Framing 'Asian Studies': Geopolitics, Institutions and Networks

Read the conference report : The 'Framing Asian Studies' conference, and its framing (pdf) by Albert Tzeng

Conference Dates: 18 - 20 November 2013

The conference, organised by IIAS in partnership with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS, Singapore), aims to examine and critically reflect on the “social framing” of Asian studies.

Download the conference programme.

“Asian studies”, whether broadly defined as the production and dissemination of scholarly knowledge about Asia, or narrowly limited to the institutionalized field of study labeled as such, has constantly been framed by changing geopolitical context. The colonial root of Oriental or Asiatic scholarship, the war-driven migration of Asian scholars and the dispersion of their expertise, and the Cold War American investment in both social sciences in East Asia and in “Asia studies” at home, were just a few examples. In recent decades, we further witnessed the rising scholarly interest on Japan, China and India following their growing political-economic significance, as well as the emergence of various “alternative discourses” and “inter-Asia dialogue” as attempts of intellectual decolonization.

This framing effect is at least partially mediated by the various institutions involved in the social process of knowledge production— foundations, professional associations, publishers, journals, research institutes, governments to multinational entities. These institutions operate in ways that reflect their role, agenda and power relations within the geopolitical context, and left their imprints, through funding and agenda-setting, on the intellectual landscape of Asian knowledge.

Those institutions constitute various inter-institutional networks through forms of collaboration, and each has its own network of associated people— for instance, grant recipients, members, authors, subscribers, staffs and alumni. Scholars at individual level also form network of interpersonal ties (educational genealogy, friendship, citation). These networks not only help distribute financial, political, intellectual and social resources for the generation of knowledge about Asia, but also mediate how such knowledge is disseminated, preserved and accessed.

Investigating the above-mentioned themes further invites critical examination on the power structure underlying the knowledge scape: Who had written about Asia— for what and for whom? Where has the Asian knowledge been disseminated and consumed? What (institutional, societal-structural, national) interest and bias were brought into the knowledge production? What topics were emphasized or excluded? Even the term “Asia” as an epistemological unit could be questioned for its historical root associated with a European perspective of gazing.  

This conference aims for examination and critical reflection on the “social framing” of Asian studies by focusing on the four themes discussed above. We invite paper proposals that discuss: 

  1. The influence of geopolitical factors on how knowledge about Asia is produced and disseminated: colonialism and its legacy, wars and regional conflicts, the Cold War structure, and the ‘knowledge economy’ competition in the new era of globalization.
  2. The role of various institutions in promoting and directing the Asia studies:  foundations, professional associations, publishers, journals, research institutes, governments to multinational entities. We particularly welcome papers that relate the role of particular institution(s) to broader geopolitical context.
  3. The outlook of various knowledge networks. We welcome both (a) macroscopic investigations on the patterns and developmental trajectory of knowledge networks measured in terms of flows of scholars/ students, capital, and knowledge, and (b) case studies of a particular networks of institutions or people on (a particular branch of) Asian studies.
  4. Critiques on the power structure underlying the observed patterns of knowledge production and dissemination of Asian studies. We encourage reflections that revisit fundamental questions like: Knowledge for what? Knowledge for whom? Whose were represented or excluded? How relevant and biased to use ‘Asia’ as an epistemological unit?

Registration and information

The conference is open to all. Registration is free of charge. Please note that lunch is not provided for conference observers, but we will take a break for lunch. You can either bring your own lunch or you can eat lunch at a local restaurant of your choosing.

To register for the conference as an observer, please use the registration from below.

Please contact Ms Martina van den Haak by email at