative investigation of social class in Japan and the UK today, using survey, interview and ethnographic methods, that follows on from the GBCS project and its best-selling monograph, 'Social Class in the 21st Century'. The success of the GBCS project model as a starting framework for this collaboration indicates that there is very strong potential to produce new research findings that will be of keen interest not only to the academic community but also to the general public, think tanks, policymakers and the private sector. The findings will also be relevant to those working in the charitable and third sectors, dealing with issues of everyday social exclusion.

We have assembled a team with a diverse skillset and experience base, ranging from Co-Is in both the UK and Japan with global reputations in the field of culture, stratification and identity to a PI who is an ECR with a developing international profile in contemporary and historic inequality. This is a truly inter-disciplinary group, spanning geography, sociology, history and anthropology. Its members have expertise in working with and across a range of methodologies, from geographical information systems and statistics to archival, interview and ethnographic methods. In addition to the network we intend to build in this proposal, we can also draw on professional webs which span all continents, with the potential to push the reach of this proposal well beyond the Japan-UK axis.

Planned Impact

The long-term objective of this proposal is to develop an international, comparative and collaborative re-mapping of class structures and processes in two advanced economies that will have profound social, economic and cultural impacts. This application is the vital first step in that process and we therefore foresee multiple impacts being delivered for different constituencies over time.

The impact arising out of this initial project will be largely academic and of primary benefit to scholars working across a range of disciplines identified above. These groups will benefit through the thematic structure of our workshop activities. Each of our workshops will explore a different theme within the wider framework of social class and inequality. The foci of these five workshops will be: i) consumption and histories of class formation; ii) class and the lifecourse; iii) cultural value, participation and inequality; iv) class and spatial inequality; v) globalising debates on class and inequality. This structure is designed to enable us to target a range of different academic audiences. Each of our academic constituencies will benefit in a number of ways. Firstly, by providing a platform for the dissemination of new knowledge this project will have a conceptual impact in influencing and reframing academic understandings of class and inequality. Secondly, through the development of networks we will build capacity by acting to stimulate research activity and interaction between scholars working around our five themes. Thirdly, the impact of our activities on academics in the UK and Japan is designed to cut across the career structure by targeting both established and emerging contributors within theme specialisms, with support for ECRs/PhD students provided in the form of bursaries for attendance at the five workshops. ECRs and PhD students in particular will benefit through the opportunity to develop presentation skills and research profiles before distinguished and professionally relevant audiences.

We will push the impact of this network-building grant beyond the academy by opening up one of the sessions to a general audience. We have budgeted for the inclusion of a major international keynote speaker to contribute to each of our workshops and these will be chosen according to their experience of engaging with both expert and non-specialist audiences. In the longer term these project activities will establish the foundation for original, large-scale comparative research that will capture the public imagination while influencing policymakers and third sector organisations concerned with social inclusion, the mitigation of inequalities and democratic renewal. As was the case in the UK, we foresee our findings as of relevance to a very wide range of constituencies: policy makers, civil servants and strategic planners, analysts and practitioners in public health, private enterprise and the general public. We are excited by this potential but we have learned from the unforeseen impacts of our previous research in two key ways. Firstly, we will ensure that the implications of any new models are curated in a way that takes account of the implications of classification for everyday citizens and how such knowledge exists as a form of 'knowing capitalism' [F5]. Secondly, our longer-term research agenda will involve an explicit element of 'co-production' that will involve close engagement with public and third sector organisations in both the UK and Japan that can inform, enhance and promote the portability of our models.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/S013776/1 31/01/2019 31/07/2019 £45,647
ES/S013776/2 Transfer ES/S013776/1 01/11/2019 30/11/2020 £45,387