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Genetic-Level Explorations into the Gut Microbiota

April 12, 2024
By 29989

To analyze the relationship between the gut microbiota and host diseases, Tomoya Tsukimi (Keio University, 2021) used an SRG award to conduct experiments at the University of Tsukuba, where he examined the mechanisms of intestinal bacterial colonization at the genetic level. He eventually hopes to enhance treatment outcomes through the development of personalized medicine.

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About 40 trillion bacteria inhabit the human body, the majority of them in the gastrointestinal tract.(1) One place where these bacteria are particularly abundant is our large intestine. These bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiota, have a lot of genes—even more so than human beings.(2, 3)

The intestinal bacteria form part of a complex ecosystem in the gut as they interact with host cells. Studies have shown that they boost resistance to pathogen infection,(4) affect host bile acid metabolism,(5) help maintain immune homeostasis,(6) and are even involved in brain functions. (7) Furthermore, there is growing evidence of a relationship between the gut microbiota and host diseases—not only digestive disease(8, 9) but also a wide range of systemic ailments like cancer,(10) diabetes,(11) and psychiatric disorders.(12)

The gut microbiota also influences the pharmacological effects of disease treatments.(13) This has spurred the development of methods to control the gut microbiota for the prevention and treatment of disease,(14, 15) such as through prebiotics, probiotics, and fecal microbiota transplantation.

Health Benefits of Probiotics, from BioRender, https://app.biorender.com/biorender-templates/figures/all/t-64400e6d675cf5f619cd17db-health-benefits-of-probiotics.


The question my research seeks to answer is, “What factors are important for the bacterial colonization of the host intestinal tract?” Recent studies have shown that imbalances in the intestinal microbiota are associated with various diseases. While fecal microbiota transplantation therapy and probiotics have been used to treat these diseases, studies indicate that exogenous bacteria have difficulty colonizing a patient’s intestines.(16)

Previous studies have discussed intestinal bacteria based on information regarding genus-level composition. But dietary composition exerts selective pressure on not only the species but also variants and substrains within the same species.(17) This points to the importance of studying the mechanism of intestinal bacterial colonization at the genetic level. I have therefore focused on genetic mutations of E. (Escherichia) coli during intestinal colonization in mice. E. coli is prevalent in the human gut as well, and its genetic manipulation is well established.

Identifying Genes Important for E. Coli Colonization

E. coli has approximately 4,000 genes. I examined which genes mutated when E. coli colonizes the mouse intestine and the mechanism by which these genes mutated. I decided to use germ-free (GF) mice, which has no bacteria in their intestines, thus enabling me to clarify the relationship between the host mouse and E. coli mutations.

Unfortunately, the laboratory with which I am affiliated does not have a facility to breed GF mice. So, I conducted my experiments at the University of Tsukuba, a national research university in Ibaraki Prefecture, which has one of the best-equipped animal experiment facilities in Japan. It was thanks to a Sylff Research Grant that I was able to finance my travel and lodging expenses to carry out my research there, so I would like to thank the Sylff Association for giving me this opportunity to advance my studies.

The University of Tsukuba campus.

I have been able to identify the genes that appear to be important for the colonization of E. coli. The study also helped to elucidate the adaptive mechanisms of the gut microbiota. A paper summarizing the results is currently under review for publication in a peer-reviewed, international journal.

Developing a Treatment for Bowel Diseases

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are inflammatory bowel diseases that are associated with intestinal bacteria for which effective treatments have not yet been established. There are some 300,000 patients of the two diseases in Japan and 1.6 million in the United States. This study has the potential to more clearly explain the bacterial colonization mechanism, leading to a highly accurate method for controlling the intestinal environment and contributing to the development of a treatment for these diseases.

Although there have been cases of clinical recovery using prebiotics, probiotics, and fecal microbiota transplantation therapy, the success rate varies widely from one individual to another. By focusing on the mechanism of intestinal colonization at the genomic level, the findings of this study can be used to develop methods for controlling the intestinal environment that are specific to the individual. In the future, I hope to contribute to the development of tailor-made medicine targeting intestinal bacteria and to the realization of a society where everyone can lead a healthy life.

I believe this research also has implications for discussions of human traits that are universal and those that are unique. As mentioned above, about 40 trillion bacteria inhabit the human body. This is comparable to the number of human cells. Since bacteria are associated with various diseases, “the human body can be considered a superorganism; a communal group of human and microbial cells all working for the benefit of the collective.”(18)

Studies have shown that bacterial composition and metabolite concentrations in the gut differ among individuals.(19, 20) This suggests that commensal bacteria—those that live in harmony with humans—can be regarded as one factor that distinguishes the self from others. Studies like mine on commensal bacteria may therefore offer clues to such overarching questions as “What am I?” and “What makes me different from others?”



  1. Sender R, Fuchs S, Milo R. 2016. Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body. PLoS biology 14:e1002533.
  2. Qin J, Li R, Raes J, Arumugam M, Burgdorf KS, Manichanh C, Nielsen T, Pons N, Levenez F, Yamada T, Mende DR, Li J, Xu J, Li S, Li D, Cao J, Wang B, Liang H, Zheng H, Xie Y, Tap J, Lepage P, Bertalan M, Batto JM, Hansen T, Le Paslier D, Linneberg A, Nielsen HB, Pelletier E, Renault P, Sicheritz-Ponten T, Turner K, Zhu H, Yu C, Li S, Jian M, Zhou Y, Li Y, Zhang X, Li S, Qin N, Yang H, Wang J, Brunak S, Dore J, Guarner F, Kristiansen K, Pedersen O, Parkhill J, Weissenbach J, et al. 2010. A human gut microbial gene catalogue established by metagenomic sequencing. Nature 464:59-65.
  3. Nishijima S, Suda W, Oshima K, Kim SW, Hirose Y, Morita H, Hattori M. 2016. The gut microbiome of healthy Japanese and its microbial and functional uniqueness. DNA research 23:125-33.
  4. Ubeda C, Djukovic A, Isaac S. 2017. Roles of the intestinal microbiota in pathogen protection. Clinical & translational immunology 6:e128.
  5. Sayin SI, Wahlstrom A, Felin J, Jantti S, Marschall HU, Bamberg K, Angelin B, Hyotylainen T, Oresic M, Backhed F. 2013. Gut microbiota regulates bile acid metabolism by reducing the levels of tauro-beta-muricholic acid, a naturally occurring FXR antagonist. Cell metabolism 17:225-35.
  6. Kawamoto S, Maruya M, Kato LM, Suda W, Atarashi K, Doi Y, Tsutsui Y, Qin H, Honda K, Okada T, Hattori M, Fagarasan S. 2014. Foxp3(+) T cells regulate immunoglobulin a selection and facilitate diversification of bacterial species responsible for immune homeostasis. Immunity 41:152-65.
  7. Bravo JA, Forsythe P, Chew MV, Escaravage E, Savignac HM, Dinan TG, Bienenstock J, Cryan JF. 2011. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108:16050-5.
  8. Frank DN, St Amand AL, Feldman RA, Boedeker EC, Harpaz N, Pace NR. 2007. Molecular-phylogenetic characterization of microbial community imbalances in human inflammatory bowel diseases. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104:13780-5.
  9. Gevers D, Kugathasan S, Denson LA, Vazquez-Baeza Y, Van Treuren W, Ren B, Schwager E, Knights D, Song SJ, Yassour M, Morgan XC, Kostic AD, Luo C, Gonzalez A, McDonald D, Haberman Y, Walters T, Baker S, Rosh J, Stephens M, Heyman M, Markowitz J, Baldassano R, Griffiths A, Sylvester F, Mack D, Kim S, Crandall W, Hyams J, Huttenhower C, Knight R, Xavier RJ. 2014. The treatment-naive microbiome in new-onset Crohn's disease. Cell host & microbe 15:382-392.
  10. Kostic AD, Chun E, Robertson L, Glickman JN, Gallini CA, Michaud M, Clancy TE, Chung DC, Lochhead P, Hold GL, El-Omar EM, Brenner D, Fuchs CS, Meyerson M, Garrett WS. 2013. Fusobacterium nucleatum potentiates intestinal tumorigenesis and modulates the tumor-immune microenvironment. Cell host & microbe 14:207-15.
  11. Everard A, Belzer C, Geurts L, Ouwerkerk JP, Druart C, Bindels LB, Guiot Y, Derrien M, Muccioli GG, Delzenne NM, de Vos WM, Cani PD. 2013. Cross-talk between Akkermansia muciniphila and intestinal epithelium controls diet-induced obesity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110:9066-71.
  12. Jiang H, Ling Z, Zhang Y, Mao H, Ma Z, Yin Y, Wang W, Tang W, Tan Z, Shi J, Li L, Ruan B. 2015. Altered fecal microbiota composition in patients with major depressive disorder. Brain, behavior, and immunity 48:186-94.
  13. Maier L, Pruteanu M, Kuhn M, Zeller G, Telzerow A, Anderson EE, Brochado AR, Fernandez KC, Dose H, Mori H, Patil KR, Bork P, Typas A. 2018. Extensive impact of non-antibiotic drugs on human gut bacteria. Nature 555:623-628.
  14. Markowiak P, Slizewska K. 2017. Effects of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics on human health. Nutrients 9:1021.
  15. Crook N, Ferreiro A, Gasparrini AJ, Pesesky MW, Gibson MK, Wang B, Sun X, Condiotte Z, Dobrowolski S, Peterson D, Dantas G. 2019. Adaptive strategies of the candidate probiotic E. coli Nissle in the mammalian gut. Cell host & microbe 25:499-512.
  16. van Nood E, Vrieze A, Nieuwdorp M, Fuentes S, Zoetendal EG, de Vos WM, Visser CE, Kuijper EJ, Bartelsman JF, Tijssen JG, Speelman P, Dijkgraaf MG, Keller JJ. 2013. Duodenal infusion of donor feces for recurrent Clostridium difficile. N Engl J Med 368:407-15.
  17. Yilmaz B, Mooser C, Keller I, Li H, Zimmermann J, Bosshard L, Fuhrer T, Gomez de Aguero M, Trigo NF, Tschanz-Lischer H, Limenitakis JP, Hardt WD, McCoy KD, Stecher B, Excoffier L, Sauer U, Ganal-Vonarburg SC, Macpherson AJ. 2021. Long-term evolution and short-term adaptation of microbiota strains and sub-strains in mice. Cell host & microbe 29:650-663.
  18. Sleator RD. 2010. The human superorganism - of microbes and men. Medical hypotheses 74:214-5.
  19. Song EJ, Shin JH. 2022. Personalized Diets based on the Gut Microbiome as a Target for Health Maintenance: from Current Evidence to Future Possibilities. J Microbiol Biotechnol 32:1497-1505.
  20. Di Domenico M, Ballini A, Boccellino M, Scacco S, Lovero R, Charitos IA, Santacroce L. 2022. The Intestinal Microbiota May Be a Potential Theranostic Tool for Personalized Medicine. J Pers Med 12.


