Unity in Diversity: Transgressive Southeast Asia

Unity in Diversity” seems to be a convenient slogan under which to group an extremely wide variety of entities together. Indeed, the grouping of the ten disparate nations of Southeast Asia under the ASEAN banner is a prime example. When it comes to organizing the second Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA) Conference, organizing all the proposed sub-themes under one unifying mega-theme appeared to be a similarly impossible task. Yet, upon considering each and every proposed sub-theme more closely, an underlying commonality became apparent: there is unity in transgression. The intellectual desire to cross borders, break boundaries, engage in taboos and violate all sorts of common practice is apparent in nearly every aspect of scholarly investigation, discussion and debate that this conference aims to encourage and promote—historians question time, political scientists question state boundaries, linguists question language barriers, artists break traditions. To remain relevant in the rapidly transforming world of the globalized era, one must refuse to remain obedient to the old boundaries of the past. Southeast Asian Studies is no exception. Therefore, “Transgressive Southeast Asia” not only responds to the limitations of the main title “Unity in Diversity,” but also points toward the future of the field of Southeast Asian and Area Studies.
      Focusing on the transgressive nature of Southeast Asia within the theme of unity in diversity, SEASIA 2017 encouraged and received submissions of both panel proposals and individual presentations in the following sub-themes:

Sub-Theme I.  Re-conceptualizing Region in Southeast Asia
                        Coordinator: Ikrar Nusa Bhakti (Indonesian Institute of Sciences)
Re-conceptualizing Region in Southeast Asia explores the constant and continuous transformation of the Southeast Asian region as a field of studies, from the rising tendency to “Asianize” Southeast Asian Studies to the various comparative studies approaches that have appeared to gain momentum in the field since the dawn of the present century. How should Southeast Asian Studies fit or not fit into the new ASEAN paradigm? How does the “Chinese-rising” century affect Southeast Asia as a region? How is Southeast Asian Studies evolving as a field with more scholars from the region becoming involved in research and the production of knowledge relating to Southeast Asia?
Panel 1.1  Continentality of ASEAN-China Relations: Development, Connectivity and Border
Panel 1.2  The Shifting Boundaries of Social Imaginaries in Southeast Asia: Schooling, History, and
        Politics in an Era of Regionalization
Panel 1.3  ASEAN Economic Community in the Context of Asia-wide Regional Integration
Panel 1.4  The Other Side of Integration: Public Questions and Issues Beyond AEC 2015

Sub-Theme II.  New Perspectives on Southeast Asian Pasts
                          Coordinator: Sunait Chutintaranond (Chulalongkorn University)

New Perspectives on Southeast Asian Pasts presents an attempt to rescue the history of ancient Southeast Asia from the Southeast Asian nation-states of the present day. How do we make sense of the pre-nation-state history in the era of nation-states and despite the strong national narratives of each and every Southeast Asian nation that incessantly claim ownership of ancient kingdoms and empires within or related to their realm? How might this intellectual exercise also lead to a more successful integration of the ASEAN community in which national boundaries are supposed to be made more fluid and blurred?

Panel 2.1  Philippine Perspectives of the “International”
Panel 2.2  Southeast Asian Transformation under the Japanese Occupation (Panel 1)
Panel 2.3  Southeast Asian Transformation under the Japanese Occupation (Panel 2)
Panel 2.4  Identity Narrative and Interpretation: New Perspectives on Southeast Asia’s Past
Panel 2.5  Minorities at the Edge: Battles, Mobility and Identity
Panel 2.6  Rethinking Late Ayutthaya, 250 Years after the Fall


Sub-Theme III.  Southeast Asian Circulations: Conjunctures and Disjunctures
                           Coordinator: Chee Kiong Tong (Universiti of Brunei Darussalam)

New Perspectives on Southeast Asian Pasts is the quintessential migration theme, focusing not only on the constant flow of people both within the region and beyond through much of known history, but also on the processes of circulation in which ideas, practices and texts travel unpredictably across time and space. How do these constant and continuous movements of people, materials and ideas influence the various cultures in this region as well as identity-building processes within the numerous nation-states from time immemorial to the contemporary?

