ASIA COMPETENCE?

A new bone of contention between enterprise culture and the cultural sciences

Critical report

by Nold Egenter

 



 

INTRODUCTION

As umbrella organisation, the 'Swiss Academy of the Spiritual and Social Sciences' supports and coordinates research and teaching activities of the humanities in Switzerland. It stimulates research processes and propagates exchange and dissemination of corresponding results. Along with the 'Swiss Asia Association', it hosted a conference on the 12th of May 2000. The title of the event was "Culture, Politics, Market: the Asia Sciences in Dialogue with Politics and Economy".

The introduction of the application form already indicated tensions. In regard to economy and politics the increasing economical growth potential of Asia has intensified the importance of the Asia-related disciplines of the humanities. The sciences at the universities dealing with Asian regions and their cultures are  increasingly exposed  to pressure for efficient performance. However, these pragmatic requirements are in strong contrast to the high differentiations within the disciplines concerned.  In addition there are increasing claims for concrete services, which can hardly be satisfied with the reality of the present personnel and infrastructural equipment.  Political and economical circles increasingly  demand that universities should provide "Asia competence" to graduates. In view of this, the conference organisation promised a dialogue to get to know better the realities and matters of concern of both sides and provide support for developing possible solutions.

THE MARKET

Four contributions were on the pragmatic side of the economy. Paul  Dudler, president of  Novartis, Japan, presented the very successful  Novartis program set up by himself for  trade with J apan. The lecture was presented in  the style of "Davos culture" and outlined a trade strategy developed for the special case of Japan. The speaker emphasised the conditions of long-term construction of trustworthy relationship networks presupposing language proficiency and pragmatic abilities for cultural exchange focussed on synchronous social behaviour patterns (Do’s and don‘ts). The final demand, that the universities should develop an "Asia Business Program" for such perspectives was probably too high-faluting in this framework.

Similarly pragmatic was the report of Rudolf  Bosshardt, lawyer and president of the Swiss-Japanese Chamber of Commerce. He spoke about the stays for practical activities which the Swiss chamber  had  organised successfully for about 60 students in Japan. Unexpected conditions of the host country often produced strong emotional links between different partners. From such experiences the speaker criticised   the idea of "Asia-competence", but expressed himself  positively  for mutual understanding,  emphasising  historically grown structures which were important in the practical case of Swiss exchanges with Japanese. But here too, the final request for an intense cooperation between the industry and the humanities went too far.

Gerald Delilkhan, a younger and brilliant economist essentially dealt with market strategies and commented the point outlined by the preceding speaker, the problem of the outside post in a foreign culture. Science should not manoeuvre itself into a "splendid isolation",  he said, and the other way round, one should not simply post the "do’s and don'ts". The main problem consists in finding capable specialists familiar with the local culture and conditions. He spoke of strategies which preferred to send unmarried employees into the external interest zones of enterprises. It proved to be positive if these men got married and thus stabilized their outposts. Australia had gained a strong position in the Asiatic economical domain with this strategy. However, the procedures are not without problems, the speaker finally maintained, because "East is East and West is West, and never the twain will meet."

The fourth presentation in this pragmatic field was given by Walter Fust, head of the director's office for development and cooperation (DEZA) of the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (EDA). The focus was on 'development aid' but this term is outdated, he initially maintained, the new term is 'developmental cooperation' indicating a significant change of relations. He further emphasised that projects have become quite heterogeneous  (e.g. women's bank) and the principle of procedure too has changed. Important at the present time is the "Tree of Sustainability". Symbolically speaking, he said, one should not potter about in the upper part of the tree, in the top or related to the trunk, but rather till the soil and use the right fertilisers. The ivory tower of the universities is illegitimate in this framework he suggested, developments must be supported quickly. If necessary, the lacking knowledge must be bought in other countries. Competences are of utmost importance in the projects, socially, disciplinary and methodologically as well as in view of process design, direction and intercultural communication. The presentation was not really convincing! The many hidden threats  in the hectic presentation of the speaker did not leave good feelings. The present auditor was strongly reminded  of the water pump disaster in Bangladesh recently produced by some Swiss development aid organisations.

So far for the demands and claims of the economic side. The basic reasoning was  clear and it was clearly expressed in the concluding discussion  by one exponent of the ABB. Until recently, he said, both the markets of Asia and the corresponding know-how had been locked away. Now everything is open! It is not surprising that many are trying to profit from the new opportunities. However, despite all  the economic dramatism, nobody seems to have clear ideas as to what the function of the universities should be in these new openings. Is it ultimately a question of an adequate labour market?

