mission and goals

RIHN solicits, hosts and funds six-year research projects on key of areas of interaction between humanity and nature. RIHN was established in April 2001 as an inter-university research institute by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT). It was incorporated as one of five member institutes of the National Institutes for the Humanities in 2004. It moved to its present location on the northern outskirts of Kyoto City in 2006. It is now the primary national research institute in Japan devoted to combined empirical and conceptual study of human-environmental interactions.

Contemporary environmental problems transcend academic disciplines just as they do individual places. Until recently, however, much environmental research has been undertaken by researchers operating largely within separate fields of natural science. RIHN’s mission is to conduct integrative and cooperative research that examines and clarifies the interactions between human and biophysical systems, to identify the key aspects and processes of environmental change and to suggest how harmonious human-environmental relations can be established or enhanced.

At RIHN we believe that environmental problems concern humanity and all living organisms that inhabit the earth at present, or will do so in the future. We strive for comprehensive research: research that integrates academic disciplines so as to develop understanding of a phenomenon in its entirety.

To this end, RIHN research projects fall within one of five research domains–circulation, diversity, resources, ecohistory and ecosophy–each of which is described below. While specific research projects vary greatly, all projects use multiple theoretical approaches and methodologies in their investigations, and are framed by three principal interconnected dimensions of human–environmental interaction.

The first dimension of interaction between humanity and nature refers to the ways in which people understand and act in everyday environments; it involves humankind’s immersion within, and experience of, the material and cultural flows that sustain daily life. Included in this dimension is the physical and perceptual experience of the human body in, as well as impacts of human lifestyles on, these flows.

A second dimension of human-environmental interaction has to do with environmental change that is of concern to whole societies, such as global warming, agricultural failure, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion or pollution. In such matters it is important to clarify the relevant social (political and economic) structures associated with specific human-environmental conditions or processes.

A third dimension of human-environmental interaction involves human understanding of the biogeochemical processes that constitute the biosphere. Modern societies depend on the formalized knowledge of the natural sciences, and the manner in which this knowledge is understood and communicated within a society also is of great significance to the first and second dimensions of human-environmental experience.

Taken together, the three dimensions constitute a field of studies that can be called global environmental studies. This is not a systematized discipline but a field of knowledge that should be defined and developed in relation to contemporary environmental and social change. The aim of this field of knowledge should be to enable humankind to better imagine and realize future social-ecological potential. Global environmental studies should thus provide the foundation for specific environmental sciences, as it is broadly addressed to the study of humanity in the midst of nature.

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