6. One's Own Haute Couture

What students entering the Graduate School are expected to take in their first term are required courses: Introduction to Area Studies, and Seminar on Asian and African Area Studies. According to the “sutra,” these courses are conducted in an omnibus style, and “through study of the basic problems of Asian and African area studies, and through study of the methods of approach to these problems, it is intended that the knowledge that the students have gained in the undergraduate study of an individual discipline will be reoriented towards area studies.” Over the past two years, these required courses have been indeed offered in omnibus style by several different instructors.

This is not to say that one gains an understanding of area studies by completing the required courses or by reading several introductory textbooks. For a start, convenient introductory texts of this kind do not exist. Most practitioners of area studies would agree that area studies can be generally characterized as a way of looking at the intrinsic characteristics of an aera, gaining a holistic understanding, using an interdisciplinary approach, and giving an emphasis to field work.However, and this is not unlike a contrast between sutra and religious practice, even if their understanding of the area studies “sutra” is a shared one, the staff differs considerably from one another in the practical methods that they apply to area studies. Through the omnibus-style required courses, the students experience this, sometimes confusing, variety in the practice of area studies. In these courses too they are usually questioned about their reasons for choosing ASAFAS rather than Graduate Schools of Agriculture, Economics or Letters.

This often-asked question might make some students fed up sooner or later. However, there is absolutely no need to answer the question impetuously. Even if it only remains in the back of one’s mind, it is important to continue asking it to oneself. Then, bearing in mind how varied the practice of area studies can be, one needs to have the ambition of eventually tailoring one’s design of area studies to fit one’s individual requirements. To rephrase it in another way, it is necessary to be determined to set up, so to speak, one’s own haute couture of area studies. For staff and students alike, fieldwork is nothing other than a proactive learning process. If the “reality of life,” which is “raw” and not yet organized or articulated by other people, is the field, it follows that for the student, the “field” of the initial field work does not have to be in Asia or Africa. What we would like the students to have is the initiative not to sit in class with their mouths open, expecting to be fed pre-packaged knowledge, but rather to view what might seem at first glance to be a chaotic required course classroom as their chosen field.

Women painting a pattern on batik (Java cotton print), with wax, about 1900
Source: Indonesia: Images from the Past, Times Editions, Singapore, 1987

KATO Tsuyoshi
Doing Fieldwork on the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies

>>Next Page