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Enhancing Immigrant Integration through Social Connections: An Experimental Study in Sweden

February 7, 2024
By 28006

Olle Hammar’s (Uppsala University, 2020) Sylff Research Grant focused on evaluating a program aimed at promoting social inclusion of immigrants and refugees in Sweden. The project, involving a randomized controlled trial in partnership with an NGO, assessed the impact of contact with natives on immigrants’ social, economic, and cultural integration. Preliminary results suggest potential benefits, including sustained relationships and increased job opportunities for immigrants.

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My project on “Social Networks and Immigrant Integration: Experimental Evidence from Sweden,” conducted together with Mounir Karadja and Akib Khan at Uppsala University, seeks to understand and enhance immigrant integration in Sweden, a country known for its progressive social policies but which is now grappling with the challenges of integrating its growing foreign-born population (Statistics Sweden 2019). The project began with a deep interest in understanding immigrant integration in Sweden. Intrigued by the pivotal role social networks can play, we aim to explore the impact of social interactions between immigrants and native Swedes on the integration process.

The study is conducted in partnership with Nya Kompisbyrån (New Friend Agency), a Swedish nongovernmental organization facilitating informal meetings between immigrants and natives in Sweden. Immigrants, predominantly from low- and middle-income countries, are matched with native Swedes, fostering opportunities for language practice, cultural exchange, and network expansion. Through a randomized controlled trial, we assessed the effectiveness of this program.


Nya Kompisbyrån operations manager Mardin Baban, left, and Mounir Karadja of Uppsala University’s Department of Economics.

The COVID-19 pandemic posed significant challenges to this project, temporarily forcing participants to shift from direct, in-person interactions to digital meetings. Thankfully, solutions to these challenges were facilitated by the SRG, which allowed for the implementation of a more structured and sustainable survey data collection approach.

Background and Methodology

Sweden has experienced a significant influx of immigrants from diverse backgrounds, and their social and economic integration has become a key issue (Statistics Sweden 2019). Our research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of social networks in facilitating this integration by working closely with Nya Kompisbyrån, one of the largest NGOs of its kind in Sweden.

In this project, we use a randomized controlled field experiment to evaluate a novel program administered by Nya Kompisbyrån.

The methodology is based on the observation that, since more immigrants than natives sign up for this program, not all immigrants can be matched with a native Swede. As such, our evaluation uses a randomization design where two immigrants are selected as potential matches for each native, based on common interests, gender, and age.

One of the immigrants is randomly assigned to meet with the native, while the other is placed in the control group. Individuals in both groups, as well as the participating native Swedes, were surveyed by an external survey company (co-financed by SRG) during the implementation period between October 2022 and September 2023. Using this data and methodology, we are able to assess the causal effects of contact with natives on immigrants’ social, economic, and cultural integration.

While the data collection phase is now finished, which was the aim of the SRG-funded part of the project, our next step will be to analyze the data and assess the final results. Preliminary findings suggest large potential benefits for the participating immigrants. Most matched pairs continue to meet after their first contact, indicating that a large share of matches results in meaningful and sustained relationships. In addition, many of the job-searching participants indicate that they have received a job or internship through their native Swedish contact. The interactions also seemed to facilitate stronger social networks for participating immigrants.

Adapting to COVID-19

The pandemic posed significant challenges to our original plan of studying in-person meetings between the participants. We adapted to these circumstances by shifting to a more sustainable format of long-term survey data collection, which allowed us to continue our research without compromising the integrity of the participants or the depth of our analysis. The project had to be temporarily suspended when COVID-19 made in-person meetings impracticable, but we were able to continue conducting fieldwork thanks to SRG.

The project will potentially have broad implications for Sweden’s approach to immigrant integration. It examines the importance of social connections and cultural exchange in breaking down barriers and fostering a more inclusive society (Allport 1954). The findings will offer valuable insights for policymakers, demonstrating how initiatives promoting direct social interactions between immigrants and natives can enhance the integration process.

Another contribution of this project is its experimental attempt to evaluate an NGO-driven intervention for immigrant integration. Many NGOs are active in the field of integration across the globe and often have innovative approaches based on voluntary participation, as well as low operating costs (Lundberg et al. 2011). In Sweden, the government identifies civil society as an important actor for integration. Yet, despite public and private investments, there is a lack of knowledge on the causal effects of civil society organizations in this domain (Osanami Törngren et al. 2018). As such, this project also contributes to evaluating civil society’ broader role in immigrant integration.

Both Academic and Practical Benefits

This journey has been both challenging and rewarding. Adapting to the unforeseen circumstances posed by the pandemic while maintaining the integrity of our research project was a significant learning experience. We are very grateful for support from the Sylff Association in helping us quickly adapt to these changed circumstances. The SRG funding was instrumental in the success of this project, enabling us to navigate unforeseen obstacles and contribute significantly to the field. It has also allowed me to continue my collaboration with my research colleagues and the NGO, as well as other actors in the area of immigrant integration in Sweden and abroad.

The project has been pre-accepted for publication in the Journal of Development Economics (Hammar, Karadja, and Khan 2023), based on a pre-results review. This, we believe, is a testament to its academic significance and practical relevance. The insights gained from this research will contribute not only to the academic understanding of immigrant integration but also offer practical insights for NGOs and policymakers on the potential of social networks and informal meetings. It strengthens our belief in the power of simple human connections to bridge cultural divides and enhance societal cohesion.

Our next step will be to analyze and disseminate the final results of this project. Going forward, we will further explore the dynamics of immigrant integration in different cultural and societal contexts. Our research also highlights the need for more innovative approaches to policymaking in the realm of migration and integration.


Social integration through coffee?


Allport, G.W. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Hammar, O., Karadja, M., and Khan, A. 2023. “Social Networks and Immigrant Integration: Experimental Evidence from Sweden,” Journal of Development Economics, Accepted (Pre-Results Review).

Lundberg, E., Brundin, P., Amnå, E., and Bozzini, E. 2011. “European Civil Societies and the Promotion of Integration: Leading Practices from Sweden, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Italy.” In Social Rights, Active Citizenship and Governance in the EU. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft.

Osanami Törngren, S., Öberg, K., and Righard, E. 2018. “The Role of Civil Society in the Integration of Newly Arrived Refugees in Sweden.” In Newcomer Integration in Europe: Best Practices and Innovations since 2015.

Statistics Sweden. 2019. “Integration: En beskrivning av läget i Sverige,” Integration 13.

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The Interdependence of Heritage Tourism and Peace: Media Treatment of the Destruction and Rebuilding of the Jahanabad Buddha Statue in Pakistan

October 6, 2023
By 30654

The tourism industry relies heavily on peace and security, so the destruction of heritage sites by terrorist groups represents a major threat. Farhad Nazir (University of Coimbra, 2022) undertook a study of media reactions to the defacement of a large, seventh-century Buddhist statue in Swat, Pakistan, and its subsequent restoration. This Voices article is based on a paper that was originally published in the International Journal of Tourism Cities.

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There exists a significant historical connection between tourism and peace (Farmaki 2017, Farmaki & Stergiou 2021, Salazar 2006). With the exception of dark tourism and such categories as adventure and extreme sports, the majority of tourist activities are predicated on peace and security. A lack of social, environmental, economic, or political security is widely recognized as a significant obstacle to tourism. Nevertheless, due to precarious climatic conditions and rising political tensions, it is becoming increasingly difficult—at times almost impossible—to avoid encountering natural calamities, political upheavals, or terrorist activities.

This article seeks to analyze the links between heritage tourism and peace, drawing on a study in which I analyzed the content of 40 news sources to examine the demolition and subsequent reconstruction of the Seated Buddha of Jahanabad. The objective of the study was to explore the impact of peaceful conditions on cultural tourism.

Destruction and Reconstruction

Shortly after the application of Sharia law in Swat, Pakistan, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) launched an attack on the Jahanabad Buddha statue in 2007. The defacement of the statue was confirmed following two explosions, as depicted in Figure 1. To win popular support and elicit sympathy, the TTP employed the tactic of iconoclasm and proclaimed their attacks as a success over Buddhist idols (De Nardi 2017).

Figure 1. Statue after destruction, September 2007. Source: Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan.

The act of terrorism aimed at demolishing the seated Buddha statue in Jahanabad was meant to communicate a message to both the local population and the international community. It sought to persuade individuals adhering to the Islamic faith that there would be no space for remnants of cultural or historical significance unrelated to Islam, emphasizing that Swat is exclusively a territory regulated by the Sharia legal framework.

However, the examination of Islamic teachings in the Holy Quran, Hadith, Sharia, and works of Fuqaha through discourse analysis has consistently reaffirmed the recognition of the rights of those who do not adhere to the Islamic faith, including their property rights and the protection of their sacred places of worship. Nevertheless, scholars from many backgrounds have raised objections to Islam’s purportedly tolerant attitude towards individuals who do not adhere to its beliefs (Michel 1985). It is noteworthy that during the self-proclaimed rule of the TTP in the Swat valley, the act of demolishing the Buddhist monument was carried out on religious grounds. And to substantiate their motives, the militants employed an anti-idol manifesto.

The military operation conducted in Swat in 2009 successfully eradicated the presence of TTP terrorists in the Swat valley, thereby reinstating the authority of the state. The Italian Archeological Mission, in collaboration with provincial and federal archaeological organizations, the Pakistan army, and the local population, has initiated efforts to reconstruct the heritage sites that have been destroyed, specifically focusing on the restoration of the Jahanabad Seated Buddha (De Nardi 2017, Tanweer 2011, Olivieri et al. 2019). The local community enthusiastically engaged in the process of reconstruction, demonstrating a commitment to the deeply ingrained cultural values and transcending religious differences. The restoration phase of the Buddha statue was successfully concluded in 2016 as a result of these collective efforts (De Nardi 2017, Lone 2019). Thanks to the collaborative endeavors of several stakeholders, the restoration of this remarkable site to its original form has successfully been achieved, reinstating it as one of the prominent cultural landmarks in the valley (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Restored statue, 2016. Source: Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan.


The study I and my colleagues at the University of Coimbra —Norberto Santos and Luis Silveiraconducted on the links between heritage tourism and peace employed a qualitative research approach, transcribing the textual and visual content of media news using the NVivo 12 interface. The data obtained consisted of two sets: media coverage of the demolition phase in 2007 and that of the subsequent rebuilding efforts from 2012 to 2016. Several national, regional, and international news agencies covered the destruction and rebuilding event. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Agence France-Presse (AFP), Arab News, Deutsche Welle (DW), Voice of America (VOA), Turkish Radio and Television (TRT), World Is One News (WION), and South China Morning Post were among the international and regional media outlets, while notable national media included the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), Express News, Geo News, Radio Pakistan, Dawn News, The Nation, and Express Tribune. We employed a hierarchical approach to conduct thematic analysis, wherein nodes, sub-themes, and themes were identified.

The findings shed light on six different themes: peaceful imagery, heritage dissonance  against interfaith harmony, peace allegory via restoration, precursor of heritage sustainability, community heritage consonance, and heritage touristic valuation.


