EDEV_506 Week 4_4

Thanks for sharing your analysis of how your father’s cultural background influenced his actions on his children thousands of miles from his homeland. As a father in the same position, I try to be as clear as possible as to the sources of values I impose on my young children who are being brought up in Japan. I do try, however, to find a balance between the Scottish imposition and what their Japanese cultural context expects of them.

You decide that the continuum running from “individualism [to] collectivism is a universal concept” (Yee, 2016). Although I agree with you, I do so for another reason. At one level it is trivial to state that all humans are born and die as individuals and that we need to exist collectively in a society in order to survive. These two facts of existence set up the necessary conditions for biological, social and psychological individualism and collectivism. They are inescapable. More interestingly yet still trivial is the attempt to ascertain the degree to which particular social units expect their members to develop levels of individualism and collectivism and still remain within that social unit. Such analyses ignore the fact that any particular individual is not a single being; we are simultaneously of multiple beings: fathers, sons, teachers, co-workers, lovers, friends, subordinates, leaders and followers, etc., all with different degrees of expectations of individualism and collectivism. In terms of Japanese collectivism, Hofstede (2015) notes that the Japan individualism score is roughly in the middle of the spectrum yet Japan is commonly seen to be collectivist. This conceptual discrepancy is accounted for by the social-temporal choice a Japanese has in their life cycle. Each Japanese has a high degree of freedom regarding which group to belong to, which makes their individualism score very high, but when they have made their choice, they are expected to give ultimate loyalty to that group, which makes their collectivist score very high (Hofstede, 2015). The average is what most researchers base their work on, yet that figure is a sociological fluke.

So, what becomes interesting is the analysis of the intersection between the various possible continua within the single individual, how those lines interact with others in similar situations and how a truer, phenomenologically accurate picture can be perceived. In other words, social psychology emanating from the micro and working towards the macro.  Perhaps leadership theory may be better served by training future leaders in the mechanics of how a single social unit operates before widening the discussion onto larger scale (i.e. pre-universal) variables.

You may wonder, and I suppose many people in this forum are, why I insist on trying to redefine the task for this week when so much work has been done so far into leadership theory. When you were forced to work in the restaurant, you had to operate within a particular power structure. When I take orders from a boss, no amount of personal characteristics, no leadership trait, no style of leadership, no concept of leadership theory, and so on, will actually affect the fact that the power structure enforces decision making and following. And these power structures are so malleable and contextual as to render impossible any act of precise definition. Cart before horse sums up the attempt to understand leadership outside of context.

I asked a senior colleague, who has had fourteen years of experience in my university, about the various leadership qualities of the deans who had passed through in that time. He laughed: the two-year elected position was viewed upon by most as a burden and acted upon by no one. Since the incorporatisation of Japanese national universities in 2004 (Arimoto, Cummings, Huang, & Shin, 2015), the power structure of national universities changed from a flat, faculty-based centre to the semblance of a corporate, triangle system with the President (rijicho) holding most of the theoretical power (Mock, Kawamura, & Naganuma, 2016). One effect of this change has been to redefine the location and agency of leadership from being within the faculty to residing outside of it.


Arimoto, A., Cummings, W. K., Huang, F., & Shin, J. C. (2015). The Changing Academic Profession in Japan. Cham: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-09468-7

Hofstede, G. (2015). Japan. Retrieved October 18, 2015, from http://geert-hofstede.com/japan.html

Mock, J., Kawamura, H., & Naganuma, N. (2016). The Impact of Internationalization on Japanese Higher Education: Is Japanese Education Really Changing?(Vol. 1). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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