6th annual International Conference

Intra-­Asian Connections: Interactions, flows, landscapes

22-­24 October 2014 - Asian Dynamics Initiative - University of Copenhagen

Suggested panels and areas of interest are as follows, although we welcome other topics relevant to the overall Intra-Asian theme as well:

  1. Travel along the Silk Roads
  2. Maritime Territorial Disputes: China and its Neighbours
  3. Governing Landscapes across Asia
  4. Centering Southeast Asia from the outside in
  5. Popular Cultures in and of and out of Asia
  6. Asian Concepts of Development
  7. Civil Society in Asia reconsidered: Rights, Governmentality and Inclusion of the Disadvantaged
  8. Economic Integration in Asia


1. Travel along the Silk Roads

Panel convenor: Ildikó Bellér-Hann, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

The Silk Roads have long been a symbol of cultural exchange in Eurasia.  They provide a convenient metaphor for interconnectedness across imperial or national boundaries more generally. While research on the Silk Roads typically focuses on the processes and consequences of social, economic, religious and cultural exchanges in a transnational framework, this panel emphasizes travel and its literary representations.  Over the centuries the macro-region of Central Eurasia (used here in a loose and inclusive sense), attracted countless visitors from all directions. It gave rise to a large body of travel writing, much of which has received little attention hitherto. By taking the Eurasian landmass as our framework and focusing on its landlocked centre, and by considering narratives authored by travelers coming from all directions, we explicitly acknowledge the aim of the conference to transcend the Europe-Asia dichotomy.  

We invite papers exploring the narrative representation of travel in any period, regardless of whether it has been produced by local people themselves travelling within their own region or by visitors from other parts of the landmass.  We hope for a multi-disciplinary panel that will cover a good range of narrative representations of travel to and within Central Eurasia. Possible foci include:

  • the relationship between narrative tropes and the motivations for travel
    • political involvement/engagement (the representation of the imperialist/colonial mindset as well as colonial anxiety)
    • religious zeal (pilgrim- or missionary-authored accounts)
    • scholarly  enterprise (e.g.) accounts authored by archaeologists, geographers, ethnographers, linguists)
    • adventure
  • the intersections of power, knowledge and authority in travel writing
  • literary travelogues (travel as art, landscape, the aesthetics of travel, imaginary travel, escapist fantasies etc.)
  • the relationship between travel writing and autobiography (the role of subjectivity)
  • travel narratives as sites where identity, alterity and cultural diversity are explored
  • gender and travel writing

Attention may be given to comparisons with the author’s native society and/or between different settings accessed through travel.  The aim is to explore the complex interconnectedness between power relations and travel and narrative strategies. While acknowledging the impact of the paradigms of Orientalism and postcolonial studies, the aim is to move beyond them through paying equal attention to the agency and narrative strategies of non-Western travelers.   

2. Maritime Territorial Disputes: China and its Neighbours

Panel convenors:  Liu Chunrong, Fudan European China Centre and Bertel Heurlin, Dept. of Political Science, University of Copenhagen

Recently the Asian region has experienced heavy bilateral crises concerning national territorial claims between China and its neighbours at sea, including serious mutual accusations and threats. Old disputes on which island belongs to which country have re-emerged and have created a sense of threats to stability and security in the area of the waters around China.

This panel attempts to explore, understand and explain these processes and their impact on bilateral relations and on the general stability in Asia. Papers could for example focus on:

  • the security-economy nexus between China and the countries involved
  • the role of the rise of hyper-nationalism as part of the territorial disputes
  • the risk of military escalation
  • the territorial conflict as bureaucratic politics
  • the role of bilateral versus multilateral politics
  • the role of political and military doctrines

Behind the individual papers the panel attempts to approach the following fundamental questions:

  • Why do we have these territorial disputes now?
  • How can the current Chinese policy be explained?
  • How can we assess and explain the role of the United States, the strongest Asian military power?

3. Governing Landscapes across Asia

Convenor: Rune Bennike, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

Across most of human history, the textures of Asian landscapes have played a crucial role in the government of people and places. In Asia, as elsewhere, the adverse geography of mountains and jungles has provided zones of refuge for people fleeing expanding empires and state structures. In turn, ecological distinctions have been employed as central markers in governmental differentiation separating civilization from its wild outside (Guha 1999, Scott 2009). Bordering both the physical extension and political imagination of centralized government, landscapes have thus been intensely political. Nonetheless, in the ‘national order of things’ where most of modern politics is imagined, studied and conducted the physical landscape is concealed by the fantasy of a flat, bordered and uniform national territory (Ferguson & Gupta 2002, Malkki 1992). Ironed out – supposedly – by the distance-demolishing technologies of modernity, the physical landscape has largely been purged from the vocabulary of political and governmental theory. In real life, though, a broad range of contemporary, global dynamics (struggles for the recognition of indigenous belonging, political battles over local autonomy, environmental protection schemes, geographical indications branding) push the materialities and representations of landscapes back into politics.

