In Search of One’s Place

Saya S. Shiraishi
The University of Tokyo
November 2011

Every Thursday evening, Professor Benedict Anderson used to give his seminar on Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University; it started at 6:00 p.m. and lasted for more than three hours. Every week he gave us homework—to read three or four books, or, sometimes, to translate Indonesian literature, such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s works, into English. Now I miss his weekly seminar and those many hours spent at the library.

There are three areas to which Anderson has greatly contributed in his fruitful career. One is the field of education, in which I am one of his grateful students. Another is Southeast Asian studies, in which he was one of the leading students when post-WWII America constructed the field. He later participated in the Cornell Modern Indonesia Project and the Cornell Southeast Asia Program, working with his distinguished contemporaries.

Then, in his first book, Java in a Time of Revolution,1 and in the book that later made him a world-class scholar, Imagined Communities,2 he beautifully underscored the importance of the emergence of the school-educated youth that the Western empires had created in their colonies in Asia and Africa. Youth had often been neglected as a serious academic research subject because it was regarded as ephemeral and intangible; a period from which an ambitious man3 should quickly graduate. It was these school-educated young people, who had lost their place in traditional society, who creatively imagined the modern nation to which they rightly belonged.

Anderson’s contribution to the field of youth studies is even more meaningful in this time of globalization, which has greatly been formulated through information technology. The first generation of highly IT-literate youth is, as was that first generation of school-educated youth in the colonies one hundred years ago, in search of its place. I assume, out of my research on globalization of popular culture of young people, that they are finding their new place in the Network.

  1. Benedict Anderson, Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupation and Resistance, 1944-1946 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972).
  2. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London, New York: Verso, 1983). I am honored to be one of translators of this book into Japanese.
  3. Women’s youth was seen in a different perspective.