Recent events like the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump unleashed a wide range of stereotypes, including stereotypes of immigrants, of African Americans, of conservative southerners and of autocrats. The proliferation of stereotypes, however, is never a uniquely modern phenomenon. It was also a defining feature of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, what Jürgen Habermas once viewed as the origin of the public sphere. What does progress mean if stereotypes spread so widely today, as they did in the early modern period?
Early modern people often appealed to reason and were preoccupied with the 'advancement of learning' and the promise of enlightenment. Yet that did not prevent stereotypes from spreading. Stereotyping was so pervasive and foundational to social life, and yet so liable to escalation, that collective engagements with it often ended up perpetuating the very processes of stereotyping. Engaging critically with recent works in social psychology and sociology, I explore broader implications of this finding for social sciences in general and Japan studies in particular.