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Michinobu Niihara

Michinobu Niihara [Profile]

Exploring, Encountering, and Thinking Together - Toward an "Unfathomed Future"

Michinobu Niihara
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Sociology of Community Studies, International Fieldwork

1. From the Mediterranean island of Sardinia

Exploring, Encountering, and Thinking Together

The first time I visited the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea was in 1987, shortly after the nuclear power plant accident at Chernobyl. The reason for my being there was that the US Navy nuclear submarine base in the Maddalena archipelago just off the north-east of the island had become the stage for the Italian and European antinuclear and peace movement. In the city of Sassari, I formed some intense and close relationships with some young intellectuals who led the movement to abolish nuclear power. I resolved to write in support of young people about to embark on their travels, based on the travel/fieldwork to the Mediterranean Sea, Europe, South America, Atlantic Ocean, Asia, and Pacific Ocean, and completed a book titled Exploring, Encountering, and Thinking Together [Tabi Wo Shite, Deai, Tomo Ni Kangaeru]. Although unable to write a simplified textbook account of fieldwork from a professional standpoint, I attempted as best I could to reproduce the "sociological explorations" of the trial and error of former travels, which I thought would provide a modest map for the youngsters as they set off on their own two feet.

2. Encouragement for learning/unlearning in the field

One of the most fundamental raisons d'棚tre of "science (scientia)"-in the sense of learning and inquiry-, I believe, lies, in the act of confronting an "unfathomed future." The only way to acquire such "embedded wisdom" is through personal experience in the field of reality.

In my book, while asking the questions, "How should one take their first steps, and how should one enter an unfamiliar land or the world of a stranger?" I also wrote about "What kind of things will or must happen." I described what one would experience during the process of their " learning/unlearning in the field," from relatively short-term fieldwork, daily work through living long-term in one place to understand the everyday practices of that land, to daily life in which one would encounter irreplaceable friends and part from parents and important friends.

3. Confronting an "unfathomed future" and (re)encountering people

Every single day since March 11, I have experienced tears, anger, impatience, and collapse in the face of the devastating reality. Yet, I have seen former and current students showing concern for each other's safety, listening to each other carefully, helping each other with courage. Inspired by the courage of people trying to respond somehow to the "crude reality," I wrote an article thinking about Iidate village, the home of a seminar graduate. (Together with the dead - listening to real voices [Shisha To Tomo Ni Aru To Iu Koto - Nikusei Wo Kiku Koto]New window)

We are currently confronted with an unknown future. There is likely to be a fundamental transformation in social relations and human relations in future. While the unfathomed future is a critical moment, it is also, in the true sense of the phrase, a moment at which people will, in the true sense, "encounter one another again." That is why I wrote, in facing our unfathomed future, what kind of encounters among people have emerged, and from them what kind of "metamorphosis" will occur.

4. Thinking together, listening carefully, speaking out

I was privileged, by complete "coincidence" and "fortunate opportunity" to "encounter" two particular people of wisdom in Italy. One of them, A. Melucci, told me, "While facing up to our own weaknesses with humility and modesty, with hesitation and disappointment, cowardice, dirtiness, meagerness and mediocrity, let us slowly imbue our bodies and gestures with 'participant and clinical wisdom.' To this end, all we can do is stake our entire existence, our entire individuality, our entire bodies and build relations with others in flesh and blood." The other, A. Merler, said, "If you search hard, you'll probably find the compelling question of such acuteness as to think 'I really want to know this, there is no point in living if I do not explore this.' Even if you don't know that yet at the moment, you still need to have the courage to crawl out of your 'shell' and look for the door to 'terra incognita.' You certainly won't know where the door is at first. But unless you call out and move around, the only 'understanding' you'll gain of the world will be with a paltry 'skin and bones.' You will be unable to experience the truly rich and vivid 'flesh and blood' that is living in this world."

As we face the "unfathomed future," if there is to be a moment for the "wisdom" that has been "embedded, planted, engraved, or deeply rooted" in human beings to shine, on what conditions and with what routes will such become possible? I hope to share at least a little in the nurturing of a range of people who feel compelled to attempt to listen to voices that have not been heard and to take on ideas that have not been accomplished, as human beings as fragile as reeds on a riverside, yet as tough as grass. Indeed it is the clamor of such numerous "grassroots" that has created history to date and which I hope will create the society of the future as I pray, more than ever, for the safety of humankind and for peace on earth.

Michinobu Niihara
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Sociology of Local Community, International Fieldwork
Born in 1959 in Izu peninsula. Studied Philosophy at Nagoya University; Social Theory at University of Tokyo; Sociology at Hitotsubashi UniversitySassari University. He then became Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Letters, Chiba University and Associate Professor on the Faculty of Commerce, Yokohama City University before taking up his current post in 2003. He also gives lectures and seminars at various universities in Japan and other countries including Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Portugal, Finland, Cape Verde, Slovenia and Macao. Writing mainly in Japanese and Italian, on the theme of "travel/fieldwork" he has published Homo Movens-Sociological Explorations [Homo Moubensu-Tabi Suru Shakaigaku] (Madosha), Exploring "the Liminal Territories" [Kyoukai Ryouiki E No Tabi] (Otsukishoten), and others, co-written with Melucci The Playing Self (Harvest) and worked with Merler on A Social History of Integrated Europe [Youroppa Tougou No Shakaishi] (Nihonkeizai Hyouronsha).