Progressive Theory and Social Practice in a Working-Class Neighborhood: The Social Activism of the Tōkyō Imperial University Settlement House, 1923-1938

Hans Martin Krämer (Universität Heidelberg)
Till Knaudt (Heidelberg University)
Bruce Grover (University of Heidelberg)
Shoya Unoda (Osaka University)
Bloco 1, Piso 0, Sala 0.06
Start time:
31 August, 2017 at 11:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Between 1923 and 1938, professors and students from Tōkyō University operated a settlement house in the industrial Honjo ward. This panel will investigate how they sought to transcend social work and rather initiated an autonomous worker's movement through providing knowledge and self-awareness.

Long abstract:

In 1923, progressive professors and student activists from Tōkyō University joined to build the Tōkyō University Settlement House in the impoverished industrial Honjo ward. In operation until 1938, the settlement sought to transcend mere social work and initiate an autonomous worker's movement through providing the knowledge and self-awareness among the proletariat necessary to "eliminate social flaws through their own initiative" and "combat exploitation independently" (Suehiro Izutarō). The founding members of the settlement believed that traditional efforts sponsored by the state to alleviate poverty simply placated class conflict and served to protect capitalism. The mission of the settlement was the development of independent institutions for social education which did not inculcate bourgeois values but facilitated the emergence of an autonomous proletarian culture. Although the settlement's powerful financial supporters included the Imperial Household and it was considered a model of social work by the Home Ministry, many of its members were in fact Marxist-influenced students. The ambitious activities of the settlement were carried out through a broad program which included a labor school for factory workers providing night classes taught by professors and students and agitating for labor union participation. The labor school produced several prominent labor leaders and future Diet members. The settlement program further provided classes for adults and children, child care, a consumer cooperative, legal counseling from law professors and a free medical clinic. The settlement house also contained rooms for students to live among the proletariat and realize the ideal of "entering into the masses." Our project seeks to explore this effort to enlighten and mobilize the urban poor through independent social education by first analyzing the settlement's specific approach to worker's education. Furthermore, we seek to place the Tōkyō University Settlement within the broader social and intellectual context of social work and concepts of social reform. Finally, an analysis of the ideological evolution of the settlers, many of whom became prominent converts to the right during the 1930's, can provide insights into the continuity of their thought as well their embrace of state power and the allure of ethnic nationalism as powerful tools of rapid social reform.