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Reconfiguring Modernity

Concepts of Nature in Japanese Political Ideology

Julia Adeney Thomas (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 254 pages
ISBN: 9780520228542
January 2002
$57.95, £49.00
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Julia Adeney Thomas turns the concept of nature into a powerful analytical lens through which to view Japanese modernity, bringing the study of both Japanese history and political modernity to a new level of clarity. She shows that nature necessarily functions as a political concept and that changing ideas of nature's political authority were central during Japan's transformation from a semifeudal world to an industrializing colonial empire. In political documents from the nineteenth to the early twentieth century, nature was redefined, moving from the universal, spatial concept of the Tokugawa period, through temporal, social Darwinian ideas of inevitable progress and competitive struggle, to a celebration of Japan as a nation uniquely in harmony with nature. The so-called traditional "Japanese love of nature" masks modern state power.

Thomas's theoretically sophisticated study rejects the supposition that modernity is the ideological antithesis of nature, overcoming the determinism of the physical environment through technology and liberating denatured subjects from the chains of biology and tradition. In making "nature" available as a critical term for political analysis, this book yields new insights into prewar Japan's failure to achieve liberal democracy, as well as an alternative means of understanding modernity and the position of non-Western nations within it.
Note on Transliteration

1. Introduction: The Trouble with Nature
Outline of Nature's Political History in Japan

2. The Topographical Imagination of Tokugawa Politics
Mental Maps
China as Imperial Center
Japan's Imperial Center
Rural Centers
Centers of Learning
Divorce Proceedings: Space versus Time

3. Early Meiji's Contentious Natures
Natural Forms of Contention: Laws and Bodies
The Historiography of Meiji Ideologies
Nature's Indeterminate Determinism

4. Kato Hiroyuki: Turning Nature into Time
Kato Hiroyuki and Tenko
Shinsei tai'i and Kokutai shinron
Jinken shinsetsu
The Reaction to Jinken shinsetsu

5. Baba Tatsui: Natural Laws and Willful Natures
The Equilibrium of Forces in Nature and History
The Death Wishes of Baba Tatsui and Herbert Spencer
Tenpu jinkenron: The Reply to Kato
Catalyzing Nature: The Role of Will in Baba's Social Evolution

6. Ueki Emori: Singing the Body Electric
The Basic Body of Tenpu jinkenben
The Political Problems of Ueki's Bodies
A Dance of Loneliness

7. The Acculturation of Japanese Nature
Social Evolution's Victory
Social Evolution's Defeat: The Political Inadequacy of a Progressive
Nature as Japanese Culture: Bringing the Outside In
The Last Vestiges of Social Darwinism

8. Ultranational Nature: Dead Time and Dead Space
Shinto's National Nature
Economizing Nature
Educating the National Family
World-Historical Nature

9. Conclusion: Natural Freedom

Julia Adeney Thomas is Associate Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and winner of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians' award for best article of 1999.
"Reconfiguring Nature is a stimulating, original, and timely contribution to contemporary attempts to give modern political thought a global and hybrid genealogy. Thomas’s analysis of Japanese ideas of ‘nature’ helps to raise some fundamental questions about assumptions made in Euro-American political philosophy. Comparativist and specialized at the same time, this book is extremely sensitive to the complex processes through which ideas cross boundaries in time and space."—Dipesh Chakrabarty, author of Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference

"Reconfiguring Modernity treats the linked transformations in conceptions of nature, the body, and society in Japan from the mid-nineteenth century through the 1930s: from a static and hierarchical unity of cosmos and society, to a competitive and evolutionary "naturalized" society, and then again to a ‘family state’ and projected unitary culture as the harmonious counterpart, of a benevolent natural world. To this compellingly interesting theme, Julia Thomas brings an impressive range of reading and considerable literary skill. Her argument is frequently original and always discerning. In highlighting the impact and permutations of evolutionary thinking, it is especially important contribution to Meiji intellectual history, which has not been given sustained attention for quite some time in English-language scholarship."—Andrew Barshay, author of State and Intellectual in Imperial Japan

John K. Fairbank Prize in East Asian History, American Historical Association

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