Core Research Idea and Main Topic

The research training group GRK 2833 “East Asian Futures” proposes the study, analysis, and explanation of the conceptions of future in East Asia.

Taking a chronological view, East Asia has experienced epistemological change through confrontation with Western ideas and political, economic, and military dominance of the West since the mid-nineteenth century. The period before these interactions can be designated as tradition, or heritage.

The period between 1850 and 1950 constitutes an era of transformation, during which the ideational, political, and economic foundations for global interconnections evolved.

After 1950, new regimes, political systems and ideologies used projections of the future in ways previously unheard of. This tendency of realization made the People’s Republic of China, Japan, North and South Korea, and Taiwan coalesce with and compete against each other due to ideological opposition during the Cold War and also against the backdrop of global threats.

Yet with intensifying globalization and the rise of the East Asian economies, a new phase began in the 1980s. This period has lasted until today, even if in view of the recent crises some voices predict the end of this macro-trend.

Geographically, the East Asian perspective taken by our group includes the two large polities China and Japan, with Korea and Taiwan constituting smaller entities with colonial pasts. We will reflect on the projections of the future within East Asian states and polities, and in relation to each other, Europe, and the world.

The innovative potential of the programme lies in the application of an analytical model of approaches to the conceptions of future as a tool that connects the group across the humanities and the social sciences. In all these fields conceptualizations of the future lie at the core of legitimation and self-assertion, from the level of the individual to supra-state entities.

Doctoral Research Programme →

Postdoctoral Research Programme →

Thematic Areas and Typology of Approaches to the Future

The project covers four thematic areas. Starting out from the perspective of the future as a term and notion, our group identified Language, Religion, and Ideology, Self and Society, Resources and Technology and Sovereignty and Governance as the fields most relevant for future themes.

Research Subthemes →

The project applies a typology that was inspired by a model for conceptualizations of the future developed by the contemporary historians GRAF and HERZOG (2016) which we adapted to fit the East Asian context. Graf and Herzog’s categories of analysis include the following modes:

The “anticipation of the inevitable” or “future of expectation” appears in the form of religious, philosophical, and ideological outlines, prognoses, and instructions. In pre-twentieth century East Asia, this pertains especially to Confucian and Buddhist thought. The expectation of modernisation according to the Euro-American model emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, socialist concepts based on the premise of an inexorable course of history also belong in this category, as do responses to globalization that emphasize continuities in East Asian divergences from (neo-)liberal market transformations.

The mode “future of planning” refers to an active attitude towards future concerns, realized or to be realized in politics, economics, science, and technology. In East Asia, the fields in which conceptions of the future of this type occur are phases of socialist planned economies, but also Japan’s colonial policies between 1895 and 1945, and thereafter, the ‘developmental state’ involvement in industrial policy. It also relates to modern state-business connections that combine top-down planning with bottom-up market structures. An example of this mode of planning is to be found in urbanism, where urban planning is often based on utopian concepts of society and technology.

The dystopian “future of risk” relates to the experience of cataclysms, especially of technological warfare. This type of approach to the future aims to cope with the unexpected and guard against the dangerous and undesired by means of scenarios. During the encroachments on China’s sovereignty in the first half of the twentieth century, warfare in WWII and the Korean War, the nuclear threat and system competition in the Cold War, and unresolved issues of unification or independence until now, the awareness of risk and a potentially disastrous future has been and is present.

The “future of preservation” represents the notion that natural resources may not be available in unlimited quantities, and that cultural heritage may fall into oblivion. “Future of preservation” reflects the intention to protect the desirable, in the awareness that environmental deterioration might be irreversible, and especially with respect to securing both the ecosphere and cultural heritage in the interest of intergenerational justice. This projection of the future is also relevant for imagining social protection in the face of economic globalization, and for addressing the challenges posed by demographic changes that threaten reproduction in the populations of East Asia.