TALK: Epistemological Revolution in Japan's Long 1968

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Date: 

04/17/2019 - 4:00pm to 6:00pm

A focus on student actors has often led historians of Japan to dismiss the idea of epochal change in “the long 1968.” This talk adopts the perspective of the older generation of Japanese social scientists to show these years as a watershed in the basis of authoritative knowledge. The existing historiography often presents these scholars as reactionary. I show how they, in concert with their colleagues abroad, actually anticipated and indeed accelerated epistemological revolution.

Born in the two decades from 1900-1920, “transwar” social scientists assumed leadership of their disciplines in the 1930s and maintained intellectual hegemony across the chronological divide of World War II. They were linked by shared demographic characteristics and, more importantly, through a common commitment to objectivity. Transcending the domestic intellectual community, conviction in objectivity drew together a transnational network of scholars able to trust and engage with each other’s work. I show how, during the 1960s, their critiques of the postwar order (that they themselves had built) led to the dethronement of objectivity as the hallmark of epistemological legitimacy, and to their own exit from the universities. I conclude by looking at their younger replacements, who inaugurated subjective, activist, and particularist paradigms of knowledge.

Sponsored by the IHC’s Reinventing Japan Research Focus Group, the East Asia Center, the Department of History, and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies