Staff

UBUKATA Fumikazu

When one travels around the rural areas of Southeast Asia, one may encounter rich tropical nature, beautiful beaches, dense forests, and diverse flora and fauna. One may also notice that the residents are poor, but appear to be happy. Perhaps, the legendary Shangri-La was such a place.

During modernization, however, these villages were often regarded as “backward areas,” in need of various “development” activities from the external world. Sometimes these villages were incorporated in “conservation areas,” which strictly control and restrict human activities to protect the “rich nature.” For better or for worse, these “development” and “conservation” efforts affect the people living there.

What kind of development is being wished-for? How can we coordinate development or conservation activities from the external world while accommodating local people’s livelihood? For the world to attain sustainable development, it should sustain diverse styles and paths that can incorporate local initiatives and national/global forces. When touring Southeast Asian villages that have rapidly been modernized over the past decades, I have sought to answer these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective that is based on economics, politics, and other related academic fields.

Additionally, I am beginning to conduct a meta-study of interdisciplinary studies, targeting natural and social sciences. Since environmental problems are extremely complicated, and they encompass all our livelihood spheres, i.e., geosphere, biosphere, and humanosphere, we need to synthesize knowledge from natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, which is a challenge in itself. What are the barriers that inhibit communication of different knowledge systems? How can we overcome these constraints? I plan to approach these questions by focusing on interdisciplinary studies conducted in Japan.

Present Position

Professor, Institute of Academic and Research, Okayama University

Email: ubukat-f(at)okayama-u.ac.jp

Fields of Study

Southeast Asian Studies, Development Studies, Political Ecology, Environmental Policy and Economics

Career

-JICA (The Japan International Cooperation Agency) expert on social condition survey and socioeconomic survey (The Reforestation and Extension Project in the Northeast Thailand Phase 2: 2000 and 2002)

-Junior Research Fellow, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University (2002-2003)

-JSPS research fellow, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University (2003-2006)

-GCOE Assistant Professor, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University (2007-2009)

-Associate Professor, Graduate School of Environmental Science, Okayama University (2009-2012)

-Associate Professor, Graduate School of Environmental and Life Science, Okayama University (2012-2017)

-Professor, Graduate School of Environmental and Life Science, Okayama University (2017-2021)

Visiting research fellow

-Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University (1996, 1998-2000)

-Faculty of Forestry, National University of Laos (2002-2003)

-Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Khon Kaen University (2005-2006)

-Development Studies Institute, The London School of Economics and Political Science (2008-2009)

-Research Institute for Humanities and Nature, National Institutes for Humanities (2014-2015)

-Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University (2017)

Recent Research Themes

1) Political economy of natural resource development and its social impact in Southeast Asia

Recent economic growth in Southeast Asia has resulted in rapid depletion of natural resources. Many villagers living near resource development areas have not enjoyed expected improvements in their lives. This research examines how relevant stakeholders, such as governments, firms, villagers, and external agencies, have interacted in certain resource development projects, like the palm oil, pulp and paper, and aquaculture industries, and how interaction has affected rural societies in Southeast Asia.

 

2) Political processes and impacts of capitalization/financialization of nature in Southeast Asia

In recent years, there have been discussions about the approach to procure funds by the use of financial instruments and direct payments to mitigate environmental problems. Common examples in developing countries include the use of carbon credits (e.g., REDD+) and systems to pay for environmental services (e.g., PES). Taking examples from Southeast Asia, this research examines processes that lead to the formulation of these funding mechanisms, and regards them as new developments that mainstream the commodification of nature (capitalization/financialization of nature). At the same time, this research also examines its socioeconomic impacts and the changes in governance of society and the environment.

 

3) Political process of environment, disaster, and science and technology

Politics of knowledge is one of the crucial elements needed to consider how sciences are integrated into policies and affect social realities. This research examines how various actors relevant to climate change and disaster prevention policies utilize various knowledge systems (e.g., scientific and local) to construct these policies and local social realities.

 

4) A meta-study of interdisciplinary studies (i.e., collaborations between natural and social sciences)

Research collaborations have gained importance in solving various social problems, including environmental issues. Drawing from past cases of interdisciplinary research projects in Japan, this research examines how researchers from various academic backgrounds, including natural and social scientists, confront, struggle, and overcome difficulties during research collaborations.