Critique of/in Japanese Studies: New challenges and new approaches

27th to 28th May 2017

Since the cultural/reflexive turn in academia, Japanese Studies (and Area Studies) have legitimately become the subject of serious criticism in regards to the various political roles that they have performed, and perhaps continue to play as they acquire new significance in the internationalization efforts that have recently targeted Japanese high-school and university education institutions. In terms of research, publications appearing in Japanese Studies journals and monograph series have dealt, in turn, with a growingly diverse array of subject-matters, and, have, by extent, become more relevant to a non-Japanese Studies audience. Today, we can perhaps say that, academically, “Japan” is less of an object of study and more of a case-study. Yet, the continuous popularity of any sort of popular culture bearing the “Japan” label, as well as the nationwide socio-political shifts that have followed the 3.11 triple disaster, keep “Japan” as a totalizing object of discourse afloat. In fact, we are perhaps finding ourselves in an increasingly paradoxical situation, in which areas, such as education, politics, and especially the media tend to reinforce the old (self)orientalist and homogenizing intonations of the “unique Japan”-paradigm, while to form their arguments they are feeding off academic studies that are instead trying to emphasize the contingency of the term “Japanese.” How do we deal with these issues? Perhaps, it is now more important than ever to bring back in academic debates the role of ‘critique’ (rather than criticism).

            In her studies of contemporary consumer culture and late modern capitalist societies, sociologist Eva Illouz has called for the practice of an ‘impure critique,’ namely a critique that would stave off what she identifies as the four problems with traditional, “pure” critique: 1) the reduction of cultural texts and practices to their ability (or inability) to deliver a clear political or moral stance on the world; 2) the assumption that culture ought to be analyzed from the standpoint of all social spheres; 3) the perspective that culture can be wholly contained by and subsumed under the political; and, finally, 4) the attempt to ignore that the critic of contemporary culture is condemned to be located within the very commodified area he or she criticizes (Eva Illouz, 2007, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism, Polity, pp. 91-95).

This conference seeks to bring papers from all researchers currently working on Japan-related topics. We particularly welcome those who are interested in at least one of the two following categories:

  • Critiques of Japanese Studies as a field of academic research,
  • Critiques of Japan as a subject of educational curricula and/or an object of media discourse or political discourse.
  • Critiques within specific Japanese Studies research areas, such as literature, history, politics, religion etc.

Keynote Lecture on Saturday 27 May:

'A Moral Firestorm:' The Politics of Researching Controversial Manga in Japan and Beyond? Patrick W. Galbraith (Duke University)

< Back to Events