Panel 3.1  Contested Colonial Histories
Panel 3.2  Population Movements in Southeast Asia
Panel 3.3  Circulation of Texts and Knowledge: Past and Present
Panel 3.4  Contested Chineseness
Panel 3.5  Singapore Society in Transition: Past and Present

Sub-Theme IV.  Environment and Society
                           Coordinator: Yasuyuki Kono (Kyoto University)

Environment and Society focuses on major environmental issues that affect societies in Southeast Asia, including but not limited to significant changes in the environment that may or may not contribute to new and reoccurring natural disasters. This theme will also explore how the trend towards de-agrarianization of parts of Southeast Asia as well as the rise of energy crop cultivation across the region might also have drastic repercussions on both the environment and society in the twenty-first century. The theme covers a great variety of socio-political and cultural aspects related to the change, deterioration and transformation of the environment, including but not limited to food and energy security, the concept of private vs. public properties, and heritage conservation.

Panel 4.1  Exploring the Future of Rural Livelihoods in Southeast Asia: A Discussion from Cambodia 
Panel 4.2  Political Ecology of Insecure Living World in Northeast Thailand
Panel 4.3  Multidisciplinary Studies of Environmental Issues in Southeast Asia (Panel 1)
Panel 4.4  Multidisciplinary Studies of Environmental Issues in Southeast Asia (Panel 2)  
Panel 4.5  EcoHealth and the Challenges of the Changing Regional Landscape: The Neo ASEAN Community in the Anthropocene Era
Panel 4.6  Climate Change: Mitigating the Impact through Governance
Panel 4.7  Industrializing Agriculture in Southeast Asia
Panel 4.8  Spatial Planning, Heritage Care and Ecological Knowledge in Southeast Asia

Sub-Theme V.  Law and Politics                                                                      
                          Coordinator: Eduardo Tadem and Antoinette Razuiza (University of the Philippines, Diliman)

Law and Politics is perhaps the most transgressive of the ‘Transgressive Southeast Asia’ themes. This theme will provide an all-inclusive arena for debate and discussion on controversial issues relating to law and politics. This may include the role of the military in Southeast Asian politics, comparative studies of the future of democracy in the region, potentials and challenges for civil society in Southeast Asia, regional integration and the likelihood of a truly functional ASEAN community, and the rise of religious fundamentalism and its influence upon law and politics in Southeast Asia.

Panel 5.1  Southeast Asian Military Resurgence: What and How?
Panel 5.2  Reconsidering Post-2011 Myanmar Politics from Marginalized Perspectives: Women, Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities
Panel 5.3  Social Forces amidst Political Transitions
Panel 5.4  Options for Democracy at Different Levels of Governance
Panel 5.5  National Interest, Foreign Policy, and Regionalism
Panel 5.6  Institutionalism, Legal Frameworks, and Specific Constituencies


Sub-Theme VI.  Innovation, Technology Transfer, and Social Transformation
                           Coordinator: Liu Hong (Nanyang Technological University)

Innovation, Technology Transfer, and Social Transformation focuses on knowledge production and transfer within Southeast Asia and beyond, as well as the making of new innovative modes of government in the region. What is the relevance and significance of Southeast Asian Studies in the age of globalization and how might these innovations and the transfer of new knowledge and technology influence various forms of social transformation in Southeast Asia?

Panel 6.1 Rethinking Philanthropy: Influence and Social Impact of Philanthropy and Transnational Knowledge Transfer in Southeast Asia
Panel 6.2  Education Challenges in Knowledge Production in the Philippines
Panel 6.3  Power of Organizations and Advanced Methods in Promoting Social Innovation and Transformation


Sub-Theme VII.  Literature, Film, Media, the Arts and Cultural Studies
                            Coordinator: Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao (Academia Sinica)

Literature, Film, Media, the Arts and Cultural Studies represents the strong determination to have a more humanities-oriented theme that appeared to be conspicuously missing from the first conference in Kyoto. This theme should provide a broad and diverse platform for expression, discussion and debate concerning the rise in popularity, significance and influence of the above-mentioned tools of individual expression, communal strength, and state soft-power both within the region of Southeast Asia and beyond.

Aside from conventional panels, this theme encouraged contributions of other forms of artistic expressions, including but not limited to film screenings and discussions, artistic and cultural performances.

