研究最前線 No.76

田島 慎朗 准教授


Studying human relationships and society from a communication perspective



Maintaining "Dialogue" and "Debate" Across Different Cultures

—Communication Studies for Mutual Understanding—


田島 慎朗 准教授

Faculty of Foreign Language Studies

Associate Professor Noriaki Tajima



A few sample intercultural communication textbooks


We communicate with close people like family members and friends in our daily life, but sometimes we also need to communicate with those whose interests conflict with ours. Associate Professor Noriaki Tajima of the Faculty of Foreign Language Studies interrogates public communication, exploring the possibilities of dialogue and mutual understanding in modern society from a communication studies perspective, in order to address a wide range of social themes arising from interactions among individuals, groups, and society.



高校生の時からアメリカ文学が好きで、学部も外国語学部英語学科に進みました。大学入学後はESS(English Speaking Society)に入部し、そこで大学対抗の英語ディベートに打ち込みました。そのうちに、説得力をもって相手に自身の考えを伝えるために、コミュニケーションの手法や影響だけではなく、コミュニケーション上での課題やそれが持つ可能性に触れ、だんだんとその魅力にのめり込んでいきました。当時は楽しく夢中でやっていましたが、今思い返すと単に負けず嫌いな性格だったのかな、とその時の自分を振り返ります。



Critical, cultural and rhetorical approach to communication

What sparked your interest in communication studies?

I have loved American literature since high school and continued this love by pursuing an undergraduate degree in English at the Faculty of Foreign Languages at my university. After entering university, I joined the English Speaking Society (ESS), where I joined inter-collegiate English-speaking policy debate club. In the college and debate club, I fell in love with debate and was fascinated by the charm of communication, not only by its methods and impacts but also its challenges and possibilities. I simply enjoyed classes and debate activities back then, but now that I think back on it, I guess I was too competitive.
 I majored in American literature as an undergraduate and wrote my thesis focusing on a recurring theme of an American poet. I then went to the United States for graduate school and majored in communication studies. Then, I focused on rhetoric, argumentation, and communication education.
 When I was a graduate student, I also served as an graduate teaching assistant, or assistant coach for the debate club, providing guidance and advice to undergraduates. I did this job to take advantage of the university’s system that offered tuition waivers and living stipends in exchange for the work. Since returning to Japan, I have taught debate in classes and coordinated Japan-U.S. exchange debate tours with the Japan Debate Association, contributing to the promotion of academic debate.

What is communication studies?

In the United States, the discipline of communication studies has a clear foundation. It began in the early 20th century when a proposal to analyze political speeches at the then Anglo-American Literary Society was rejected because texts outside of "sophisticated text" were deemed unworthy of academic conversations. This led to the organization of an academic society to establish a new academic field in 1914. This is considered to be the beginning of communication studies in America today. For this reason, from the time it began and until the mid-twentieth century, the field had a strong pragmatic orientation, with undergraduate education that was focused on liberal arts and basic education for students who wanted to go into politics or law. The latter half of the twentieth century has a different story for the discipline. In response to the rapidly increasing globalization of American society, the field expanded to include research and education on communication in a variety of contexts, such as intercultural, organizational, and interpersonal communication as well as media. As a result, many researchers in communication began using quantitative research methods. It has also evolved to include influences from the spread of feminism, civil rights movements, increased discussions on the rights of sexual minorities, as well as the development of ideas and theories in Europe, making contemporary communication studies highly interdisciplinary. The discipline is also characterized by a strong attitude to respond flexibly to insights from other fields of humanities and social sciences.
 Because of this history, some people see one of my specialties, rhetoric, as "the orthodox," connected with the democratic and oratorical culture of ancient Greece and the origin of American communication studies. However, I think of rhetoric more broadly as a humanities discipline that helps us decode communication and gives meaning to our life. When the meanings that are revealed pose ethical dilemmas or stimulate academic debate, I find significant value in my role as a researcher in communication.

