- Public Opinion, Propaganda, Ideology: Theories on the Press and Its Social Function in Interwar Japan, 1918–1937 by Fabian Schäfer
What is the social function of the press and of mass communication? Is it to transmit propaganda and ideology, or to foster knowledge and critical thinking? These are among the core questions addressed by traditional media studies, and they also lie at the heart of general discussions in society at large regarding the press. Western scholars of critical media theory tend to divide into two camps: those who follow the “mass manipulation paradigm”—including Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and Jürgen Habermas—and adherents of the “emancipatory paradigm”—including Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger (p. 122).
Public Opinion, Propaganda, Ideology—based heavily on author Fabian Schäfer’s Ph.D. thesis—is the first comprehensive monograph in Japanese or English to deal with discourse in Japan about the press and its social function during the interwar years. Schäfer not only offers readers a comprehensive “Disziplingeschichte” describing “the . . . accumulation of knowledge within the borders of the discipline” (italics his), but also incorporates “non-academic, or academically marginalized, approaches” (p. 157). His methodology involves a focus on so-called entangled histories (see below), which Schäfer combines in his conclusion with approaches drawn from discourse analysis.
In an introduction followed by six main chapters, the book covers a variety of subjects, including the formation of the modern press in Japan; the foundation and development of newspaper studies; and case studies of media scholars and theorists with a special interest in the press. These latter include journalist and media historian [End Page 175] Ono Hideo (chapter 3); Ono’s protégé Koyama Eizō; sociologists Takebe Tongo and Yoneda Shōtarō (chapter 4); Marxist philosopher Tosaka Jun (chapter 5); and social scientists Sugiyama Sakae and Shimizu Ikutarō (chapter 6). Through a detailed discussion of these East Asian commentators and the ways in which they paralleled, differed from, and were influenced by Western scholars in the field, Schäfer shows that in the mid-1920s both public opinion and intellectual debate on the press shifted away from the idea of the press as a means of “enlightenment, education or modernization” (p. 158) to a reconsideration of its social function and impact. Accompanying this shift were a generational change and also a move toward a notion of public opinion that was based on a plurality of sociological, sociopsychological, and Marxist perspectives rather than on crowd psychology and educational factors.
In the introduction, Schäfer briefly outlines the formation and development of newspaper studies and the discourse on the social role of the press from the Meiji period until the second half of the 1930s, introducing the leading figures involved in these developments and discourse and calling attention to existing studies on the subject. Schäfer claims that newspaper coverage of the 1918 rice riots constituted a turning point in attitudes to the press. With regard to the interwar period more generally, he attributes the period’s rapid intellectual development and introduction and adaptation of new theories to the global circulation of knowledge. This in turn was a consequence of factors such as the growth of global communication and transport infrastructure and the pluralist and democratic developments that marked the 1920s at both the political and social levels.
Chapter 1 gives an overview of how the modern mass press took shape in Japan, starting with the Meiji period. The author argues that most of the newspapers founded in Japan during the nineteenth century sought to support particular political organizations in a manner comparable to the German “Tendenzpresse.” Schäfer charts the emergence of a wide variety of newspapers, most of them with political agendas, ranging from conservative and liberal-democratic newspapers to party papers and the mass press. He attributes the increasing popularity of newspapers, especially during the last years of the Meiji period, to a growing public interest in war reporting, the...