EDEV_507 Week 6_1

Thank you for pointing me in the direction of Collins (1999) and the notion of the “outsider-within” (p. 11). There do seem to be many parallels between the white professor in the Japanese faculty and the black, female academic in the U.S. tertiary institution. The concept of positionality (Lingard & Gale, 2010) requires an attention to the “historical-political-social-psychological setting[s]” (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 58) and provides a useful framework to view the possible meanings of a researcher-practitioner. Furthermore, a closer investigation of a researcher’s positionality may reveal occluded ethical issues that have the potential to undermine the validity of any research. In discussing the role of anthropologists who study cultures other than their own, Kincheloe and McLaren argue that;

“The choice is not one between modernism and post-modernism but one of whether or not to challenge the presuppositions that inform the normalising judgments one makes as a researcher” (Kincheloe & McLaren, 2005, p. 326).

What may appear prima facie different, or usual, in the actions of another culture cannot be reduced to simply to mono-cultural considerations. To do so would risk missing the meaning of those actions and have the potential to produce results that jeopardise the integrity of the research participant. Citing Clough (1992), Kincheloe and McLaren (2005) contend that “[d]ata collection must give way to rereadings of representations in every form” (p. 326) in cross-cultural ethnography but equally applicable to social science research with its resemblance to grounded theory methodology.

With this in mind, I question how the positionality of the white, male teacher (WMT) in Japan may induce ethical problems during the research process.

Collins (1999) acknowledges a sense of exclusion that black academics suffer: their male (black) counterparts are seen as occupying the intellectual territory of social and political thought, while their (white) female counterparts occupy feminism. What are equivalent positions for the WMT in Japan? Unlike Collins’ black females, WMT are certainly visible, and the prestige bestowed on WMT is a function of the degree of outsiderness: the longer a WMT stays in Japan, the lower the prestige (Wadden, 1993). The “conservatism and protectionism” (Aspinall, 2010, p. 17) in Japan promotes a distrust of  foreigners and Aspinall (2010) argues cogently that only those who have been sufficiently inculcated into Japanese ways can be allowed into the establishment. The WMT is simultaneously a symbol of Japanese globalisationand a recognition that Japan can control the west. WMTs are to bring in the knowledge of the west unadulterated, but without official sanctioning, students are at liberty to ignore that knowledge because most WMTs are given control of practical classes (i.e. not lectures) whose academic credit is often half that of the Japanese-controlled lectures (Cutts, 1997; McVeigh, 2002). Note that these last two references are dated, but in my personal experience, the sentiment is still current. Additionally, even these practical classes (often language training) are increasingly being outsourced to dispatch companies whose teaching staff are not professional language teachers or being conducted in-house by non-faculty staff (Hadley, 2015). The marginalisation of the WMT is a well-established feature of Japanese HEIs. This is hardly surprising. Kawamura (2016) used Bennett’s Developmental Model of International Sensitivity in a Japanese HEI and noted, amongst other things, that “many Japanese do not recognize foreigners as individuals and perceive them as foreigners only” (p. 14-15). Kowner (2002) found that Japanese university students do not like engaging with foreigners.

Against this background of marginalisation and (possible) dehumanisation, I must quickly add that my current Japanese colleagues treat me with the utmost respect and that I am as privy to any mechanic of power as any other. Indeed, my access to lecture courses is as flexible as I like, and I certainly do not perceive any dehumanisation. In my last position however, I suffered terribly from both being marginalised and dehumanised. But this post is getting too long and too pessimistic for today. Later I may continue with some positive aspects of being a WMT and also attempt to relate this positionality to research ethics.


Aspinall, R. W. (2010). CRR DISCUSSION PAPER SERIES Education Reform in Japan in an Era of Internationalization and Risk. CRR Discussion Papers, A3(December).

Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in Social Research. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. http://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

Cutts, R. L. (1997). An empire of schools: Japan’s universities and the moulding of a national power elite. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe.

Hadley, G. (2015). English for academic purposes in neoliberal universities: A critical grounded theory. Cham: Springer.

Kawamura, H. (2016). International education as intercultural communication. In J. Mock, H. Kawamura, & N. Naganuma (Eds.), Internationalization on Japanese Higher Education: Is Japanese Education Really Changing? (pp. 3–18). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Kincheloe, J. L., & McLaren, P. (2005). Rethinking Critical Theory and Qualitative Research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed., pp. 303–342). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Kowner, R. (2002). Japanese communication in intercultural encounters: the barrier of status-related behavior. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 26, 339–361.

Lingard, B., & Gale, T. (2010). Defining Educational Research: A Perspective of/on Presidential Addresses and the Australian Association for Research. Australian Educational Researcher, 37(1), 21–49. http://doi.org/10.1007/BF03216912

McVeigh, B. J. (2002). Japanese Higher Education as Myth. Armonk: East Gate. http://doi.org/10.1353/jjs.2004.0010

Wadden, P. (1993). A Handbook for Teaching English at Japanese Colleges and Universities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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