Vietnam and Korea are rarely compared per se in scholarly work, whether in the field of social sciences or that of area studies. Yet, obvious convergences in their recent histories are apparent: both are Asian countries where the Cold War was indeed hot, tragic and deadly; and both nations were situated at the core of the big divide of the 20th century between capitalism and socialism — Korea still divided, Vietnam reunified in 1975. A conference hosted in March 2016 in Hanoi at the Vietnam National University, and co-organized by IIAS, Seoul National University and Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), pioneered new attempts to compare Vietnam and Korea, with their similar tributary and colonial positions, as longue durée subjects of history. This instalment of the Focus presents a selection of a few excellent papers presented at the conference.
Since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 Cambodian politics has been dominated by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Profits of the widespread marketisation of natural resources, cheap labour and foreign investment are distributed among the dominating elite of Cambodia’s patrimonial society, whilst the majority of the population remains bereft of the advantages of economic growth. Taken together, the contributions to the Focus of this issue reveal a political modus operandi, in the context of a politics that has facilitated the CPP’s domination, but which now provokes an increasing challenge to this hegemony
Cover image: Kul (58) is a farmer and community activist; here she stands on logs that were once the forest where she lived since her childhood. Kul was forcibly evicted from her land by the government, who sold it to foreign companies to grow sugarcane and rubber, ultimately benefitting politicians and military. Photo by David Rengel.
The rapid urbanisation of India’s Northeast frontier is one of the most crucial transformations the area has witnessed, yet urban environments are rarely part of imaginations of the frontier, unlike the stereotypical images of plantations, jungle insurgency, spectacular topography, and colourfully dressed ethnic minority communities. In the Focus section of this issue guest editor Duncan McDuie-Ra explores the cities of India’s ‘unruly borderland’ as crucial sites in their own right, and as sites in which to experiment with different ways of researching the region.
This special issue examines the artistic and creative practices emerging in East Asia and how they are gaining prominent status, not only in the art scene, but in society as a whole. Rather than mirroring social transformations, these groundbreaking practices initiate thought-provoking alternatives for both art and life. They have become instrumental for bringing forward new subjectivities and reshaping the intrinsic values of social and cultural well-being.
This Focus moves forward a long-stalled reconsideration to argue that the relationship between language, ethnicity, and identity in Burma is not necessarily set in stone. Rather, language may be one element informing an ongoing process that various groups engage in to define themselves in relation to others.
Across Central Asia, heritage sites and commemorative practices have become visual protagonists of a nationalist rhetoric. This special issue analyses cultural memory practices used by former and current Central Asian elites as a tool for boosting ethno-nationalism. Multiple commemorative sites serving as visual representations of the past are used to foster a sense of belonging and national pride among the multi-ethnic population. Guest editor Elena Paskaleva asks, how can these practices and local historical contingencies provide a better understanding of the search for national and religious identities in modern Central Asia?
After decades of de-urbanisation under the socialist economic regime, urban growth is now exploding in Vietnam: the country’s urban population has doubled since 1980. This Focus offers a fresh perspective on the production of urban forms, the reconfiguration of local governance, and the renegotiation of daily practices, mainly in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Our intention is not only to highlight the path-breaking transformations taking place in today’s Vietnam, but also to contribute to the ‘Asianisation’ of urban studies’ paradigms through grounded analysis and interpretation, based on extensive fieldwork conducted with local colleagues in Vietnamese cities and neighbourhoods.
Perhaps a scholar who is, among others, responding to a developing Asia, to the evolving inclusiveness of Asian Studies, to the significance of language, and to the increasing demand for alternative scholarship. We put this question to our colleagues; their answers can be found in the pages of our Focus.
Even as borders are increasingly being bridged today through international cooperation, many border peoples across the world live precarious existences in military battle zones. Bringing together essays by anthropologists, historians, and ethnomusicologists, this Focus section refocuses the readers’ gaze on militarized borderlands in Asia. The articles portray the far-reaching impacts of militarization on those who live in the immediate proximity of the border, as well as on those who move away. All the articles share a concern for the travails of the people living in militarized borders, and their attempts to cope or overcome, in symbolic, material, and imagined forms.
The study of Central and Inner Asia faces a multitude of challenges, brought about by the break-up of the Soviet Union, the emergence of new states, the rise of China, the development of new national narratives, and a diminishing interest from Europe and the United States. This edition of the Focus addresses some of the problems, and proposes new policies to promote the proper understanding of a region that, to many, lies in a disregarded area on the map of the world.
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