Professor Todd H. Hall awarded SSRC Abe Fellowship for 'Passions and Interests? Emotional Politics and Politicized Emotion in Sino-Japanese Relations'

Congratulations to Todd H. Hall, who has been awarded an Abe Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) for a project entitled 'Passions and Interests? Emotional Politics and Politicized Emotion in Sino-Japanese Relations'.

How do we explain the seeming instability of contemporary relations between Japan and the People’s Republic of China? As both the world’s second and third largest economies and neighboring naval powers with expanding capabilities, the relationship between Japan and China arguably now ranks as one of the most internationally significant. In the realms of security, economics, environmental protection and more there exist strong reasons for mutual cooperation. And yet the relationship has been subject to repeated episodes of mistrust, tension, and mutual recrimination. In explaining this pattern, existing analyses have tended to invoke a mix of three factors: security issues, economic ties, and emotions. But while analysts have availed themselves of the ample theoretical tools the field of international relations supplies for addressing security and economic relations, references to emotions have generally been quite ad hoc. Indeed, the adjective “emotional” can and has been used to describe everything from nationalist outbursts in online forums, broad sentiments reflected in polls, the sensitivity of certain issues, to even the personal attitudes of policymakers. In analyses of the relationship, emotion has often played the role of a dark matter whose influence is ubiquitous but whose exact properties and variant forms remain a mystery.

The goal of this project is to clarify if and how emotions and affective phenomena contribute to the pattern of volatility observable in recent Sino-Japanese relations. First, it will disaggregate the various phenomena lumped under the category of emotion to specify their properties. There are important differences, for instance, between durable affective dispositions—such as affinity or animosity—towards particular actors or objects, and intense emotional reactions—such as outrage—that seize attention and sharpen preferences, but are more temporary in nature. Second, it will theorize how these different phenomena interact not only with one another but also the complex socio-political context of Sino-Japanese relations, paying particular focus to the incentives various actors on both sides face to engage in emotional politics (that is, frame issues in ways that evoke emotion) and politicize emotion (i.e. treat the feelings of certain actors or groups as requiring political deference or defense). Importantly, these incentives are not limited to macro-political goals but can also involve more parochial commercial or individualistic gains.

Conducting research in both Tokyo and Beijing, drawing upon Japanese and Chinese language source material and interviews, this project will then explore the analytical purchase of an explanation that incorporates emotion and affective phenomena. Specifically, it will reconstruct and assess the events of the last fifteen years to examine the extent to which such an approach can explain oscillations in the relationship existing theories cannot. In doing so, this project will replace folk theories and implicit assumptions about emotions with a theoretically rigorous and empirically grounded account. Consequently, this project holds the potential to better inform policy debates and inspire new policy recommendations, especially when it comes to changing the incentives driving particular forms of destabilizing emotional politics and cutting short cycles of mutually damaging escalation.

This project will run from 7 January 2016 to 7 February 2017.