U of T and Osaka University Celebrate RESPECT
The day began with an introduction to the Japanese concept of “kyosei” and ended with an impromptu performance by Ethnomusicology student Nate Renner. In between, workshop participants travelled to the Humber River, visited a Ghanaian Pentecostal church, and toured Kensington Market, with brief side trips to Osaka, Quebec, and France—all without leaving 19 Russell Street.
U of T graduate students in the Department of Anthropology designed and led this unusual journey. Called “(re)thinking Diversity & Comparison,” the multidisciplinary workshop marked the culmination of “Osaka RESPECT Summer School in Multicultural Studies: Critical Engagement with Diversity and Inequality,” a nine-day program made possible through a collaboration between Osaka University and both the Department of Anthropology and the Asian Institute in the Munk School for Global Affairs at U of T. Each year since 2014, about 15 students from Osaka University and approximately 20 U of T students have taken part in this unique opportunity to share graduate research, learn new critical approaches, and recognize the assumptions that shape their own work. Next year, a new phase of the U of T-Osaka University collaboration will be launched, in which Osaka will be the host city for U of T students.
“Kyosei” lies at the heart of the Osaka RESPECT Summer School. Roughly translated as “coexistence,” it provided a basis of comparison for Osaka students as they considered how multiculturalism is expressed in Canadian society and policy. In addition to daily seminars with U of T Anthropology professors, field trips around Toronto helped inform these students’ understanding of Canadian multiculturalism. The Humber River provided an opportunity to learn about Indigenous perspectives of land and water. At two churches serving Toronto’s refugee and immigrant communities, students explored the meaning of “inclusive” and “exclusive” communities. And at Kensington Market, they experienced multiculturalism as both a commercial commodity and source of identity.
Steve Muller, a professor at Osaka University, praises his students’ courage for embracing the challenges presented by the RESPECT program. They must try to “overcome their fears” of going to a foreign country and communicating in English. “Once they are here, they realize their fears were unfounded,” Muller says, adding that, by building students’ confidence and global perspective, the RESPECT program builds future leaders in industry, academia, and NGOs.
During their workshop presentations, the Osaka students drew on “kyosei” to push diversity and multiculturalism beyond the political sphere and into the natural world, asking pointed questions about the relationships between humankind and the environment. For Johanna Pokorny, a PhD student in Anthropology and Research Assistant for the RESPECT program, these insights provided an invaluable perspective on Canadian society: “The Osaka students make clear that mainstream Canadian multiculturalism does not deal well with conflict, does not include notions of nature, and still relies on an idea of cultures separately bounded from each other. They teach us at U of T about ‘kyosei,’ which offers a different way of living together. This is, for me at least, the challenging part of the Osaka workshop and what makes it ‘cross-cultural’ dialogue rather than ‘multicultural’ tolerance.”
Dr. Shiho Satsuka, Associate Professor of Anthropology and key organizer of the RESPECT program, agrees. Cross-cultural comparisons such as these, she says, foreground the fact that it is “not easy” to bridge gaps of conceptual translation. Yet becoming more aware of cultural assumptions is as crucial to the ethnographic researcher as it is to the global citizen.
In the words of Johanna Pokorny, it may lead to “simply better coexistence”—surely an ideal to which we can all aspire.
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