What is Kyosei?

By Motoi Fuse

Keywords: kyosei, symbiosis, humanity–nature relations, conviviality

The word kyosei is used in the Japanese vernacular to mean symbiosis, conviviality, or living together. It can be used to describe relations between the sexes, different cultures, handicapped and non-handicapped people, humans and animals, humans and nature, and so on. Kyosei always covers human-to-human relations and humanity–nature relations. From the latter half of the twentieth century, it has been used to deal with ecological and social problems integrally. But used as a social ideal, kyosei attracted advocates both inside academia and out, subsequently introducing a range of meanings, even ambiguities. Thus Japanese political parties have applied the concept in both Right- and Left-leaning ways.

Given these circumstances, an Association for Kyosei Studies, aiming for transdisciplinary inquiry into social systems, was established in 2006 in Japan. The prospectus sets out to clarify concepts of kyosei and grounds these substantively in the real world. This association found a common denominator beneath the various understandings of kyosei. It established the fact that in general, kyosei aims to enhance equality and sustainability by respecting the heterogeneity of languages, cultures and climates.

The contemporary Japanese philosopher Shuji Ozeki (2015) has devised a framework for categorizing kyosei under three heads: ‘sanctuary’, ‘competition’, and ‘communality’. The kyosei of sanctuary is pre-modern in orientation and represented in the ideas of architect, Kisho Kurokawa. It authorizes sanctuaries to protect and support conservative traditional societies and communities. The kyosei of competition is modernist in orientation and characterized by the ideas of legal philosopher Tatsuo Inoue. The principle of competition promotes heterogeneity, individualization, and denies communality. These two forms of kyosei are antithetical.

The third variety – kyosei of communality – is postmodern and expressed in the ideas of philosopher Kohei Hanazaki, ethicist Takashi Kawamoto, and theatrical director Toshiharu Takeuchi. It contrasts communalization, cooperation, and solidarity with the principle of competition as found in market fundamentalism and its social practices. Communality here is not simply traditional but emphasizes the needs and views of socially weaker and vulnerable people, exposing elements of inequality and subordination concealed in some usages of the word kyosei. The Hokkaido-based philosopher and activist Hanazaki has used kyosei to advocate rights for the indigenous Ainu people of Japan.

Concerning the third and communal type of kyosei, it must be added that there is another Japanese ideal of ‘communality’ called kyodo. However, whereas in communality, values, norms, and aims are shared, kyosei highlights the positive aspects of living together and experiences of mutual revitalization across differences. This kyosei respecting heterogeneity is counterposed to both the traditional communality of homogenization and the modernist struggle for existence through the market system. The third version of kyosei sublates the first two forms. It accepts conflict and rivalry as historical moments.

Turning to kyosei and the humanity–nature relation: as the ecological crisis becomes ever more serious, conventional ways of looking at this relation have been reconsidered, and currently, preference is being given to building sustainability in accord with the laws of nature. As an alternative orientation, kyosei has been applied in agricultural contexts by Ozeki, focusing on labour which mediates humanity and nature and activates the metabolism between them. In environmental theory, the conflict between anthropocentrism and ecocentrism can be overcome by applying the integral logic of kyosei. Here, both humanity and nature are regarded as subjects.

Further Resources

Association for Kyosei Studies, http://www.kyosei-gakkai.jp/.

Hanazaki, Kohei (2001), Identity to Kyosei no Tetsugaku. Tokyo: Heibonsha.

Murakami, Yoichiro, Noriko Kawamura and Shin Chiba (eds) (2005), Toward a
Peaceable Future: Redefining Peace, Security, and Kyosei from a Multidisciplinary
Pullman: Washington State University Press.

Ozeki, Shuji (2015), Tagenteki Kyosei Shakaiga Miraiwo Hiraku. Tokyo: Agriculture
and Forestry Statistics Publishing Inc.

Ozeki, Shuji and Yoshio Yaguchi, Sumio Kameyama and Koshin Kimura (eds)
(2016), Kyosei Shakai I. Tokyo: Norin Tokei Shuppan.

Motoi Fuse was born in 1981 and gained his PhD from Tokyo University of Agriculture
and Technology (TUAT) in 2011. He lectures at Tokyo University as well as at Tokyo
Kasei University and Musashino University, Japan. He has published on environmental
philosophy in the Japan based Journal of Environmental Thought and Education.

Essay originally published in Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary (Edited by Ashish Kothari, Ariel Salleh, Arturo Escobar, Federico Demaria, and Alberto Acosta)

Published with kind permission of the authors.

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