As a response, this panel invites participants to re-think notions of government from a starting-point in landscape rather than national territory. The notion of landscape highlights multiple tensions between proximity and distance, inhabitation and observation, land and gaze, nature and culture (Wylie 2007). It thus invites analysis of the contingent, political connections made between land and vision across government interventions, NGO programmes, commercial branding, international development assistance etc. Seeking contributions across archeology, geography, anthropology, political science and beyond the panel encourages explorations of landscape both in a historical sense, and as analytical tool to approach government and politics at a time when national territories are increasingly challenged by the multiple forces of globalization.

4. Centering Southeast Asia from the outside in

Convenors: Steffen Jensen, Dignity Institute, Copenhagen and Oscar Salemink, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

In this panel we ask the question how Southeast Asia is constituted through intra-Asian connections both within – what are now – Southeast Asian countries, and between Southeast Asia and other subcontinents, primarily East and South Asia. We want to explore intra-Southeast Asian and intra-Asian connections in relation to the historically recent ‘invention’ of Southeast Asia as a distinct region; to the historically recent formation of modern states in the region; and to the continuous flows of goods, capital, people and ideas within and beyond the region.

Southeast Asia was initially devised as a military term during World War II, as one of the ‘war theatres’ in the Pacific War pitting Japan against the Allies. Before that, the region was loosely referred to as Far East/Extrême-Orient, Further India/Hinterindien, Indo-China, and – even more vaguely – the Orient. What these labels had in common was that they defined a region with reference to Europe (the Far East, which included what is now seen as East and Southeast Asia); with reference to the two great neighboring civilizations of India and China (Indo-China); or with reference to both Europe and India (Further India). These geographic indications were fuzzy, without clear boundaries, and were not convergent with present-day definitions about Southeast Asia – visible, for instance, through the dissociation in 1937 of Burma from India and hence South Asia. After World War II, Southeast Asia quickly made it on various maps, and stayed there, albeit initially without a clear circumscription. For instance, the anti-communist South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO, 1954-1977) included five western countries and one South Asian country (Pakistan) besides Thailand and the Philippines. Only with the establishment, enlargement and consolidation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, 1967-) did Southeast Asia acquire clear boundaries and its own political profile. The Southeast Asian subcontinent is a recent historical construct.

The various countries making up Southeast Asia (ASEAN plus Timor Leste) have very different histories, but mostly emerged as modern states after WW II and the struggle for independence. All but one (Thailand) were former colonial territories that became independent between 1946 (the Philippines) and 2002 (Timor-Leste). Some countries claim to be long-standing nations before colonial times (mostly on the mainland), while other states acquired their present make-up and shape as a result of colonial conquest, or are themselves the result of colonial intervention (Singapore). All the Southeast Asian countries have important minorities, often cross-border ethnic groups from other states in the region. Moreover, there are important Chinese and Indian communities in the various countries. To this day, these cross-border ethnoscapes constitute important political challenges for the various states. Within Southeast Asia, the various states are recent historical constructs.

Southeast Asia and its constituent states are emergent entities of nations in the making bounded by porous borders which allow flows of people and goods, money and investment, ideas and images to pass through. Although Western influences are still extremely important, increasingly flows move within Asia, connecting countries within Southeast Asia and beyond. Given the emergent and unsettled nature of Southeast Asia we like to ask the question how such flows – in past and present, within and beyond Southeast Asia – of people, goods, money and ideas contribute to the constitution and –paradoxically – to the naturalization of Southeast Asia. We like to invite scholars from a wide range of disciplines and working in or on various parts of Asia to submit abstracts covering any of the themes and fields above. As this panel is also intended to bring together scholars in the newly formed Nordic Network for Southeast Asian Studies (N-SEA), we especially encourage scholars working in the Nordic region to participate. Limited funding is available for travel and accommodation of some junior researchers.

5. Popular Cultures in and of and out of Asia

Convenors: Martin Petersen, National Museum of Denmark and Marie Højlund Roesgaard, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

The panel invites papers from scholars studying popular culture in Asia and the  multidirectional flows of Asian popular cultural products and phenomena over ‘hard’, modern borders especially within Asia, but also between Asia and other regions of the world. Asian popular culture has entered the global scene and Japanese manga, Chinese action films, Korean TV-dramas, Bollywood films and Thai food is now available all over Asia as well as on a global scale. There are discussions of possible ‘soft power’ capabilities of these phenomena while at the same time they also can be elusive in terms of clear national identification. Many phenomena are localized or creolized so Chinese food in India is not what it is in China, and Japanese TV-dramas can be enjoyed by Chinese in spite of political tension between the two countries. Popular culture, while seemingly representing the original host country, also has transnational qualities, the popular culture-landscape of Asia is continuously remade, and centers and peripheries rearranged, through processes of globalization and local co-optation, and the flow and circulation of people, ideas and objects. The panel will focus on the implications of such processes, their historical and contemporary contingencies and welcomes papers, which theorize alternative temporalities, spatialities and modernities and which seek epistemological grounding in conceptualizations of interaction and flow in relation to popular culture in Asia.  

