The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

A History of Modernization under Socialism: A Narrative-based Reconstruction of Experience

Joint Research Coordinator KONAGAYA Yuki

Reserch Theme List


During the 20th century humankind witnessed a major turning point in the abandonment of the trend towards socialism. This is most likely usually understood in terms of international relations theory and the demise of the Cold War structure. However, we have yet to understand historically such things as the actual conditions in the experience of those people living in countries that had followed the socialist path. Our objective in this research will be to adopt the standpoint of persons directly concerned to understand history and shed light on socialist modernization.

Generally, we can divide various aspects of modernization into three major areas: industrialization, urbanization and the systemization of different social services including education and welfare. Concerning the impact of modernization on this broad range of social aspects, our objective is to make clear what special characteristics materialized under socialism. In addition, by adopting the standpoint of socialism, we hope to achieve the prime goal of a breakthrough from the deadlock in modernity research.

Research Results

Our research was to study the role of socialism as a global ideology, which was a decisive factor in international affairs of the twentieth century, from the standpoint of comparing local results in countries that followed the socialist path, over a three-year period Our joint research group held on-the-spot research meetings in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Burma, Africa and other locales.

Our research results shed light on the following points. There was a commonality with the capitalist bloc in terms of the special characteristics of the actual conditions of modernization in involving mass scale and mechanization, among others. Capitalism and socialism can be characterized as both offspring of the modernization project—dizygotic twins. However, for socialism, unreasonableness stemming from the perverted view that ideals could be readily demonstrated could in turn create areas in which it was easy to realize immediately socialist ideals and areas where it was not. Specifically, in terms of building cities and developing new spaces, the Soviet model tended to be universally adopted. For the collectivization of peasants and other attempts to restructure existing social spaces, the tendency was for local differences dictated by disparities in the natural and social environments to be accentuated.

Considering that ideals tended to be modified by actual conditions, we decided to create a collection of scholarly papers that would focus on local diversity. In addition, in China the decision was to give deserved recognition to the results of the on-the-spot investigations from our young researchers. Their investigations will be collected as a general academic work. Other research results are to be carried as contributions to Minpaku research papers.

As far as contributions to methodology such as oral histories and narrative theory are concerned, among institutional research efforts our international workshop held at the Mongolia and Inner Asia Study Unit (MIASU) of the University of Cambridge was of international import. The results were issued as a special edition of the journal “Inner Asia” (No. 12) under the title “Oral Histories of Socialist Modernities in Central and Inner Asia.” This workshop was part of the institutional research titled “a History of Modernization under Socialism: A Narrative-based Reconstruction of Experience,” which receives funding as a National Institutes for the Humanities integrated promotion project.