Our research findings have broad implications for various stakeholders as well as for the general public. From a commercial perspective, there exist possible pathways and opportunities for the revival of the tourism industry at this significant heritage site. Drawing inspiration from community activism, a similar approach may be employed to foster community stewardship of the Swat heritage sites, emphasizing their importance, value, and preservation. In addition, referencing the UN Sustainable Development Goals could enhance the significance of this innovation.

The study offers insights for both general readers and academic scholars, as it focuses on the physical and cultural aspects of Swat—a district with a Muslim majority population and heritage sites that are not associated with Islam. It examines the complex relationship between heritage, terrorism, peace, and tourism. The implications encompass several touchpoints involving site management authorities, the supplier sector, and entrepreneurs.

Our research also examined the strategies for protecting tourist destinations both before and after a destructive event occurs, with a focus on possible impacts on tourism activities. We hope that this study serves as a wake-up call for legislative players in terms of governance, prompting them to develop a counter-terrorism policy in anticipation of potentially disruptive activities.

Encouraging Further Study

The study surveyed the news content of a small number of national and international media organizations using a qualitative research paradigm. These limitations, though, can act to encourage future studies—extending the data collection portals to prominent social media sites, for example—to unveil new details about the issue under probe. Further, the inclusion of incidents at other national and international heritage sites could result in novel research insights. Comparative studies on similar issues in the regional and global context would also offer insights into the synergy of heritage, tourism, terrorism, and peace. 

This research received support from the Centre of Studies in Geography and Spatial Planning (CEGOT), funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) of Portugal, under reference UIDB/04084/2020 and from the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund, administered by the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.


De Nardi, S. (2017). “Everyday Heritage Activism in Swat Valley: Ethnographic Reflections on a Politics of Hope.” Heritage & Society, 10(3), pp. 237–258.

Farmaki, A. (2017). “The Tourism and Peace Nexus.” Tourism Management, 59, pp. 528–540.

Farmaki, A. and Stergiou, D. (2021). “Peace and Tourism: Bridging the Gap through Justice.” Peace & Change, 46(3), pp. 286–309.

Lone, A. G. (2019). “The Scope of the Buddhist ‘Workshops’ and Artistic ‘Centres’ in the Swat Valley, Ancient Uḍḍiyāna, in Pakistan. In W. Rienjang & P. Stewart, eds., The Geography of Gandhāran Art (pp. 107–120). Archaeopress Archaeology.

Michel, T. (1985). “The Rights of Non‐Muslims in Islam: An Opening Statement.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 6(1), pp. 7–20.

Olivieri, L. M., Marzaioli, F., Passariello, I., Iori, E., Micheli, R., Terrasi, F., Vidale, M., & D’Onofrio, A. (2019). “A New Revised Chronology and Cultural Sequence of the Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Pakistan) in the Light of Current Excavations at Barikot (Bir-kot-ghwandai).” Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms, 456, pp. 148–156.

Salazar, N.B. (2006). “Building a ‘Culture of Peace’ through Tourism: Reflexive and Analytical Notes and Queries.” Universitas Humanística (62), pp. 319–336.

Tanweer, T. (2011). “Italian Archaeological Activities in Swat: An Introduction.” Journal of Asian Civilizations, 34(1), pp. 48–80.

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The Changing Landscape of Shenzhen: Displacing the Urban Village from the City’s Memory

August 19, 2022
By 29645

Mengtai Zhang, a 2018 Sylff fellow, utilized an SRA without Overseas Travel grant in 2021–22 to explore the fate of Hubei and other urban villages in Shenzhen, China, which are on the brink of demolition—and oblivion. Faced with COVID-19 travel restrictions, Zhang enlisted a research assistant to conduct fieldwork and interviews on his behalf. What emerges is the dilemma between economic development and such considerations as social justice and preservation of culture.

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Due to China’s rapid rural urbanization in the last forty years, urban villages have become a common phenomenon, where the expansion of urban areas physically enclose rural lands operating under different land tenure. What makes urban villages unique in Shenzhen is that they are a product of segregated policies but have been restructuring the segregation from within over the last few decades. This segregation manifests in a rural-urban division and the resulting unequal allocation of institutional resources.

This division is embedded in the evolution of Shenzhen’s urban villages. With Shenzhen’s rapid economic development as a Special Economic Zone since China’s Reform and Opening Up in 1979, urban villages evolved with a level of self-organization to accommodate the large influx of migrant workers, providing them with access to superior urban resources in an affordable way, while bringing wealth to local rural collectives that own the land. This dynamics shifted from the mid-2000s, when many urban villages began to be demolished and rebuilt by mega real estate developers, often into skyscrapers and large shopping malls, under government planning. By the 2010s, more and more people in Shenzhen had started advocating for the protection of urban villages. Many wanted to preserve the urban villages for migrants and working families who were still suffering from unequal resource distribution. They also believed the urban villages bore historical significance to the rise of Shenzhen.


Collective Memory and the Case of Hubei

In July 2016 Hubei 120, a leaderless movement of artists, scholars, and architects, initiated a series of activities against the demolition of Hubei, an urban village in the Luohu district in central Shenzhen. As Hubei has existed for hundreds of years, participants of Hubei 120 argued that destroying Hubei would destroy Shenzhen’s shared memories and cultural assets. At the end of 2017, Hubei 120 curated a prominent art exhibition at the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture. I participated in the exhibition and presented two works, a soundscape composition of Hubei and a performance, both of which began during my 2016 art residency in Shenzhen. Both works used sound to create contexts about the impact of urbanization on people’s living conditions. Having captured the soundscape of Hubei when the place was facing demolition, I utilized the SRA without Overseas Travel grant to continue the research on Hubei at the end of 2021, now that demolition and reconstruction were well under way. 


Landscape view of Hubei, demolition in progress, Shenzhen, December 2021. (Photo courtesy of Lemon Guo)


During the research period in 2021 and 2022, I explored how collective memories were impacted by other systems in the process of migration. I was interested in what urban villages meant to different groups of people in Shenzhen and what we could hear from the diverging voices on what should happen to Hubei. With the support of an SRA without Overseas Travel award from the Sylff Association, I hired research assistant Lemon Guo to conduct fieldwork and interviews in Shenzhen, since I was unable to travel to China due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Guo visited urban villages in Shenzhen, including Shangwei, Baishizhou, Shuiwei, Caiwuwei, and Hubei, and took field recordings and photographs. She mainly interviewed anthropologist Mary Ann O’Donnell, who is an expert on the urban villages in Shenzhen, and theater maker Yang Qian and filmmaker Shi Jie, both of whom were significant contributors to Hubei 120. We asked questions regarding the demolition process of Hubei, the characteristics of urban villages, and their memories of Shenzhen’s reform.

O’Donnell told us about the history of evolution of urban villages from spontaneous communities to planned communities and her memories of this process, having lived in several urban villages for most of her two-decades-plus of life in Shenzhen, since before they were even known as “urban villages.” She left us with a heavy comment—that the era of urban villages had reached its end. Yang Qian believed that urban villages such as Hubei symbolized the collective memories of Shenzhen people, which is what they are losing as a city. This was part of his motivation to join Hubei 120 and advocate for Hubei’s preservation. He told us about his role in Hubei 120 and how it operated as a leaderless movement. He also made an interesting observation about the shifting image of rural people in China’s popular culture, from farmers to migrant workers, gradually losing a concrete face and identity.

Shi Jie told us about how he became involved in Hubei 120, the growing number of artists creating socially engaged art in the urban villages, and their tensions and strategies in coping with the economic and political realities. As the conversations went on, we noticed that questions about shared memories and belonging often drew answers about loss and segregation. 


The Shifting Value of Urban Villages in Shenzhen

When viewed from the perspective of Shenzhen’s development, it seems the city struggles to remember, prone to forgetfulness. Shenzhen issued the Urban Renewal Method for revamping its image as a world-class metropolis in 2009 by calling on real estate developers to bid on original proposals for remodeling urban villages, which over the years have led to their large-scale demolition (Liu et al. 2017, 7). On the one hand, the large-scale project drew from urban villages the “useful” aspects, that which is solid and lasting, while the other aspects were considered redundant and disposable, destined for oblivion. In Hubei, what has been deemed useful are the shrines and ancient landscape, which could be transformed into consumable sites of spectacle, while , appear to be defined as something transitional and thus not worth keeping, despite their vital role in the residents’ livelihoods and historical significance in Shenzhen’s development.

On the other hand, what is considered useful by the city could also be volatile and ephemeral when viewed from a longer, historical perspective. As recently as the 1990s, urban villages—still known as “new villages” at the time—were praised as the essential, useful parts of the city. The transformation from “old villages” to “new villages” and the construction of large numbers of handshake buildings were a self-organized innovative solution that helped address a city-wide housing shortage as well as other issues brought about by the city’s reform. Ironically, although new villages had been recognized as valuable resources and celebrated as a huge success of Shenzhen’s development, their title of “new” was shortly downgraded in the mid-2000s (O’Donnell 2021, 58). The name “urban village” replaced “new village,” and what followed were demolition, renovation, and the social stigmas of filth, disorder, and substandardness. At the end of the day, the new, the solid, and the useful in Shenzhen tend to have transient qualities, sometimes decaying quickly from the city’s collective memory. 


Zhang’s shrine, on the outskirts of Hubei, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Shi Jie)


Alongside disappearing memories of the villages are unfulfilled dreams of belonging. In recent years, Shenzhen had been advertising its dedication to social inclusion by promoting the slogan, “If you come, you are a Shenzhener” (Shenzhen Government Online 2022). But the demolition and renovation of urban villages and the resulting massive displacement of their residents make this slogan ring increasingly hollow. Urban villages had provided affordable living conditions to most rural migrants to Shenzhen from the 1980s (Hao 2011, 217–18). Due to hukou, a household registration system intended to keep people in place by dividing them into rural and urban categories based on their place of origin, migrants who held rural hukou had for decades faced segregation in the city, including limitations on job opportunities, restrictions in the housing market, and exclusion from many social welfare programs (Cheng 1994, 644–45). Inexpensive and convenient urban villages were essentially shelters for rural migrants, providing access to urban-level resources such as economic opportunities, educational institutions, hospitals, and cultural institutions. 

Ironically, in a promotional video in 2020 by China Central Television, the largest state-owned broadcaster in China, the authorities presented the renovation of Nantou Gucheng, an ancient village in Shenzhen, as a successful materialization of the slogan (China Central Television 2020). The city created discourse portraying the construction of a symbolic identity, which supposedly can be achieved by refurbishing old neighborhoods and ancient landscapes. As the refurbishment continues, countless urban villages in central Shenzhen have been transformed into high-end residential areas, glossy consumer destinations, and grandiose landmarks, displacing vast numbers of lower-income communities in the meantime. This identity-building process redefines who is actually treated as Shenzheners, leaving many migrants who have contributed significantly to the city’s economic development out of the picture. 


