Research unit on "multiculturalism and cultural contact zones in Asian societies" (2010-11)

(second year, continued from 2009)

Name of person in charge
James Farrer,


Research Proposal

a. goals

The goals of this research unit is to build a community of scholars, centered around the ICC, studying issues related to multiculturalism and intercultural contact zones, and related concepts of nationalism, regionalism, ethnicity, and pan-Asianism, in Asia. Our principle question is what models of multiculturalism and intercultural contact exist in Asian contexts, including diasporic contexts such as Asian communities in Europe and North America and migrant communities in Asian cities.

Although multiculturalism remains a key term in the project from the previous year (2009), for 2010 we have added the term contact zones to the title of the project, because many members prefer this term. As individuals and cultural artifacts move across borders, spaces of cultural consumption and intercultural contact become contact zones, or spaces of friction and creativity. M.L. Pratt defines contact zones as "social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination" (1992, Imperial Eyes, 4). Building on Pratt, M. Tanaka argues that the study of "contact zones" has changed with the transition from relations of colonialism to relations of globalization, producing contact zones within major cities (Masakazu Tanaka, "A cultural anthropology of contact zones," Contact Zone: 1, 2007). Studying sites of cultural contact as contact zones focuses our attention on power inequalities among different actors.

We hope to foster an intellectual context in which new ideas of multiculturalism – and related concepts of nationalism, regionalism, culture and ethnicity – can be developed that relate more specifically to the experiences of peoples in Asia. We approach the concept of multiculturalism from a critical perspective, realizing the various political uses of the term by state agents and other actors. The long-term goal of this research unit is to realize the distinct potential of Sophia as a center for the study of multiculturalism and cultural contact zones. All of the members are involved in empirical research projects that speak to the issues described above, and the project's main purpose is to promote intellectual synergies, while providing modest financial and practical support some of the empirical research projects and collective symposia.

Activities of proposed research unit members:

James Farrer is working the idea of multiculturalism as it relates to concepts of 'urban citizenship' for foreign residents in Shanghai. His project also looks comparatively at notions of urban citizenship in other cities with the hope of developing concepts of multiculturalism at the urban level that describe the involvements of foreign residents in multiple areas of city life, including, work, marriage, family, community life and informal political action.

David Wank is working on ideas of regional identity within China as a novel Chinese notion of multiculturalism with influences both from state policies and market mechanisms. This study is an examination of key symbols of one Chinese region, Shanxi province, which constitutes part of Yellow River region, the heartland of Chinese civilization. The research focuses on key symbols, such as cuisine and historical monuments, looking at both the meanings that they are intended to communicate and the various actors and interests that are working to create and control the sites of their production. Key cuisine symbols to be considered are regional dish restaurants and local specialty products, such as vinegar. Key historical symbols are merchant houses and museums.

Sven Saaler is working on the development of Pan-Asianism, an ideology with transnational, or regionalist notions that emerged in Asia since the mid 19th century. Although the development of Pan-Asianism is closely connected to the spread of nationalism in Asia, this transnational ideology represents early discomfort with nationalism in Asia and an attempt to overcome self-contained versions of nationalism. Sven Saaler's research focuses particularly on aspects of conceptual history, i.e. the different usages and meanings of pan-Asian notions at different times, in different places and in different political and social contexts.

Yoshino Kosaku is studying contact zones in Southeast Asia. His work includes empirical research on the Englishization of higher education in Southeast Asia, and culinary contact zones in Southeast Asia and Tokyo.

Mark Mclelland, visiting scholar from the University of Wollongong in Australia. He is a sociologist and cultural historian of Japan specialising in the history of sexuality, gender theory and new media. He will participating in a joint colloquium in 2009.

b. analytical framework(s) or theoretical approaches

This is a theory-building project, aimed at developing new conceptions of multiculturalism relevant to the Asian context. Although guided by theoretical formulations from our own disciplines, as a group, we do not have a single analytic or theoretical framework, but rather aim to engage in a plural set of theoretical discussions. Postcolonial theories play a role in some projects. Other projects are guided by international relations theory and theories derived from the sociology of culture. In general, our approach is grounded in empirical research, inductive and data-driven, using historical texts, ethnographic data and case studies of actual political processes.

c. research methods (general description for interdisciplinary projects)

We wish to promote theory building within a comparative and interdisciplinary context. The main methodological premise that holds all these projects together is a commitment to empirical comparative analysis. Each member of our group is engaged in his or her own individual project with methods that derive from his or her discipline, but the goal of the project as a whole is to use the opportunity of empirically based comparison. We all wish to develop concepts that both speak to the local situations we are discussing will also engaging in the type of broader comparative discussion that is conducive to theory building.

d. expected outcomes for 2010

Our goals for the second year of the research group focuses on supporting the research activities of some of our members, holding regular workshop meetings, and participating in organizing a joint symposium. We plan to organize a series of speakers and one workshop-style symposium. One proposal, which still needs to be approved by the members is of the research unit, is a symposium in September 2010, tentatively entitled "Sexual contact zones and sexual multiculturalism in East Asia". This symposium will be jointly organized with visiting scholar Mark McLelland and PhD students from the Graduate School of Global Studies who are doing research related to gender, sexuality and contact zones in East Asia. We plan a publication of the papers as a special issue of a refereed journal.

e. the potential implications of the research findings

Most models of multiculturalism and contact zones have been developed in the context of European and American societies, with little focus on Asia. We want to develop ideas based on Asian models, but also engage in discussions outside the Asian area to build up new theoretical conceptions of Asian multi. We hope this process of theory building is facilitated by creating a community of theoretical discourse centered at the Institute of Comparative Culture, and more generally within Sophia University.

f. activities and publications of the project in the previous year

Last year members of the research project participated in organizing and hosting the Sophia Symposium on a "Right to Move? Towards an Ethics of International Migration" On Dec. 12-13, 2009. This Symposium was jointly organized with Sophia University and the Carnegie Council on Ethics in International Affairs. The results were published in an online collection by the online journal Policy Innovations.

g. names of other FLA and non-FLA Sophia faculty involved

Institute Members:
James Farrer (organizer)
David Wank
Sven Saaler
Yoshino Kosaku

Visiting ICC Scholars
Mark McLelland