A wonderful thing about cyberspace is that it allows for greater exchange of ideas across national borders. And I know SM gets visitors from around the world.
Yet as Joi Ito notes on a post about international Internet protocols, there are some linguistic barriers so formidable that, as he puts it, makes George Bush’s confused phrase “the internets” make sense.
What about in the academic world of anthropology? We’ve all heard of the linguistic imperialism of the English language, and this term might aptly describe the academic world of anthropologists. I have noticed that scholars in non-anglophone settings are well-read in U.S. anthropology but U.S. anthropologists (myself included) aren’t as conversant in the traditions of other national anthropologies (except for the British and the French ones), sometimes even in the scholarship of their own fieldsite.
So do you think that there are anthropologies, not one single discpline of anthropology? Is the Internet is bringing these separate “worlds” of anthropologists closer? Or further driving them apart? And what’s the role of Savage Minds in all this?
These questions occurred to me when I came across a few writings in Japan Studies (and East Asian Studies in general) that look at the Japan field in the global academic scene.
The Japan-centered duo Masao Miyoshi (literature) and Harry Harootunian (history) have edited a volume titled Learning Places: The Afterlives of Area Studies, which includes some articles that discuss the hegemony of the English language on the production of academic knowledge (see for example articles by James Fujii and Rey Chow).
Takami Kuwayama, in his recent book Native Anthropology: The Japanese Challenge to Western Academic Hegemony, promises to bring the insular world of Japanese anthropology into the international marketplace of ideas. On his website he writes:
Anthropology originated in the West, and it has mainly developed as a field that studies other cultures, many of which are radically different from the West. Among these cultures is Japan, a country that has fascinated generations of Western scholars for its exotic beauty. At least, this is how Japan has been regarded by many foreign visitors, both lay and professional. Japan, however, is not simply a tourist site or a field for scholarly investigations. It has, in fact, a long tradition of anthropology. With the second largest anthropological association in the world, Japan has produced, since the beginning of the 20th century, a large number of reputable scholars specializing in the study of foreign cultures. This situation, both inside and outside Japan, has brought about a curious result — the scarcity of Japanese anthropologists studying their own culture, which contrasts with the ever increasing volume of the anthropological literature on Japan produced by foreign, especially Anglophone, scholars who are not familiar enough with Japan’s academic culture.
This last sentence feels to me a bit incendiary and I don’t fully agree with his take on the history of anthropology, but he does point to the basic problem of the way national anthropologies are set apart by linguistic barriers. He hopes that his book will spark a dialogue between Japanese anthrologists and non-Japanese anthropologists.
I appreciate his effort to build a bridge across this linguistic divide, but isn’t this ultimately self-defeating in that by the sheer act of translation Japan’s “long tradition of anthropology” will be placed in a universal discourse and hence lose its singularity (that is, if it already posssessed it)? What does it exactly mean for there being different national traditions of anthrology?
Or are my concerns quite silly, and can be brushed off as silly self-reflexive musings of a blogger?