Narratives of Agency

Self-Making in China, India, and Japan


Wimal Dissanayake, editor

A groundbreaking reconsideration of agency in Asian culture.

This multidisciplinary collection underlines the importance of understanding the operations of human agency-defined here as the ability to exert power, specifically in resistance to ideological pressure. In particular, the contributors emphasize the historical and cultural conditions that facilitate the production of agency in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of the cultures of China, India, and Japan.

In Narratives of Agency, scholars from a variety of disciplines argue that traditional Western approaches to the study of these cultures have unduly focused on the pervasive influence of family and clan (China), caste and fatalism (India), and groupism (Japan). This tendency has been exacerbated by modern critical approaches, such as postmodernism and poststructuralism, that not only are increasingly popular in studying these cultures but also de-emphasize the role of the individual.

The resultant undermining of the notion of human agency tends to give short shrift to the very real individual differences between groups and ignores questions of personal desire and intentionality. These essays remind us that members of a community have to make personal choices, struggle and interact with others, argue about positions, and confront new challenges, all of which involve intentionality and human agency. A new look at a topic central to cross-cultural understanding, Narratives of Agency will be essential reading for those interested in China, India, Japan, and the world beyond.

Contributors: Richard G. Fox, Washington U; Lydia H. Liu, U of California, Berkeley; Owen M. Lynch, New York U; Vijay Mishra, Murdoch U, Australia; Marie Thorsten Morimoto; Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, U of Wisconsin, Madison; Eugene Yuejin Wang, U of Chicago; Ming-Bao Yue, U of Hawaii, Manoa.

Wimal Dissanayake is a senior fellow at the East-West Center, Honolulu, and a member of the graduate faculty of the Department of Communication at the University of Hawaii.

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