Buildings over People

This renovation method reflects a fixation on buildings over people who live in them. Both the local government and the real estate developers claimed to be protectors of the ancient village in Hubei, notwithstanding their plans to displace entire communities and demolish two-thirds of the ancient village. Even the strategies of Hubei 120 ended up prioritizing preserving the old architecture of Hubei over protecting the communities, despite conflicting voices within the group. It fought with the government and real estate developers over the precise square meter of ancient villages that would be preserved (Yang 2017).

As I went through the footage and interviews of this research trip, I caught a glimpse of how the city might remember itself in the future. It would consist of a solidified past that is over hundreds or thousands of years old, symbolized by renovated ancient villages like Nantou and Hubei, as well as a forever-new present, encapsulated in the skyscrapers that grow taller and taller—yet nothing in between. 



Cheng, Tiejun, and Mark Selden. “The Origins and Social Consequences of China’s Hukou System.” The China Quarterly 139 (1994): 644–68. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305741000043083.

China Central Television. “Xianxing: Episode Five [先行 第五集].” Accessed May 10, 2022. https://tv.cctv.com/2020/10/19/VIDEQx2rjSiFM0zzlTT4yehU201019.shtml?spm=C55924871139.PT8hUEEDkoTi.0.0.

Hao, Pu, Richard Sliuzas, and Stan Geertman. “The Development and Redevelopment of Urban Villages in Shenzhen.” Habitat International 35, no. 2 (2011): 214–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.habitatint.2010.09.001.

Liu, Guiwen, Zhiyong Yi, Xiaoling Zhang, Asheem Shrestha, Igor Martek, and Lizhen Wei. “An Evaluation of Urban Renewal Policies of Shenzhen, China.” Sustainability 9, no. 6 (2017): 1001. https://doi.org/10.3390/su9061001.

O’Donnell, Mary Ann. “The End of an Era?: Two Decades of Shenzhen Urban Villages.” Made in China Journal 6, no. 2 (2021): 56–65. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.287948270260541.

Shenzhen Government Online. “You Are a Shenzhener Once You Come to Shenzhen.” Accessed May 10, 2022. http://www.sz.gov.cn/en_szgov/news/infocus/visa/expat/content/post_7900720.html.

Yang, Qian. “Hubei Observation 3 [湖贝观察 3].” The Paper, August 17, 2017. https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1762649_1.


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Role of Water in Geopolitics

July 8, 2021
By 28927

Eliska Ullrichova, a 2019 Sylff fellow, offers an overview of the concept of water wars and its implications. Given the rise in water scarcity—the major causes of which include overpopulation, overconsumption, and climate change—diplomacy has an important role to play in easing tensions over water supplies and managing international relations, Ullrichova assers.

* * *

Water does not respect political boundaries and, therefore, may be a source of leverage for upstream riparian states over those downstream. However, it is important to underline that water encompasses not only rivers, which are primarily associated with it in international relations, but all surface and groundwater. Based on the concept of water wars and related terms, this short paper illustrates what role water plays in geopolitics.

Water might play a manifold role in a violent confrontation.

Water Wars

The concept of water wars identifies three dimensions of water in geopolitics. Firstly, water resources or infrastructure are prone to be casualties of a violent confrontation either intentionally or accidentally. As an example, pollution of water resources is a well-known consequence of a conflict. Secondly, water resources may be used as a tool in achieving one side’s political, economic, or military interests (Pacific Institute 2019). The weaponization of water was a dominant military strategy of the Islamic State (IS) to achieve its military and political objectives. The IS contaminated water supplies of its enemies and, in particular, used large dams—such as the Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates in Iraq—to either cut off supplies of cities downstream or flood the area above or below the river flow. In addition, the IS used water infrastructure, especially dams, as their military command headquarters or prisons. This hindered the capture of IS positions, because what adversary would lead an airstrike over a dam, knowing that doing so would devastate the surrounding area (Mazlum 2018; van Lossow 2020)? Thirdly, water may cause a dispute over control of water resources and, in the worst-case scenario, the disagreement could lead to an outright and violent conflict (Pacific Institute 2019).

Using dams in a conflict is one of the most common examples of water weaponization.

The third element of water wars—water as a trigger of a violent confrontation—is widely discussed in the academic literature (see Dinar and Dinar 2000; Spector 2000; Postel and Wolf 2001; Gregory 2013). Interestingly, scholars agree that, firstly, water-related issues tend to be a source of an intrastate conflict rather than an international one (e.g., Spector 2000; Postel and Wolf 2001). Secondly, outright strife is rarely triggered by a single variable; they are usually triggered by a set of issues, among which access to water supplies may be included (Postel and Wolf 2001; Farnum 2018). In other words, it is often difficult to classify a violent clash as a war over water, since many other variables alongside it may play a role in the confrontation. However, it does not mean that water is not a catalyst for a conflict at all. Examples can be found as early as 2525 BC in Mesopotamian times between two city-states, Lagash and Umma. Umma repeatedly refused to pay for renting downstream Lagash’s territory for crop cultivation in the water-rich delta of Tigris. In response, Lagash damaged the irrigation system leading to the leased area. Umma could not cultivate crops without water supplies and thus attacked Lagash, which resulted in several successive military confrontations. After the defeat of Umma, the water treaty was reestablished and the canal system reconstructed (see the water conflict map made by the Pacific Institute 2018).

A Solution to a Conflict over Water?

When water causes a violent conflict, the zero-sum approach can never resolve it in a long-term perspective. If a river represents the core of the dispute between upstream and downstream states, the conflict will not result in a situation where two countries no longer share the river basin. On the contrary, water creates interdependent geopolitical relations, and an outright and violent conflict over water supplies is therefore not a sustainable solution. It also goes without saying that, just as the concept of water wars indicates, water resources can be contaminated and water systems destroyed in a conflict that is likely to influence all interested parties. In general terms, wars always have harmful consequences for the environment, and water resources are not an exception. Another feature of water in geopolitics is that civilizations are entirely dependent on water resources, because human beings cannot survive without drinking water. Moreover, economic development is associated with water resources (e.g., agriculture and the energy sector). In other words, a violent conflict over water resources cannot lead to a zero-sum victory, and all involved actors would most likely lose to a greater or lesser extent. This is a fundamental reason why it is believed that wars over water will not occur in future decades more frequently than they did in history (Dunn 2013).

However, it is undeniable that water stress has been increasing due to overpopulation, overconsumption, and climate change—the most significant causes of water scarcity—even in initially water-rich regions. Nevertheless, as I have discussed above, cooperation rather than conflict is a sustainable solution that could lead to a win-win situation. Therefore, water diplomacy, i.e., ʻusing diplomatic instruments with the aim to solve, mitigate or prevent disagreements over shared water resources for the sake of cooperation, regional stability and peaceʼ (Schmeier 2018), seems to be a promising path to fostering multilateral governance over shared water resources and ensuring water security. In view of these goals, the concept of water diplomacy is not limited to states but underlines the necessity of nonstate actorsʼ involvement that play a crucial role as mediator in negotiations over water-related issues, such as the World Bank, or that may provide essential information via monitoring (see, for example, Honkonen and Lipponen 2018).

Water stress has been increasing due to overpopulation, overconsumption, and climate change.

Although there is a consensus in the academic literature that water will not become a frequent catalyst for a violent conflict, it is and will remain a source of tensions in international relations. High water demand from all sectors of human activities (households, agriculture, energy, and so forth) and the reduction of water resources due to overpopulation, overconsumption, and climate change are contradictory phenomena producing unsustainable environments within and among societies. Nevertheless, an outright conflict over shared water resources cannot end in a zero-sum victory. As such, diplomatic instruments are crucial tools for addressing increasing water scarcity and, therefore, tensions over water supplies. Water diplomacy, also called hydro-diplomacy, thus need to be an integral part of international relations more than ever.



Dinar, S. and A. Dinar. 2000. “Negotiating in International Watercourses: Diplomacy, Conflict and Cooperation.” International Negotiation 5 (2): 93–200. https://doi.org/10.1163/15718060020848721.

Dunn, G. 2013. “Water Wars: A Surprisingly Rare Source of Conflict.” Harvard International Review 35, no. 2 (fall 2013): 46–49. https://refnj2014.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/water-wars.pdf.

Farnum, R. 2018. “Drops of Diplomacy: Questioning the Scale of Hydro-Diplomacy through Fog-Harvesting.” Journal of Hydrology 562 (July 2018), 446–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.05.012.

Honkonen, T. and A. Lipponen. 2018. “Finland’s Cooperation in Managing Transboundary Waters and the UNECE Principles for Effective Joint Bodies: Value for Water Diplomacy?” Journal of Hydrology 567 (December 2018), 320–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.09.062.

Von Lossow, T. 2020. “The Role of Water in the Syrian and Iraqi Civil Wars.” Italian Institute for International Political Studies. February 26, 2020. https://www.ispionline.it/en/pubblicazione/role-water-syrian-and-iraqi-civil-wars-25175.

Mazlum, I. 2018. “ISIS as an Actor Controlling Water Resources in Syria and Iraq.” In Violent Non-state Actors and the Syrian Civil War: The ISIS and YPG Cases, edited by Özden Zeynep Oktav, Emel Parlar Dal, and Ali Murat Kurşun, 109–25. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-67528-2_6.

Pacific Institute. 2018. “Water Conflict Chronology Map.” Accessed March 24, 2021. http://www.worldwater.org/conflict/map/.

Pacific Institute. 2019. “Water Conflict Chronology.” https://www.worldwater.org/water-conflict/.

Postel, S. and A. Wolf. 2001. “Dehydrating Conflict.” Foreign Policy 126. https://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/18/dehydrating-conflict/.

Schmeier, S. 2018. “What Is Water Diplomacy and Why Should You Care?” Global Water Forum. August 31, 2018. https://globalwaterforum.org/2018/08/31/what-is-water-diplomacy-and-why-should-you-care/.

Spector, B. 2000. “Motivating Water Diplomacy: Finding the Situational Incentives to Negotiate.” International Negotiation 5 (2): 223–36. https://doi.org/10.1163/15718060020848749.

White, C. 2012. “Understanding Water Scarcity: Definitions and Measurements.” Global Water Forum. May 7, 2012. https://globalwaterforum.org/2012/05/07/understanding-water-scarcity-definitions-and-measurements/.


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Action to Address a Stakeholder-Identified Need: Development of a Questionnaire to Improve Resolution after Medical Injury

July 27, 2020
By 25572

Associate Professor Jennifer Moore, a former Sylff fellow at Massey University in New Zealand, implemented a research project to assess the needs of injured patients and their families after medical injury with funding from Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI) from January 2019 to April 2020. The survey tool she developed and refined throughout the project is expected to facilitate better and happier reconciliation processes between healthcare organizations and injured patients and families after medical injury.

