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Lecture | Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS)

Inverting Change in History

  • Stefan Tanaka (UC San Diego)
Friday 5 October 2018
Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS) year 2018 - 2019
Van Wijkplaats
Van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden

This talk builds from my recently completed manuscript 'History without Chronology', in which I argue that chronological time needs to be decentered from history. I point out that chronological time is but one form of time, it is not natural, and there are other times, especially from twentieth-century physics and biology, that can help us think of multiple times. I hope that this decentering leads us to histories that honor the diversity of our worlds.

One particular issue that this decentering raises is the emphasis in history of 'change over time'. Marking change by dates only describes how things came to be, rather than how things change. Without chronological time as an external metric we can invert a key contradistinction of modernity that Henri Lefebvre identifies--mobility and stasis.  The inversion is to begin motion from activity, not the activation of static objects.  This inversion emphasizes the activity of individuals, groups, and communities, rather than categories.  The focus on multiple times--repetition, feedback, horizons, as well as movement--help us think of how different layers of activity interact. Outcomes--change--in this case can be emergent, it can be maintenance, it might lead to disorder and decay, and it can foster innovation.

I will use a particular incident in 1884 Japan, the various unrest around Tokyo, usually categorized as the Freedom and Popular Rights movement to explore how multiple times bring out the complex relations that exist in transitional moments.  By recognizing the different times, this moment of transition of the archipelago into a modern state becomes less a story of successful transition to a modern liberal-democratic nation-state, but a transition that shows various reasons for activity, depended on the suppression of various movements, and the continuation of older (Tokugawa) forms.

About the speaker

Stefan Tanaka is a professor of Communication at the University of California San Diego and Visiting Research Scholar of the Center for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

Hitomi Koyama will act as discussant.

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