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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
Mathias Räther

Mathias Räther

Mathias Räther
History / Modern East Asia History
Since May 2016
(PhD Students, May 1, 2016 - February 28, 2017)

Writing Back from the Center: Japanese Intellectuals in the Western Academic Industry around 1900

The project aims at a better understanding of the relationship between knowledge production and power structures. Since around the 19th century most of the knowledge about the non-Western world was produced in the West, it adhered to the pattern of the asymmetrical power relations between colonizers and colonized. In this relationship, however, the Japanese Empire had an exceptional standing alongside the European imperial powers and the United States of America. On the one hand, Japanese intellectuals like Nitobe Inazō (1862-1933) were objects of the racial and cultural descriptions of the colonial discourse in the West. On the other hand, they also produced Orientalized stereotypes in a similar vein about the peoples and cultures in their own colonies. Due to that specific situation, the commonly expected antagonism between the Orient and the Occident seems to be less apparent than most of the postcolonial literature points out.

Thus, the main focus of the project is concerned with how Japanese intellectuals handled this specific situation between Western Orientalism and their own struggle for acknowledgement. What strategies were involved when Japanese intellectuals became aware of the asymmetrical power relations surrounding them? How did they manage (if possible) to overcome those Orientalist descriptions of their own by Western scientists and how did they, in reverse, treat their own Orientalism in the Japanese Empire? Is there even a possibility of discovering influences of Japanese writings and ideas about the Orient in the West? How did the Japanese intellectuals render themselves and how did this counteract (or not) the Western Orientalist points of view? In a nutshell, how is it possible to write a history about the relationship between the East and the West that bear in mind the perceived inequality of both, while, at the same time, avoiding the Eurocentric mistake to rewrite this inequality to a degree where everything we believe to know about the Orient originated in the West?