Tomoo Otaka

Foundation of a theory of social association, 1932

by Derek Robbins (Volume editor)
©2023 Monographs XIV, 344 Pages


Tomoo Otaka (1899–1956) studied philosophy at the University of Kyoto in the mid-1920s. The Grundlegung der Lehre vom sozialen Verband [Foundation of a theory of social association] was the product of a three-year European visit (1929–1932) in which he studied in Vienna with Hans Kelsen and in Freiburg with Edmund Husserl.
Otaka deployed Husserl’s theory of knowledge to criticise the work of various contemporary German sociologists, arguing that there was a need to reframe social scientifi c research. He also criticised Kelsen’s pure law theory, presenting a different view of the nature and function of law within and between nation states. He promoted an ontological science of society, but his book offered a philosophy of social science without applying that science to itself.
In his Introduction to his translation, Derek Robbins (author of The Bourdieu paradigm, 2019) suggests that assessing Otaka’s text and its context contributes to an understanding of the development of Bourdieu’s conceptual apparatus. In turn, the application of Bourdieu’s thinking to Otaka’s theory generates the refl exivity which it requires but did not offer.
The volume comprises three Parts: an Introduction, the translated text, and a collection of commentaries from four international scholars who offer invaluable insights into Otaka’s work from different perspectives.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Endorsement Page
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • Book About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Epigraphic
  • Contents
  • Editor’s Foreword
  • Part I Introduction
  • Editor’s Introduction
  • 1. Bourdieu’s conceptual framework
  • 2. Introducing Otaka
  • 3. Introducing the Grundlegung
  • 4. Otaka through a Bourdieusian gaze
  • 5. The perspectives of the contributors
  • Translator’s Notes
  • Part II The Text
  • The Translated Text (Abridged) of Tomoo Otaka: Grundlegung der Lehre vom sozialen Verband
  • Part III Commentaries
  • The Presence and Significance of Japanese Scholars in Interwar Europe
  • Tomoo Otaka and German Sociology
  • The Crisis of Classical Modernity in Japan and Otaka’s Grundlegung
  • Tomoo Otaka and Alfred Schutz: Phenomenologically Oriented Social Theories
  • Notes on Contributors

Editor’s Foreword

I became interested in exploring further the work of Tomoo Otaka as early as 2015, when I was researching the Austrian and German contexts of the development of the thinking of Alfred Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch at the end of the 1920s. This research was the basis of Part I of my The Bourdieu Paradigm: The Origins and Evolution of an Intellectual Social Project, which was published in June 2019. Initially, my interest was primarily intellectual, as I indicate in the Introduction to this volume, but my ‘Otaka project’ developed during the significant social and political events of the last few years, and the Grundlegung der Lehre vom sozialen Verband gradually acquired a different importance for me.

While The Bourdieu Paradigm was in production, I secured a contract with Peter Lang, publishers, to translate and introduce Vers le style du XXe siècle (Towards a Style for the Twentieth Century), which had been published at the end of the Second World War by a team of Frenchmen (the équipe d’Uriage) who had been responsible for running an educational movement for youth in the previous five years, first sponsored by the Vichy government and then in collaboration with the Resistance. Provoked by the humiliation of the French capitulation to the invading German forces in 1940, the team sought to present a blueprint for post-war human revival. The members of the team were ideologically ambivalent in respect of ‘left’ and ‘right’ political allegiance. They were united, instead, in two main respects. Firstly, they adhered to the view expressed earlier in the century by Charles Péguy that ‘tout commence en mystique et finit en politique’, that is to say, humane intentions always become distorted through politicization. What was needed, therefore, was the development of mechanisms for social collaboration which could negate the malign effects of politicized behaviour. Secondly, they agreed, in spite of their specific concern to renew French culture, that the necessary changes in human attitudes, now focusing on the equitable distribution of resources rather than on the greedy accumulation of wealth by minorities, needed to be effected in a ←ix | x→global context, requiring the establishment of procedures of collaborative international management in place of moribund nationalistic competition.

