The discourse on the digital transformation in Japan: an analysis based on the concept of data
Although the digital transformation (i.e. the changes in society, politics, business and culture resulting from the rapid spread of information and communication technology) points to a global development, it does not take place in a uniform fashion everywhere. This is because how changes are interpreted and in particular how to deal with them is the subject of discursive negotiation processes. In general, technology does not merely act upon its users or potential users, but is co-constructed by them. In Japan, stakeholders from politics, finance and IT have introduced a system of state-approved “information banks” (jōhō ginkō) to create a data market.
Using a conceptual history approach, this research project examines how this model for regulating the use of data which is (still) specific to Japan was adopted. Research questions are: How was the originally European concept of data received in Japan? How did the dominant translation dēta develop in Japanese as a concept of its own? What specifics of data practices in Japan are formulated using the term dēta?
To examine how the concept dēta evolved, text mining methods from the digital humanities are used. The main corpus consists of relevant speech contributions in the Japanese Diet, whose minutes since 1947 are available in digital form. Another corpus, which covers another section of the discourse and thus enables triangulation, consists of articles from daily newspapers. Moreover, in order to better assess the decisions that have led to the data market in Japan being based on the information banks, expert interviews are conducted.
The study shows how conceptual history can be used for understanding national technology policy. Through this, the study also contributes to Critical Data Studies, in which case studies from Japan have only very rarely been taken up. Notably, since data has been central to knowledge production long before the advent of “Big Data”, this project also highlights continuities in the concept.