Anthropology

My View of the West: Reflections from the East

By Zachary Isrow

My research is interdisciplinary engaging in philosophy, anthropology, and even with interest in cosmology. Likewise my research is global in that it crosses borders and is not confined to the West in particular. In fact, my view of the West is is themed as: Reflections of the East. In all of my research I convey the dialogue between East and West and see the modern conception of ‘West’ as part of a dialectic global exchange. My forthcoming book The Spectricity of Humanness offers critiques of contemporary western ontological perspectives – those of Harman and Meillassoux, among other speculative realists who in turn draw from tradition of Kant and Heidegger. However, my own solution to the problem of Western metaphysics is largely rooted in Eastern philosophies, most notably Daoist thought. Currently I am working on another book that considers in a more direct way the dialogue between East and West, offering a comparison between thinkers on each side which closely resemble one another, tentatively titled From East to West towards East Again.

However, my engagement with this theme of East/West dialectic is not limited to my academic work. I was also a practicing Buddhist for some time and still am a certified meditation coach, in which I engage both Eastern and Western themes which complement one another. Further, as a musician and a composer I build this dialectic into my music bringing in musical themes that are not always typical and expected that cross-genres and borders.

Generally, my view of the West is filtered through an Eastern lens – in all my engagements with the ‘West’ I harken back to the East and attempt to find the reflections from the one in the other. The goal in doing so is to focus on the similarities between the two, in order to better recognize, and appreciate the differences, and then, in turn, reflect on my own being-in-the world from this mirrored perspective.

My View of the West is a series of short posts by members of The West Network about their research or perspectives of ‘the West’.

Zachary Isrow is Assistant Professor of Humanities at Beacon College, Leesburg, Florida.

My View of the West: An Imagined Community Par Excellence

Jukka Jouhki

I got interested in the concept of the West while conducting anthropological fieldwork on the relationship between expatriate Europeans and local Tamil villagers in South India almost two deades ago. First, I was interested in Orientalism in the European views of India, but at some point I noticed how exotic ‘the West’ was to the local Tamil people (read my dissertation here), so I got interested in Occidentalism as well.

After my doctoral dissertation (2006), I have conducted anthropological research in several countries such as China, India, South Korea, Spain, The Gambia, and Finland, and while talking to people I have come across various kinds of conceptualizations of Western society – even if it hadn’t always been the purpose of my research. When I realized that social scientists had rarely concentrated on and problematized the concept of Western culture or Western society, I thought that the rare scholars who had, should organize. Hence, The West Network was founded by me and my colleague Dr. Henna-Riikka Pennanen who had similar interests.

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Theoretically, I am nowadays interested in what I call banal Occidentalism (see e.g. this article), a combination – or extension – of Michael Billig’s banal nationalism and Edward Said’s Orientalism. I am particularly interested in how ‘the West,’ ‘Western society,’ ‘Western people’ etc. are utilized to connote a unified Western whole, and the kind of instances where ‘the West’ is evoked as a rhetorical tool. In addition to banal nationalism, I am interested in the Occidentalisms of people who do not identify as Western.

The author is a Senior Lecturer of Anthropology and Docent of Ethnology in University of Jyväskylä, Finland. In addition to the West, his research interests include Finnish expats (in Spain and India), child marriage in The Gambia, and social robots – to name a few ongoing projects. Dr. Jouhki is also the Editor-in-Chief of Human Technology journal.

My View of the West is a series of short posts by members of The West Network about their research or perspectives of ‘the West’.