Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

The National Character of Science: Statistics in modern Japan

  • Author(s): Winther, Jennifer
  • Advisor(s): Roy, William G
  • et al.


The National Character of Science: Statistics in modern Japan

by Jennifer Alycon Winther

Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology

University of California, Los Angeles, 2014

Professor William Roy, Chair

To examine the relationship of ways of knowing with ways of governing, I examine the social and political development of Japanese statistics and find that science is not universal and objective, but profoundly local, shaped by the national cultures and histories in which it is institutionalized. The present research attempts to explain the rise of statistics as a diverse but integrated field of expertise shaped by the interactions of political discourse with the development of scientific ideas and the active development of institutional structures.

Focusing on two periods of social transformation in Japan, I investigate two empirical questions: How did statisticians define their work intellectually in each period? With what strategies and in what organizational locations did statisticians institutionalize their specific forms of knowledge production? By investigating these two specific questions, I have tried to emphasize the process of developing statistical ideas themselves in particular contexts rather than treat statistics as a universally defined body of knowledge that develops universally in any social environment.

Data for my analyses consists of a variety of primary material in Japanese, translated by the author, ranging from original publications of scholarly debates in the late nineteenth century compiled by the Central Statistics Bureau, government reports, historical documents from professional associations and state agencies, and a set of interview transcripts from the postwar period. I also bring together scholarly studies heretofore separated by disciplinary boundaries of management studies, history, sociology, and Asian studies.

Drawing largely on Foucaultian ideas of techniques of power, and further specifying Bourdeusian field theory to account for the unique position of statistics among professions more closely tied to the political rather than the economic sphere, I demonstrate how the development of statistics in Japan relied more on political capital, thus institutionalizing scientific and political authority in specific ways.

Main Content
Current View