Race as an object of social sciences

TEPSIS and the Institute for Human Sciences (Zinbunken) of Kyoto University have started a collaboration since 2017 about the treatment of the racial question by the social sciences. Anthropologist Yasuko Takezawa and historian Jean-Frédéric Schaub have organized several seminars in Paris and Kyoto in order to confront, in a multidisciplinary spirit, different approaches to the racial question in Japan and France. From this collaborative work came a publication in the online journal The Zinbun Gakuho (人文学報, Journal of Humanities) and a volume in preparation at Kyoto University Press in Japanese.


This workshop is presented in two separate tracks: « Race and Civilization in Japan » and

« Construction and Use of Racial Difference ».


One does not write about race in Europe as one does in Japan or the United States. In each case, the construction of racial difference follows a specific logic. Meiji Japan imported from the West a new way of producing otherness, while Spain drew from its history the concept of « purity of blood » that simultaneously fed Basque separatism and central nationalism. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, other European countries, including France and Italy, clothed the concept of race with a legal and pseudo-scientific apparatus backed by colonial practice, which in turn found resonance in Japan. These singular processes, with their echoes and exchanges, are here explored and compared.


Coordinated by Yasuko Takezawa (Kyoto University)

and Jean-Frédéric Schaub (EHESS)

Race and Civilization in Japan

At the beginning of the Meiji era, in 1868, Japan opened up to techniques and knowledge imported from Europe and the United States. From them on, the way the Japanese perceived their own place among other nations never ceased to evolve, as did their vision of people subject to their authority and that of the minorities in Japanese society.


Thus, the geography textbooks of the Meiji period show a progressive construction of the idea of race, imported from the West. As for the history of the Burakumin, an urban minority form the most underprivileged classes, it became the object of a new biological and racial interpretation. At the end of the 19th century, Asian nations, partly subjected to European colonization, entered in a process of evaluating their own cultures in relation to western cultures. Between 1880 and 1919, Japanese and Indian intellectuals forged an idea of universalism which rivaled the universalism propagated by the West, which was considered too favorable to the western economic and colonial interests. At the same time, in Japan, the law on foreigners, particularly the law on mixed and interracial marriages, continued to evolved until the Second World War, reflecting a hardening of what the Japanese state considered to be national identity and the rights attached to it.


Through five texts written by Japanese cultural anthropologists, the workshop “Race and Civilization in Japan” sheds a new light on the question of race, universalism and the perception of non-Japanese people in modern Japan.


Workshop coordinated by Yasuko Takezawa and

Jean-Frédéric Schaub

Construction and Use of Racial Difference

Backed by colonial or postcolonial practice, often transformed into a legal device and drawing on medical or anthropological pseudo-knowledge, the idea of race follows a specific path each time and finds multiple applications. At the crossroads of different logics, the construction of racial difference takes place over long or short periods of time, sometimes punctuated by resurgences and re-appropriations. Between Spain, Italy and France, but also outside Europe, it resonates with the political and ideological context of the moment.


Workshop coordinated by Yasuko Takezawa and Jean-Frédéric Schaub