 THE  ACADEMIA

On the academic side, opinions were clearly in opposition. A historically deep-rooted humanistic ideal plays the main role, the claim for wholeness of the universal, the claim for the globally humane, which eventually can deal  with extremely limited conditions, for instance  in basic research, where this is understood in view of a universal entity. All academic votes showed clearly that the proposed focus on the market cannot be the direct objective of the Asia sciences.

Michael Lackner, professor of Sinology at the University of Geneva, questioned the trend
to consider sinology as a "hard science", that is, to see it like mathematics as a clearly structured knowledge. On the one hand Asian Studies are considered philologically today, but are using a lot of theories, on the other hand, under the influence of other disciplines, they also split into many subdisciplines. Thus, philosophical standpoints or concepts of the history of religions or theoretical positions of the history of art may be included in sinological research. Studies in this sense can include many different branches, and therefore it is not valid any more to call sinology a homogeneous field of the humanities. Rather it has to be seen like a concerted cooperation of many different forces. In fact, the domain of a sinologist is per se already very heterogeneous (very ancient bones and divination on the one hand and modern politics on the other). In view of the so called 'area studies' and 'culturalism' the domain has become considerably differentiated. Furthermore, the discipline is also in a transformation process in view of its values. In earlier times the rationally organised social state of China was admired, but this is no longer the case today. A very rapid change of values is underway. Moreover one has to be aware that the conventional notion of culture is a constructed one. In earlier times China was studied from the perspective of 'equivalence of high cultures', but this has opened up enormously today. Folk culture is placed on the same level as high culture, work is done systematically as well as practically, historical perspectives are cultivated as well as interests for the present. In former times Asia was considered through mystic optics, but in the meantime the universality of western positions has become questionable itself. Most characteristic for the present is its openness to the diversity of international scientific positions. In this sense Chinese researchers discovered in quite new ways common characteristics with Indonesia, etc.

Reinhard  Schulze, professor of Islamic sciences and Newer Oriental Philosophy at the university of Berne, drew a similarly  complex and differentiated picture. In his "small introduction" he specified that the primary alignment of the university is not pragmatic, that its basic perspective is focussed on fundamental research. "Unfortunately" today the relationship of the sciences to politics is greatly influenced by the economy.  Economic processes play a decisive role. This cannot be fruitful for science. Schulze sketched a short history of the development of the Islam sciences from Orientalistics. Originally this field was set up  purely philologically and thus was supposed to be able to scientifically take care of an extensive area, including Asia in its wide reaching totality. Cultures were represented merely with texts. Moreover, Orientalistics were strongly structured also by political reasoning, an aspect which was also valid for 20th century Islamic studies, for instance in view of French or German tasks in the first and second World War. However, the Islamic sciences always remained rather a scholarly culture, limited essentially to certain circles, for instance to the diplomatic services. In the sixties under American influence the Islam sciences got into the channel of the 'area studies'. The ideal was problem-related short-term studies which could be used like modules. In this context in 1974 French circles postulated the "Death of Orientalistics", but this was only temporary. Orientalistics are very popular again today. What is very important: the Islamic sciences are not just historio-critical philology anymore, neither are they just 'area studies', they have developed a high degreeof cultural competence. The high complexity of questioning in this domain requires a high flexibility, which stands against pragmatic constellations. Both paradigms, complexity and flexibility, are important on the level of the university. To some extent the fact that the Islamic sciences have developed a high competence of its experts, but, at the same time, that theyhave not developed any clear professional goal, is problematic. Consequently, topics of the Islamic sciences are often considered of a rather elitarian nature, but factually this reflects the real Islamic situations in many cultures and with many languages. It is therefore crucial to provide a modern system of research. Important are competent analysts focussed on an academic career. They could perceive extra-universitarian functions, but are essentially bound to fundamental research.

