- Network of Knowledge: Western Science and the Tokugawa Information Revolution by Terrence Jackson
What makes someone a “scholar”? Is it the possession of a certain type, breadth, or volume of knowledge? Is it characterized by a method or perhaps adherence to a worldview? Does it require a diploma from an accredited institute of higher learning? Is it limited to those who hold a teaching position within such an institute? Does it require one to publish, and if so, how frequently? Although these questions strike at the core of the daily activities—if not identities—of those of us in the world of “academia,” our contractual obligation to practice this thing called “scholarship” often leaves us with little time to deeply reflect about its essence. It was a pleasure, therefore, to find myself having the rare opportunity to engage in both through a review of Terrence Jackson’s new monograph on the rise of Rangaku (Dutch studies) in early modern Japan.
The relevance of Jackson’s book to the abovementioned problematic lies in the main question that it sets out to answer: What were the conditions that allowed Dutch studies—a newcomer to the established world of Tokugawa scholarship—to secure its place as a valid intellectual pursuit? Or, in other words, how did the scarce and disparate strands of knowledge leaking out of Deshima manage to not only excite a few occidentalist eccentrics, but inspire hundreds to systematically pursue this knowledge as a new branch of learning? Whereas the bulk of modern scholarship has perhaps taken this increasing popularity of Dutch studies for granted as the natural result of the practical (read “scientific” or “modern”) efficacy of its ideas, Jackson argues that the power of ideas alone does not provide an adequate explanation and that “the growth of rangaku should be understood as the spreading of a social network” (p. 16).
Two elements characterize Jackson’s method in examining Dutch studies as a social network. The first is his choice to place Ōtsuki Gentaku (1757–1827) at the center of his narrative. Rather than analyzing “whole networks” that include all members within a given community, Jackson opts to use an “egocentric network” (p. 17), starting at the center with Gentaku and moving outward to examine his social ties. The second is his adoption of the conceptual vocabulary of Pierre Bourdieu: field, habitus, capital, and practice. That is, Jackson interprets Gentaku’s network as a field in which multiple actors, each habitually predisposed toward certain actions, struggle over the accumulation of various kinds of capital (economic, cultural, social, symbolic) and in doing so come to define the scholarly practice of Dutch studies. The book is conveniently—but not explicitly—structured to encompass both of these elements; within a larger chronological narrative of the development of Gentaku’s network, each chapter presents a case-study exploration of this network as seen through one of Bourdieu’s theoretical concepts. [End Page 110]
The first chapter sets out to reconstruct Gentaku’s habitus, showing how his Dutch studies scholarship was necessarily informed by his multiple identities. His position as a samurai required careful negotiation between the financial reach of his stipend, his feudal obligations, and his intellectual interests. As a doctor, moreover, Gentaku had to find an ethical balance between the demands of clinical practice, theoretical study, and the need to attract patients. As a Confucian intellectual, he had to justify the pursuit of Dutch studies to himself as well as to the larger community. And as a family head, he was responsible for making sure that all of the above negotiations not only served himself, but would go on to benefit his family in the long run.
Moving on from habitus, the second chapter focuses on the use of the physical space of salons in the creation of capital. Based on a consideration of material items as “cultural capital in the objectified state” (p. 47), Jackson provides an illuminating reading of the famous Shirandō shingenkai zu (Painting of a New Year’s Gathering at [Gentaku...