Growth: Critical perspectives from Asia

5th International Conference
13-14 June 2013 – Asian Dynamics Initiative – University of Copenhagen

‘Cultural Growth’: Asian notions of civilization

Panel convenor: Oscar Salemink (Dept. of Anthropology)

Although these days the biological metaphor of growth is mostly associated with economics, in the 19th and early 20th centuries growth became associated with the then novel concepts of society and culture as national attributes. Notions of progress and civilization were interpreted in terms of growth, substituting cyclical visions of history that looked to the past for inspiration, for a forward-looking, future-oriented subjectivity. Critiquing secular, Eurocentric visions of modernity, postcolonial and post-Cold War Asian states began to construct uniquely national visions of modernity, searching for inspiration in history, religion and cultural heritage while embracing (hyper-)modernity. Challenging universalizing western theories of societal and civilizational transformation, states, elites and sections of society embraced national or cultural modernities that married a backward-looking inspirations with forward-looking ideas of progress and development. This is expressed in diverse claims to uniquely Asian civilizational paths and teleologies that inform policies and are associated with sociocultural growth – as in Japan’s WW2 ‘Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere’, in ASEAN, in Islamic expansion drives, and in China’s post-neo-Confucian visions of modernity.

In this panel we explore how the idea of ‘growth’ seems to permeate thinking about culture and civilization, combining a desire for modernity with cultural repertoires derived from historical traditions, in a variety of different national (and transnational) contexts. This oftentimes assumes the shape of (hyper)modernity with references to a past, but a past projected in grander scale in the present and future. When thinking of a variety of ‘cultural fields’, like urban planning, heritage, art, film, can we identify notions of ‘cultures of growth’ or ‘cultural growth’ in Asia? How is growth reflected upon and ‘translated’ into visual and literary representations and into popular discourse? How do culturally (and often nationally) inflected narratives of growth look like in Asia? We invite papers that offer challenging, empirically grounded analyses around this theme.