7. Divisions and Departments
Differences in the ways of practicing area studies can be seen not only among individual teachers and researchers, but also to a large extent among divisions and departments in ASAFAS. Generally, it seems that in the ecology-related departments, there seems to be a tendency to direct students first of all to the field. This means that students are encouraged to have a direct experience in the field and gain something “on the spot.” By contrast, social-science-oriented departments which tend to emphasize verbal articulation, if anything demand a more theoretical approach, asking why students choose a specific geographical area with a specific issue. Then, if possible, the students are encouraged to learn the language of the area before immersing themselves in the field. When one looks at the differences among divisions on this point, one gets the impression that compared with departments in the Division of Southeast Asian Area Studies, the three departments in the Division of African Area Studies with the English word “ecology” attached as a suffix to their names, encourage the “visit the field first” approach.
Although this has nothing to do with the intrinsic characteristics of the geographical areas concerned, each of the divisions and each of the departments under them have their own distinguishing features, even in the same area studies. Moreover, as will be understood from a glance at the lecture syllabus in Japanese on the website, the structure of the lectures and seminars of area studies varies according to the division, the department, and the members of staff involved. It is not a case of which is good and which is bad. The important thing is not to lose flexibility of thinking so that metamorphosis of one’s distinctive approach to area studies can be achieved, while respecting and, where necessary, being responsive to the distinguishing features of others.