Asian Borderlands: Connections, Corridors and Communities

A conference of the IIAS sponsored Asian Borderlands Research Network

In his keynote speech, delivered at the opening of the 3rdconference of the Asian Borderlands Research Network, historian David Ludden (New York University) argued that Asia’s borderlands are becoming increasingly volatile. As Asia’s national state centres gain political and economic clout, the “ubiquitous propriety of territorialism” has its borderlands emerge as peripheral zones. In addition, the “increasingly grotesque inequality” produced by global capitalism creates a rapidly growing number of people who are progressively more deprived and politically marginalised. These social and political consequences of border-making are often overlooked, and Ludden ended his keynote by calling on scholars to explore the link between (impediments to) physical mobility and social and political mobility.


Connections, Corridors and Communities, which took place at the National University of Singapore, brought together about 120 scholars from five different continents. The conference was jointly hosted by the Asia Research Institute (ARI) and the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) at the National University of Singapore, and organised with the active support of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS).

Conference theme and panels

The conference theme emphasized the importance of movement of people, ideas and goods across Asian borders, and how such mobility is constitutive and formative towards the emergence of borderlands.

Connections draws attention to linkages across, as well as among borderlanders. What connections does a focus on borderlands reveal that in dominant state centric perspectives remain unnoticed?

Corridors provide paths and networks across and within borderlands. How are these closed, diverted, reopened, or created, and what effects do their dynamics have on the borderlands, as well as beyond?

Then, borderlands produce communities. How does spatial location at a border affect community formation and development?

The panels included in the conference engaged with these foci from a variety of theoretical angles and disciplinary perspectives. Panels explored themes such as ‘migration and mobility’, ‘indigeneity, idea flows and media routes’, ‘landscape, military and diplomacy’, ‘agrarian expansion and territorial politics’ and ‘border commodities’. In addition to paper presentations, the conference included two roundtable sessions designed in a more interactive format. One of these discussed communities fractured across borders, the other considered the social and political impact of large scale hydro electric dam building across North East India and the Mekong river. All scholarly contributions explored how borders produce marginality and agency, generating both fundamental as well as applied knowledge.

Multidisciplinary perspectives

The desire for an intellectual space that can support the development of multidisciplinary perspectives on Asia’s borderlands has indeed been a main incentive for the creation of the Asian Borderlands Research Network in 2006. In its search for paradigms that exceed state-centric and region-centric perspectives, the network has received ample support from the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) in the Netherlands.

The network has consistently attempted to cater to both fundamental as well as applied concerns. This has resulted in sustained engagement with organisations active in the field of international cooperation, such as Panos and Cordaid. In addition, the network has profited from the involvement of scholars located in the regions it focuses on, and of those affiliated with mainstream academic institutions in North America, Europe and Australia. The increasingly large number of submissions that each edition of the conference draws, proves that Asian borderlands are enjoying growing scholarly attention.

4th Borderlands Conference

Connections, Corridors and Communities received three times more paper proposals than it could accommodate within its three day/two parallel session format. Earlier editions of the conference were held in Guwahati, India (2008) and in Chiang Mai, Thailand (2010). Given the success of the third edition, bids are now being considered for a 2014 edition – preferably in yet another borderland of Asia.

For more information on the Asian Borderlands Research Network: and