My work is comparative insofar as I examine the processes of translation that people undertook at different times to make sense of new political situations. My studies of Fukuzawa Yukichi’s translations of John Stuart Mill, Nakae Chōmin’s translation of Rousseau, and other key figures in the history of Japanese political thought bring out the ways in which they compared their own situtations, and thier own language, to those of others half way around the world.

However, Political Theory as a discipline has recently begun to group any work that deals with non-European subjects or the interaction between “Western” and “Non-Western” thinkers under the umbrella term “Comparative Political Theory.” While my work certainly fits this definition, I also try to challenge it whenever possible.

My research begins from the premise that “theory” can refer to any of the myriad ways that people make the world around them intelligible. People are constantly engaged in a process of comparing their ideas with world and with other people. Comparative political theory, therefore, knows no borders or cultural boundaries. The European/Non-European distinction is both misleading and Eurocentric. Theory is simply people offering their particular way of looking at the world however they choose to do it. This means doing away with the idea of a cannon of political theory once and for all.

I aim to understand the ways in which people bring their ideas into contrast with the thoughts and practices of those around them, how these encounters affect the participants, and how history changes as a result. I’m particularly interested in the ways in which people make sense of radically new practices or articulate brand new ideas from outside of their own everyday experience. This might take the form of a translated text, a traveller returning from abroad, or the exhibition of a new work of art. Regardless of the form, I do my best to understand how people have made sense of these experiences, and how they change the way the world appears to them.

My work assumes that translation and politics are two sides of the same coin. Politics is fundamentally about the ways bodies and ideas are (or should be) organized in the world, and practices of translation are inseparable from this process. The effects of translation on the way people understand their world are immense.

At a more basic level, I try to disrupt the tendency to avoid thinking about the complexities that went into producing a work in translation. Not only do the translator’s choices inevitably reflect a certain politics, but the economic and historical circumstances that make it desirable to translate a particular text into a particular language, at a particular time are extremely important.

Ultimately, translation is more than just the rendering of a work from one language into another, however. As Naoki Sakai says, “…translation operates by exceeding the narrow meaning of language. A novel is translated into a film, just as a political idea can be translated in action. A human being’s creative capacity can be translated into capital, their desires translated into dreams, their aspirations translated into seats in parliament.” This understanding of translation helps us see break down the boundaries of nation and culture to understand the interactions between people and ideas in very new ways.

Philological Confucianism

I am deeply interested in both Japanese and Chinese traditions of Confucian political thought. My work has attempted to understand the interactions of Confucian discourses with European political theory in the Japanese context in particular. In my future work, I am hoping to investigate some interesting connections between the philological tradition of Ito Jinsai and Ogyu Sorai and Meiji practices of reading and translation.

Teaching Confucianism

Chinese and Japanese Confucianisms are fascinating traditions of thought that are underappreciated in American universities for not only their creativity and insight, but their profound impact on international politics today. For students interested in East Asian politics, the domestic politics of China or Japan, or Modern Japanese or Chinese History, having a strong grasp of Confucian thought is crucial. I am very interested in Confuican political thought and I am eager to share my enthusiasm for it. I am passionate about teaching undergraduates in particular about the importance of Confucianism today.

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Ranciere and the Partition of the Sensible

In thinking about what defines politics itself, I have been influenced by Jacques Ranciere’s work, particularly in The Ignorant Schoolmaster and Proletarian Nights. The capacity to speak and be recognized as a speaking being occupies a central place in my analyses of early Meiji political culture.

Foucault and Subjectivity

Foucault, Judith Butler, and other more recent theorists of subjectivity such as Jason Read and Gavin Walker are also very important to my work. I generally reject the assumption that power is something to be possessed and wielded by individuals who are aware of full consequences of their actions. Rather, I explore how power permeates all social interactions and produces individuals of certain dispositions without their conscious awareness. I have also written on Foucault’s lectures on Neoliberalism and Biopolitics, and I find this to be an extremely productive frame for asking questions about the meaning of “modernity” more generally.

Marxism and Culture

I am also indebted to Louis Althusser, V.V. Voloshinov, and Mikhail Bakhtin for the way I think about the relationships between language, politics, and ideology. Many of the questions I ask deal with the dialectic between everyday life and the ideological structures which contribute to its reproduction. Gramsci, Raymond Williams, and of course Marx himself are important elements of my approach to history and literature insofar as I am interested in the ways in which ensembles of social relations enable or inhibit certain political possibilities.

 

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