Studying the Relationship between Nature and Society through Fieldwork
Taisuke Miyauchi , Professor
Graduate School of Letters (Faculty of Letters)
High school : Aiko Gakuen
Academic background : doctoral program of the University of Tokyo
- Research areas
- environmental sociology
- Research keywords
- nature, fieldwork, local communities
Study Nature through Society
Photo 1. Reef bed in Ishinomaki, Miyagi
Fig. 1. Nature and Societies
Photo 2. Fieldwork
I am studying the desirable relationships between natural environments and people. While we frequently hear messages such as “Protect the environment” and “Biodiversity is important,” the actual situation in the field is never so simple. To begin with, exactly what categories of nature need to be protected is actually not very clear. The kind of nature that some people find desirable differs from that which others find desirable.
In the first place, people never relate to nature on their own but rather within some sort of social system. Thus, the question of “What is the desirable relationship between natural environments and people?” translates into “What kind of social system is desirable?” It is here that local communities play an important role.
For example, there is an expansive reed bed in the Kitakami River estuary in Ishinomaki, Miyagi. This reed bed, which has become a rarity these days, is maintained by local folks, who harvest it every year. In recent years, it has been learned that reed beds are very important for biodiversity; however, the reed beds could not have been sustained without the work of humans. For this particular reed bed, each village in the area has the right to harvest it. In this community, people from each village have close ties with one another, with the traditional organization of villages holding sway. This traditional organization and the rights and title to the reed bed have been linked to create a system in which the community organizationally utilizes and maintains the reed bed.
My research is aimed at clarifying this kind of social system surrounding nature and seeking better social systems for the future.
In recent years, in addition to this kind of traditional relationship with nature, new forms of relationships with nature that involve the participation of governments and civil society groups are gaining popularity. The theme of my research includes determining what an ideal relationship is, along with how to make such a relationship work. Thus far, it has been found that plural values, a flexible process, adaptability, social learning, and localized professionals are key.
How do you conduct your surveys?
Photo 3. Interview
My surveys center on fieldwork. A composite method of conducting surveys and fieldwork includes: (1) observing various phenomena in the field (participatory observation); (2) listening to people’s stories (interviews); and (3) collecting materials. Listening to people’s stories is central to fieldwork. We carefully interview people who have lived in the area under survey. For many people, the word “survey” may invoke an image of having a set of predetermined questions and visiting people to ask these questions. In actuality, it is during the interview that the questions take shape.
Most of the data collected in this way is represented as characters (known as “qualitative data,” in contrast to quantitative data represented as figures). How does one analyze this vast amount of qualitative data, and how does one derive theories from it? There are various methods and I am also studying this methodological aspect.
(1) Makoto Inoue and Taisuke Miyauchi eds., Komonzu no Shakaigaku (Sociology of the Commons), Shinyosha (2001)
(2) Taisuke Miyauchi ed., Hansaibai no Kankyo Shakaigaku (Environmental Sociology of Semi-domestication), Showado (2009)
(3) Taisuke Miyauchi ed., Naze Kankyo Hozen wa Umaku Ikanainoka: Genba karano “Junnoteki Governance” no Kanousei (Why Conservation Does Not Work: Possibility of “Accommodative Governance” in the Field), Shinsensha (2013)