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  • Group Characteristics Based on “Place” (1967)
  • Nakane Chie (bio)
    Translated by Paul Roquet (bio)

1. Keys to Group Analysis: “Qualification” and “Place”

Defining “Qualification” and “Place”

Considered at a highly abstract level, there are two different factors primarily determining the creation of social groups: qualification and place.1 In other words, the first condition for the formation of a group is either a common qualification (shikaku) shared by the individuals that compose it, or the individuals’ coexistence within the same place (ba).

Qualification here refers to a much wider range of criteria than the usual sense of the word, describing any social attribute of the individual that qualifies it as belonging to a particular group. For example, there are attributes obtained through birth, such as family name and hereditary status, as well as those acquired after birth, including education, social position, and occupation. There are economic distinctions such as between employer and employee or landlord and tenant. Then there are social distinctions based on biology, such as male and female, young and old. Each of these can be understood as qualifications.

Whenever these attributes are used as the basis for distinguishing between individuals within a group and those excluded from it, we can say the group is formed based on qualification. Examples include specific occupational groups, patrilineal groups based on blood relations, and groups based on caste.

In contrast, groups “based on place” are determined by individuals’ presence within the frame of a particular area or affiliation, irrespective of differences in their individual attributes. For example, we could imagine a group composed of the members of Village X. In the context of industry, “lathe workers” would be a group based on qualification, whereas “personnel of Corporation P” would be a group established through location. [End Page 170] Similarly, “teachers,” “office clerks,” and “students” refer to groups based on qualification, whereas “R University Affiliates” describes a group based on place.

Variation Between Societies

In any society, individuals belong to social groups based on qualification and place. There may be some instances where a single social group is formed through an exact correspondence between both factors, but in most cases they overlap, allowing an individual to belong to different types of group at the same time. What I find interesting here is that some societies prioritize either groups based on qualification or groups based on place, while others give equal weight to both types.

Which criteria are prioritized is closely related to the values of a given society, and this method of analysis presents a way to clearly examine how a society is constructed. The societies of Japan and India provide the sharpest contrast. That is to say, the group consciousness of the Japanese is heavily oriented toward place, whereas in India, to the contrary, group consciousness emphasizes qualification (symbolized above all by caste, a social group decided by occupation and social standing). I do not have the space to fully consider Indian society here, but from the global perspective of social anthropology, there is no greater theoretical opposition in social structure than between Japan and India. In this context, the societies of China and Europe are not as polarized and can be positioned somewhere in the middle (and if anything, fall closer to India).

2. Japanese Society’s Emphasis on “Place”

Company Name Emphasized Over Job Description

We will now turn to the main focus of this analysis, the emphasis on place found in Japanese social groups.

When Japanese situate themselves in relation to others, they tend to prioritize place over qualifications. Before describing themselves as a journalist or an engineer, they will first claim to be from Corporation A or Corporation S. What their listener wants to know first is likewise whether the speaker is from Corporation A or Corporation S, and only subsequently whether they are a journalist or a printer, an engineer or an office clerk.

Sometimes someone will say “I am from Q Television Station,” and people will assume they work as a producer or a cameraperson, whereas in reality they actually serve the company as a driver (in Japan nowadays everyone wears suits, so it is often difficult to tell at a glance what kind of...


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pp. 170-178
Launched on MUSE
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