IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 25 | General

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4 * 6 JANUARY 2001
VIENNA, AUSTRIA

The 'Dark Side' of Life in Asia and the West
Night-time and the time to sleep

 

Night-time and sleep are twin concepts, or so it seems. In many cultures sleeping, is more or less exclusively associated with the night, whereas the most important function of night and darkness would appear to be ­ to signal the time to close the eyes and sleep. As usual, social reality is much more complex than this simplified arrangement suggests. At the Vienna workshop, seventeen scholars from ten different countries and fourteen different universities more closely examined the topic of night-time and the time to sleep, mainly from social scientific (i.e., criminology, urban sociology, anthropology, cultural studies), literary (Chinese and Japanese Studies), and historical perspectives. Japanese woodblock print by Bihô (Meiji period).
In Japan, the bat is a symbol of good fortune.

* By LODEWIJK BRUNT & BRIGITTE STEGER

In contrast to most cultural and artistic traditions, including poetry, novels, films and painting, academic disciplines have never paid much attention to the issues raised. During the workshop, it became clear that it would be extremely difficult even to define the boundaries of night and day. What about the twilight, for instance? Close to the north and south poles that period can be quite prolonged, but is it part of the day or part of the night? Should twilight and dawn be considered entities in their own right? In many other respects too, the conceptualization of night-time (and, of course, by implication daytime as well) is extremely complicated. What people call 'night', for example, is very much determined by time and place. For example, in cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh during the nineteenth century, the night presented in the workshop by Irene Maver (University of Glasgow), was very much associated with fear of the 'dangerous classes' and those phenomena apparently linked to them; illness, crime, poverty, sexual promiscuity, and violence. Although the night also has associations with dangers and fears in East Asia, they are related more to supernatural phenomena, as Anna Schegoleva (SOAS, London) explained in her paper on the kanashibari phenomenon in Japan and Jutta Hausser (University of Munich) in her work on fears associated with being alone during sleep, again in Japan. Often, however, nights are created as a counter-world to the day, where one might find shelter, as Wolfgang Kubin (University of Bonn) and Wolfgang Popp (University of Vienna) pointed out through examples from Chinese literature and Hong Kong films. Night and sleep can also be a period of (re)-creation, as the mythology of Cheju (Korea) shows (Hea-Kyoung Koh, Pacifica Graduate Institute, CA).

In recent history, a process of 'colonization' of the night has taken place: as a consequence of technical developments (such as street lighting, modern transportation, and electronic communication), parts of the night have been transformed into 'daytime'. Currently, as discussed in the contributions by Lodewijk Brunt (University of Amsterdam) and Chris Nottingham (Caledonian University, Glasgow), we form part of a globalized 24-hour economy: our cities and modes of transportation and communication no longer sleep. Does this mean that traditional associations with darkness, primarily fear of unknown dangers, are also disappearing? Long-term developments are impossible to predict, but we have gained a glimpse of some consequences. Jun Ayukawa (Kinjo Gakuin University, Nagoya) has dealt with the profound changes this new meaning of the night has conjured up in terms of generational relationships in Japan. The colonization of the night in Japanese culture has brought children and young adults to the forefront. They are enjoying new dimensions of 'free time' through their extensive use of mobile phones and easy transportation. Yoshikazu Nagai (Kansai University, Osaka) has tried to sketch new patterns of social control during the night-time and he suggested there will be a gradual transformation from spatial control to time control.

Generally speaking, the study of sleeping seems to be somewhat more sophisticated than the study of the night and night-time. The topic of sleep has recently become highly politicized in Europe because of the dialogue surrounding the legitimacy of so-called 'siesta cultures' in the Mediterranean area. From Yi Li's contribution (Tacoma College, Washington), showed that such a discussion has been taking place in China, as well: can afternoon napping be considered a source of cultural identity or as a remnant of the feudal past and an obstacle to modernization? Brigitte Steger (University of Vienna) has developed a typology of 'sleep cultures', varying from 'napping cultures' to 'siesta-cultures' and 'monophasic cultures'. From this scheme, it can be deduced that societies show pronounced differences in sleeping patterns and that the close association between night-time and sleeping is in fact not nearly as close as it may seem. Moreover, some societies have changed from one pattern to the next over the course of time.

The participants inquired into the 'centrality' of sleep in different cultures, i.e. does a certain pattern of sleep determine other behavioural customs as well? For instance: do napping cultures always have polychronic time schemes and are monophasic cultures typical for monochronic ones? It would seem that we need more systematic comparative studies on time in general and more detailed studies on how time is spent in particular, in which night-time and sleep provide promising entries. The study of night-time and sleep depends on various conditions. First of all, it is necessary to consider these topics as legitimate and potentially important fields of study and, secondly, the field should profit from case studies such as Peter Rensen's (University of Amsterdam) on the homeless in Amsterdam, Eyal Ben-Ari's (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) on the sleeping patterns of American combat soldiers, and Antje Richter's (University of Kiel) on sleep in pre-Buddhist literature. The collaboration of scholars from different disciplines and from different regional fields has been and is extremely fruitful for the topic of the night-time and the time to sleep.

Parallel to the workshop, we organized an exhibition of original Japanese coloured woodblock prints, 'Twenty-Nine Views of the Dark Side' (courtesy of the MAK-Austrian Museum of Applied Arts). This provided an enlightening overview of nightlife scenes in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Japan, and provided support for our hypothesis that even in pre-modern times, night has been the realm of more than sleep alone.

On the basis of the workshop, a mailing list for the study of night and sleep has been initiated (http:// www.egroups.com/group/komori). In addition, a selection of contributions to the workshop will soon be published. *

 

The workshop was organized by Jun Ayakawa (Sociology; Kinjo Gakuin University, Nagoya, Japan), Lodewijk Brunt (Anthropology and Sociology; University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands), and Brigitte Steger (East Asian Studies; University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria) and was generously sponsored by the European Science Foundation Asia Committee, and the Japan Foundation.


Professor Lodewijk Brunt is a full professor of Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam and in this capacity he has in recent years been doing fieldwork in India (esp. Mumbai). Last year he produced the tv-documentary 'Blessed by the Plague' on the city of Surat (Gujarat).

E-mail: brunt@pscw.uva.nl

Professor Brigitte Steger is Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies at the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna. Her research includes the anthropology and sociology of sleep (dissertation), of time and of midwifery iin Japanese history and presence.

E-mail: Brigitte.Steger@univie.ac.at

 

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 25 | General