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

Comparative Studies on Multicultural Public Spheres in Post-Colonial Oceania

Joint Research Coordinator KARAKITA Yasuyuki

Reserch Theme List


This research has as its objective theorization concerning the cultural strata and disparate relationships observable in the nations of Oceania and their civil societies.

The countries of Oceania have been formed as a result of multicultural colonial contacts. Alternatively while maintaining inter-nation state system these countries also show diversity in their civil societies. Since this research objective is on the nation states of Oceania and their civil societies, we have established two research themes. First, in regards to the inter-nation system maintained by the nations of Oceania, we seek to elucidate the mosaic-like lifestyles world within the region and the structure of commonality that unites the region. Second, since in terms of national territory, in the region small areas are separated from each other, we seek to shed light on the commonalities of emigrants who seek a lifestyle base outside their home areas, and the special characteristics of the commonality for those who have left their home area that helps them maintain social ties with the mother society.

Through examining these two issues, this research seeks to expand the concept of commonality to include communication forums that bring together multiple lifestyle worlds, that is, the multicultural zones of commonality.

Research Results

The analytic capacity of the concept of the public sphere as a forum for uninhibited expression of ideas rooted in a civil society as opposed to the state has drawn criticism from a number of angles.  It is criticized as a Eurocentric philosophy which gives short shrift to class differentiation and assumes unsupportable territoriality in globalized contexts, etc.

During the initial stage of our research team discussions, it was pointed out that not only do ruling public spheres exist, but so do different resisting public spheres and deterritorialized public spheres. At the same time the effectiveness of the concept of public sphere in areas where communal order predominates became a topic for debate. As the research unfolded, the focus of discussions became the identification of the characteristics of the public spheres in Oceania, i.e. patterns of stratified collective identity which expand from locality, through various intermediate level categories, to the national citizenry,  and modes of symbolic expression for the intermediate level categories.

Based on these discussions in our research group, we identified the stratified nature of multicultural public spheres as a special characteristic of public spheres in the emergent states of Oceania. We criticized the concept of civil public sphere as expounded by Jurgen Habermas as excessively normative, which often excludes and suppresses subaltern and opposing public spheres. The notion of multicultural public spheres can expand Habermas’ concept of the public sphere and function as a forum for the articulation of multiple life worlds. Civil societies in emerging nation states are not composed solely of modern civil organizations such as NGOs and NPOs, but also of intermediate groups with bases in local society, ethnic groups, church organizations, and other traditional institutions. While the former may represent public spheres in monothetic terms, the latter are of a polythetic type.  Our research tried not to exclude the latter; rather, they became the focus of our analysis.  As a result, we were able to analyze public spheres in the nations of Oceania occurring as stratified intermediate categories between the state and the communities. We pointed out the theoretical significance of the need to analyze as well the relationships between local multicultural public spheres and civil organizations such as NGOs and NPOs.