* * * 

“I wish there had been a questionnaire like this that was given to me after the hospital injured me! I recently had a hip replacement, and the provider posted a survey to me. It was so bad that I didn’t complete it. I thought, ‘Do these people have common sense? What does this mean?’ I wonder if they didn’t do what you are doing and [trial] the survey with the actual patients. I think it is so important to actually trial test it on patients first.” (Injured patient from New Zealand, comments during a cognitive interview, January 2019. The word in brackets in the quotation was edited by the author).



This project was the first to attempt to develop a questionnaire to assess injured patients’ and families’ needs after medical injury. We pretested a draft version of the questionnaire with injured patients and families in New Zealand and the United States. In the quotation above, the injured patient highlights the importance of pretesting questionnaires to increase the likelihood that it will be an effective tool.   

Medical injury is unexpected harm caused by medical care. After heart disease and cancer, medical injuries have been identified as the third leading cause of death in the United States; this conclusion is consistent with findings from research undertaken in other countries, such as Canada, Japan, and New Zealand, and these statistics have generated calls for “greater attention” to medical injury because of the scale of this global issue.[1] An additional well-documented issue is that healthcare institutions’ responses to medical injuries, particularly their attempts at resolution, frequently fail to meet patients’ expectations and needs.[2] The literature also highlights that poor responses from healthcare organizations exacerbate the psychological, physical, and financial effects of medical injuries.[3]

During my recent research about the resolution of medical injury, the key stakeholders and participants identified another important social problem that requires action. Most healthcare organizations are interested in doing a better job of meeting injured patients’ and families’ emotional, informational, and practical needs after medical injury but currently lack tools to evaluate how well they met those goals.

Jennifer with her daughter Rebecca and two research participants

Research Objective, Methods, and Dissemination

Therefore, this project’s key objective was to address that gap, and stakeholder-identified need, by developing a questionnaire that healthcare organizations can use to assess how well they met the needs of patients who suffered medical injuries during their care. To develop the questionnaire, we undertook the following steps.

  • We designed a draft version of what we call the Medical Injury Reconciliation Experiences Survey (MIRES). This draft was based on findings from our two previous studies of injured patients’ experiences of nonlitigation approaches to resolving medical injuries.
  • We performed a content analysis of transcripts from a stratified random sample of interviews conducted with injured patients in New Zealand and the United States in 2015–16.
  • We extracted themes describing what is important to patients following medical injury and developed a draft questionnaire with question domains and items corresponding to these themes.
  • We revised the draft questionnaire following review and feedback from expert clinicians, risk managers, and patient advocates.
  • We pilot tested the revised questionnaire on a sample of 24 injured patients and family members in the United States and New Zealand, conducting cognitive debriefing interviews focused on the comprehensibility and completeness of the questionnaire.
  • We further revised the instrument based on this feedback. Thirty-seven revisions were made in response to their suggestions.
  • We traveled to New Zealand to disseminate and implement the questionnaire to key stakeholders in New Zealand, such as district health boards' public hospitals, the Ministry of Health, the Accident Compensation Corporation, and the patient advocacy group Acclaim. I traveled around New Zealand (particularly Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington) to meet with representatives from the key stakeholder organizations to explain the questionnaire to them and to discuss how best to implement it in their organization.
  • We are in regular, ongoing contact with the representatives of the key stakeholder organizations in New Zealand to answer their questions about the questionnaire and to ask about their initial experiences using it.
  • We submitted a paper to an academic journal that reports the results of the survey development.
  • After the COVID-19 travel bans are lifted, we will travel to New Zealand again at the stakeholders’ request to discuss implementation progress and to undertake any further edits to the questionnaire that may be required.
  • Once the COVID-19 travel bans are lifted, I will also travel to the United States again to discuss implementation progress at the participating hospitals. The intention was to visit the United States in May 2019, but that trip was canceled because of COVID-19. (Sylff funded the New Zealand part of the project, not the US part. We are very grateful to Sylff for their support.)

Once our research paper is accepted, it will be important to disseminate the paper, because our project is the first to attempt to develop a questionnaire to assess injured patients’ needs after medical injury. Further research could use our questionnaire to undertake a full validation study.

The final version of the questionnaire included the following domains:

  • perceptions of communications with healthcare providers after the injury (11 items);
  • perceptions of remedial gestures, such as apology and compensation (12 items);
  • indicia of the patient’s overall satisfaction with the reconciliation process (3 items);
  • the nature and impacts of the injury (5 items); and
  • characteristics of the patient (5 items).



Jennifer with a patient's research participant's puppy during the cognitive debriefing interview about the draft questionnaire.

Injured patients and their families expressed the view that they appreciated the opportunity to assist with the survey design process. The survey was feasible to administer with pencil and paper, taking around 10 minutes to complete. The MIRES appears to be comprehensible and acceptable to patients and offers a practicable means by which healthcare organizations can assess how well their reconciliation processes are meeting injured patients’ needs. One of the US patients who participated in this project observed that the “questionnaire has the power to help so many other patients like me.”    

[1] Martin Makary and Michael Daniel, “Medical Error—The Third Leading Cause of Death in the US,” British Medical Journal 353 (May 2016): 2139, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i2139.

[2] Frederick S. Southwick et al., “A Patient-Initiated Voluntary Online Survey of Adverse Medical Events: The Perspective of 696 Injured Patients and Families,” BMJ Quality and Safety 24, no. 10 (October 2015): 620–29.

[3] Elaine O’Connor et al., “Disclosure of Patient Safety Incidents: A Comprehensive Review,” International Journal of Quality in Health Care 22, no. 5 (October 2010): 371–79.

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Exploring Nuclear Transitions: In Quest of a Framework

July 14, 2020
By 26651

Shounak Set, a Sylff fellow from Jadavpur University, is currently pursuing his PhD at King’s College London. His SRA was conducted at Jadavpur University, which is home to the oldest and largest international relations program in India and is also distinguished by close institutional ties with the Indian defense research establishment. The field trip culminated in immeasurable value for his doctoral dissertation.

* * *

In the second half of the twentieth century, the advent of nuclear science left an indelible imprint in the practice and study of international relations. Nuclear proliferation refers to the spread of nuclear technologies and energy for both civilian and military purposes. Given the political and technological ramifications of the nuclear sector, the nuclear policies of states are essentially a subset of their foreign policy, but they are driven by a variety of discrete considerations. With its apocalyptic potentials, nuclear energy can devastate humankind through atomic weapons, but they can also be a harbinger of prosperity if harnessed for generating electricity. That being the case, when do states use nuclear energy for cooperation, and when for confrontation?

The author meeting with Avtar Singh Bhasin, an eminent archivist of Indian diplomatic history. A one-man army, Mr. Bhasin, having retired from the Ministry of External Affairs, voluntarily collects and publishes relevant documents that are otherwise inaccessible for the benefit of researchers.

The urge to answer these questions resulted in a six-month field trip to India from mid-September 2019 to mid-March 2020, where Jadavpur University served as the host institute. India represents both a challenge and an opportunity for academic engagement on account of its scale and complexity; and it questions several prevailing tenets and assumptions of international relations. At once a rising power and an impoverished nation, both a young state and a legatee to an ancient civilization, it simultaneously confirms and contests prevailing tenets of social science and poses unique challenges of research design. The first country to call for nuclear disarmament on the global stage in 1955, India conducted a series of nuclear weapons tests in 1998 to herald a new epoch. Likewise, after decades of righteous indignation at the institutionalized arbitrariness of the global nuclear order, India was eventually accommodated there in an unprecedented manner through the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement of 2008. In addition to the selection of India as a case, the specific focus on these historical events underscored that the area of focus was situated along several research paradigms including but not limited to international security, science and technology, global order, and political contestation.

Brass Tacks: The Exercise

The field trip—as part of a doctoral study at King’s College London that interrogates the conventional understanding on these two episodic events, namely the 1998 nuclear tests and the India-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement of 2008—was undertaken with the primary aim of data collection, which was to be supplemented by discussions with topical experts. The primary sources mostly comprised interviews and archival material, and the absence of declassified material on the thematic area of focus (nuclear decision-making and proliferation), along with the associated sensitivity of the subject area, impelled an exercise in triangulation research through an interdisciplinary prism. Accordingly, data was collected from multiple sources in tandem with elite interviews among a wide range of individuals comprising mostly retired diplomatic, security, and political functionaries who had been direct participants in the cases under study. The initial plan was to conduct 20 interviews, but 35 interviews were ultimately conducted across New Delhi, Kolkata, and Bangalore through snowball sampling; this to led to progressive uncovering of diverse aspects. In order to facilitate optimum utilization of resources, archival research in New Delhi and Kolkata was conducted concurrently with the interviews rather than following a sequential approach.

The author interviewed Dr. V. S. Arunachalam, the scientific advisor to successive Indian defense ministers from 1982 to 1992. Dr. Arunachalam has been intimately associated with the Indian missile and nuclear weapons development programs.

Along with the above, discussions and consultations with 16 topical experts were also undertaken, which contributed toward refining the project by clarifying several aspects. Requisite steps such as anonymization of certain interviewees and data security protocols were followed for storage of confidential data and protecting the identities of key personnel as per considerations of security and research ethics.

Research Redux

Essentially probing the intersection between nuclear policymaking and domestic factors in India, the study adopts process tracing to analyze policy transformations through a foreign policy change framework. In conducting in-depth case studies of major foreign policy changes in the recent past, it hypothesizes that domestic politics gain salience during points of significant transformation and leverages the findings in a theory-building exercise through Bayesian reasoning. This approach accounts for the diversity of ideational and institutional forces at play in these policy transitions of historic magnitude; these forces remain inadequately addressed by extant studies, which are circumscribed by linear approaches characteristically prioritizing global-level variables at the cost of the domestic and vice versa.
While the nuclear tests in 1998 heralded a “Second Nuclear Age” in tandem with the realities of the global shift of power from the West to the East, the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement of 2008 epitomized a metamorphosis of the global order through an irreversible transformation of the international nonproliferation regime. These events portended global ramifications, marked a drastic reorientation of India’s external behavior, and were accompanied by salient domestic political realignments.
Cognizant of these manifested confluences of global, regional, and domestic factors, this study eschews singular explanatory frameworks and attempts to construct an integrative model that explains major policy transformations. The research identifies political parties as the salient vector of domestic politics and probes the interface between political parties and major foreign policy outcomes of the recent past. Political parties form the government, which conducts foreign policy. However, scholars of comparative politics deal with political parties but leave the study of foreign policy to their counterparts in international relations and vice versa. In the process, the interlinkage between political parties and foreign policy remains in the shadows. While studies on political parties in international relations are scarce in general, in the case of India, there is a conspicuous absence.

Relevance and Outcome
The quality and quantity of the accumulated data has contributed substantially to the structural robustness of the key argument and has convinced me to add another chapter to my dissertation. The number of chapters based on my field trip data stands at three, in contrast to my initial plan of two for the same. With the progression of the field trip, the unpacking of historical cases and their attendant complexities corroborated the initial formulations of the study, which had problematized the conventional narratives.

