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Title: The resilience of shrinking communities in rural Japan
Author: Chang, Heuishilja
ISNI:       0000 0004 7652 9410
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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As a manifestation of today's unprecedentedly uneven urban agglomeration, shrinkage has become omnipresent in industrialised countries. In spite of geographical focus on urban contexts in shrinkage studies, the primary locations of acute shrinkage are rural areas that are more structurally vulnerable than urban areas. Shrinking rural areas have undergone cultural, economic, environmental and social decline associated with depopulation, and increasing numbers of them are finding their future continuity threatened. In order to explore how modern society can address rural shrinkage, this thesis investigates the dynamic multi-level social responses to rural shrinkage in post-war Japan, where shrinkage is perpetuated and taking place along with nationwide depopulation and ageing. Focusing on the process of social responses, this thesis draws upon panarchy theory from the field of evolutionary resilience as the theoretical framework. Panarchy theory regards resilience as the dynamic ability of self-transformation to adapt to changing circumstances. This thesis consists of three main parts. Firstly, it traces the development trajectory of rural shrinkage in post-war Japan and investigates the policy measures taken to deal with it. It discusses the constant trade-off of resilience between the national level and the rural regions in the counter-shrinkage policies, and their adverse effect that hampered the capability of the rural regions to autonomously promote contextualised development. It also argues the absence of policy innovation rooted in the centralised governance structure and the nostalgia for the growth period among policymaking actors. Subsequently, the thesis looks at the community-level responses to rural shrinkage through multiple case studies. Delineating the development process of the local revitalisation activities in line with the adaptation phases in panarchy theory, it illustrates the changes of the performances of the activities due to the transitions of socio-economic circumstances. It also emphasises the determinative influence of human capital in shaping the trajectories of the activities, and their impacts on the resilience of the communities, by identifying intermediate organisers and social networks as the primary drivers and apathy among community members as the major barrier. Lastly, it considers whether, and in what way, another local development approach can support the Japanese rural communities to better address shrinkage. Adopting a case study methodology, it evaluates the effectiveness of the Cittaslow (slow city) approach in rural Japan, based on the local Cittaslow practice in Italy, Germany and South Korea. It argues the high possibility of Cittaslow being reduced to a mere place-branding tool, and its limitation to address structural issues (such as shortage of local employment and youth outmigration) in Japanese shrinking communities. Offering one of the first studies framed using evolutionary resilience on rural shrinkage in Japan, this thesis represents the drawbacks of applying pre-fix development approaches to address rural shrinkage, and highlights the importance of building local capacity to formulate context-tailored approaches to shrinkage and navigate them with a sensitivity to changes in circumstances. It calls for a major policy turn from the current trade-off approach to a bottom-up approach that focuses on local capacity building of the rural areas, in which human capital improvement is the central element.
Supervisor: Banister, David ; Schwanen, Tim Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: community development ; Rural development