6. Asian Concepts of Development

Convenors: Aki Tonami, NIAS, University of Copenhagen and Anders Riel Müller, DIIS & Roskilde University

The concept of growth and/or development remains a challenge for the world and particularly Asian countries. Since the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and especially after the global financial crisis of 2007-08, various Asian countries have announced their own definition of development/growth as their vision for the future. For instance, Thailand advocates the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy and implements particular agricultural programs based on the philosophy. When Bhutan announced the assessment of gross national happiness (GNH) instead of gross national product (GDP) it drew global attention. Japan announced the concept of Low Carbon Society in an attempt to meet the target of CO2 reduction. South Korea’s then-President Lee introduced the idea of Green Growth in the country’s national development plan, which was then taken by other countries in Asia and beyond. China also introduced the concept of Low Carbon Development as it tries to achieve both economic growth and environmental conservation.

This panel intends to broaden our understanding of various concepts of development in Asia. The panel invites contributions that analyze these concepts as well as other concepts or philosophies that have possibly influenced the formation of the concepts. In what way are the Asian concepts of development related to/influenced each other? What are the characteristics in common? What kind of trend can we observe in Asian countries’ vision for the future? What regimes, institutions or projects are required to realize these concepts?

7. Civil Society in Asia reconsidered: Rights, Governmentality and Inclusion of the Disadvantaged

Convenors:  Alexander Horstmann and Peter B. Andersen, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional  Studies, University of Copenhagen, and Amit Prakash, JNU, New Delhi

Since about the 1980 new rights regimes and new opportunities of alliances of local actors with transnational activism have gained terrain in the area of collective rights for ethnic, indigenous and gendered groups, whereas vulnerable rural, ethnic and religious groups mostly have been left out of this new allocation of rights. 

These rights regimes have been carried through international NGOs as well as formalised globalisation and liberalisation leading national states to let international and local NGOs take over part of the governmental functions among rural and disadvantaged populations. In many instances political and social activists have got more space for their activities through these changes in the organisation of society, on the other hand it has in many cases led to increased levels of violence which makes the lives of rights activists vulnerable for political assassinations. The neoliberal de-politicisation of government to NGOs also leads to new considerations of what actors or institutions are legitimised to represent disadvantaged groups in the public sphere and especially in relation to international donors.

The panel uses the term “governmentality” to encourage contributors to explore the changing dynamics of governance as new rights regimes consisting of international NGO’s, humanitarian organizations and religious networks also intervention in and exercise their own modes of government and alternative normative orders. A key concept used here is the idea of sovereignty and how local actors aim for the power to define rights claims, rights areas and establish areas of local sovereignty that they have to defend not only against local militias or repressive states but have to negotiate with movements that exercise a symbolic violence by monopolizing claims to represent them. Suffering, while real, often enough becomes a branding that is used to mobilize funding from international support networks. Local sovereignty implies a critique of the universal human rights agenda that has no translation in the local context where rights issues are tightly connected to livelihood issues. Livelihoods and sustainable life ways and social support networks come under pressure by development being backed by the military, leaving little breath to disadvantaged groups who lose their land and freedom.

In Asia this has led increasing sectors of the disadvantaged population to mobilize and fight against exclusion by hierarchical social systems, authoritarian states and neo-liberal orders. The panel addresses how different regimes of rights create specific responses within marginalised groups. Contributors are encouraged to look at ways of mobilizing social support on multiple levels and to explore manifold ways of resisting what is perceived as assault on people’s livelihoods.

In this regard it is also highly relevant to consider how far regimes of rights lead to integration of the marginalised groups in the larger populations or to further marginalisation. These questions may be addressed in a comparative perspective, as marginalised populations across transnational boundaries also organise themselves in relation to the civil society. While most of the research concentrates so far on country studies, the panel specially invites submissions that will allow for comparisons either through actual comparisons within the paper or through analysis which allow for alliances of local and transnational networks.

 We invite papers on

  • The organisation of protest movements
  • The integration of the state with NGOs
  • NGOs and Community based Organizations and movements working in the management of marginalised or indigenous groups
  • Government allowances for traditional forms of organisation in ethnic or indigenous groups
  • How far civil society organisations lead to higher levels of integration with the state or to insolation from the larger society
  • How far faith-based organizations and missionary networks participate in the representation of rights and humanitarian assistance
  • How local marginalised, ethnic, indigenous or religious associations adapt to changing international conceptions of rights

8. Economic Integration in Asia

Convenor: Jakob Roland Munch, Dept. of Economics, University of Copenhagen

This panel invites papers from researchers studying economic integration in Asia. Over the past decades Asian countries have become increasingly integrated in economic terms. More and more of the trade of Asian economies has been with each other, intra-regional investment flows are increasing,  international production networks and supply chains are formed in Asia, and workers are increasingly moving from one country to another leading to more integrated labour markets. All papers in the field of international economic integration in Asia will be considered, but we particularly encourage researchers to submit papers on topics such as ‘Free trade agreements in Asia’, ‘FDI flows between Asian countries’,  ‘Migration flows between Asian countries’, ‘Service trade in Asia’, ‘Value added chains in Asia’, and ‘The role of processing trade in Asia’.