The author after an interview with Mr. Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra, the Indian foreign secretary from 1982 to 1985. Having joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1949, Mr. Rasgotra has been involved in several historic moments in Indian diplomacy, and his counsel has been sought by successive prime ministers of India.

While the bulk of the literature is premised on the insularity of domestic politics in the conduct of Indian diplomacy, this study finds that major foreign policy changes are not generated by exogenous factors alone; and despite its limited salience in regular times, domestic politics gain a critical dimension during these moments of transition. This is crucial, since it reflects foreign policy making in a rising power and builds on a growing body of research on rising powers in international relations. The major findings indicate a gap between existing conventional postulates and the empirical specificities, as the timing of the 1998 nuclear tests and the unprecedented reorientation of the international nuclear order through the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement contest existing theories of international relations. These include a global-domestic dichotomy in the process of salient junctures and a limitation of path-dependency models.
Previously unexamined primary sources highlighting the need for alternate explanations of historical cases were uncovered and pose significance for potential revision of extant conceptions and assumptions. The collected data facilitates the broadening and widening of the empirical and conceptual templates of foreign policy analysis, which remains anchored in a Western setting. While the process has affirmed the major observations of the study prior to this field trip, it has also led to a reappraisal and update of some earlier formulations of this study.

Concluding Remarks

Professor Shibashis Chatterjee, the director of the Sylff Program at Jadavpur University, acted as the local supervisor and added considerable value to the project. Professor Chatterjee happens to be the director of the School of International Relations and Strategic Studies and an acknowledged expert in the specific topic as well, with acclaimed publications to his name. While our interactions in themselves proved to be intellectually enriching to the project, Professor Chatterjee also made efforts to help me access relevant institutions and provided consistent administrative support. The latter proved to be crucial as, toward the end of 2019, India was witnessing severe political upheaval, which generated grave law and order issues and adversely affected my schedule. Since the completion of the project, he has also emerged as a benevolent mentor concerned about my professional and social well-being in the true spirit of the Sylff family.
The extended Sylff community at Jadavpur University provided a friendly and welcoming milieu that made my stay in India pleasant and memorable. In retrospect, the field trip facilitated by the Sylff Research Abroad program has not only been of immeasurable value to the doctoral dissertation, but it has also been instrumental for my professional growth. In the vortex of the twenty-first century, radical trends typically overwhelm extant arrangements and generate new challenges without resolving older ones. Against this backdrop, this journey has been immensely fulfilling at both the emotional and intellectual levels and shall enable me to embark on my career as a scholar engaged in the study and promotion of international peace and human understanding.

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Multi-Dimensional Challenges, Multi-Sectoral Innovations: The Resilience of Common Forest Management in Japan

June 22, 2020
By 26719

Yance Arizona[1] is a 2011 Sylff fellow from the University of Indonesia and currently a PhD candidate at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Using an SRA award, he visited the Osaka University of Tourism in Japan and the University of New South Wales in Australia to sharpen the comparative elements of his research on customary land recognition in Indonesia. In this article, he focuses on lessons learned about the resilience of common forest management in Japan by discussing the challenges and innovations of state and nonstate actors.

* * *

Community-based forest management has a long history in rural Japan. Since the Edo period (1603–1868), rural communities have shared their collective land and labor to maintain forest and other natural resources for self-sufficiency. This model of natural resource practice is known as common forest management. The common forest, called iriai in Japanese, became integrated into the traditional village system.[2] The membership of iriai common forest groups is embedded in that of traditional Japanese villages (mura). However, common forest management has slowly changed over time due to internal and external factors since Japan entered the industrial revolution. This article discusses several challenges concerning the current practice of common forest management in Japan. I also reveal several initiatives by the government and citizens to restore collaborative forest management and to renew interest in rural development. The analysis in this article is based on interviews, literature studies, and observations conducted in two rural areas in Japan during my Sylff Research Abroad (SRA) fellowship in November and December 2019.


What Is the Common Forest in Japan?

Many scholars have used the iriai forest or common forest in Japan as an illustrative example of potential community-based management as an alternative to private property ownership and an extractive model of natural resource management (Mitsumata and Murata 2007; Berge and McKean 2015). For a long time, the rural population in Japan has collectively engaged in agricultural activities in shared communal land by planting trees, especially sugi and pine, to meet their daily needs. Iriai groups have collectively cleared, planted, maintained, and harvested forest products to provide mutual benefits among the members. The membership of the common forest group was initially based on the membership of a village. Since the Japanese government installed modern development programs, primarily through the Meiji Restoration (1868), many traditional concepts, laws, and activities have slightly changed. In the following section, I will discuss five concerns about recent developments in common forest management in Japan.

Five Challenges of Common Forest Management

The common forest practice in Japan faces multidimensional challenges. Here I will briefly discuss five major challenges of the common forest in Japan, including demographic, economic, environmental, institutional, and regulatory factors.[3] Firstly, legal uncertainty leads to misrecognition and disputes among iriai rights holders (regulatory factor). During the Meiji era (1868–1912), Japan’s Civil Code began to take effect. The Civil Code is a mark that Japan began incorporating a modern legal system inspired by the German and French legal traditions (Kanamori, 1999). Regarding the property right regime, the modern Civil Code strictly divides land property into private and public properties (Suzuki, 2013: 67–86). In short, private property is in the ownership of individual citizens, whereas public property belongs to the state or other public bodies. This dichotomy leads to uncertainty regarding the legal status of iriai forests because the iriai model cannot be categorized as either private or public property. As a result, Article 263 of the Civil Code considers the common forest to be in the co-ownership of a group of citizens. By contrast, Article 294 stipulates iriai as the right of the local population to use state land or forest. Neither of these articles represents the original model of iriai forest rights, which combine communal and individual land ownership.

Misrecognition of the legal status of the common forest in the Civil Code generates ambiguity in land registration practices. Iriai rights holders have to register their common land and forest under “nominal names” on behalf of other legal entities. Gakuto Takumura (2019) demonstrates six models of how iriai rights holders register their communal land rights. These six models of adaptation to the modern land administration system appear in the registration of a common forest on behalf of other legal entities, such as (a) a leader of a village, (b) several leaders of a village, (c) all household heads in a village, (d) a shrine or temple of a village, (e) a new municipality, or (f) a district, a cooperative, or an authorized community association. Registering the iriai right under nominal names has occasionally caused legal disputes among the iriai rights holders. One case that received much attention in Japan was the Kotsunagi case, which took decades for the courts to settle (Inoue and Shivakoti 2015).


The author gives a guest lecture on customary forests and tourism in Japan and Indonesia at the Osaka University of Tourism. Detailed information can be found at https://www.tourism.ac.jp/news/cat3/5810.html.

The second concern is government imposition of the modernization of iriai forest management (institutional factor). Besides the legal status, another institutional challenge to the iriai forest is the modernization of the rural administrative system. In the early period of the Meiji era, the Japanese government announced a policy to modernize village governments. The modernization of village government affects iriai forest management because iriai group membership was traditionally based on membership in a traditional Japanese village. This challenge parallels the general trend in rural Japan to merge villages rather than splitting them into several smaller villages. When two or more villages are merged, a question arises regarding the ownership and membership of iriai rights, whether it still belongs to the initial village that has merged or it becomes the co-ownership of the new village union.

Another striking policy by the Japanese government to modernize iriai forest management is the Modernization of the Common Forest Act of 1966 (Takahashi and Matsushita 2015). This act intended to transform traditional common forest practices into modern forest management. However, the implementation of this act did not result in a uniform model of forest management; instead, the act has been adopted in different models of forest management depending on the social conditions of iriai rights holders. Research by Daisaku Shimada (2014) revealed how rural communities in the Yamaguni district in Kyoto adapted to the Modernization of Common Forest Act and other external influences, such as population change and the timber liberalization policy in securing common forest management. Rural communities modify their common forest institution to allow migrants to be members of new forest management boards.

The third challenge is depopulation and urbanization (demographic factor). In contemporary Japan, depopulation and urbanization are central issues in the debate on rural development. Japanese society is experiencing depopulation because of a low birthrate and an aging population. At the same time, the urbanization level is dramatically high. Many young people move away to live in urban areas, leaving the rural areas mainly inhabited by older generations. Depopulation and urbanization affect the membership and decision-making process in common forest management. The membership of iriai forest groups shrinks as some of the members move to the city or elsewhere, causing a reduction of the workforce in the management of the common forest. In the past, iriai rights holders lived permanently in a village. When someone moved to other villages, his or her rights to the iriai forest vanished. Today, some people consider their rights to remain valid even when they have moved to other villages. Another problem in terms of people’s mobility concerns the decision-making process in common forest management. Traditionally, iriai rights holders decide on common forest management through a consensual agreement among the group members (Goto 2007). If a member of the iriai group is not involved or disagrees with the majority opinion, it means that the group has not reached a consensual decision. Currently, some iriai groups apply flexible categorization to their common forest membership by including newcomers to the board and involving them in the decision-making process. The lack of a clear decision-making process and a shrinking workforce have led to the underuse of iriai forests in several places in rural Japan.

The fourth problem is the timber liberalization policy (economic factor). In the 1960s, the Japanese government introduced a timber trade liberalization policy to support industrial development. This policy increased timber import from other countries, mainly from the United States, Russia, and Southeast Asian countries. As a result, this strategy decreased the competitiveness of domestic timber production and the economic value of wood, which has been the core commodity of common forests. Before the timber liberalization policy, the common forest supplied wood for building houses, offices, castles, and temples, as well as for making furniture, and provided firewood for cooking and heating. From the 1960s onward, as the country entered a period of rapid economic growth, Japan replaced the use of wood with other resources. The use of concrete and steel is more dominant for residential buildings and offices, and the use of fossil fuels in place of firewood is increasingly widespread. In addition, to meet domestic wood demand, the Japanese government no longer relies on domestic supplies and relies instead on imported wood. This timber import policy devastated Japan’s domestic timber production and market. Consequently, the core business of iriai forests, that of meeting domestic wood demand, has gradually declined. Lack of productive activities in rural areas also became one of the drivers for rural people to move to big cities.


Together with a group of postgraduate students from Kyoto University, the author visits a private forest in Kawakami Mura, Nara Prefecture. This forest site is the oldest planted forest in Japan.

The final concern relates to land degradation (environmental factor). Iriai rights holders maintain the common forest by growing supporting plants around the main trees. These plants support soil fertility and provide economic benefits to farmers. However, due to the shortage of labor to maintain the common forest, conifer plantations are left unmaintained. At first glance, this condition looks good for conservation, because forests are left green and trees grow for long periods. But apparently, this is not suitable for the healthy growth of the main trees because they are in competition with the shrubbery. Moreover, unmanaged conifer plantations cause frequent landslides in rural areas. These disasters are compounded by the typhoon and earthquake catastrophes that often occur in Japan. This environmental vulnerability is not only the cause but also the result of underutilization of the common forests.

