Turku conference

SASNET 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/

The conference was jointly organised by:
The Graduate School of Contemporary Asian Studies (GSAS), University of Turku, Finland
in cooperation with:
The Centre for East Asian Studies, University of Turku,
The Nordic NIAS Council (NCC), and
The Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), Copenhagen

Another institution involved:
Finnish National University Network for East and Southeast Asian Studies

The 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 account):

– 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 neglect.
– 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?

A number of research leaders from Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden presented various activities, perspectives and desirable developments in Nordic Asian studies. See a short presentation of the speakers and their views, as a pdf-file.

For a very comprehensive conference report, see the Minutes prepared by Martin Bech and Jörgen Delman, http://asianstudies.niasconferences.dk/get_file.php?id=31 (pdf-file).

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 direction.

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.

Whether 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, etc.

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.

Asian language 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.

There 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’.

Nordic researchers should network more directly with their Asian colleagues instead 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.

PhD course

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 perspectives.

                                                   Staffan Lindberg

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