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Journal of Asian American Studies 3.2 (2000) 256-258
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The Politics of Fieldwork: Research in an American Concentration Camp
The Politics of Fieldwork: Research in an American Concentration Camp. By Lane Ryo Hirabayashi. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1999.
Lane Ryo Hirabayashi's The Politics of Fieldwork: Research in an American Concentration Camp slices to the core of current debates in social science and challenges readers to reflect upon the politics of their academic endeavors. Hirabayashi explores issues such as the impact of social science on cultural domination and the relationships between field researchers and research supervisors. These issues have been widely discussed and debated especially within recent anthropology and sociology. Hirabayashi enters these discussions by speaking to issues of race, power, and science as they unfolded within the Japanese [End Page 256] American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) of World War II. With this historical perspective on the politics of fieldwork, he makes a very important contribution to our understanding of the history of Asian Americans in social science as well as our current academic endeavors.
Especially noteworthy for Asian American studies is that the focus of Hirabayashi's book is a pivotal moment in Asian American history, the incarceration of Japanese Americans by the United States government. The subject of Hirabayashi's work is Tamie Tsuchiyama, a young Japanese American woman who conducted fieldwork on imprisoned Japanese Americans. Tsuchiyama, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, was a leading researcher for JERS headed by sociology Professor Dorothy S. Thomas of the University of California, Berkeley. The story of Tsuchiyama's fieldwork is dramatic and fascinating. At the center of the story is the (sometimes stormy) correspondence between Tsuchiyama, the fieldworker, and Thomas, her supervisor. As the story unfolds, the correspondence reveals the evolution of this relationship, Tsuchiyama's impressive character, intellectual talents, and her growing awareness of the politics surrounding her fieldwork.
Hirabayashi situates Tsuchiyama's fieldwork in its socio-cultural context which included racial hierarchy, gender inequality, and the professional culture of academia. His theoretical framework is informed by post-Gramscian approaches to cultural domination and, especially, Pierre Bourdieu's concept of "colonial science." Hirabayashi concludes that the JERS was an example of "colonial science" with "many features which paralleled a colonial arrangement." (170) Also, his presentation of Tsuchiyama's research experiences points to the problems of "senior scholars of one color deploy[ing] junior scholars of another color to collect research data under difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances." (10) He concludes that "junior scholars. . .should avoid agreeing to collect data on their own communities for a senior scholar unless their own research interests and professional needs are directly served in the process." (172) Otherwise, in such situations, exploitative dynamics of race, profession, and gender almost always flourish.
Tsuchiyama's research in an American concentration camp during the volatile time of World War II ultimately proved to be exploitative and dangerous. Like research endeavors of the colonial era conducted in colonial territories, JERS has been revisited by scholars concerned with how social science has been integral to cultural domination. As illustrated by Hirabayashi, issues of hegemony must be explored in order to write accurate and complete histories of social science.
As a contribution to the history of social science, Hirabayashi's work is very significant; he illuminates the history of Asian Americans both as social scientists [End Page 257] and as objects of social science inquiry. The historical case of the JERS is valuable in itself. By reading about the experiences of this pioneer Asian American scholar, both junior and senior scholars alike gain valuable insights into what it meant for a young woman of color to study her own community at a time when race, power, and science were strongly allied. Also, Hirabayashi informs debates which result from revisiting history from diverse perspectives. Furthermore, we can read Politics of Fieldwork as an implicit challenge for us to step back and reconsider our own lives. Paying attention to the experience of this individual scholar, Tsuchiyama, can be a wonderful catalyst to considering...