Revitalization Movements

The revitalization of common forest management in Japan corresponds with an attempt to improve rural livelihoods. The Japanese government and nongovernmental organizations engage in rural development, including the revival of common forest management. The Japanese government, through the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, implements a program to increase the interest of urban residents, either Japanese citizens or immigrants, in living in rural areas. These people from different locations assist rural community members in meeting their basic needs, especially related to health and livelihood. Moreover, the Japanese government promotes a “forest volunteer program” to attract people’s interest in getting involved in forest restoration activities. Forest volunteers are individuals other than forest owners or those with a direct interest, who participate in on-site work necessary for forest management in response to the critical state of the forests. Shinji Yamamoto (2003) found that the forest volunteer program has been generating a positive impact on drawing urban people’s interest in forestry activities. This program began in the 1970s and has since spread across the country. According to Japan’s Forestry Agency, the number of citizens’ organisations that have participated in forest volunteer activities was 2,677 as of 2010 (Yamamoto 2003). 

Nonprofit organizations and universities also run several programs to enhance the interest of young generations regarding rural livelihood and environmental management. A crucial example is the kikigaki program. Literally, kikigaki consists of the words kiki (“listening”) and gaki (“writing”). The kikigaki program encourages young people to take an interest in the stories of local people. Kikigaki is a learning method for understanding someone’s life story through direct dialogue. Since 2002, high schools in Japan have adopted the kikigaki method to raise students’ awareness of societal problems faced by rural communities (Effendi 2019). Due to the increase in global attention toward environmental issues, the kikigaki program also covers environmental education for children. Environmental issues allow students to get involved in the revitalization of common forest management. The kikigaki program initially developed in Japan and spread out to other countries, such as Indonesia. I interviewed Motoko Shimagami, who is developing kikigaki programs in both Japan and Indonesia. According to Shimagami, youth involvement is an essential factor in improving rural livelihood and sustainable environmental management. Several years ago, Shimagami conducted a comparative study of common forest management between Indonesia and Japan (Shimagami 2009) and found that similar methods of revitalization of the common forest through the education of high school students are pivotal in both countries.


Matsutake Crusaders, a voluntary group dominated by elders who gather every week to maintain a hill landscape, creating a suitable condition for matsutake mushrooms to grow.

Another initiative that I have seen in Japan is the ecovillage network. An ecovillage is an intentional, traditional, or urban community that is consciously designed through locally owned participatory processes encompassing social, cultural, ecological, and economic dimensions to regenerate social and natural environments.[4] In 2013, I visited the Konohana Family ecovillage in Shizuoka Prefecture. This ecovillage is part of a worldwide ecovillage network. The Konohana Family, though it calls itself a family, consists of 100 members who are not of the same blood. They live in rural areas and cultivate collective agricultural land. With the spirit of “togetherness” as a family, they fulfill basic needs through collective land management. During my visit to Japan with the support of the SRA fellowship program, I visited the Matsutake Crusaders in the northern part of Kyoto. This group consists of more than 30 retirees who gather once a week to engage in collaborative natural resource management. They nurture matsutake, a wild mushroom typical of Japan that has high economic and cultural values (Tsing 2015). They voluntarily cut some pine wood as a precondition to creating a suitable environment for matsutake to grow. Professor Fumihiko Yoshimura, the leader of this group, said that although this initiative is different from the iriai rights model, they called it a satoyama movement. The satoyama concept in landscape management combines forest and agricultural activities, mainly in hill areas. Currently, many rural communities in Japan are involved in satoyama movements (Satsuka 2014). In another location, a study by Haruo Saito and Gaku Mitsumata (2008) shows the integration of matsutake production with traditional iriai land use in Oka Village, Kyoto Prefecture.

This article has illustrated five major challenges of common forest management in Japan. These challenges are responded to with a variety of innovations by the government and nongovernment organizations to help the common forest practices survive in supporting rural livelihood. These innovations to revitalize community-based natural resource management have been developed with various narratives such as environmental movements, rural livelihood supports, family and community orientation projects, and voluntary civic education. Although rural communities have encountered serious challenges since Japan entered industrial development, villagers continue to maintain the common forest with some modifications. Villagers demonstrate the resilience of common forest management by taking an inclusive approach that includes migrants in the board membership of common forest management and by involving themselves in broader networks of community-based natural resource movements. Community resilience is the crucial factor in common forest management in Japan.



Berge, Erling, and Margaret Mckean. 2015. “On the Commons of Developed Industrialized Countries.” International Journal of the Commons 9, no. 2 (September 2015): 469–85.

Effendi, Tonny Dian. 2019. “Local Wisdom-based Environmental Education through Kikigaki Method: Japan Experience and Lesson for Indonesia.” IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science 239: 012038. https://doi.org/10.1088/1755-1315/239/1/012038.

Goto, Kokki. 2007. “‘Iriai Forests Have Sustained the Livelihood and Autonomy of Villagers’: Experience of Commons in Ishimushiro Hamlet in Northeastern Japan.” Working Paper Series No. 30. Afrasian Centre for Peace and Development Studies, Ryukoku University.

Inoue, Makoto, and Ganesha P. Shivakoti. 2015. Multi-level Forest Governance in Asia: Concepts, Challenges and the Way Forward. India: Sage Publication.

Kanamori, Shigenari. 1999. “German Influences on Japanese Pre-War Constitution and Civil Code.” European Journal of Law and Economics 7, no. 93–95. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1008688209052.

Mitsumata, Gaku, and Takeshi Murata. 2007. “Overview and Current Status of the Iriai (Commons) System in the Three Regions of Japan: From the Edo Era through the Beginning of the 21st Century.” Discussion Paper No. 07-04. Kyoto: Multilevel Environmental Governance for Sustainable Development Project.

Miyanaga, Kentaro, and Daisaku Shimada. 2018. “‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ by Underuse: Toward a Conceptual Framework Based on Ecosystem Services and Satoyama Perspective.” International Journal of the Commons 12, no. 1: 332–51.

Saito, Haruo, and Gaku Mitsumata. 2008. “Bidding Customs and Habitat Improvement for Matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake) in Japan.” Economic Botany 62, no. 3: 257–68.

Satsuka, Shiho. 2014. “The Satoyama Movement: Envisioning Multispecies Commons in Postindustrial Japan.” In Asian Environments: Connections across Borders, Landscapes, and Times, RCC Perspectives, no. 3: 87–94.

Shimagami, Motoko. 2009. “An Iriai Interchange Linking Japan and Indonesia: An Experiment in Interactive Learning and Action Leading toward Community-Based Forest Management.” Working Paper Series No. 46. Afrasian Centre for Peace and Development Studies, Ryukoku University.

Suzuki, Tatsuya. 2013 “The Custom and Legal Theory of Iriai in Japan: A History of the Discourse on the Position of the Rights of Common in the Modern Legal System.” In Local Commons and Democratic Environmental Governance, edited by Takeshi Murota and Ken Takeshita. Tokyo-New York-Paris: United Nations University Press.

Takahashi, Takuya, and Koji Matsushita. 2015. “How Did Policy Intervention Work Out for Commons Forests in Japan? An Analysis of Time-Series Prefectural Data.” Paper in the IASC Conference 2015 Edmonton W23 (2015-5-27).

Takamura, Gakuto. 2019. “The Bundle of Rights Model to Explain the Underuse of Japanese Common Forest from History.” Presentation in Asian Law and Society Association (ALSA) Conference, Osaka Univesity, December 12–15, 2019.

Tsing, Anna L. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruin. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Yamamoto, Shinji. 2003. “Forest Volunteer Activity in Japan.” In Local Commons and Democratic Environmental Governance, edited by Takeshi Murota and Ken Takeshita. Tokyo–New York–Paris: United Nations University Press. 287–302.




[1] I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Sozaburo Mitamayama (Osaka University of Tourism) for his hospitality and assistance during my research visit in Japan. I am also thankful for a series of insightful discussions that I have had with Motoko Shimagami (Ehime University), Gaku Mitsumata (Hyogo University), Gakuto Takamura (Ritsumeikan University), and Mamoru Kanzaki and Daisuke Naito (Kyoto University), and for the fruitful comments by Hoko Horri (Leiden University) for this article.

[2] In this article, the terms “common forest” and “iriai forest” are used interchangeably.

[3] See also Kentaro Miyanaga and Daisaku Shimada (2018), who identify three main driving factors that lead to the underuse of common forests in Japan: demographic drivers, socioeconomic drivers, and institutional drivers.

[4] See. https://ecovillage.org/projects/what-is-an-ecovillage/

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The State and the Rights of Individuals: Pursuing Research at the Graduate Institute Geneva

April 16, 2020
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Using an SRA grant, Benedikt Behlert spent four months from September 2019 to January 2020 as a junior visiting fellow at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, which proved to be highly beneficial for his PhD project on the administrative procedures required to protect human rights. 

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My PhD project on “The Necessity of a Conversation between the Administration and the Individual: The Relevance of Procedure to International Human Rights” asks the question whether international human rights law requires states to have in place structured decision-making procedures for their administrative bodies. Such procedures are often perceived as a nuisance by the two sides involved—the administration and the individual confronted with it—and as an unwelcome hurdle in reaching their objectives.

The Maison de la Paix, home of the Graduate Institute Geneva.

This perception clouds the value of administrative procedure, however, which can protect individual rights against arbitrary state action. This protective potential is realized first and foremost by involving the individual in the decision-making process, such as by granting them a right to be heard and requiring reasons for a negative decision. This is the insight from which my normative analysis of international human rights law commences.

The different ways in which individuals are potentially confronted by administrative bodies are numerous. Beyond “everyday encounters,” such as when an individual applies for a permit, there are complex and sensitive human-rights issues like the ongoing “migration crisis” that highlight the relevance of this inquiry.

What does international human rights law say about the relevance of procedures for the protection of the rights of migrants and refugees? Does it require institutionalized procedures to examine whether a person’s claim for asylum is well-founded? What should such procedures look like? A thorough understanding of the general relationship between the laws governing international human rights and administrative procedures should help answer such questions about specific encounters between state administrations and individuals.

Comparison with Constitutional Rights

One chapter of my thesis draws inspiration from German constitutional law, in particular, the German doctrine of constitutional rights. The connection between administrative procedure and German constitutional rights has been discussed for more than 40 years. The ideas and arguments found in this discourse are by now well-developed, and given the striking structural and substantial similarities, they might provide valuable insights for human-rights-based arguments.

The goal of this comparative exercise was to learn something about the structure and nature of international human rights law, which will inform the subsequent part of my thesis where I try to construct an international-human-rights-law-based argument in favor of procedural rights and obligations.

However, looking for inspiration from one’s own jurisdiction carries a certain risk for the international lawyer. The outcome of research may be too heavily influenced by one’s own background and thus irrelevant to the international legal discourse. In order to avoid falling into this trap, I decided to write the part of my thesis focusing on the similarities and differences between constitutional rights and international human rights in a highly international research environment.

I had the great honor of spending four months at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva as a junior visiting fellow. With its very diverse faculty and even more diverse student body, the Graduate Institute Geneva—also a Sylff institution—was just the right place for me to get the inspiration and critical feedback I needed.

