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Technology and Culture 42.2 (2001) 396-397

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Book Review

Technology and Innovation in Japan: Policy Management for the Twenty-First Century

Technology and Innovation in Japan: Policy Management for the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Martin Hemmert and Christian Oberländer. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. Pp. xvii+256. $90.

Since the early 1990s the use of the word "technology" among economists and the econometrically minded has increased exponentially. A key crossover phrase was "technology stocks." Digitally remastered, "technology" has arrived at the new millennium mobile and quick, while "economy" sounds like it always has, only more so. Of the latest seven books in the Routledge Studies in the Growth Economies of Asia series, of which this is number eighteen, the t-word appears in the titles of three, and the e-word in two ("economic" was in four of the previous ten titles, and "technology" in none). Could it be that "economy" is in the process of being replaced by "technology," the linguistic equivalent of the rise of the NASDAQ? "Technology" has certainly replaced "industrial(ization)" in this milieu; that hasn't shown up in the title of a series entry since number seven.

More use, however, doesn't necessarily mean more nuance, or any bleeding through of meanings from sectors labeled "cultural" or "social." "Technology," as most contributors to Martin Hemmert and Christian Oberländer's volume have typed it onto their pages, remains as opaque as "growth," "structure," "R&D," "system," and "paradigm." It has simply migrated to the head of the word list without affecting its pattern or structure. Not that the contributors speak the same disciplinary or national languages; in fact, this volume is diverse on both counts (thirteen Japanese and eight Europeans, from institutes or departments of science, economics, engineering, and even surgery). "Technology" has followed a career path toward greater imprecision precisely because it has become a pidgin for more intensively interdisciplinary and transnational collaborations.

Still, this collection has its moments. Tim Ray writes in a culturally informed way about "differences between Japanese and British knowledge-creating systems." He suggests, for instance, that Japanese firms nurture "rugby-style" organizations, with "innovation" a product of the scrum rather than of discrete laboratories labeled "R&D." Working similar themes, Hiroyuki Odagiri writes of the (Japanese) firm as "a collection of skills," [End Page 396] which combine according to formulas undiscoverable through official statistics or organizational charts. In response to stale Western arguments that Japanese firms are "paternalistic," "feudal," "closed," or otherwise little changed since Perry arrived, Odagiri's description is more evocative of integrated circuitry and packet switching. The one contributor who includes Nathan Rosenberg in his bibliography, Odigiri is wise to "convergence," "tacit knowledge," and other concepts that, though nearly as venerable now as "system," nonetheless make "technology" malleable and give it identifiably human parts.

If Odagiri and Ray are close to right, then the analyses by other contributors of shifting R&D spending by the Japanese government, changing amounts of university funding, changing numbers of researchers in private firms, and the like are somewhat beside the point, as they lack insight into how things happen outside word categories in everyday use at the World Bank. It is remarkable, given how much scholarship is produced within and outside Japan about "Japanese technology," that this phrase still leaves such vague impressions. Or rather, we have too few stories from Japan that rival the best accounts of American and European technoscience in action, although the raw material is in many cases even richer. Most contributions in this volume are slices of pâté, to use Bruno Latour's famous analogy, rather than the joints of the animal itself. That animal is not "Japanese culture," the alternative analytic that the contributors rightly avoid (if too unreflexively). What readers crave are more Traweekesque accounts of making and doing things in various locations around Japan, from Japan to elsewhere, and back from elsewhere to Japan--accounts that, ultimately, might even dispense with "Japan" as their framing device. If "technology and innovation" is going...


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