Academic boundary work in non-western academies: A comparative analysis of the philosophy discipline in modern China and Japan

Matthew Chew*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Is academic boundary work in non-western academies different from that in the modern and contemporary West? In what ways are they different? What are the consequences of these differences for academic production? This study approaches these questions through a comparative-historical analysis of modern Japan and China. The cases show that because non-western academies have the option of importing modern academic institutional formats from the West, they do not experience the 'expansion' types of academic boundary work. Because of the comparatively abrupt and fast-paced academic modernization in non-western academies, traditional scholarly communities are often powerful and they become the major target of 'monopolization' types of academic boundary work. General intellectuals and the state become major targets of 'protection of autonomy' types of boundary work. Through comparative analyses, the author finds that the exclusion of traditional scholars from positions in modern academic organizations contributes to academic boundary work against traditional scholars. The author also finds that undesirable social, cultural, political and economic contexts tend to pressure academics to venture outside professional boundaries to do general intellectual work for the civil society. A developed general intellectual field could, on the one hand, alleviate this pressure and, on the other, lend general intellectuals a stronger platform to interfere with academics. The author concludes that a strong and centralized state tends to frustrate academics' efforts at boundary work, while a weak state gives academics the freedom to build tight academic boundaries, on the one hand, and allows them to undermine academic boundaries through political activism, on the other hand.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)530-559
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Sociology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • Academic professionalization
  • Boundary work
  • China
  • Japan
  • Sociology of ideas
  • Sociology of intellectuals


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