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© Shaping Asia

Cooperation Partners

Bielefeld University

Heidelberg Center for Transcultural Studies

Institut für Sinologie, Universität Heidelberg

Institut für Ethnologie, Universität Leipzig

Institute of Asian and African Studies





Abstracts of the Academic Workshop

Countering Somnambulism through Connectivities, Comparisons, and Collaborations

2nd July 2021; 8:00 am – 12:00 pm (Berlin time)


Re-envisioning “Connection”: Lessons and Interventions on Teaching, Education and Research from Singapore 
Noorman Abdullah & Kelvin Y. Low, National University of Singapore

The pandemic has disrupted the lives of people around the world to connect with one another in a context of social distancing and remote learning. The experiences and lessons from the ongoing crisis to connect and remain connected have been felt unevenly across the globe. As an open and highly connected society whose survival is significantly premised on this characteristic, Singapore has pushed ahead to grapple with these challenges and changes head-on. Discussions have started to circulate on how the “new normal” is one which would render COVID-19 as endemic in all societies and how this would mean re-envisioning teaching, pedagogy, research and funding opportunities. We share and reflect on the experiences of and interventions in Singapore as it remains to be connected within and beyond its borders, and the concomitant efforts that have transpired in a milieu which has fundamentally reconfigured the manner in which we have organised our everyday lives.

How ‘Humanities Across Borders’ (HAB) keeps us grounded
Aarti Kawlra, Academic Director, HAB; International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) Leiden, The Netherlands

Humanities Across Borders is a collaborative education program of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) that commenced in 2016 with 15 partner institutions in Asia, West Africa, Europe, and the United States to jointly explore context attentive, situated learning methodologies. The pandemic has starkly brought to the fore the systemic estrangement of the academic world from society. We are being forced to question the role of universities as autonomous civic agents and ask if they are accountable, not only to their campus communities and wider societal constituencies but also to global emergencies that impinge upon our everyday regardless of our life position. What lessons in academic practice must we learn from the relational elements that bind us across disciplinary, geo-political, socio-economic borders? In this presentation, I will share how HAB connectivities, forged around shared critical thinking, deep feeling, and collective action, kept us grounded during the pandemic.

Thinking of A Global Coworking Space of Knowledge Production: A Reflection on University Education in a (Post)COVID-19 Time
Agus Suwignyo, Department of History, Gadjah Mada University Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, university education in most parts of the world have gone online with a drastic shift in the many aspects of its practices. While the transformation of face-to-face interaction to online classes has shifted the paradigm of higher education, the impeded physical mobility of students and researchers during the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the standard of international reputability of universities, whose quality performance in the past was measured by incoming and outgoing students and researchers at an international level. The aim of this talk is to explore a possible way of creating a global coworking space of university education practices in the (post-) pandemic time. How can an online platform be maximized for creating a global coworking space of knowledge production and university education market? Is a global mobility of students and/or researchers a reliable measure of university performance in the (post-)pandemic context?

Pandemic Proxy-Fieldwork: Solidarity and other Dilemmas of Connectivity and Collaboration in Abandoned Field Sites
Thomas Stodulka, Freie Universität Berlin

COVID-19 widened global and local precarity/privilege gaps. With fieldwork projects coming to a halt since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, many fieldworkers remained in academic lockdown ever since. Many of them funded, some of them with secure tenured jobs, yet the majority with temporally limited employment contracts. When many research foundations and university departments urged ethnographers and fieldworkers to drop their initial methodology of embodied fieldwork and switch to remote and online-ethnography instead, the increasing precarity of so-called ‘field assistants’ and ‘local partners’ remained in the shadows. Many independent researchers, research assistants and consultants in ‘abandoned field sites’ became jobless, many households were left with significant and often existential income gaps. Abstaining from victimizing independent researchers and research consultants in Southeast Asia, this input draws on the predicaments of a multi-sited proxy-fieldwork project in Indonesia in times of contested connectivities of solidarity.


Areal Realities and a Network Approach to Southeast Asia
Christoph Antweiler (Bonn University)

How can we reconciliate diverging episte¬mologies in Area Stud-ies? The south-eastern part of Asia, being extremely diverse – historically a mixing zone with no hegemonic dominant civilisa-tion and currently lacking a truly regional power – provides us with a litmus test for area methodology. Using Southeast Asia as an example and reclaiming a spatial reality, this contribution sys-tematically develops steps towards a realist approach to Area Studies. This is done by demonstrating that the core of Area Studies should be seen in a theory and methodology of socio-spatial relations. With regard to theoretical approaches and methods it is argued that the notion of family resemblance and the method of social network analysis are especially fruitful by allowing for a critically reflected and yet empirically oriented study of areas in Asia. Such an approach may offer methods for analyzing connectivity – e.g. Southeast Asia "in Arabia" as well as internal and ex-ternal comparison, e.g. Southeast Asia with South Asia and East Asia. This talk is an argument for a moderate realism that conceptualises areas as socially constructed but based on empirical research.

