On the Development of the 21st Century COE Program

ICHIKAWA Mitsuo, Program Leader
(October 2005)

Progress of the Program and the New Administration

The 21st Century COE Program, “Aiming for COE of Integrated Area Studies: Establishing Field Stations in Asia and Africa, and Integrating Research Activities and On-Site-Education,” which was launched in FY2002, has now entered its fourth year, and only a year and a half remain. With the aim to create a leading center for research and education in area studies on Asia and Africa, we have focused our work on three priority activities: (1) promoting field research and on-site education through Field Stations; (2) research and education in four areas following the common research theme of "Human-Nature Coexistence in a Glocalizing World,” and (3) preparations for the establishment of a “Center for Integrated Area Studies” which will take charge of the consolidation and dissemination of multidimensional information.

In terms of the promotion of field research and education, these activities have developed up to now based on nine field stations (FS) established in the Asian region, and five in the African region. So far, a total of 110 graduate students, 59 faculty members, and nine COE researchers have been dispatched to conduct field research or on-site education with the backing of the Program. In parallel with the fieldwork, we have also held joint seminars with local universities, research institutes and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and have carried out international joint research and education centered around the FS. On the basis of these activities, we have signed academic exchange agreements between several academic institutions in Asian and African countries to further promote the cooperation with local researchers. With fieldwork positioned as the core of education and research at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies (ASAFAS), our system that integrates research in the front lines with educational activities is finally entering a stable orbit. I believe that we will begin to see many results from this in the coming year and a half.

In linkage with these field research and on-site education activities, we have held seminars, workshops and symposiums, both domestically and internationally, on the four problem areas (human-ecological, politico-economic, socio-cultural, and theoretical-methodological) within the common theme. Among them, two in particular are worthy of special mention, as they were mainly composed of presentations by graduate students and young faculty: the Workshop entitled “Environment, Livelihood and Local Praxis in Asia and Africa,” held from October 20-30, 2003 at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, and the Workshop entitled “Spinning from Fieldwork -- Process of Discovery and Analysis,” held in Kyoto from October 30-31, 2004. The latter, in particular, was planned and carried out mainly by the graduate students and young faculty, and received participation of approximately 120 graduate students from around the country. There was vigorous discussion on fieldwork methodologies and other subjects, and it clearly demonstrated the enthusiasm that young researchers feel toward their fieldwork. In addition, in March 2005, we held a symposium entitled “Potential of GIS/RS in Area Studies,” as a project for the integration of social sciences/humanities and natural sciences, where the potential of a new field called “area informatics” was discussed.

In addition, in relation to the “Area-Info Division,” we have collected and organized many multidimensional materials including books, microfilms, maps, satellite images and videos, some in a variety of local languages such as Arabic, Thai, Indonesian and Amharic. We have also strengthened databases on area studies information, including the use of wild plants in Africa and periodicals in modern Arabic (see Network Building Project on the website). Also, through the 21st Century COE website and the monthly e-Newsletter in Japanese titled “Integrated Area Studies INFOrmation Magazine (IAS-INFO),” we have tried to actively publicize the activities and outcomes of the Program as a whole.

Kyoto University is currently making a budget request to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for the establishment of a “Center for Integrated Area Studies” in FY2006. This center has been planned jointly by ASAFAS, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) and the Center for African Area Studies (CAAS, an intramural organization of Kyoto University). Under the 21st Century COE program, we have been carrying out the activities that will be expected at the new center, while aiming to realize its establishment plan, and to integrate within it the activities of the Japan Center for Area Studies of the National Museum of Ethnology. We need, however, to consider how to effectively integrate these two plans, with different backgrounds.

At the end of FY2004, Professor KATO Tsuyoshi, who was the program leader up until then, left Kyoto University. There were also some other departures and new arrivals among the faculty, and in response, we made some minor changes in the core members, and the new administrative structure was launched (See Staff and Responsibilities on the website). Under the new structure, we are planning to move our activities a step forward, taking into consideration the comments we received in the mid-term evaluation held in FY2004.

Results of the Mid-Term Evaluation and Our Future Plans

In FY2004, a mid-term evaluation was conducted of the 21st Century COE programs adopted in FY2002, and our Program received the following evaluation.

