Plying Perspective

Learning from different ways of looking at international and domestic politics, societies and social relations, books and the arts — and life.

Plying Perspective, the common heading for my blog posts, conveys an essential characteristic of my intellectual stance and much of my work. It reflects a habit – stemming from having come of age and living for extended periods in several cultures – of asking how ideas, propositions or generalizations would appear when seen on a different scale, level of analysis or time-frame. It tests conventional or comfortable assumptions by viewing them in unfamiliar light.  For decades a framed copy of the topographic  image at the right – a serigraph by the Japanese artist Takao Iijima (known as Ay-O) – was on the wall of my office at the University of Maryland, a post-it note covering its title. Among the myriad visitors I asked what they thought it represented only one – someone familiar with Ay-O’s art – recognized Mt. Fuji.

The variability of perspective is reflected in the comparative-historical framing of the research designs that explicitly or implicitly underlie my scholarship. It questions parochialism, provincialism and ethnocentrism, wherein conceptions of reality, meanings and norms prevalent in a familiar setting (usually one’s own) are taken to be generally, even universally, appropriate. Willingness and ability to contemplate other realities – and the realities of others – are safeguards against errors of inference and the prejudice that often accompanies them.  The importance of this was brought home to me more than 30 years ago, when I wrote that the attitudes and expectations of the citizens of democratic polities should not be ignored when dealing with issues of immigration: several sophisticated scholars took that as a reflection of a cold heart and hostility toward immigrants rather than as a call to also address the concerns of those in the society of destination. The consequences have become all too evident, especially in Europe and the United States. Being able to see things from the vantage point of others also fosters empathy. My aim in beginning this blog is to encourage opening the mind to seeing events and things in greater perspective and people with greater empathy.

As I approached my 80th birthday I discovered that two people I had long admired – the great writer, Ursula K. LeGuin, and the noted scholar of international law, Richard Falk – started to blog when they reached that milestone.  LeGuin’s blogs were published in a small book shortly before her recent death, under the title No Time to Spare.  Most focused on old age or her cat.  I do not have a cat; and although I am also old, I would find the subject excruciatingly boring to write – and especially to read – about. Most of my blogs will deal with politics (mainly European and American), international relations, migration, books, occasionally the fine arts – and life. I invite comments and conversations about them.


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