Slaying the giant: overcoming awkwardness in the relationship between the study of the US and anthropology in Japan
Paper short abstract:
This study attempts to overcome the awkward relationship between American Studies and Anthropology, as it exists in Japan, by proposing new ways to formulate the concept of culture, the positioning of 'the observer' and 'the observed,' and the notion of what constitutes 'America.'
Paper long abstract:
In their seminal article(1996), Dominguez and Desmond urged us to develop 'critical internationalism,' including collaboration with scholars outside the US deemed important in eradicating a 'disciplinary unconsciousness' and bringing out critical disciplinary reformulations. Anthropologists located outside the US seem to be the best partners in such efforts. Yet, the U.S. does not attract much ethnographic interest among 'foreign' anthropologists, and Japan is no exception. In much of Japanese academic discourse, 'America' remains a cultureless monolithic Giant. In the field of American Studies in Japan, however, the US is studied. Yet there the central issue has become the diversity of experience in the US, and the subject of study has tended to be specific and local. Studies of sameness or cultural coherence have tended to be discredited, and this leads Japanese anthropologists to find themselves trapped in the these contradictory views. Drawing on my experience of engaging in American Studies as a Japanese anthropologist, in this paper I ask how we can overcome the awkward relationship that exists between American Studies and Anthropology. I will examine the concept of culture, the positioning of 'the observer' and 'the observed,' and the notion of what constitutes 'America.' I will also propose a new formulation of the concept of culture, one that will force us to deconstruct the prevalent notion of 'America' as a monolithic entity while simultaneously allowing us to engage in critical discussions of the 'Americanness' of American culture.
Does the future of anthropology not include the USA as a field site (except as 'anthropology at home')?