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Author Interview with Peter Chai

Author of the book: "Transnational Surveys and Civic Attitudes: A Discussion on Postmaterialist Values"


1. Please introduce yourself. What would you like your reader to know about you?

I am currently a graduate student and research assistant at the Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan. I am also a member of the Japan Association of Political Economy. My research areas are political sociology and comparative politics, my research interests are public opinion, value change, and civic culture in East Asia, and my hobbies include literature, psychology, and piano. I have written articles on the topics of modernization, democratization, and social movement. This book is a revised part of the literature review section of my ongoing master’s thesis titled "A Review of Ronald Inglehart's Postmaterialist Thesis and Its Application to the Greater China Area.” This thesis aims to typologize Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel’s human development and emancipation theories and examine the correlations between postmaterialism and a selected set of economic and demographic indicators across Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan with the help of the World Values Survey datasets. In my writing, I intend to combine both theoretical and empirical discussions, make a fair representation of various scholars and their findings, and test their hypotheses with updated evidence to shed light on the importance of methodological challenges and contextual details. 

2. What is your inspiration/motivation for writing?

From reading classics in political sociology and studying comparative politics, I have come to understand and appreciate the art of social science as a modern science. I believe that it is the dilemma of trying to find universal truth and the failure to do so that makes comparative studies so intriguing yet challenging. I believe that the core of comparative research is that to ensure predictability and generalizability, we should not study, classify, or explain social phenomena in isolation. The combination of historical, comparative, and area studies allows us to look at history through the lenses of comparison and with a focus on local differences. As young researchers, we should stand on the shoulders of “giants” and try our best to understand their beautiful minds and find unexplained gaps in their works. How can we, on the one hand, summarize generalizable patterns with representative samples, and on the other hand, pay enough attention to how susceptible the relationships we have found are to spuriousness? While I do not have a definite answer to this question, I hope that this book, which takes the various versions of the modernization theory as examples and overviews the development and evolution of the studies on political culture and civic value, can potentially serve as a kind of food for thought for the readers to think about the complex and dynamic nature of social realities and human minds.

3. How long did it take to complete your research from the idea to the book?

I have been reading Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba (1963), Robert Putnam (1993), and Ronald Inglehart (1997)’s works on civic culture, social capital, and political values since my undergraduate seminars. I was intrigued by how they came up with their own strategies to operationalize and measure rather “soft” concepts in sociology and politics which make cross-national and longitudinal comparisons possible. At the same time, I saw that most of their data come from Western Europe and North America, and there seems to be a necessity to apply their models in the context of the societies in East Asia, which are said to be historically influenced by the so-called “Confucianism.” With this in mind, upon applying to graduate school, I made a research proposal and planned on testing Ronald Inglehart’s postmaterialist thesis across the Greater China area, aiming to empirically examine whether and how consistent patterns of postmaterialism could be found across Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and to what extent the “cultural-relative” view of value change is supported by data. In fact, my ongoing master’s thesis is a tribute to Ronald Inglehart, who set up a theoretical framework for scholars to conceptualize values and cultures and pioneered the unprecedented World Values Survey database for public opinion studies to transcend national borders. Both of his contributions have provided political sociology and comparative politics with a stronger empirical foundation. 

4. What's the main message and idea of "Transnational Surveys and Civic Attitudes: A Discussion on Postmaterialist Values"?

This book provides a succinct introduction to the postmaterialist theses raised by Ronald Inglehart, Christian Welzel, and Russel Dalton. After discussing the anthropological and psychological origins of postmaterialist values, this book elucidates how the “human development theory” or “human emancipation theory” is represented in some prominent empirical studies in the field. This book wishes to touch upon three content areas. First, it aims to explain the conceptual framework for studying postmaterialist and emancipative patterns. Second, it intends to demonstrate how research on value change, public opinion, and civic culture has benefited from transnational survey projects such as the World Values Survey. Third, it tries to show how the “Asian uniqueness” or "Asian exceptionalism" debate exemplified by Doh Chull Shin’s works remains to be addressed by future scholars. To sum up, I would like to convey two messages to the readers. First, values and cultures can now be investigated and compared across time and space in an empirical and statistical manner with the help of the continuous waves of transitional survey projects. Second, while researchers are motivated to reveal the universal trends of postmaterialist values, it is still important to take into account the local conditions of regions such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America to explore informative nuances. 

5. What was the most unexpected conclusion you came up with while preparing "Transnational Surveys and Civic Attitudes: A Discussion on Postmaterialist Values"?

I was excited to see the development and even evolutions of the field of political culture and civic attitude. Prominent scholars such as Gabriel Almond, Sidney Verba, and Robert Putnam set out a conceptual framework to connect citizens’ attitudes and institutional performances. Pioneering scholars such as Ronald Inglehart, Christian Welzel, and Russel Dalton have carried on their legacies and argued for a rather universal trend toward postmaterialist and emancipative values as well as the support for liberal democracy of the mankind. However, before completely accepting this rather uniform pattern across societies around the globe, we should probably take a step back and be careful about to what degree responses collected by the transitional surveys reflect true preferences and reveal local nuances in the first place, as exemplified by Doh Chull Shin’s works. 

6. How would you describe your publishing experience with Eliva Press in a few words?

I am honored to be invited to publish a revised part of my ongoing master’s thesis at Eliva Press as a junior researcher in the social sciences. I am appreciative of the professional support, efficient feedback, and responsible work ethics of the editorial team throughout the online review and publication process. I am looking forward to working with them again in the future.


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