Universiteit Leiden

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Gravensteen Lecture | A Living Laboratory: Japan in American Social Thought

Friday 2 November 2018
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden

This talk will examine the place of Japan in American social thought. “Cultural relativism”—the radical mandate to regard all cultural-ethical systems as equal—was an idea that shaped anthropology and social thought in the latter part of the 20th century. But it was always a complex mandate and difficult to fulfill. In this project, Professor Amy Borovoy explores the place of Japan in American social thought during this time: a non-Western nation that had proceeded through its own industrial revolution and cultivated modern institutions anchored in received historical ideals.  The inaugural study of Japan in the postwar era, Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, researched during World War II and published during the occupation, explored Japan as radically “other.” The talk explores a series of canonical postwar studies which, in surprising and imperfect ways, nonetheless, managed to challenge American ethnocentrism and create a window for expanding the possibilities of what modernity could mean and for reflecting on the excesses of American individualism.  The lecture explores the study of another society as both comparative exercise but also one situated in history and shaped by political and theoretical agendas.  

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