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From “The Sea Bastards” to “Solidarity Beyond Ocean”: Japanese Dockworkers and the Politics of Scale in the Bandung Moment

  • David R. Ambaras (Department of History, North Carolina State University)
Tuesday 26 April 2022
Leiden Lecture Series in Japanese Studies
Online via Zoom (see below for link)

This lecture will be held via Zoom: click here for the link.


This presentation is an entry point into my current research project on how maritime transport and travel contributed to the making of Japan’s modern world. To date, studies of Japanese shipping have focused on business strategies and state-led geopolitical initiatives without really examining shipping as a series of social processes that not only conveyed people, things, and ideas from one location to another but also transformed them, generating new connections, meanings, and forms of agency. Meanwhile, in contrast to a growing body of important work on the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds, few scholars have examined the participation of seafarers and dockworkers in the construction of Japan’s modern maritime networks and in racial, class, nationalist, anti-imperialist – or pro-imperialist – politics that straddled land and sea.

Each of these processes entailed a complex politics of scale. Rather than treat frameworks such as the local, the national, the regional, and the global as self-evident, we should analyze each as a contingent assemblage imagined, produced, and contested by historical actors through specific sites and practices. In this presentation, I consider how one version of “the global” – or rather, an intersection of several actual or potential “globals” – emerged in Japan and the Asia-Pacific in the 1950s and early 1960s, as dockworkers and their allies forged "alternative geographies of solidarity" in response to the so-called Bandung Moment, the Cold War, and the reconfiguration of maritime capitalism on the eve of the container revolution.

About David Ambaras

David Ambaras is a Professor of History at North Carolina State University. His research explores the social history of modern Japan and its empire, particularly through a focus on transgression and marginality. He is the author of Japan’s Imperial Underworlds: Intimate Encounters at the Borders of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2018); Bad Youth: Juvenile Delinquency and the Politics of Everyday Life in Modern Japan (University of California Press, 2006); and articles and book chapters on class formation, urban space, wartime mobilization, and ethnic intermarriage. He is the co-director of the digital project Bodies and Structures: Deep-mapping Modern East Asian History. Ambaras holds a Ph. D. from Princeton University, and degrees from the University of Tokyo, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (Paris), and Columbia University. He is recipient of fellowships from the National Humanities Center and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Link to the lecture (Zoom)

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