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  • Politics and Volunteering in Japan: A Global Perspective
  • Patricia L. Maclachlan (bio)
Politics and Volunteering in Japan: A Global Perspective. By Mary Alice Haddad. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007. xviii, 218 pages. $80.00.

There is something distinctive about the way state and society interact in contemporary Japan—distinctive, that is, from the perspective of Western conceptualizations of civil society. To varying degrees, Western scholars define civil society in a democracy as an autonomous social realm in which individuals freely interact with one another. Although few countries come close to achieving this ideal, there is a tendency in the literature to evaluate different civil societies according to the extent to which they approximate it. Against this measure, Japan invariably comes up short. Postwar Japanese civil society, it is said, has been long weakened by a strong state.

In Politics and Volunteering in Japan, Mary Alice Haddad takes issue with these Western assumptions by exploring the rich and varied phenomenon of volunteerism in Japan. In their fixation with citizen participation in autonomous social groups, she observes, students of civil society have overlooked the comparatively high rates of Japanese citizen participation in what she terms "embedded organizations"—those that have close relations with the state. These entities, she argues, should be interpreted not so much as examples of the state's control over civil society as evidence that the two spheres are complementary; the state helps nurture civil society, while civil society helps perform state functions for the sake of the community. Japan, in other words, has a strong state and a vibrant civil society all at the same time. [End Page 224]

Haddad deepens her observations by exploring different patterns and rates of volunteerism not only in Japan but also in the United States, Finland, and Turkey. Differences in volunteer patterns, she explains, are determined by norms of civic engagement that are in turn shaped by prevailing citizen ideas about the responsibilities of governments and individuals toward solving social problems. Drawing on data from the World Values Surveys, Haddad establishes a correlation in the United States between preferences for individual responsibility and the proliferation of autonomous or "non-embedded" organizations. In Japan, where citizens are much more inclined to lean on government to tackle social problems, participation in embedded organizations is far more prevalent. In Finland, community norms favoring a sharing of responsibility between individuals and government have shaped a civic environment in which both types of organizations are common. Finally, in Turkey, where citizens harbor moderate attitudes toward governmental and individual responsibility, mixed-type organizations are most common.

To explain variations in rates of participation within Japan, Haddad analyzes the experiences of two embedded organizations (volunteer fire departments and the volunteer welfare commissioner system) and one nonembedded organization (elder care groups) in three mid-sized cities. She persuasively argues that building and sustaining volunteer organizations of any kind are dependent on the availability of three sets of resources: legitimacy, organization, and funding. She finds that government is usually the primary supplier of these resources and that embedded organizations tend to receive more of them than nonembedded organizations. She also observes that even among embedded organizations, the rate of civic participation tends to vary across cities depending on the degree to which these resources are present.

Haddad applies both quantitative and qualitative research methods to test not only her Community Volunteerism Model but also alternative explanations. In chapter 3, for example, she draws on survey data to establish that variations in education, income, television viewing, and other conventional predictors of individual volunteerism in a community have less influence on aggregate rates of participation in civic organizations than community norms about individual and government responsibility in solving social problems. Stated in more methodological terms, "[c]ivic participation is a collective phenomenon and not just the sum of individual activities" (p. 167). On the basis of this methodological claim, she builds her theoretical argument that these norms shape patterns of civic engagement in a society, while governmental practices that help legitimize, organize, and fund that engagement determine differences in rates of volunteer participation across communities. Haddad backs these observations with the results of numerous statistical tests, leaving detailed descriptions of those...


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