Prof. Dr. Celeste Arrington ist von September 2022 bis September 2023 Gastwissenschaftlerin am Japan-Zentrum. Im Interview mit unserer Studierenden Denise Gössmann berichtet sie über ihr Forschungsfeld zur Rolle von Gerichten im politischen Prozess in Japan und Korea, vergleichende Forschung, ihrem Eindruck vom Lehren und Lernen am Japan-Zentrum und dem Leben in Deutschland und Europa.
Denise Gössmann (DG): I have seen that your research field seems to be in politics and law. May I ask you to introduce your field shortly and to elaborate on your personal interest in the field, and how you decided on the regional focus on Korea and Japan?
Celeste Arrington (CA): Sure. I’m finishing a book this year that looks at the increasing role of courts and law in Japanese and Korean politics specifically through recent reforms related to disability rights and tobacco control. My aim is to correct conventional wisdom, that Japanese politics and to some extent also Korean politics sideline the courts, that litigation doesn’t play an important role in Japanese and Korean policy processes. Through these case studies and through the comparison of the two political systems, I am trying to analyze how legal frameworks and approaches to governance are changing and how societal actors are in part driving this change. Particularly, I’m interested in looking at lawyers and civil society groups and how they use litigation and lobbying to change the law and then use litigation again to reach their policy goals.
DG: Since your research focuses on Japan and Korea, I was wondering how Germany plays into this and why you decided on visiting us here at the LMU Japan-Center?
CA: I am really interested in the research that Professor Gabriele Vogt is doing on Japanese politics. We are analyzing similar processes of state-society relations in Japan: How social movements interact with the state and how central and local governments cooperate with civil society groups to achieve their policy goals. I contacted her about hosting me for this year on a Humboldt research fellowship. Munich is likewise an excellent place for my husband’s field, which is classical Greek archaeology, and he also received a Humboldt fellowship. We were interested in living in Germany because we like the country. I grew up for three years in Switzerland, and it was a nice opportunity to give to my children a similar year living outside the United States. There are other academic reasons for choosing Germany and that is that the legalistic change in governance that my book is analyzing, including more detailed laws and rights has been most studied in the EU context. As European countries are integrating, they’ve been undergoing a similar legalistic turn in governance. So, throughout this year, I have also been reading about how the law and courts played a role in German politics and in EU politics more generally. But also, we just wanted to live here (laughs).
DG: You are currently employed at George Washington University. Is there anything interesting you can tell me about it and your work there? Maybe what kind of chances and opportunities you have over there?
CA: Yeah, George Washington University is located in the capital of the United States and it is a very vibrant community. The undergraduates are engaged in politics and policy and the extent of interest in East Asia-related social sciences is very good. Unfortunately, we don’t have a Japan-Center at George Washington University. But seven years ago, we established an Institute for Korean Studies. It’s like the equivalent of the Japan-Center at GW. But for me it’s been nice to reconnect to Japan by coming here to Munich (laughs). Because most of my teaching and my activities for public forums and policy discussions at George Washington focus on the Koreas through the Institute for Korean Studies. Really, I think it is most productive to do comparative research, but for funding reasons and institutionally sometimes, it is easier to set up either a Japan-Center or an Institute for Korean Studies. But at George Washington University, there is also interest in Japanese politics and Japanese studies more generally. We just have more people working on Korea there, and so it’s been nice to interact with people working on Japan here.
DG: Were you always planning to go into research or did or do you still have other plans for the future?
CA: I feel kind of old thinking about that (laughs). I originally wanted to study simultaneous translation and use foreign languages in my work, but then I realized that I was just translating other people’s thoughts, not my own, not using my own brain. That got me more interested in political science and international relations and eventually comparative politics, where I could still use the languages by doing detailed qualitative comparative analysis and valuing regional studies, regional expertise. I wasn’t just translating. I was analyzing sociopolitical phenomena and using my own brain. Therefore, I try to encourage graduate students especially in the United States, to read materials in the original language. I’ve been impressed here at LMU and in Germany and Europe more generally: there’s still a much greater expectation that the students do work in Japanese. We can’t necessarily expect that of our students in the United States, which I think is a shame. It’s something that I’ve been very inspired by here at LMU, this emphasis on doing research across multiple languages—including and valuing research in Japanese, that’s been impressive.
DG: Is there any research you did not get around to yet that you are planning to undertake in the future?
CA: Yes, I’m very thankful that Japan opened up again, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been back to Japan and Korea, because of corona and travel restrictions. So, I am looking forward to going to Japan in May 2023 from here. But my focus this year has been finishing my book manuscript. It’s not going as fast as I would like but that’s ok, because there are so many fun things to do in Munich and Europe more generally. We are trying to enjoy the sabbatical time and travel and see lots of castles and museums and just enjoy the pace of life over here, which is very refreshing.
DG: This was my last question, thank you very much for letting me interview you.
CA: It was my pleasure. Thank you.