Copenhagen ADI Conference 2017
9th annual international ADI conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative
University of Copenhagen 26-28 June 2017 

Research for Change: Reconfiguring Society and Politics through Theory and Engagement

Convener: Dan V. Hirslund, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

What does it mean to say that research is relevant for the fields in which we work? How does research actively contribute to addressing concerns that are clearly present in our fields or which we can identify as structuring conditions for the (re)production of human and environmental degradation? A long history of research concerned with the ethical effects of academic interventions has grown in tandem with the shifting historical relationships between political regimes and academic knowledge. With the anti-colonial nationalist movements during the 1960’s and 1970’s, a forceful current against racism and colonial legacies of knowledge production developed, though mostly in the context of African and American anti-slavery movements. The general decline of Marxism in western academies from the 1970’s onwards, saw the marginalisation of anti-racist and anti-colonial critique of knowledge to be replaced with a more culturalist understanding of power as dispersed and situated, thus blunting the critique, and fight against, social and political oppression. In place of a forceful critique, the ethical urge to use academic knowledge as a tool to improve the human condition has lived on in watered-down calls for “embedded” research and do-no-harm principles while a truly critical position has been forced to “taking sides” (Laerke & Armbruster) and brand itself as “activism” and outright advocacy.

Today, as the relevance and “impact” of research is once again being circumscribed within highly charged political formations, there is a need to rethink the critical urge in social theory, to learn from past propositions and consider what is unique to current predicaments in and around our fields. We invite papers that reflect on the histories of critique in an Asian context and the concrete possibilities for addressing injustices through our academic engagement. In particular, we welcome contributions that have grappled with practically applying a critical framework to one’s study, the interactions it has fostered and the potentialities it has opened up for. In between the positions of advocacy and impartial knowledge which both rely on uncritical (though not necessarily unreflective) alliances with particular positions, we invite papers that ponder the complicated relationships between power and knowledge to suggest ways in which we can sharpen our analytical practices to confront global challenges.