Understanding diversity and taking a broad view of the world – What constitutes essential learning at GLA to solve global issues?

The modern world requires us to accept diverse ideas and lifestyles as well as take a global view of things. Two faculty members discuss how diversity ought to be in the future from the vewipoint of their respective areas of expertise: history and media.

*Writing as of the academic year 2019.

Photo of Professor Kanayama and Kobayashi

What is the focus of your research?

KOBAYASHI: I have been researching international migration in the Asia-Pacific region. I am hoping to figure out its transnational connections and through identifying such connections I am also hoping to transcend conventional historical understandings. World War II will provide us with a good example. War causes both destruction and creation, and this was the case for Australia and Japan during WWII. A Japanese pilot, who was a prisoner of war in Australia, learned English while he was hospitalized recuperating from a serious burn, forged bonds with people around him such as a nurse and a pastor, became attached to the local community, and wished to become an Australian citizen. Similar cases happened throughout the war and some of those prisoners in fact worked for Australian military agencies during WWII.

The war itself was no doubt horrifying, and left devastating legacies when we examine it as an event between countries. However, if we take a different view, namely, if we reexamine the history of war from a transnational social perspective, we can notice that it is the war which enabled people from two countries to encounter each other in battle fields and then to form transnational social connections in the most unexpected circumstances. I think that this kind of diversifying of historical understandings is among the critical goals of our time.

KANAYAMA: It is not only about the study of history. The same is true of modern culture, isn’t it?

KOBAYASHI: Yes, for instance, I hear that K-POP has had an enormous impact on Australians as well, and Korean students are now walking with their heads held high in Sydney. K-POP is accepted across national borders, and even loved by many. I think it is important to examine what crosses borders and what brings success beyond borders when we consider transnationalism. Professor Kanayama, I believe your experitise is media studies, am I right?

KANAYAMA: In the case of K-POP, because the scale of their domestic market is small, they need to set their sights on the world market. On the other hand, because J-POP has a large domestic market in Japan and packaged media like CDs and DVDs tend to be the main form of distribution, they don’t go global. Thus, every social phenomenon has a contributory factor behind it.

My research essentially analyzes and reviews such social phenomena in relation to the field of media communication. I conduct research on media and social change in the Internet age from the viewpoint of the public policy making process, and analyze the content created by media systems in specific countries and regions from the viewpoints of public access and media literacy.

How should GLA teach "the way diversity ought to be"?

KANAYAMA: I find that it is essential to have a good understanding of diversity when thinking about transnationalism. What are your thoughts on this?

KOBAYASHI: In my view, “the condition where diversity exists” and “how diversity ought to be” are two totally different things. For instance, Singapore is a multicultural and multiethnic country, but its diversity did not exist early in its history. The composition of Singapore’s population has changed over time, for example, when a foreign workforce was brought in during the colonial era. With this colonial legacy, Singapore as a nation-state took the challenge of building a nation that takes advantage of its diversity. As a result, Singapore has built a merit-based society where people can succeed in life if they work hard, regardless of their ethnic, cultural and linguistic background or social class.

On the other hand, Malaysia is also a multicultural and multiethnic country, but they opted for a policy of protecting the majority, affirmative action policies to protect the indigenous peoples of Malaysia known as Bumiputera (son of the soil, indigenious people), rather than meritocracy. It is not a matter of which is right or wrong. It is very interesting to see that people build their own nation based on their own logic, isn’t it? People in each country choose how their country should be led to prosperity and how to maintain the integrity of nationals with diverse ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

In recent years, the idea of a “global citizen” has been gaining widespread support in Singapore. “Being a Singaporean means being a global citizen.” These words expressed by some students make me think deeply. The idea is that we can choose a country to live in without being bound by the idea of a single homeland for each person and that we are free to move around the world. Singapore is a country with an extremely high rate of migration, which creates a superdiverse city-state. As a crossroads of the world where diverse people come and go, the country embraces diversity and is closely knit across borders. I find it intriguing the way Singapore is and how it transcends itself.

KANAYAMA: GLA also appreciates diversity. What sort of education should teachers provide in the future?

KOBAYASHI: The key in my view is to understand others as our equals. We often tend to say, “Let us accept diversity,” but we cannot understand each other if we look at others from above. Accepting others and their difference as they are, without imposing our own value judgements and norms, even though the fact of such difference is uncomfortable and hence tempts us to subjugate them, is imperative as the first step, in my opinion. And there should not be some hidden superiority. That is just self satisfaction. Acceptance of difference without judgement is far from easy and even causes pain in some cases. Still, I believe that keeping up our communication with others by not treating them as outsiders but as members of the same community will surely be our daily practice of multiculturalism.

KANAYAMA: That idea of “multiculturalism of everyday life” is just what we practice at GLA, isn’t it? We develop mutual understanding through our daily practices. Even when we discuss the same issue, our understanding may differ according to our backgrounds. As educators, we should also bear in mind that what we have believed up to now may be different from reality and always stay open-minded.

KOBAYASHI: I totally agree with you. Our students are really unique and diverse, so my own background is sometimes not quite enough to completely understand what they are saying. When I can not quite understand what a student says, then other students in the classroom help me to understand by explain how s/he understands what I could not understand. I treasure this circulation of knowledge in the classroom because in this space I am also part of the diverse group, rather than a teacher lecturing from the podium. I am one of those who is fascinated with unexpected perspectives and the way things unfoled in the classroom space.

KANAYAMA: I wonder if communication media that can liberate minds among individuals with different cultural and social backgrounds exists? This question is directly linked to my research field. I consider that in addition to one-way communication media such as TV and newspapers, face-to-face human communication, which is connected to such media in multiple layers, is also very important. Global communication is often conducted via Internet-based social media, but we should be aware of their limits. GLA provides overseas fieldwork and a learning environment where we meet students with various backgrounds and experience different values first-hand. I believe that an environment, which provides a hands-on experience of cross-cultural communication bypassing the media, is valuable.

What challenges does GLA expect to tackle?

KOBAYASHI: We have highly competent students, and I expect them to acquire a wide range of knowledge, combine various types of learning to find unique solutions to social issues, and contribute to society. The students of GLA seek to understand things from a broader perspective in a constructive and critical manner. Many of them aspire to connect people of the world. I hope that they will realize their aspirations. I expect that they will combine their knowledge and experience to work out solutions not only to domestic problems but also to those shared across the world. Producing such talents will definitely be beneficial to the international community.

KANAYAMA: I agree. While we expect our students to develop and contribute to the world in this turbulent age, we also must speak up and do good for the world. It is our duty to help students develop their logical thinking skills. GLA provides no definitive answer to students’ questions. Instead, we try to help them develop their talent by thinking together, investing our energy, understanding their thoughts, and focusing on the main points together. This is a challenge GLA is happy to take on, where faculty members, including Associate Professor Kobayashi, and students work together.

KOBAYASHI: I hope that this challenge will be the first step toward changing society.

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