Peter Schreiner, professor of  Indology a tthe university of Zurich, used various contradictions to show the discrepancies of the field of Indology. Ambitions and reality, resp. the factual institutional equipment diverged enormously. The Zurich Institute of Indology, he said, is to a great extent a one-man-institute without any secretary, without a librarian. The means are completely insufficient. Indology is an enormously wide-reaching domain. An Indologist would theoretically have to know 18 languages. He would have to be competent in several religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Parsism, Islam etc.). Geographically India is not aunit but in fact requires many very different regional sciences. Width and depth too stand in strong contradiction.  Indology in Europe can best be compared to a chair of 'Europology'in India. Focusses of interests and the systematisation of topics are veryheterogeneous. Schreiner referred to  the 11th  Sanscrit WorldConference in Turin, Italy, and its extremely heterogeneous program. Besides,  Indians  have organised a highly differentiated 'Oriental Conference' and in the year 1999   a 'South  AsiaConference' was organised which showed about 20 sections. A great discrepancy in Indology exists also in regard to past and present. Some  expect information about modern India in the framework of modern Asia today, but on the other hand, this outlook is not of interest to many researchers - particularly and very clearly in Germany. Research focussed on ancient India is strongly frequented. One can ask whether this is an anachronism today, whether studies of ancient India should be closed down.The indologist is definitely confronted with modern sciences and its needs, and impacts of globalisation on modern India can be felt clearly. But if these impacts would become strong, India would lose its indological significance. Therefore, the functions of Indology seem to be rather preventive in view of the homogenising impacts of globalisation. In addition there is also a great discrepancy between 'ivory tower' and 'market place'. Many expect a type of behaviour adapted to the market in indology. But, indology does not want to be a market, it interprets itself as a service provided for intercultural understanding. Schreiner referred to Schopenhauer, Goethe and Hegel, who had all shown great interest in India and its culture. They were all dependent on the indology of their time. Consequently, the significance and usefulness of indology cannot be derived from a usefulness in the sense of the market. Rather, cultural values have to be discussed. The relevant goal is to conceive a holistic concept of ourcivilisation, and in this concept the 'ivory tower' is an important element.

In contrast to Schreiner's lecture strongly opposed to the market interests, a further contribution of Eduard Klopfenstein, professor of Japanology at the East Asian Seminar of theUniversity of Zurich, was rather conciliatory with a "triangle history" between Japan, Switzerland (German speaking part) and the Asia sciences. Japan has  moved into the global field of interest only recently, mainly because it has reached a high standard of industrialisation. In contrast to this, there is the traditional interpretation of Japan, which presents itself quite differently. Quotation: "100 million outsiders." This cliche is still valid today. Klopfenstein tried to contrast this with Andreas Schlieper's book "The proximity of foreign cultures - the case of Japan and Germany". Schlieper does not emphasise the foreign and exotic, but puts the mutualities of economical interests into the foreground. Necessary however is an understanding of historic conditions. The common basis is  the cultural conditionality. A Japanese motto for those who go into foreign countries says: "First ask what is forbidden". Using various examples Klopfenstein then outlined a nearly ghetto-like Eurocentric attitude related to Japanese culture. Such erroneous evaluations have to be eliminated decisively.The offering of the Japan sciences has changed greatly in recent times. In the fifties  Japanology was still essentially philological. But today it has enlarged considerably into a conglomerate of various sciences. The Japanology congress of 1993 in Zurich  showed very heterogeneous themes, evenn marginal ones like some contributions to the mythology of the Ainu.However, restricted to Japanology of the German speaking countries, three important tasks can be formulated:
1) The scientific task. It consists essentially of care for the professional libraries and in the production of translations.
2) The task of teaching and education. In 1996 this task was extended beyond the conventional program of a university department. A publicly accessible compact course for working persons and students was started. It was quite successful.
3) Finally regarding the "product" of Japanology, the graduates of the discipline. Students and graduates of Japanology today are busy in very different fields, for instance in insurance, in banking, etc., which evidently was meant in relation to the underlying discussion. But, in the final discussion a young women and graduate of the Japanology department vehemently protested at being considered a "product" and another woman furiously attacked the"privilege" of working in a bank after a japanology graduation!

So far for the academic presentations. The following must be added here for clarification. At the conference the contributions were presented in alternative sequence in regard to thematic contents. Here they were grouped in two different units to show the contrasts  more clearly. The final discussion remained largely in the framework of what is reported here. This is the reason why it is omitted. Summing up it can be said: not only in conversations during the break, but also in the discussions at the end of the conference,  critical arguments were more often heard than signs of consent. In the following we try to outline someimportant points.

SUMMARY: 10 POINTS

1) Very clearly on one side there are the pragmatic needs of the market, of the economy, and on the other side there is the humanistic continuity of the academic. Surely right - the academic side protests against the market's claims to serve its interests on the level of vocational training schools.
 
