A new community bound by strong ties
Professor, Graduate School of SDM, Keio University
Using a systems approach to address contemporary social issues
The purpose of SDM’s research into social systems is to shed light on how contemporary society operates. Participants in the seminar investigate issues in a wide range of fields, including the environment, tourism, urban/traffic design, agriculture, immigration policy, foreign policy/security, financial systems, and healthcare systems.
These themes may not seem to be connected. What they have in common, however, is a similar research methodology and approach to problems. Regardless of the social system, there are organizations and people we refer to as "stakeholders." The first step is to examine the stakeholders up close, analyze the current situation, and then begin to design the social systems that address the problems we are trying to solve. From there, we use small-scale social experiments and expert reviews to verify that the system we have designed is effective.
Conflicting values: "What is justice?"
This is a difficult issue that we must confront. Unlike the natural sciences, our experiments are not necessarily reproducible, and experts may disagree with how we evaluate them. In large, complex organizations, there are many interested stakeholders, and it is not uncommon for their interests to conflict.
In the film "Dr. Strangelove," director Stanley Kubrick depicts the conflict of values. He uses the "Cuban missile crisis" as a motif to examine the risk of nuclear war that plagued humanity in the 20th century. In the film, scientists pursue only technological progress, politicians are concerned only with political resolutions, and soldiers care only about military victory. Different positions and rules lead to different "objectives" and different "justices."
We try to examine the complex workings of modern society as "systems" and search for solutions to their problems. We try to identify points that all social systems have in common. We look at relationships and linkages between different elements so that we can view the problem as a large structure. This is the core of social systems studies, although the field is still in its infancy.
The starting point is field research in the spirit of "Hangaku Hankyo"
Hangaku hankyo (mutual education) is a commonly used phrase at Keio University. It means that students and teachers both learn from each other and teach each other. We try to practice hangaku hankyo by teaching each other about the fields we know best. This helps us to identify "commonalities" among social systems that we share with our fellow seminar participants.
This research all leads to the "master's thesis." In the master's thesis, we pose the problem we want to solve as a "question" and we create a "hypothesis" for its solution. To do this, we go through a process of "analysis" and "verification" until we finally arrive at a true picture of the "social system" required.
"No study, no comment." This is a phrase from the young Mao Zedong that, from my experience as a journalist, embodies the truth. In the seminar, we teach that the single most important thing is to "go to where it is happening." The first step to problem solving is to get out in the field, plunge right in, express your doubts, concerns, and questions directly to the people involved, and then report on the reactions. We research practical approaches and solutions at SDM, so this method is crucial to what we are trying to achieve.
A new community bound by strong ties
Our students will spend an enormous amount of time on their research activities, so we encourage them to choose themes in which they are truly interested and that will serve them well in the future. Research is a battle against the self. I tell students not to be concerned about my area of expertise, but to find themes they are passionate about so that they really enjoy their research.
Your peer group will support you as you conduct your research. It is an environment in which there is creative tension that is tempered by collaboration between people, and this makes the research fun. Our seminars feature active debates in a lively and stimulating environment. This process helps to refine our research and give it polish.
I hope that SDM students, and indeed anyone who is interested in social systems, will knock on the door of my laboratory. Inside you will find lots of hints about where to go in life.