Comparative Studies of (Post-) Colonial Cultures in East Asia: Japan, Korea, Taiwan

Chris Hanscom, Todd Henry, Ruei-suei Sun
Graduate students: EALC, Department of History, Department of Urban Planning
University of California, Los Angeles

Project description:

"It should no longer be possible in the current state of colonial scholarship to imagine the research process, either the consumption or production of knowledge, as an individuated, private affair. Changes in the anthropology of colonialism over the last decade require new recognition of the collective nature of what we do. . . . In dismantling the careful bracketing that contained metropolitan and colonial history, research has not only become unwieldy as an individual effort, but difficult for either fledgling graduate student or seasoned scholar to sustain." (Ann Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), pp. xi-xii.)

The objective of our proposed project is to convene a varied and critical-minded body of graduate students and scholars studying in fields related to East Asia at UCLA, thus creating a group devoted to the comparative study of colonial period history and historiography, literature and literary history, architecture and urban planning, film and film theory, etc. By "colonial period" we refer to the period of Japanese colonization of Taiwan (1895-1945) and Korea (1910-1945), the mechanism and effects of imperialism within Japan itself, and the (re-) formation or (re-) negotiation of political, economic, and cultural relationships between these three nations. Our project will work to establish a general and theoretical foundation upon which to pursue topics and approaches related to the colonial period in East Asia, bringing the relatively large group of UCLA graduate students working in this area together into a collaborative and productive enterprise. We are approaching CIRA to request funding for a series of three workshops (2001-2002) each centered around a common text or texts, and a conference on comparative (post-) colonialisms (2002-2003) which will culminate in the publication of a conference volume of papers related to the organizing topic and principle of the project itself.

This proposal comes in response to the perceived need for a collaborative and comparative perspective and critically-informed methodologies in (post-) colonial studies, particularly with regard to the colonial period in East Asia. Compared to other universities with East Asian studies programs, UCLA hosts a relatively large number of graduate students in various departments, with diverse fields, periods of study, and research interests. This group of students, we feel, comprises a "critical mass" which will benefit tremendously from such a collaborative endeavor, and represents the potential for the development of critical and extensive scholarship on (post-) colonial studies in East Asia. With the advent of what might be termed a "postcolonial" mode of thinking-a critical approach applicable across disciplines, and a problematizing of the relationship between the colony and the metropole-a comparative re-thinking of the early twentieth century "colonial period" in East Asia seems both necessary and daunting. We recognize that a contemporary and critical approach to research on the (post-) colonial period requires a collective, interdisciplinary effort, and aim to facilitate such an effort among UCLA graduate students; and we intend to question standard approaches to the (post-) colonial period through this cooperation, dismantling not only the "careful bracketing" between metropolitan and colonial histories but also the bracketing between "areas" of study.

To maintain such a critical perspective across a diverse group of students and scholars will be challenging but worthwhile. To encourage a collective and critical effort, the first year of our proposed project will be spent participating in a series of three day-long workshops (one per quarter), with two designed around specific texts which each project investigator will read in advance. The first workshop will consist of a student discussion, facilitated by project advisors, on the current state of the field of colonial studies in East Asia. Each student will make a brief presentation, and bring useful texts to the table which we will combine into a bibliography for the group. Ann Stoler from the University of Michigan will take part in the second workshop centered around her Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault's History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (and her forthcoming Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power), and Dipesh Chakrabarty will lead the third workshop, which will deal with his recent book Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. As the study of colonial cultures in East Asia begins to be informed by theoretical insights, studies outside our immediate geographic region of interest such as those presented above will provide a fruitful and comparative ground on which to develop our own perspectives on East Asia.

It is also our intention in this initial year to encourage project members to attend various relevant lectures or seminars given at UCLA during 2001-2002 as a group, and to bring content derived from these lectures or seminars to bear on topics taken up during workshop meetings. We thus hope to collaborate with university-wide centers such as the Center for Japanese Studies, the Center for Korean Studies, the Center for the Study of Women, and other programs and groups which share an interest in our research topic.

The group work done during these workshops will culminate in a series of papers, presented by project participants, at a one-day conference during the winter quarter of 2002-2003, with participants encouraged to submit abstracts in the fall quarter. Project participants will also present their ideas for paper topics during the first quarter of the year, which will focus on issues and research interests based on the preceding year's theory-oriented workshops. This conference will be advertised and open to the public, will involve the participation of each project investigator, and will include faculty discussants who will respond to each panel's series of papers and facilitate question and answer sessions. The conference will provide a forum in which diverse fields of study, topics, periods, geographic regions, and critical approaches will be brought together in a self-critical and comparative manner. This conference will be followed up by one or more meetings in the winter and spring quarters, to allow for detailed peer response and suggestions for paper revision.

Revised papers will be presented to the Asia-Pacific Institute's Monograph Series for review and publication as a conference volume. The board of directors at the Asia-Pacific Institute has been contacted through the Institute's program officer and managing editor of the monograph series, Leslie Evans, and has expressed their agreement to undertake such a publication.

For current activities, see the project website at:

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2002