As a Teaching Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Bristol, Dr. Garrison’s work encompasses a broad range of philosophies, which he approaches through the lens of intercultural philosophy—"the pursuit of culture neither as belonging to a particular culture, neither as particularly Greek or particularly Western". Through analyzing distinct schools of philosophy, Dr. Garrison seeks to identify and address common philosophical problems, taking resources from philosophies across a multitude of cultures.
When Dr. Garrison began his graduate studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, he fell into Chinese philosophy and into the mentorship of one of the world’s premier translators and commentators of Chinese classical literature and philosophical works: Dr. Roger Ames. Upon graduating from the University of Hawaiʻi, Dr. Garrison lived in Beijing for a number of years, deepening his understanding and appreciation of Chinese philosophy and the aesthetics of ritual.
I've always had a sense of outsider-ness but also a degree of inclusion. I've always had an at-an-arm's-length experience with social norms or groups, and this has created a sense of critical distance and critique, which runs through my work.
Dr. James Garrison's dissertation, The Aesthetic Life of Power, discusses the ways in which distinct schools of philosophy—Post-Structural and Confucianism—contrast and complement one another in their approaches to the rituals or traditions that govern social relations. Dr. Garrison's work draws heavily from post-structuralist philosophers like Foucault and Judith Butler. Post-structuralism is characterized by a strong social critique of power; post-structuralism approaches social structures as power structures and tools of oppression. Post-structuralists treat rituals, traditions, and social norms in a negative sense.
In contrast, in Chinese philosophy, there’s an understanding of people as relational, bodily, and ritually impelled. Confucian philosophy balances out the post-structuralist approach to social structures as power structures and tools of oppression by bringing in a dimension of aestheticism into social structures and rituals. Rather than forms of oppression and alienation, social structures and ritual serve to cultivate morality and ethics in light of social relationships. Within Confucianism, social rituals are presented as a form of social cohesion and self-cultivation.
By bringing together the contrasting elements of post-structuralism and Confucianism through the intercultural philosophy approach, Dr. Garrison's work offers a balanced perspective on social structures and rituals that imbues the strong social critique with the strong elements of aesthetics and appreciation from Confucianism. Dr. Garrison argues that "there is no 'breaking free' of power relations or power structures or rituals, there is no individual that can survive in isolation", and so embracing a philosophy that recognizes the merits of social structures and rituals allows us to then discern which practices and behaviors we deem acceptable and where should we draw those boundaries.
How do we find the balance between critique and appreciation for a culture's rituals?
This is the ongoing challenge that we face, and the answer lies not in the arrival of criteria, but in the process—the ongoing process of striving for knowledge of other cultures, which values we should uphold, and why we choose to uphold them.