Editorial Introduction

The Cases of Japan, Australia, and the United States

in The International Journal of Social Quality
Author:
Harry G. J. NijhuisUniversity of Nijmegen, The Netherlands and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, USA hgjnijhuis@gmail.com

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Laurent J.G. van der MaesenInternational Association on Social Quality, The Netherlands hgjnijhuis@gmail.com

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As has been extensively shown in this thematic issue, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded many frictions and shortcomings of quite different natures in various societal fields. Moreover, many problems that has previously been latent and not easy to observe have risen to the surface. In this part, three quite diverging problematics, compounded and exposed by the COVID-19 crisis, are studied and discussed. In order to reveal general patterns, in this introduction we try to reveal what—in an ontological and epistemological sense—precisely their nature is, and how they relate to the studies in the other parts of this thematic issue.

As has been extensively shown in this thematic issue, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded many frictions and shortcomings of quite different natures in various societal fields. Moreover, many problems that has previously been latent and not easy to observe have risen to the surface. In this part, three quite diverging problematics, compounded and exposed by the COVID-19 crisis, are studied and discussed. In order to reveal general patterns, in this introduction we try to reveal what—in an ontological and epistemological sense—precisely their nature is, and how they relate to the studies in the other parts of this thematic issue.

In the case of Japan, the pandemic increased frictions and contradictions. The issues discussed are (1) the shortfall in care labor and the increased need for care in a strongly aging Japanese society; (2) the legislation, policies, and managerial strategies needed to complement the care labor market with immigrant workers form surrounding Asian countries; and (3) transcultural frictions experienced by the migrant workers in Japanese society, which is relatively homogenous. The approach to discussing this complex societal, transcultural, and international issue is composed of several angles. The analysis includes the complex interplay between the constitutional and conditional factors of social quality, referring to experiences of Japanese elderly and migrant care workers in their daily lives. It also—on a more abstract level—discusses processes in the sociocultural and welfare dimension, in the sociopolitical and legal dimension, and in the socioeconomic and financial dimension. In the earlier articles (i.e., those in Parts I to IV), the focus in the deployed frameworks was placed either primarily on the social quality analytical framework (Pakistan, United States) or on the intersections between the dimensions of societal life, emphasizing the dominant role of the sociopolitical and legal dimension (China, Italy) or the role of the sociocultural and welfare dimension (Germany, United Kingdom). In the Japanese case study, connections are explored between conditional factors of daily life and various dimensions of societal life. The final conclusions of the study clearly reveal this complexity of interacting factors and processes:

A more detailed examination of care dynamics at a micro level will provide us with evidence for the need to create a more flexible pathway to understand what type of “socio-emotional commons” is developing in Japan. … However, the current care nexus dilemma in Japan will not improve without a reflective overhaul of what constitutes Japan itself. A part of the solution will ultimately rest in the body politic, which, as it ages, will place a conditioned demand for care that intimately ties Japan to the Asia-Pacific region and further beyond.

Apparently also the excluding nature of Japanese culture and international relationships in the Southeast Asian region are also part of the issue. Clearly, other studies to come are needed to fully comprehend this multifactorial and multidimensional societal complexity. This is the case even more so because the Japanese situation represents a contemporary universal pressing issue (migration and labor) that requires ample attention in many countries. The exploration of the complexity involved in this societal theme may be assisted by deploying frameworks such as those developed in the social quality approach.

The case of Australia specifically focuses on (the changes in the) workings of “trust” as an important force in the societal dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interpersonal trust and institutional trust are conceived as distinct factors of the conditional factor of social cohesion. Through interviews, the experiences and perceptions of middle-aged women regarding trust are explored. They are discussed with regard to how they have significance: (1) as a connecting force in interpersonal and institutional relationships; and (2) as a societal prerequisite for compliance with government recommendations and measures. Specific attention is given to the importance of the consistency of expert information, and the role of information through social media in reproducing and/or disturbing trust. Apparently, it is—close to the everyday lived experience of the interviewees—discussed as a component of the dynamics constituting the social quality of the daily circumstances of life. By abstracting from these personal experiences, interpretations are made in the sociocultural dimension (interpersonal relationships, cohesive society). However, through interpretations in the realm of compliance with experts and imposed government measures, trust is also discussed in the context of the sociopolitical and legal dimension. In its relationships with the contents and workings of social media, an extremely complex sociocultural, socioeconomic as well as sociopolitical issue is broached. The study though did specifically focus on what happened to trust as such, not yet seeking elaborations in the (intersections of) the dimensions of societal life. Since trust in many respects constitutes such a crucial factor in the dynamics of societies, comprehensive studies aiming to uncover the complexities involved may lean some more on the social quality approach's analytical framework to unravel these complexities.

The theme presented in the study from the United States concerns an epistemological and methodological subject. The case of exploration is hospitals’ shrinking nursing capacity in relation to management procurement strategies. This topic appears to be very significant in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deploying the analytical Cynefin framework, it is argued that—especially in societal crisis situations—problems should not be simplified, for instance, to readily visible close cause-and-effect relationships. Usually problems, such as providing flexible nursing capacity in hospitals, are complex and do involve many other factors that are operational in the relevant societal environment. To create solutions for the complex problem of nursing capacity, the latter need to be involved, understood, and tackled in order to create sustainable solutions. It is clear that, looking from the procedural framework, many specific factors and processes in the four societal dimensions are part of the problem. It seems that just conceiving the nursing problem as an extensive managerial issue of hospital managers would not do justice to its complexity. It would then be considered only with regard to the managerial aspects of the socioeconomic and financial dimension. It seems more obvious to also connect the problem (from the sociopolitical and legal dimension) with the commercially oriented healthcare system in the United States as well as with the underlying neoliberal politics that prevail in many areas of American society.

The argument raised in this contribution also refers to the debate regarding the adverse impacts of reductionist tendencies in the positivist, atomistic human sciences. By reducing problems—such as those experienced by hospital managers and others on a daily basis—to their appearances, we miss their deeper structure. Therefore, insight into these underlying structures is also lacking (Westbroek et al. 2020).

Reference

Westbroek, J., L. J. G. van der Maesen, and H. G. J. Nijhuis. 2020, “Evolutionary Thermodynamics and Theory of Social Quality as Links between Physics, Biology and Human Sciences.” International Journal of Social Quality 10 (1): 5786. doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2020.100104.

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The International Journal of Social Quality

(formerly The European Journal of Social Quality)

  • Westbroek, J., L. J. G. van der Maesen, and H. G. J. Nijhuis. 2020, “Evolutionary Thermodynamics and Theory of Social Quality as Links between Physics, Biology and Human Sciences.” International Journal of Social Quality 10 (1): 5786. doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2020.100104.

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