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  • Response to Abigail Schweber's Review of Burning and Building
  • Brian Platt

"Professor Schweber's review raises two main criticisms of my book, Burning and Building: Schooling and State Formation in Japan, 1750-1890. The first relates to the question of how to draw broader significance from a set of data culled from [End Page 226] a specific locality, a question fundamental to the field of local history. The geographic focus of Burning and Building is Shinano, a Japanese province. Professor Schweber states that Shinano was exceptional, and faults Burning and Building for "tr[ying] to make an argument that Shinano was representative of the nation of Japan." Professor Schweber would be right to cast doubt upon a study of Shinano justified on the basis of the province's typicality-not only because, as she points out, the prefecture was unusual in many ways, but also because historians (and even more so, anthropologists) have long called into question conventional notions of "representativeness" as a justification for a local study. It is for those reasons that I begin the book by emphasizing Shinano's exceptionality and refuting a local history methodology that would claim the province to be typical. I write in the introduction, "My choice of Nagano [modern-day Shinano] was not guided by the desire to locate a 'representative' locality that could then be used to generalize about the rest of the nation. Indeed, if representativeness were a concern, Shinano would be a poor choice" (21). The introduction then elaborates on the various ways in which Shinano was unusual (21-22).

Having rejected the notion that educational conditions in Shinano were typical, the introduction justifies the choice of Shinano on other grounds: "I have chosen [Shinano] as the focus of my study because ... its exceptionality throws into sharper relief the dynamics of state formation at the local level" (21). The book tries to make the case that an in-depth focus on a locality (in this case, Shinano) enables us to trace the process of negotiation among various actors-the central government, prefectural officials, local elites, ordinary villagers-that, I argue, shaped the formation of the modern Japanese state. In sum, Professor Schweber's point that educational conditions in Shinano were unusual is something my book stresses from the start, and does not speak to the book's argument about state formation or its use of evidence from Shinano to make that argument.

Professor Schweber's second criticism is that Burning and Building presents "a model of a hegemonic state facing entrenched opposition at the local level." In this case, too, the introduction explicitly rejects this approach, arguing at length against the tendency among Japanese historians to place the state and the people in categorical opposition. Instead, the introduction states that the Meiji government's intervention in education "elicited a variety of local responses," with conflict and cooperation representing merely two extremes within a broad range (8-14). The second half of the book explores this range. One chapter, and significant portions of two others, focus on the vigor with which many local elites in Shinano worked with central and prefectural governments in pursuit of universal, standardized schooling. Another chapter (chapter five) does focus on local resistance, but describes it not as "entrenched," but as "limited" and "conditional"; resistance expressed not a rejection of the new state but an attempt to "negotiate the terms of integration" into the new state. Accordingly, my use of the concept of "hegemony" follows that of Lears, Lipsitz, Mallon, and others who have used it to describe not a situation of outright domination facing intractable opposition, but a process in which dominant groups or ideas earn consent only through negotiation and compromise. Furthermore, the book stresses that where we do find acts of resistance, they often revealed intra-village conflicts more than local opposition to the state. I write that conflict "was not principally between [End Page 227] the mutually antagonistic parties of 'local society' and state; rather, underlying conflicts within local society were compounded and transformed by the expansion of the central government into new areas of local life" (213).

Professor Schweber's review points to two questions that are indeed central to...


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