International Institute for Asian Studies
Broadening intercultural dialogue
Submitted by Philippe Peycam on 1 December 2012 - 10:59am

Two IIAS events took place this October in different parts of Asia. Both testify to the versatility and pioneer-like character of the institute in its ability to widen the contours of the fi eld of ‘Asian Studies’, and with it, to test the role that academia can assign itself in the business of transcultural relations. Both events were under the purview of the IIAS thematic cluster on critical heritage studies in Asia and Europe.

The first was a roundtable entitled ‘Constructive Contestation around Urban Heritage in Taipei: Exploring a New Approach for Cities in Asia’. It was held in Taipei, 7-10 October, in collaboration with National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Planning and Building, the institutes of Sociology and Taiwan History at Academia Sinica, and with representatives of Taipei Municipal Government and those of the local community of the Bang Kah historical district.

The second event was a local-international workshop entitled ‘Ikat Weaving (Tenun Ikat) as Heritage for Sustainable Development in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia’. Discussions were held within the walls of St Emanuel Church amidst the village community of Ndao Island, Rote-Ndao Regency, 26-28 October. The workshop was a collaboration between IIAS, Indonesia’s National Heritage Trust, Gadjah Mada University, the East Nusa Tenggara Provincial Government, and the Rote Ndao Regency.

In both gatherings scholars and experts interacted directly with civil society and government counterparts to address locally relevant heritage issues with global – comparative – implications. The two events emphasized people and local commu- nities and ways to enable them to aff ect discourses and policies traditionally framed by remote ‘experts’ and other official power-knowledge mechanisms validated by states and their international incarnations, such as UNESCO or the World Bank. Much of the two events’ success owes to their interactive and participatory format. Members of local authorities, scholars, homegrown business owners, NGOs and other community group participants discussed openly, and on equal terms, the development of a concrete model of action in each given context: suggesting initiatives for a socially inclusive revitalization plan of the historical area of Bang Kha in Taipei; establishing a policy framework integrating research, conservation, pro- duction and marketing activities to help sustain the tradition of Tenun Ikat in Eastern Indonesia. The active involvement of cultural anthropologists, historians, economists, sociologists, artists and other ‘creative thinkers’, local and international, alongside community representatives, craftsmen, traders, government representatives and other social actors, helped to elicit these integrated, contextualized responses.

This is the kind of social role that IIAS, together with its partners at National Taiwan University and University Gadjah Mada, would like humanities and social sciences scholars to reclaim. It is in the same spirit that the three institutions, together with Leiden University, decided to establish the fi rst Asia-Europe double- degree educational programme on Critical Heritage Studies. The choice of Indonesia and Taiwan is not fortuitous. In the last two decades, both countries have seen the emergence of vibrant civil societies, with universities and their members playing an essential role within their communities.

This kind of open roundtable is not a substitute to more ‘traditional’ scholarly exchanges still performed by IIAS. However, it is now a critical element in our programme, contributing to reinforce the institute’s position as a bridge between traditional academia and society, and a committed facilitator of mutually beneficiary intercultural dialogue between Asia and Europe.