2) Industrial production and its distribution on the market are marked  by short-term  considerations and highly flexible perspectives, which manifest themselves in often quickly changing business strategies. 15 to 20 years ago Japan's economic successes were the all present media theme. Then the Asia crisis came and today it is the gigantic size of China and the opening of its markets which nurtures the newest mercantile hopes. In addition the dynamism gains its  dramatic perspectives through today‘s rapid capital flow into practically every corner of the world.

3) In contrast to this the structures of the university and the corresponding education  in the humanities is clearly defined by long-term goals. Research results are often published with great efforts, the publications are diffused to libraries, eventually all over the world. The intention is a long-term availability. In this sense books are collected and preserved. In addition, a long European history is present which gained its importance above all during the period of enlightenment.
 
4) What is worked up in universities, particularly in the so called spiritual sciences (humanities), is at the same time some sort of a pool of highest ontological values. Modern society uses this pool according to certain rules. The universities emerged during the age of enlightenment with the intention of making these ontologies accessible to the public, to common man, and not to the powers who control him. From this line is derived what we call 'free research' today.

5) The Asia sciences are an area which is beyond the limits of  domains where one can speak of 'competence'. Whoever builds his knowledge on history, throughout Asia, but particularly in China, Japan and India, will still be confronted with vital traditions and with a history which are quite different from those customarily found in Europe and the West. It is an Eastern world in which it is rewarding to do research. Not in the sense of the ivory tower, as Schreiner suggests. The Greeks reached their cultural grandeur through their contacts and confrontations with the non-Greeks, the  barbarians, as Mühlmann says in his 'History of Anthropology'. The same could be valid for us today inEurope and in the West. Why not, if we would become more clearly aware of ourselves and our Western culture in new ways through our researching examinations of Asia?

6) The world as a whole changes constantly.The enlightenment is not at its end. In the context of widest possible horizons and with reference to the idea of man in the widest sense, we have to do research particularly with our focus on Asia. In view of this enormous task pragmatic capacities like having language proficiency etc., that is, what the economy considers as primary, are only of a very secondary importance.

7) At this conference it also became veryclear to what extent market and industry in this particular sector have a much too simple image  of the functions of a university. Lackner, Schulze, Schreiner and Klopfenstein all mentioned the strong recent methodological changes in their fields. In particular they all indicated the strong differentiation of the former historico-philological homogeneity towards multi-or even omni-disciplinarity of present research. It is highly problematic, even naive, for economical pragmatism to expect competence from these disciplines.

8) Above all, Lackner, Schulze and Schreiner all clearly indicated that an "Asia Business Program" (Dudler) would do the Asia disciplines  and their factual complexity rather a disservice, particularly because its basic task of pure research would be questioned.

9) It is difficult to understand why publicly financed universities should cover pragmatic needs of the market likelanguage proficiency and familiarity with intercultural behaviour patterns.In this regard the market itself has excellent institutions with all the necessary infrastructures.

10) Economy and above all politics generally tend to highly questionable simplifications of cultural aspects, as is shown for instance in the book "The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order" by Samuel P. Huntington which has become famous in the so called "Davos Culture". Henry A. Kissinger praises the author as "one of the West's most outstanding political scientists" and his book as "a challenging framework for understanding the realities of global politics in the next [21st] century." However, Huntington reduces world politics to the very outdated and purely script-historical high-culture term "civilisation". He refers to Arnold Toynbee (1889-??) and his problematic 'rise-and-fall scheme' of culture, and to the 'end-of-the-occidental-world prophet' Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) and his highly questionable "morphology of the world history"! Theoretically a regress into the 19th century! Modern cultural anthropology is  entirelyneglected. The post modern world deliberately fundamentalised by the Reagan area and Polish Rome is presented in the aftermath as an autonomous development under the title'The revenge of God' (La revanche de Dieu). In regard to the term 'culture' Huntington's understanding remains fixed on ancient systems of religions. Post modern Europe is delimited towards the East in the sense of the old Habsburg monarchy. On the whole a tremendous regress! In addition a very dangerous regress because the factual complexity of the world forces are submerged by incredible simplifications. Differentiated political attitudes are excluded. To  uncover and question such tendentious simplifications again and again, is  doubtless one of the most important tasks of pure research, also in view of the many inglorious pasts produced by initially promising powerful systems.



Back to main title
Back to homepage