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Kieran Golby


Start date

May 2010

Submission date

Kieran Golby


Japanese environmental outreach to China: national and transnational dynamics.


Since the 1990s, literature on civil society has tended to portray the worldwide growth of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) dedicated to public purposes as a process of ‘transnationalisation’, whereby social movements and the organisations which sustain them tend to extend beyond the local and national contexts in which they were formed and shed regional affiliations as they seek wider support in addressing issues of global concern. As it is applied to the environmental movement, this model is based on the precedent set by Anglophone NGOs, for instance Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Nature Conservancy. Japan’s environmental civil society also comprises many locally- and nationally-formed NGOs that have directed activists, experts, and volunteers to engage in exchange activities, advocacy networks and projects beyond Japan’s borders. These overseas endeavours have mainly targeted environmental problems within the People’s Republic of China. I hypothesize that ‘national factors’, for instance Japanese identity and the specific historical and geopolitical relationship between Japan and China, better account for the extension of Japan’s environmental activism to China, and for the challenges they face there, than does the transnational explanation.

Why my research is important

Focusing as it does on Japan-China inter-societal relations, this research contributes to the emerging sub-field which examines transnational civil society as an element within international relations. The overseas engagements of Japan’s environmental NGOs, which offer an interesting contrast to those of their much larger Western counterparts, are underrepresented in English-language academic literature on environmental movements and transnational civil society. This research will help to redress this neglect. As a joint Japan Studies – International Relations project, this research draws on theories of transnational social movements, soft power, and securitisation, to further understanding of Japan’s state-society relations. By looking across the sea to China’s society and its environmental problems in order to gather that knowledge, this research also highlights the importance of Japan Studies and China Studies to each other.


  • Nakashima Foundation Japanese Studies Postgraduate Scholarship