PhD coursework

I haven’t been writing as much on my blog as of late as I used to in the past, probably because most of my energy has been channelled into class assignments. For my record keeping, some details on these classes after the jump.


GRIPS, view from 14th floor across Roppongi

As part of my PhD over here, I needed to visit a total of six classes for credit. Looking back at the year, I am extremely happy with the choices that I made. All courses were intellectually stimulating; some had a strong Japan focus that enhanced my understanding of this country and its history tremendously.

In terms of workload, depth and “learning outcomes”, I would say this was definitely on par with doing another Master’s. It was also interesting to compare pedagogical aspects of the different classes, especially as I ponder potential future lecturing assignments. The courses I chose were:

  • Global Economic History: This course took us students on a tour of world regions, emphasising the multiplicity of economic development pathways. The focus was on East and South Asia. My presentation for the class was on the history of urbanisation, the 30-pager term paper on “Historicising Tokyo’s Urban Workshops”, something I have written about on this blog before. 
  • Political Economy of Modern Japan: What better way is there to learn about Japanese history by looking at its political economy? This course started off by reviewing some basic readings on the state and economic development, and then applied them to Japan before going into country-specific studies. We were only five people in the class, which was for PhD students only.
  • Social Security Systems in Japan: Taught by a specialist from the giant Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, this class reviewed all prongs of social security in Japan — pensions, healthcare, long-term care, unemployment insurance and public assistance. Again, a great way to learn about Japan and its current challenges. There’s so much polemics here when people talk about ageing, competitiveness, government debt, etc. that it was refreshing to learn about the deep end of the national social security system. An interesting cultural experience too, given that the combined Master’s and PhD class had people from 15 countries in it, most of which have only rudimentary social security systems in place.
  • Politics of Southeast Asia: I am glad I took this course as I hadn’t done much academic work on the region before. Just looking at the lecture notes for my qualifying exam revision, the breadth of the class (combined Master’s and PhD) was really quite amazing, and still allowed for a focus on Malaysia and Indonesia. I wrote a 30-pager comparing Rangoon’s with Kuala Lumpur’s urban history, finding interesting parallels in the fact that both cities set out at independence with the titular ethnic group accounting for less than 50% of their populations.
  • Theoretical Foundation of Economic Policy: It had been a while since I last looked at microeconomics (probably during my SOAS undergrad days), so it was good to get back to some of the basic concepts. Needless to say, and with the benefit of having studied the real world since then, fields such as welfare economics have a definite ivory tower feel to them. However, the class included some great readings that challenged my own skepticism of neoclassical economics, e.g. this one, or this one.
  • Diplomatic History of Modern Japan: One of PM Abe’s chief advisers on all diplomatic issues taught this class. From the Occupation to today’s constitutional amendments, a tour de force of Japanese postwar history, well worth it. My 30-pager for this class was an analysis of the Occupation period and its influence on Tokyo’s urban development. For that, I went to the National Diet Library and waded knee-deep through microfilms from the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers, quite an experience in itself.

I am thinking of extracting some blog posts out of the term papers, just so as to get parts of them out into the real world. Maybe that way the hiatus on this blog won’t look as bad in retrospect anymore.

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