Intersections: Asia and Australia

Welcome to our first edition of Intersections: Asia and Australia, a recurring section in the Newsletter on Asia-related studies in Australia. It is the result of an exciting new collaboration between the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) in Leiden (the Netherlands), and the Asia Institute of The University of Melbourne (Australia). Intersections is edited by Ana Dragojlovic and Edwin Jurriëns, with assistance from Andy Fuller, from the Asia Institute in Melbourne.

For Intersections, we ask contributors to reflect on their own research interests and the broader academic field in Australia of which it is a part. We focus on current, recent or upcoming projects, books, articles, conferences and teaching, while identifying related interests and activities of fellow academics in the field. Our contributions aim to give a broad overview of Asia-related studies in Australia; after our first general edition, we will focus more specifically on themes such as language, popular culture, gender, urban development, environment and art. Intersections’ main aim is to highlight exciting intellectual debates on and with Asia in the region. Our preferred style is subjective and conversational. Rather than offering fully-fledged research reports, our contributions give insight into the motivations behind and directions of various types of conversations between Asia and Australia.

Engagement with Asia at the governmental and institutional levels in Australia has been notoriously fragile. Nevertheless, the pragmatic considerations of geopolitical proximity and commercial profitability have also renewed and increased awareness of the unavoidability and positive prospects of a shared future with Asia. Recent examples are the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper of the Gillard government in 2012, and the ‘New Colombo Plan’ of the Abbott government in 2014. The latter includes scholarships to encourage Australian students to enjoy part of their education in Asia.

The work of Australian academics has undoubtedly been strengthened, influenced or compromised by these and other plans of their governments and institutions. Much of their work, however, builds on ongoing, highly personal and deeply grounded research connections with their Asia(n) counterparts. They often feature ‘Asia’ not merely in geographical terms, but as a research method in itself. Besides its interdisciplinary and comparative character, this ‘Asia as method’ offers a complex paradigm of layered knowledge. By layered knowledge we mean in-depth and mutually enriching analyses of various aspects of Asian societies, which are to be distinguished from more casual, in themselves relevant, (inter)disciplinary engagements with Asia. This paradigm encompasses the type of knowledge produced and promoted by the various Asia institutes around the country, but it is not limited to institutions and academics with a professional affiliation or natural affinity with Area Studies.

Intersections presents a snapshot of the breadth and depth of Asia-related expertise in Australia. We are confident, however, that our selected contributions are some of the prime representatives of the field. Moreover, we hope and believe that our examples have the potential to trigger and foster conversations with Asia experts elsewhere in the world.

Ana Dragojlovic (ana.dragojlovic@unimelb.edu.au), Edwin Jurriëns (edwin.jurriens@unimelb.edu.au) and Andy Fuller (fuller.a@unimelb.edu.au)

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