Bandung at 60: Toward a Genealogy of the Global Present

Seminar organized by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), in cooperation with the African Studies Centre, the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, the Leiden University Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, and LeidenGlobal.

In April 1955, delegations from 29 Asian and African countries convened in Bandung, Indonesia, for a major diplomatic conference with the bold intention of outlining the shared futures of Asia and Africa. Formally known as the Asian-African Conference, this meeting brought together leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Zhou Enlai of China, Gamal Nasser of Egypt, as well as Sukarno of Indonesia—all of whom sought to participate in the making of an emerging Third World. The echoes of the Conference, organized at a time of rapid decolonization and the Cold War, resonated throughout the world, and continues to do so, particularly among many African intellectuals, while governments of India, China and Indonesia regularly stake a claim on the Conference and its legacy.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Asian-African Conference of Bandung, a number of Leiden-based institutions will organize a one-day seminar aimed at revisiting this important historical event. By focusing on the historical precedent of the 1955 Bandung Conference as an alternative chronology for situating the past, present and future of Asia and Africa, the Leiden meeting will examine how it may inform us on the current interactions between the two continents, and beyond, and on the continuing aspirations for an alternative ‘southern’ development model.

I.   Bandung as History

What is the Bandung meeting? Who attended? What succeeded and what failed? How do we define and situate this diplomatic event in the histories of Southeast Asia, Asia and Africa, and modern world history more generally? What events preceded Bandung? Moreover, how does this event speak to issues in Cold War history and postcolonial studies? This roundtable seeks to answer these questions, by grounding the Bandung meeting empirically in time and place. It seeks to correct certain mythologies about the conference, as well as explain why this diplomatic occasion as accrued meaning over the past sixty years. Overall, the Bandung conference has multiple meanings which must be understood first through a historical approach.

II.  Afterlives of Bandung

What happened after the meeting? What political and historical narratives emerged from Bandung? How did these outcomes strengthen or weaken the “Bandung Spirit”? This panel seeks to address the effects of Bandung, direct and indirect, over time. The Bandung meeting was neither a complete success nor a complete failure. Measuring the meanings of Bandung therefore also requires historical specificity. How did Gamal Nassar use the Bandung Spirit for his own purposes? How did the Sino-Indian War of 1962 mitigate the effects of Bandung? Why did a second meeting fail to materialize in Algiers in 1965? How did the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961 both strengthen and diminish Bandung? Furthermore, how did this diplomatic occasion of political leaders reach the social lives of people in different countries, if it did? Overall, judging Bandung requires assessing its aftereffects, those immediate and those more distant.

III.  Bandung Today: Memory and Discourse

Why commemorate Bandung? What are the political uses of Bandung today? Is there a cultural memory of Bandung, and, if so, why? This panel seeks to answer these questions, to not simply celebrate the Bandung meeting, but to interrogate why it continues to have meaning in the present. To what extent does it speak to contemporary Asian-African relations? In what ways has it been forgotten, or mythologized? In what ways has it been misappropriated, or misused? Is its meaning more limited or, in contrast, less appreciated than assumed? In sum, this panel intends to apply a renewed self-consciousness about the Bandung meeting, to ask once more why this conference remains important after sixty years.

Please see the program and abstracts below.