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Jour Fixe


Thursday, 18 May 2017 4-6 pm

David L. Howell (Harvard University): How Green Was My Night Soil: Thinking with Excrement about Nineteenth-Century Japan

Introduction: Harald Fuess (Heidelberg)


Excrement was a hot commodity in the cities of nineteenth-century Japan. The widespread use of night soil as an organic fertilizer meant that residents of cities such as Tokyo and Osaka could sell their waste rather than simply dispose of it. Thanks to this trade, pre–twentieth-century cities Japanese cities enjoy a reputation as having been remarkably green spaces in which residents lived in salubrious harmony with nature. In this presentation, I will argue that the night-soil economy offers a novel way to situate late Tokugawa and early Meiji Japan into the broader history of the nineteenth-century world, while at the same time challenging the tendency to essentialize the “greenness” of early modern Japanese cities.

About Prof. Howell

David L. Howell is Professor of Japanese History at Harvard University and Editor of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. He received his B.A. from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and Ph.D. in History from Princeton University. He taught at the University of Texas at Austin and Princeton before joining the Harvard faculty in 2010. Howell is the author of Capitalism from Within: Economy, Society, and the State in a Japanese Fishery (1995) and Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan (2005) as well as numerous articles.

Howell's research focuses on the social history of Japan in the Tokugawa (1603–1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) periods. He is particularly interested in the ways changing political and economic institutions affected the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people over the course of the nineteenth century. His current projects include a short survey of the Meiji Restoration period and a history of human waste and garbage in the cities of Tokugawa and Meiji Japan. He is also a co-editor of a new edition of the Cambridge History of Japan.

Thursday, 29 June 2017 4-6 pm

Harish Naraindas (JNU New Delhi): Is Medical Tourism Transcultural Hypogamy?


This talk attempts to make a set of interrelated arguments. It claims that the epithet medical tourism, which is of recent provenance, tacitly subscribes to a particular and narrow understanding of ‘medicine’, namely the Anglo-American variant of biomedicine. This variant, unlike its Continental European counterpart, does not countenance the Kur (spa/termas) as medical therapy, a therapy that is part of orthodox biomedicine on the Continent and one where pleasure and therapy often co-exist. The Anglo-American variant leads to an exclusive focus on what may be called ‘organ’ based therapy with an emphasis on surgical and technological intervention, where uninsured and underinsured ‘middle class’ patients undertake hypogamous travel from the White world to wog land. This is a reversal of older forms of hypergamous medical travel where rich wogs travelled from wog land to the White world for medical treatment. The reversal results in a binary of White vampires and wog victims and is responsible, in part, for the moral tension of the oxymoron called medical tourism, with the other part of the oxymoron being constituted by the seeming contradiction between pleasure and therapy. The vampire-victim binary often mutes the mediating virtuosos – doctors, medical travel operators, websites, and most importantly medical technology – in the analytical and explanatory canvas. In the light of this, the talk not only suggests that the epithet medical tourism needs careful scrutiny and needs to be situated as part of a longer genealogy and larger canvas to include all kinds of transnational, transcultural and transregional medical travel, but it also makes a plea for re-examining the kind of morality play that the epithet engenders by asking, among other things, if vampires could also be victims, and what happens to this binary when fringe (the kur/spa/termas) and alternative epistemes, such as Asian systems of medicine, are brought into play.

About Harish Naraindas

Harish Naraindas is professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University and adjunct professor at the University of Iowa. Among his recent publications are two co-edited books: Healing Holidays: Itinerant Patients, Therapeutic Locales and the Quest for Health, London: Routledge 2015; and Asymmetrical Conversations: Contestations, Circumventions and the Blurring of Therapeutic Boundaries, New York: Berghahn, 2014. He is currently working on past-life aetiologies and therapeutic trance in German psychosomatic medicine, a cross-cultural study of perinatal death, personhood, and modes of memorialising perinatal loss, and a comparative study of well-being in India and Switzerland.


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General Information

Karl Jaspers Centre
Voßstraße 2, Building 4400
Room 212
69115 Heidelberg

The Jour Fixe is organised by the four Research Areas of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” at Heidelberg University.


Poster Summer JF I