As an overall evaluation: “It is judged that additional efforts will be required to ensure that the initial goals are achieved, taking into consideration the comments below.” “The building of Field Stations, with a proven track record, has been further promoted, and future development can be expected. However, it is not clear how the field stations established in various places will lead to a dramatic leap forward in research, or in other words, how it will enhance the quality of field research. Also, there is as yet no concrete stance toward the ‘integration of social sciences/humanities and natural sciences’ (trans-disciplinary integration), and the question of how to find intersections between the two separate regions of Asia and Africa has not been made explicit. For the Field Stations as well, it is essential, at the outset or during the process, to develop methodologies for dealing with these issues, and those involved in the Program should make great efforts in this area.”

In summary, the following points were brought up in the comment: (1) what kind of research can be promoted through the development of field stations; (2) our concrete stance toward trans-disciplinary integration; and (3) the intersection between the two separate regions of Asia and Africa. Next, I would like to explain our ideas about these points.

(1) What kind of research can be promoted through the development of field stations?
Up until now, most area studies were carried out in the European states during the colonial period or in the United States during the period after the Second World War, and were done for the establishment of “rule” or with a political motivation. By contrast, what our Program aims for is research that is based in local communities, and is geared toward coexistence with the people in those communities. Concretely speaking, it means placing an emphasis on fieldwork and research in the local language, and the building of Field Stations gives support and helps strengthen these research and educational activities. Our emphasis on fieldwork is also due to our judgment that in Japan, where there is a paucity of secondary materials, it is important for young researchers, if they seek to produce excellent work in a short period of time, to do research with primary materials collected themselves through their own fieldwork. While bringing out issues that are closely related to local communities through on-site education and field research, there is a need to strengthen the Field Stations to make them into support bases that can raise the research capabilities of graduate students and young researchers. We will make further efforts in these areas.

(2) Our concrete stance toward trans-disciplinary integration
Among the important research themes brought up by our Program, “agricultural development that values indigenous methods,” “adaptation of livelihood to arid environments,” “conservation and sustainable use of wild animal and plant resources,” all require deep understanding of the local ecosystem, the techniques that make use of it, and the culture and society of the local people. Thus, they are premised on a trans-disciplinary approach and understanding. Detailed information on this type of research can be found on our website within the reports of fieldwork, seminars and workshops. In the future, we are planning to focus our research on themes, such as environmental problems and development, which require a trans-disciplinary approach. Also, from FY2005, we are trying to make further progress in the development of a trans-disciplinary approach by adding to the core members, researchers who have excellent records in approaches such as “soundscape ecology” (which examines the relationship between local communities and the acoustic environment) and area informatics (the digitization of local information and area studies based on this data).

On the question of methodology for area studies, new approaches, including landscape analysis through RS (remote sensing) and GIS (geographical information systems) have been attempted recently to examine the history, landscape, and social dynamics. Both of these involve adopting natural science methodologies in areas that were traditionally considered to be humanities or social science, and we plan to do more work using such a multiple approach in the future.

(3) Intersection between the separate regions of Asia and Africa
At present, the world is undergoing a rapid process of political, economic and information globalization, and under this situation, there have been moves to create global networks to grasp the problems faced by areas, elucidate these problems, and offer solutions. In the midst of this, there is a need for area studies that are based on a global perspective, and in our Program, we should carry out comparative area studies from such a perspective, focusing on both the specificities and commonalities between areas. Concretely, we plan to carry out comparative area studies on several common themes, including problems such as the conservation and sustainable use of rainforests and the reevaluation of indigenous methods in agricultural development, which are of global importance but where the strategies required vary by locality, as well as the potential for the application of new methodologies such as RS and GIS to area studies. In the past, our Program has explored such issues in both international and domestic workshops and seminars with the aim of comparing areas. From now on, we are planning to more actively promote research surveys on comparative area studies between Asia and Africa, and to deepen understanding of specific area features through, for example, mutual visits between field stations.

Further Promotion of Integrated Area Studies

The “integrated area studies” being promoted by our Program can be viewed in a variety of ways, reflecting the background of area studies at Kyoto University.Our Program understands them as being composed of the following four elements: (1) the unified promotion of education and research through fieldwork; (2) the integration of social science/humanities approaches and natural science approaches (trans-disciplinary approach); (3) the integration of basic research and applied research; and (4) an understanding of areas from a global perspective, through comparative area studies. Based on this idea, we plan to continue to strengthen the field stations, and to carry out field research and on-site education, from a trans-disciplinary approach, that aims for the understanding of areas. Furthermore, we will use the International Symposium to be held in Bangkok on November 23-24, 2005 and the subsequent study tours, to explore the problem of understanding the characteristic traits of areas through comparative area studies. We also plan, in parallel with basic research, to carry out “applied” area studies, based on fieldwork, that can help elucidate the acute problems faced by people in these areas.


KATO Tsuyoshi (June 2003)