Conference Report: Asian Studies at a Turning Point
Report by Staffan Lindberg, SASNET
Conference and PhD course at the University of Turku,
Finland, 5– 9 November
2006, titled ”Asian
Studies at a Turning Point: Tandem walk or boxing match between social
sciences and humanities?”.
For the list of speakers, see the
Conference Programme and other reports on the conference web page: http://asianstudies.niasconferences.dk/
first day of the conference consisted of a number of invited speakers
presenting various perspectives on the changing modes and perspectives
in research related to East and Southeast Asia. Some interesting aspects
taken up were (a very incomplete
– the movement of Asia into centre stage
of global capitalism and world politics and its consequences
for theory and the research agenda.
the turbulence of social transformation
in almost all Asian societies, with increasing nationalism and
ethnic conflicts, the rise of modernity and its antipodes, the
rise of consumerist societies, etc.
the way Asian researchers
are now more actively involved in Asian studies gradually changing
the agenda of research and making Asian universities gradually
more internationally oriented.
how the knowledge of Asian languages
again appear mandatory to researchers after a long period of
how there is a struggle to handle the increasing use of general
and abstract theoretical models in research and strike a balance
with historically and culturally/empirically informed perspectives.
– how new interesting perspectives continue to emerge
on the research agenda, like, for example, the importance of
waters and oceans to the societal dynamics and the way Asian
societies are related
Roundtable on Asian Studies in the Nordic Countries:
at a turning point?
Some important perspectives presented in the roundtable:
The presentations and discussions stressed the changing
context of Asian studies with increasing need
for Nordic and interdisciplinary projects and programmes across
boundaries, while at the same time
funding is either on a national och European basis, not Nordic
to the same extent. NIAS is an attempt to fill this need of Nordic
collaboration but has this problem of funding. Its current transformation
to become more university funded than earlier is an attempt to
solve this problem but also to activate partners and build a more
comprehensive Nordic network. The new activities undertaken by
NIAS guided by the Nordic NIAS Council are promising steps in this
Research and education funding by ministries, foundations
as well as the universities themselves increasingly goes to strong,
focussed research groups, while disciplines are left with undergraduate
courses, and common institutions like, for example, libraries,
etc. are left with less funding while at the same time having to
rethink their mission in view of the fast increasing electronic
publishing. This may mean that it may be more difficult in the
future to secure funding for general centres of various kinds.
Funding will be available for interesting and problem oriented,
very often interdisciplinary, research projects and programmes.
Research groups will also increasingly be the home of advanced
study programmes as well as PhD- and post-doc programmes.
we like or not, the humanities and the social sciences have to
get used to less centrally and government funded activities and
instead see the new opportunities in funding from various and variable
sources, such as from business, from participation in natural,
technical and medical research programmes with abundant funding,
At the same time there is still a strong
need for centres of Asian studies for research, education programmes, information,
networking and conferences, and with these libraries and Internet
data banks to satisfy the increasing need for focused information
by society at large and students, and as a foundation for the formation
of new research themes and groups. Governments, the public, media,
and business must be constantly reminded of this.
teaching are scattered over several universities in an uneven pattern.
Some of the participants pleaded for coordination and division
of labour so that the languages can survive. At least one person
suggested that elementary language teaching should be available
widely across the countries so as to serve a growing need for language
training among students, administrators, businessmen, etc.
is a strong need for more collaboration between Nordic researchers
and teachers specialised in different regions of Asia, to create
networks of Asian studies programmes and education, just as there
is a strong need to link up with general research groups in order
to be in the various ‘research frontiers’.
should network more directly with their Asian
of first trying to link up with US or European based research on
Asia. This could initiate more of new perspectives and problem
solving in research on both Asian and Nordic societies.
The last two days of the conference was devoted to
lectures and seminars with about 30 PhD candidates from Nordic
countries, where the invited speakers interacted with the students
and discussed their earlier presentations in more detail and where
the students were asked to relate their own research work to these