Taking a “Rashomon” approach to studying Pacific Rim politics

1980_regIn this blog entry, Christian Collet, co-editor (with Pei-te Lien) of The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans, describes his approach to understanding contemporary dynamics of racial and ethnic politics.

Gaining perspective is perhaps the biggest challenge of writing — trying to find a point in time and a place in space in which one has enough clarity, confidence and judgment to articulate an idea.  As Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Rashomon reminds us, even the simplest of events can have completely different meanings.  “Facts” are often dependent, literally, on where one is sitting.

I draw upon the experience of living in Saigon and near Little Saigon in Orange County, and the questions I have asked myself as an American political scientist living in the Asian Pacific, as a way to introduce the challenges of understanding the contemporary dynamics of racial and ethnic politics.  Pei-te Lien and I designed The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans not only to exorcise our own nagging questions, but to inspire others, particularly in political science, to think more about these problems of method – and how we can come to grips with the excitement and uncertainty of globalization.  Our concern is to not only shed light on the “foreign acts” we see in the news, but to put them in perspective – and bring students closer to them through perspectives that they may have yet to experience.

The challenge, as we describe in the introductory chapter, comes not just from being able to perceive transnational politics, but to capture it accurately and, once contained, to interpret its significance – to think about why it matters and the role it may be playing in Asian American incorporation.  That the volume attempts to marry 20th century history to 21st century anthropology, area studies to ethnic studies, surveys to participant observation should, if nothing else, convey our sense that politics is, in essence, a dynamic, Rashomon-like puzzle. Democracy in the Pacific Rim, we believe, may be open to many interpretations, but Asian Americans remain central players in the unfolding drama.

For more information about The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans, visit http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1980_reg.html

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