Fleshing out the papers

This is a strange time in one’s academic career I suppose. With the PhD just handed in, pending final approval by my university’s committee, I am beginning to think seriously about where and what to publish. Below some initial thoughts that will hopefully guide me in my next steps.

First of all, doing this PhD in three years, along with developing and teaching four undergraduate courses at Temple University Japan as well as other work, made publishing anything at an earlier stage very difficult.

However, in hindsight, it was also a blessing not to have my writing take place with the requirements of academic journals in mind, but to be free in form and substance. My supervisor strengthened this conviction and performed the important function of keeping me on track.

The challenge now is to maintain the thrust and intellectual dedication to see through the dissemination of my findings.

After a few changes and working titles, my dissertation as submitted is entitled “Urban Space in Economic History: Tokyo as Asia’s First Megacity 1945-1970”. It has three substantive chapters. The first traces the development of the city’s manufacturing sector. It argues that small and medium sized factories became more competitive in the 23 wards than in Japan as a whole, showing how labor-intensive industrialization survived and thrived in a particular urban setting.

The second chapter establishes the concept of space egalitarianism: Contrary to what most other cities went through before and after Tokyo’s postwar growth explosion, the Japanese capital did not spatially stratify, i.e. differences between the different wards remained stable or, in many cases, even declined. This was particularly the case regarding living standards and due to some of Tokyo’s distinct spatial features.

The third and final substantive chapter recounts the concurrent institutional story. It focuses on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and in how far it was able to redistribute from rich to poor wards despite attempts by the Allied Powers to substantially devolve decision making power to lower tiers of government.

TMG was thus a powerful intermediate layer of government. However, it did not have the financial and human resources to effect and oversee meaningful and transformative urban planning. This may have been a blessing in disguise, a “success in failure”: Tokyo was spared some of planning’s pitfalls, left largely to its own devices of urban expansion.

Now, I foresee there to be several papers coming out of this, partly mirroring the chapters as per the above. Staying between 5,000 – 10,000 words each will mean significant re-writing and summarizing of certain sections in order to maintain the flow.

One paper will focus on labor-intensive industrialization in an urban setting: Presenting the data that I have collected from the many original sources, I want to show that small and medium sized factories were in fact more competitive vis-a-vis their larger peers in Tokyo’s 23 wards than in Japan as a whole.

The fact that Japan’s small factories were competitive compared to their ASEAN counterparts had already been noted in the early 1980s, e.g. in some ILO publications. My paper intends to revive this debate, adding the urban dimension to it. Here I will need to do some additional research to prove that the competitiveness of small factories was not only due to large factories leaving the 23 ward area. I hope to submit this to an economic history journal.

As my dissertation is about space, I will prepare a second paper that summarizes the above in 1-2 main tables and then adds some spatial explanations on top (these will be in turn only summarized in the first paper above). What do I mean by spatial explanations? I have summed them up under the headers of mixed-use / zoning, agglomeration effects and urban intensity. The theoretical construct aiding this is to establish “urban land” as a distinct factor of production.

Sticking to a factors of production framework, I also imbue some spatial elements on labor: the availability of a skilled labor force across the territory of the 23 wards and live-and-work arrangements (mirroring the mixed-use as per the above). This paper, too, sits perhaps most comfortably within an economic history journal, although the focus on space may make it a little harder to get it accepted. Alternatively, I try it with a journal focusing on urban studies.

Finally, there is a long section on the spatial characteristics of demand for the products of these small factories, which focuses on subcontracting and the urban market. I may flesh that section out into a longer blog post. There is also a potential paper for a sustainability journal, which may show the benefits of labor-intensive industrialization in an urban setting. This will depend a little on post-doctoral employment and on whether I will get paid to sit down and think a little more deeply about these topics.

The next paper (number three, to keep count) will present the main data findings of my second substantive chapter on space egalitarianism. It will show that, contrary to conventional urban development theory, Tokyo’s spatial development was even although extremely rapid. I show this using personal living space per capita as well as a raft of other indicators for which I calculate variabilities (CoV and Theil) across the 23 wards.

Why was this the case? The paper will have an abridged explanatory section drawing on both my second and third substantive chapters: The first reason relates to certain ad-hoc elements which Tokyo’s urban form reproduced almost automatically as the city expanded: These included a set of private commercial infrastructure of sentos, food and drink retail outlets, construction outlets, etc. A low-rise medium-density residential typology based on wooden construction showed only little variability with increasing distance from the city’s center.

The second is the institutional explanation: A strong intermediate layer of government redistributed resources from rich to poor wards and spent with a strong spatial lens on, i.e. directed more social spending to poorer parts of the city. This helped poorer wards keep up in terms of their social spending. In fact, as I show, thanks to this redistribution, poorer wards were in a position to spend more on education per capita than their rich counterparts. I hope to publish this paper in an urban studies journal.

The fourth paper will flesh out the fiscal redistribution story in more detail and theorize on the governance implications for today’s megacities. For this, I will need to do some more research of a comparative nature, e.g. by looking at urban governance setups in places like Seoul, Taiwan and China, at a comparative period in their urban histories. This will benefit any future work I am planning on taking Tokyo’s experience as a starting point for some contemporary policy discussions. Could this go into a major urban studies publication, too?

The final part on urban planning (or the lack thereof) may be best put into an extended blog post as I do not add significant amounts of primary research apart for some work on land readjustment in the ward area. Other paper ideas may emerge as I go through the dissertation.

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