  • ディベートキャンプで缶詰めで原稿を書く26歳当時の田島准教授

    When he was writing files at a debate camp (26 years old)

  • 大学院時代ディベート大会の受付にて

    At reception desk of a debate tournament

  • 同僚のアシスタントコーチと、チームのディベーターと

    With an assistant coach and a debater






Is it possible to argue while respecting civility?

What are your recent research topics?

I have long been interested in the aspects of communication that involve the public and numerous stakeholders. Recently, I have been interested in how we can continue dialogues and realize constructive discussions in the face of growing social divisions across different ideologies and cultures. You may want to refuse or give up discussions because it is very hard to keep dialogue with people with different values or backgrounds. However, when it comes to public topics, topics that concern with everyone in the society, we should express our opinions with good reasons and hear opinions open-mindedly and critically. And ideally, we should reach a conclusion that make sense to all of us. As I search communicative practices from a variety of different scenes, I find some that embody this ideal process. But I also find examples that go awfully wrong. When I find either of these cases, I find it interesting to write academic papers.
 Civility is an idea that I found interesting to discuss in the scene of social movements in Japan. It is a manner or communication, but it is not just politeness. As you can find from the word, it is enrooted in the virtue of keeping communication in groups. According to the spirit of the term, you show respect to others not because they are superior, but because you believe it is civil, or because it is an expected in the society of civilization. In other words, it is a virtue for civic society. Usually, in Japan, you are expected to be polite in public. But I am not sure if this polite manner is dedicated to keeping dialogue and debate because you believe it best maintains our civil society. In light of that, how do we express our opinions while maintaining civility? So, I wrote a paper titled "Civility: Mannequin Flash Mob, Jitaku Keibi Tai, and the Future of Japanese Democracy," with social movements that make effective use of parody and art serving as good examples to resolve the question I proposed.

How do you research your topics?

I understand that sociology and media studies in Japan often adopt quantitative research methods. I also find these papers interesting to read. However, I as a rhetorician and qualitative researcher collect as many relevant texts as possible, including newspaper reports, political critiques, comments from talk show commentators as well as street interviews, and social media posts. Then, I craft my works with ideas and theories of communication, rhetoric or argumentation such as civility.
 The choice of my research topics is based on my personal belief that public dialogues and debates should be maintained and developed. The paper on civility and Japanese current social movements is also based on this belief. My speculation is that many researchers in Japan define their areas of specialty from which to choose their individual paper topics. But my primary interest lies in communication and rhetoric, and communication is happening everywhere. So, I target hot topics in society as they occur and compelling communication phenomena. Whether it’s social movements, works of art, debates in the national Diet, or rap, I choose my research themes according to my interest.




Dialogue with others is always intercultural communication

Please introduce us to the Intercultural Communication Program of the Faculty of Foreign Language Studies.

I believe that our communication is always intercultural, whether you interact with someone close to you or someone raised in a very different place and era. This is because culture is not just made by national boundaries. It involves other complex factors, such as gender, race, age, sexual orientation, values, physical ability, and others. In fact, cultures are multi-layered to make up each individual as being one and only. But when we talk with strangers, cultural difference may appear so deep that we sometimes feel that it is impossible to have good, constructive dialogues. When encountering these difficulties, do you consider how to overcome them and walk in unison, or do you decide to keep your distance? And when you decide to keep your distance, how do you justify your decision? When we have conflicting opinions, how can we still keep engaging in dialogue and reconcile these differences? I believe trying to find answers to these questions are very important for all of us, especially those in the younger generations as students.
 All students in the Faculty of Foreign Language Studies experience life in foreign countries during their second year through the study-abroad program. The insights they learn from the intercultural communication programs will make their life abroad safer and more meaningful. Moreover, it provides them with foundational academic backgrounds for exploring questions and challenges they have encountered during their life abroad in their 3rd and 4th years. And I believe that after graduation, intercultural communication program will not only make them better communicators but also contribute to improving our whole society. By learning through the Faculty of Foreign Language Studies, I hope students will make use our lessons to maximize their potentials in their life as good college students, good workers and as good citizens.