Panel 7.1  Haunting Femininity and Postcolonial Imaginations
Panel 7.2  Cases of Cultural Conflicts-Negotiations: Experiences from/in Some Southern Asian Countries
Panel 7.3  Transforming Identities and Nationalisms: Visual Media, Social Media and the Politics of Identity in Asia
Panel 7.4  Films and Cinema in Southeast Asia
Panel 7.5  Body, Gender Identity in Films and Literature
Panel 7.6  Ethnicity, Multimodernities in Literature and Art
Panel 7.7  Space, Heritage and Literature

Sub-Theme VIII.  Language and Linguistics
                              Coordinator: Theraphan Luangthongkum (Chulalongkorn University)

Language and Linguistics explores an important area of tremendous intellectual and cultural diversity within the region of Southeast Asia. While the language barrier seems to be one of the most daunting obstacles to regional integration, what appears to be an awe-inspiring level of linguistic diversity is also a great asset of Southeast Asia. Language and linguistics are among the fundamental defining characteristics of Southeast Asian culture and identity. They are at the core of the region’s amazingly tolerant and cosmopolitan nature and therefore deserve a dedicated theme.

Panel 8.1  Southeast Asia: Linguistic Perspective
Panel 8.2  Language: Then and Now


Sub-Theme IX.  Faith, Religion and Philosophy
                           Coordinator: Suwanna Satha-anand (Chulalongkorn University)

Faith, Religion and Philosophy is another area that has been fundamental to the cultural diversity, spiritual history and politics of the region of Southeast Asia since time immemorial. In today’s globalized age, this has become one among the most sensitive matters in the field of Southeast Asian Studies. It poses great potential for positive and integrative tendencies through teachings of tolerance, acceptance, peace and good will. At the same time, the great diversity in spiritual beliefs has also become one of the most explosive obstacles to peaceful coexistence and regional integration in Southeast Asia. How might we possibly navigate through the dangerous sensitivities of these matters and make the most of these treasured traditions and profound faiths despite what seems to be a trend towards the intensification of clashes and conflicts related to faith, religion, and philosophy across the globe?

Panel 9.1  Orality and Literacy in Southeast Asian Religions
Panel 9.2  Catholicism in Southeast Asia: Building Religious Elites beyond the Colonial Encounter
Panel 9.3  Astrology and Magic in Thai Buddhism
Panel 9.4  Transforming Society of Minority through Protestant Evangelism: Cases from the
Karen Missions in Burma and Thailand
Panel 9.5  The Religious Other, Pluralism and Intolerance in Southeast Asia
Panel 9.6  Religious Expression, Political Communication and Secular Space

Sub-Theme X.  Humanitarian and Development Work
                          Coordinator: R. Michael Feener (University of Oxford)

Humanitarian and Development Work establishes a comparative rubric under which to engage emerging critical conversations on modern projects for the improvement of social conditions in the region’s modern history. While scholarly work on ‘development’ and ‘humanitarianism’ has been generally pursued in distinct sub- fields, there is considerable potential for the opening up of new lines of discussion by bringing together current scholarship on their respective ideologies and institutional forms. This theme thus not only affords room for technical studies of work in each of these two important spheres, but also makes space for panels examining some of the diverse ways in which the discourses, practices, imaginations and consequences of humanitarian and developmentalist work – both within and across different Southeast Asian countries, as well as the entanglements between localized examples of humanitarian and development work with broader global trends.

Panel 10.1  Roles of the Military in National Development in Asia
Panel 10.2  The Religion, Politics and Development Nexus in Southeast Asia
Panel 10.3  Humanitarianism and Development in Southeast Asia


Sub-Theme XI.  ASEAN Economies: Challenges and Prospects
                           Coordinator: Professor Pasuk Phongpaichit (Chulalongkorn University)

ASEAN Economies: Challenges and Prospects examines the present and the future of the region’s economies in a world of growing complexity and uncertainty. What are the drivers, internal and external, that will determine the economic future of the region’s population? Topics include: investment flows within the region; the impact of migration, both internal and external; the role of Japan, China and India; evaluation of prospective trade agreements; the roles of corruption, rent-seeking, and illegal economies; the impact of climate change and the transition to renewable energy; and reforms for improving distribution and economic development.

Panel 11.1  Poverty Reduction and Financial Inclusion in Indochina Countries
Panel 11.2  Migration in the Mekong Sub-Region and Regional Development
Panel 11.3  Interrogating Southeast Asia in Transition
Panel 11.4  Labor Migration, Remittances, and Policies
Panel 11.5  Rethinking ASEAN Integration
Panel 11.6  ASEAN and the Rest
Panel 11.7  Globalization Impact: Environment and Livelihood
Panel 11.8  Regionalization and Globalization of ASEAN - Opportunities and Challenges