Politics of Relationships in the Postpandemic World: A Search of Well-being for Human Co-becomings
Akio Tanabe (Tokyo University)

This talk will redefine the human not as “human being” but as “human co-becoming”. That is to say, humans have always created and transformed their life form together with other-than-humans. The postpandemic age is full of uncertainty. Instead of only controlling risk, however, what we need to develop is the imagination of new potentialities from within the relationships between humans and other-than-humans.

Negotiating filial piety (孝) as form of belonging in comparison to "the West"
Marius Meinhof, Bielefeld University

This talk will address how the notion of filial piety 孝 is negotiated as a mode of belonging in China. Filial piety is broadly understood as some sort of obligation towards one’s parents. I will briefly adress how different government texts and popular texts on the internet argue that filial piety is the basis for different belongings on different levels, such as belonging to (different ideas about) family, belonging to the Chinese nation, belonging to confucian culture or to humanity. Through this, I will show the tacit comparisons drawn by such claims, e.g. how the chineseness of xiao is negotiated through comparison with the West.


Academic Life in Central Asia During Covid-19: Challenges and Opportunities for Collaborations
Zarina Adambussinova (American University of Central Asia in Bishkek); Indira Alibayeva (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/ Almaty Management University); Aliia Maralbaeva (Ala-Too International University in Bishkek); Chiara Pierobon (Bielefeld University); Aijan Sharshenova (OSCE Academy in Bishkek)

Along with the implementation of e-learning, new opportunities for online academic collaborations have emerged in Central Asia in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, Kazakhstani researchers have been engaged in new forms of intersectoral cooperation involving media and public voices as part of the initiatives Gylym Faces and Medical Support. At the regional level, new virtual networks were created such as the Central Asian Academic and Analytical Writing Support Community that enables scholars to informally discuss and work together on their current writing projects. Nonetheless, although online communication tools have favored international exchange and engagement, a delay of planned joint projects and funds both locally and from elsewhere has been registered. At the same time, for German researchers working on Central Asia, collaboration with scholars based in the region has become essential to continue their empirical work due to a lack of ad hoc measures supporting their mobility.

Right Places, (almost) Right Time: Collaborating across Time and Space during Covid-19
Phill Wilcox, Bielefeld University

In early 2021, an urgent need to make a mini ethnographic film led me to conduct visual ethnography with interlocutors in Laos and Congo-Brazzaville. I planned to obtain video footage from participants in both contexts, and then edit these into a coherent video presentation. This paper reflects on the process of attempting this during the pandemic, the challenges, and eventual outcome. I outline here on what I learned from this as a researcher working with video material for the first time. Here, I argue that while ethnography has always required a high level of flexibility, patience and resilience, the pandemic has presented both opportunities and challenges for researchers and research participants to work together in new ways. However, I also reflect how making the film demonstrates existing inequalities in the research process and beyond, many of which have been exacerbated by Covid-19.

On Reduced Somniloquy
Salma Siddique, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

In this presentation, I will reflect on pursuing collaborative exchange across different time-zones and geographies of the pandemic that pose an existential question – ‘collaboration to what end’? Multiple and parallel realities of the Covid-19 pandemic, might produce somnambulism in some and insomnia in others. Amidst this, to do focussed research work, and pursue non-precarious pathways is no less than a luxury, a bit like regular, uninterrupted sleep. Critically analysing this affordance, the readiness to exchange and collaborate, I instead seek a more circumspect approach, based on interjected listening in the first three months of my ongoing research. This interjected listening maybe contrasted with the metaphoric somniloquy we may have found ourselves in over the course of the pandemic.

Building Networks and Creating Solidarities: Few Possible Opportunities of Collaboration in The Time of Pandemic
Nasreen Chowdhory &  Ramneet Kaur, Delhi University

With the surge of the COVID 19 in 2021, and the second wave became an imminent reality, like all other countries, it too hit India very adversely. Images of people rushing to hospitals in their failed attempt to secure a bed with oxygen was a recurring one. While living in Delhi it was evident that the number of people affected by the virus was quite high in and around my location of stay. I noticed the rush for securing oxygen cylinders, both medical or otherwise. The pictures of long queues, creating WhatsApp group message, facebook messages was flooded with inquires on who can help in securing all these essential needs. This presentation is an attempt to re-engage from below. Various civil society bodies stepped in to assume a very proactive role in securing cylinders for others, opening ‘oxygen parlour; drive in oxygen sites etc. One such body was Sikh body that worked relentlessly to aid and facilitate the process. In this presentation I will examine efforts of an organization to understand how this was possible under the most strenuous circumstances.

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