Lead Us Not Into Translation: Notes Toward a Theoretical Foundation for Asian Studies

Dutton, Michael. 2002. Lead Us Not Into Translation: Notes Toward a Theoretical Foundation for Asian Studies. Nepantla: Views from South, 3(3), pp. 495-537. ISSN 15270858 [Article]

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I begin this work with a simple question. Why is it impossible to imagine, much less write, a work like Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish within Asian area studies? The impossibility I am referring to is not of content but of form. It is not just about writing such a text but about having it read as something more than a description; having it read for its theoretical significance more generally. That is to say, it is about the impossibility of writing a work that is principally of a theoretical nature but that is empirically and geographically grounded in Asia rather than in Europe or America. Why is it that, when it comes to Asian area studies, whenever “theory” is invoked, it is invariably understood to mean “applied theory” and assumed to be of value only insofar as it helps tell the story of the “real” in a more compelling way?

To some extent, what follows is an attempt to explain historically how Western area studies on Asia came to appreciate theory in this limited and limiting way. At the same time, as I began to investigate the history and prehistory of this diaphanous field, I began to recognize the possibilities of a very different form of area studies that could have emerged had different sets of pressures pushed it in a slightly different direction. This essay is therefore an attempt to recuperate these now forgotten possibilities and to build on them in order to produce a different way of seeing, writing, and theorizing Asian area studies.

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September 2002Published

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12 Mar 2009 15:42

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29 Apr 2020 15:30

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