Global Futures in East Asia

Who are these youth and where are they going?

This course will explore the answer to these questions by focusing on the interlinked modernity projects in China, Japan, and Korea and the historical, political, and economic forces that link national development and international economic competition. We will look at how projects of national development are informed by pedagogies of citizenship and programs of human engineering in the reform of populations. We will also be concerned with how powerful ideas such as: modernity, culture, development, and globalization touch down and take route in different national contexts in ways that are specific to each location in East Asia but also complexly connected to each other. Our explorations will pivot on three key periods, during which East Asian populations were synchronized into the universalizing conceptions of modernity, progress and development and its structures of comparison. The first is in the late 19th and early 20th century under the banner of “civilization and enlightenment.” The second centers on the modernization projects and modernization theory debates of mid-century, and the third looks at the range of promises, prognostications, and on-the-ground concerns over the loss of certainty of the age of “globalization” and neoliberal reform.

One of the goals of this course is to show how the national and global interact with the local and personal and how both spheres of influence and power produce effects on each other. This approach is informed by the instructors’ deep ethnographic engagements with two of the three national contexts (China and Japan) and our on-going collaborative work with colleagues who focus on Korea and Taiwan. As a result, we have seen how the arenas of the national and the individual intermingle, how ideas, beliefs, anxieties, convictions and imaginings are created and also how they shift over time.

Students will learn how to identify and track these effects by developing new forms of questioning, critical reading skills, and what anthropologists call, “getting into the context and details.” We will also make use of the diversity of the classroom (the different backgrounds that you bring) as well as outside resources. Another goal for the class is to explore how the futures of students in the United States are intertwined with those of youth in East Asia through shared concerns about life possibilities and challenges.

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