Britain and Japan are frequently compared by those studying economic growth and technological innovation in industrialised societies. But are such comparisons legitimate? Do the so-called Protestant and Japanese ’work ethics’ have anything in common? Can they actually explain the respective achievements of these two nations? What is achievement, and how should it be compared? In this volume, twelve distinguished scholars from the historical, social and human sciences reflect on these questions. Six general essays look from the perspective of different disciplines at the concept and interpretation of achievement, and consider its complex associations with creativity and innovation. Six historical case studies then focus on England and Japan since the 17th century, taking as their point of departure the emergence of English capitalism. They examine how people have written about work and its value, and how they have drawn on cultural resources in their attempts to shape their own or others’ actions. The link between individual identity and the actions of groups, how particular groups have exerted profound effects on entire nations, and how such effects may be unintended consequences of individualised and self-interested behaviour are prominent themes. This interdisciplinary volume thus offers a range of resources and approaches for those interested in the comparative study of cultures. It arises from a series of symposia organised by the Achievement Project, a five-year interdisciplinary programme of enquiry, directed by the editor, focusing on economic growth and technological innovation since 1500.
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Penelope Gouk, Emerita. University of Manchester, UK
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