The view from my workplace at the Graduate Institute Geneva.

The Benefits of an International Research Environment

I reviewed pertinent German constitutional law literature and international human rights law literature during my stay. The vast number of resources available at the Graduate Institute and its library were a great help. Most importantly, however, I had the chance to talk to researchers at various levels—PhDs, postdocs, and professors—from different disciplinary and national backgrounds, both informally and in more formal settings. Everyone at the International Law Department was extremely welcoming and helpful. In numerous talks with members of the world-renowned faculty and fellow PhD students, I received valuable input.

Furthermore, I gave a presentation in a roundtable session at the International Law Department, which was followed by an engaging and stimulating discussion. Not only did all these talks enable me to think about the German ideas more critically, but they also helped me to find more effective ways to present my findings to an international audience, which is the eventual target of my thesis.

Beyond the direct benefits for my research, my time as a junior visiting fellow at the Graduate Institute helped to broaden my horizon more generally. Almost every day, a high-level event with leading figures of international politics took place in the grand auditorium, exposing me to many interesting and informed analyses of current issues and crises. The junior visiting fellowship thus enabled me to better perceive my research within the bigger picture of international studies. Finally, the support which the International Law Department and the visiting fellows office provided was outstanding, very personal, and made my stay comfortable and easy.

Being a junior visiting fellow at the Graduate Institute Geneva was a splendid experience. I am certain that my thesis will reflect the inspiration and input I received during my stay. I am immensely grateful to the Sylff Association for funding my stay in Geneva with a generous SRA award, and I can only encourage other fellows who have not done so to make use of the extraordinary opportunities the Sylff Association provides!

Jonction, the place in Geneva where the Rhône and the Arve meet.

Behlert's related article "Forced Migration in Transition: Perspectives from Social Science and Law" can be read at www.sylff.org/news_voices/27466/.

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Forced Migration in Transition: Perspectives from Social Science and Law

February 6, 2020

In November 2019, we, members of the Sylff Mikrokolleg on Forced Migration at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB), hosted the conference “Forced Migration in Transition: Perspectives from Social Science and Law” at our home university in Bochum, Germany. The conference brought together researchers and practitioners from different disciplines to tackle pressing issues revolving around forced migration.

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The Sylff Mikrokolleg on Forced Migration

Our three-member organizing committee consisted of Benedikt Behlert, Corinna Land, and Robin Ramsahye. Benedikt and Robin are PhD students in international law at RUB’s Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (IFHV). Corinna is a PhD student at the Social Science Faculty. All of us are current or former fellows of the Sylff Mikrokolleg on Forced Migration at RUB. The Mikrokolleg was established in 2017 as an interdisciplinary group of four PhD students contributing to the field of forced migration studies from different angles through their individual PhD projects and through common projects like our conference. By now, it has assembled a network of eighteen members around itself, consisting of seven professors, three current Sylff fellows, and eight associates, two of whom are former fellows. Following the aim of Sylff to “nurture leaders who will initiate action to transcend differences and address issues confronting contemporary society,” the theme for this micro assembly of young researchers at the doctoral level was quickly found: forced migration, one of the greatest challenges facing the international community today.

An Interdisciplinary Conference Bringing Together Academia and Practice

Given the contemporary dynamics of human mobility, scholarly debates on “forced migration” gained new momentum over the last year. Controversial discussions often revealed a set of highly important challenges concerning theoretical, conceptual, and methodological approaches. They also confirmed that it was impossible to truly understand this multidimensional issue without intense cooperation between various disciplines.

Against this backdrop, our conference provided a highly necessary platform to discuss recent research findings and theoretical approaches. The fruitful academic exchange was enriched by perspectives of experts from the human rights and development practice who assured the real-world relevance of the debate.

Experts from humanities and law as well as representatives from civil society met in four consecutive workshops and raised yet unanswered questions at the heart of the matter: What is forced migration after all? How do we define it? How useful is distinguishing between legal and other categories? What is the role of affected individuals in forced migration studies? How can we mitigate the pressure to migrate? And what are our possibilities and responsibilities as academics and citizens to defend public discourse from ever more xenophobic and exclusionary voices?

Transitions of Concepts, Perspectives, Law and Space

Panel 1 chaired by Corinna Land, far right, examined the concept of forced migration in the present context.

Panel 1, titled “Transition of Concepts” and chaired by Corinna Land, reflected our interdisciplinary discussions as Kolleg fellows as to what our common project should focus on. It showed that the definitional clarity that a lawyer is trained to seek cannot be conjured out of thin air when it concerns such a contentious and complex term as forced migration. The contributions of all four panelists highlighted that forced migration is conceptualized today as an integral part of global social inequalities that continuously produce forced mobility. Focusing on the African continent, Serge Palasie, a practitioner with the nongovernmental organization Eine Welt Netz, presented a macrohistorical overview of reasons for such inequalities, drawing a link from European colonialist exploitation to contemporary hegemonic practices of states underpinning the global economic order. Christopher Boyd, a doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow’s School of Law, built on this approach with a critique of the international legal system. As “part of the problem,” international law cements hegemonic political projects as law and is thus inherently limited in providing solutions. Dr. Isabella Risini, an international law researcher at Ruhr University Bochum, equally emphasized the complexity of forced migration in a globalized world in which political, economic, and social questions are tightly interwoven and argued for a moderate role of international lawyers. Dennis Dijkzeul, professor of organization and conflict research at the IFHV, reminded the audience of the importance of gaining a wider understanding of forced migration processes through the actors involved, including states and, increasingly, networks of international organizations and NGOs.

Benedikt Behlert, right, moderates Panel 2, which provided insights for protecting individual migrants’ human rights.

Panel 2, called “Transition of Perspectives” and chaired by Benedikt Behlert, moved the focus from the broader notion of forced migration to individual forced migrants. It explored the rise of actor-oriented theories in law and social sciences transcending the longstanding image of migrants and refugees as passive beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance. The panel acted as a forum to discuss what agency these groups have in defending their interests. Legal scholars Dr. Itamar Mann from the University of Haifa and Dr. Ekaterina Yahyaoui from the University of Ireland, Galway, presented their approaches. Taking writer Behrouz Boochani’s account of life in an Australian refugee detention center on Manus Island in the Pacific as a starting point, Dr. Mann illustrated cases of judicial activism in favor of refugees’ human rights. Having himself brought a claim regarding detention practices against Australian authorities before the International Criminal Court, he provided insights on ways in which international law may be used to further migrants’ rights. Dr. Yahyaoui explored theoretical approaches to circumscribing actors in need of international support, based on the “turn to vulnerability” in refugee and forced migration studies. Criticizing this approach for its lack of nuance, she argued for increased consideration of substantive equality as part of the established human rights framework, coupled with the theory of intersectionality, which allows for engagement with individual experiences instead of schematic categorizations.

Panel 3 chaired by Robin Ramsahye, far right, discussed relations between disputes of land rights and forced migrations.

Panel 3, themed on “Transition of Law” and chaired by Robin Ramsahye, zoomed in on the specific scenario of land allocation within populations and ensuing conflicts as an important driver of forced migration. International litigator Lucy Claridge of Amnesty International provided insights into the Endorois case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. As counsel, she represented members of the Endorois community, who had been displaced by the Kenyan government, in their quest for restoration of their historic land and compensation. Professor Jochen von Bernstorff from the University of Tübingen assessed current efforts to recognize the right to land in international law and examined the structural implications of land rights for the broader framework of international law. Dr. Kei Otsuki of Utrecht University explored the notion of infrastructural violence, pointing to problematic aspects of progressive legal frameworks in reaction to modernization and resettlement, which ultimately contributed to legitimizing and formalizing displacement. Mariana de Martos from the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle concluded the panel by analyzing the discrepancies between the law and its implementation through a case study of indigenous peoples’ land rights in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.

Panel 4 chaired by Carolin Funke, far right, looked at the issue of migrants’ integration into their host communities.

Lastly, Panel 4, “Transition of Space” chaired by Carolin Funke, a post-doctoral researcher at the IFHV, opened the conference lens to the wider societal discourse. Both the findings of academic research and practical work on the issue of migration often seem to be drowned out by highly emotional and shrill debates, increasingly dominated by adherents of extreme positions. The panel contextualized these observations from the perspectives of academia, practice, and the media. Professor Ludger Pries of Ruhr University Bochum stressed that refugees and migrants are often either maligned or paternalized. He stressed that narrow views labeling them as intruders or target groups for transnational solidarity miss the mark, since migrants are actors in their own right, shaping their destinies. Building on this, journalist Isabel Schayani provided an account of her daily work covering the fates of migrants stranded on the European outposts that many of them first arrive at, as well as the lives of migrants who make it to Germany and endeavor to create a life for themselves. Complementing these perspectives, Claudia Jerzak from the University of Applied Sciences for Social Work, Education, and Care in Dresden presented examples of the process of integrating migrants into host communities through highly structured spaces, such as integration courses, and interchangeable, prestructured spaces, such as meeting cafés and self-organized spaces where refugees act as hosts and organizers.

Invaluable Experiences and Much Gratitude

The conference has afforded us a number of lasting experiences and benefits. Securing the funds for and organizing the conference sequence enabled us to familiarize ourselves with many tasks that are of crucial importance in the academic world. Having conceptualized several panels in form and content under an overarching theme, reached out to people and secured commitments of participation, organized international travel, and coped with several last-minute cancellations, we feel we have gained insights that can only be achieved through action. The interdisciplinary character of the conference, merging social scientific and legal approaches to forced migration, was initially challenging to conceive but turned out to be very beneficial. Throughout the phase of substantial preparation, we had to transcend our own disciplinary boundaries in delimiting the panels in a way that worked from the perspectives of both law and social sciences. We were glad to see that the conference participants did the same by engaging in fruitful discussions. Beyond the immediate exchange in the panel discussions, the conference enabled us to expand our professional networks and make valuable contacts through numerous occasions for informal discussions with our guests, many of whom we have arranged to stay in touch with for future cooperation.

We are indebted and very grateful to a number of people and organizations for the conference’s success. First, we would like to express our gratitude to the Sylff Association and the Tokyo Foundation for setting up the Sylff Mikrokolleg on Forced Migration and giving us the opportunity to research and express our ideas through their generous financial and administrative support. A special thank you to Sylff director Yoko Kaburagi is in order for attending our conference and encouraging follow-up exchange.

We also very much appreciate the help of RUB’s Research School, which sponsored the conference and continuously supported us with logistics and procedures, most importantly in the person of Dr. Sarah Gemicioglu.

We would also like to warmly thank all associate fellows and researchers involved with the Sylff Mikrokolleg on Forced Migration and who made valuable contributions to the development of the conference. We are glad to see that there is a lot of interest in our Kolleg and that many promising young researchers stand ready to take over and move it forward still.

Behlert's related article "The State and the Rights of Individuals: Pursuing Research at the Graduate Institute Geneva" can be read at