While I was translating Vers le style du XXe siècle, the Covid pandemic struck the world. I completed the translation and introduction during the lockdown, by the end of October 2020, and the work was published in May 2021 as Towards a New Humanity: The Uriage Manifesto, 1945. By that date there had been much debate about the ‘new’ normal which would need to be established after the pandemic. There had been much celebration of the many different social endeavours which were enabling the world to emerge out of the devastation caused by the pandemic. Writing about Bourdieu and Schutz between 2015 and 2019, I had been sceptical about what I thought was the autonomization of the social in Schutz’s Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt, 1932, [translated in 1967 as The Phenomenology of the Social World], especially considering that it was published in the same year as Carl Schmitt’s Der Begriff des Politischen [The Concept of the Political], which helped to legitimate the subsequent actions of Hitler. I remained committed to Bourdieu’s belief in the primacy of the social, a belief which argued that the spheres of the social and the political are not segregated and that, therefore, the ‘field of politics’ does not have autonomous validity but is the changeable product of changing social conditions.

As early as 2016, I became curious to explore whether Otaka’s text, also of 1932, on the foundation of social association (Grundlegung der Lehre vom sozialen Verband) might provide insights into the fundamental nature of sociability. In November 2019, I secured a contract from Peter Lang, publishers, to translate Otaka’s book, but I did not personally begin the task until February 2021. I had hoped to secure funding to employ a translator, but when no funding was forthcoming, I was encouraged to attempt the translation myself. The project remained quite academic until suddenly with the commencement of war in Ukraine its concerns seemed to affect the future of humanity as much as had those of the Uriage team. We have seen family relationships in Russia and Ukraine severed by political disputes about nation-state identity and we have seen a surge in sociability in the response of Western countries to the plight of refugees. Is there now any hope for the emergence of a global social association uncontaminated by the concerns of politicians?

←x | xi→Following Bourdieu, I had tried to offer a re-presentation of Vers le style du XXe siècle which would contextualize its production socio-historically. I wanted to suggest that the vision advanced in the text was integrally related to the social backgrounds and trajectories of the team of authors and was indicative of the team’s attempts to absorb different sources of information and knowledge. As such, I wanted to present the team’s endeavour as a model for how we should attempt to rethink our situations and problems rather than as a source book of solutions. I wanted to take the same approach in re-presenting Otaka’s book. It became important not only that I should find colleagues who would be able to provide contextual information about the book and its author but also that these colleagues would themselves participate from different intellectual and social perspectives in reflecting on its contemporary value. I have been fortunate in finding four scholars – Francesco Campagnola, Takemitsu Morikawa, Wolfgang Schwentker, and Ken Takakusa – who have admirably supplied this supporting input and who have co-operated by email exchange throughout the period in which I have been preparing the translation. I am grateful to them and am indebted to many colleagues who responded in the early days to my email requests for suggestions of potential contributors whom I might approach. I am particularly grateful in this respect to Naoki Iso, Shinichi Aizawa, Duncan Kelly, Sebastian Conrad, and Alessandro Salice. I am grateful to Giuseppe Lorini and Kim Hang for their involvement in the project. Finally, I would like to thank Hisashi Nasu who put me in contact with Otaka’s daughter, Tomako Hisatome, who kindly supplied me with the photographs of her father, which feature on the cover of the book.


XIV, 344
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (June)
Philosophy Sociology Translation and commentaries
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2023. XIV, 344 pp., 2 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Derek Robbins (Volume editor)

Derek Robbins is Emeritus Professor of International Social Theory at the University of East London. He has written and edited many books on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, beginning with The Work of Pierre Bourdieu: Recognizing Society (1991, re-issued by Routledge, 2021) and including most recently The Bourdieu paradigm. The origins and evolution of an intellectual social project (2019, 2021 in paperback). In 2021, Peter Lang published his translation and edition of the work of the Uriage équipe, written at the end of the Nazi occupation of France, as Towards a New Humanity. The Uriage Manifesto, 1945.


Title: Tomoo Otaka
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360 pages