AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 146

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Session 146: Intimacies of Cultural/Area Studies (2) - sponsored by Indonesia and East Timor Studies Committee

Organizer and Chair: Ariel Heryanto, Australian National University, Australia

Discussant: Vicente L. Rafael, University of Washington, USA

The panel focuses on the question whether Southeast Asian studies can make a distinct contribution to cultural studies. This core question will be discussed against the broader contexts of the growing intimacies between area and cultural studies. This panel will be organized to complement another panel, focussing on the reverse question whether cultural studies make a distinct contribution to Southeast Asian studies. The broader issue for both panels is whether there is anything (methodological, historical, or material) that deeply connects cultural and areas studies in post Cold War era beyond the casual practice of doing cultural studies on a region for a largely Anglophonic audience residing on the other side of the globe. The overall number of full-time employed faculty members and enrolled students in educational programs specifically designated as Southeast Asian studies has reportedly declined over the past two decades across institutions that used to be the major players in Southeast Asian studies, and located outside Southeast Asia. While a return of the old area studies seems neither possible nor desirable, two related developments are worth investigating. The first is a slow but steady growth of regionally-based area studies involving collaborations of scholars, activists and cultural workers in Southeast Asia. Secondly, there has been a strong interest in cultural studies among those whose work is associated with area studies on and in the region. Each of these developments is complex. The merit of their relationships is open to debate.

Made In Asia? Doing Cultural Studies in the Region
Melani Budianta, University of Indonesia, Indonesia

What are the constraints, conceptual as well as practical, in teaching and doing cultural studies in Asia? What possibilities and complexities does the region offer as a site for collaborative cultural studies projects and as an alternative space for cultural studies praxis? This paper will address those questions, using my personal experience teaching and doing cultural studies in Indonesia and my engagement in a number of inter-Asia endeavors. For teaching and doing cultural studies, the challenge is in grounding spatial and cultural difference. For inter-Asia projects, it is the tricky business of deploying and at the same time critically examining regional identities. The bottom line of the paper is the interrogation of the existence, if any, of “Cultural Studies, Made in Asia”.

Vietnamese Cultural Studies
Mariam B. Lam, University of California, Riverside, USA

In the current postsocialist leaning of Vietnam’s neoliberal market practices, “culture” has become an increasingly instrumental import-export commodity. The growth of information technology in cross-cultural contact ushers along the desire to adopt and participate in an imagined “world culture.” The hosting of increased tourism, international pageantry, and economic summits project an image of progressive multiculturalism toward greater awareness and understanding between diverse peoples and politics. The penetration of Hollywood blockbusters and the Korean wave together with the reverse popularization of local Vietnamese cuisine abroad by Anthony Bourdain and remote Vietnamese beach resorts on the Travel Channel simultaneously overshadow and divert attention from the discrepant and discordant spaces of rapid national economic growth. Culture and media are the terrains of contemporary ideological battle grounds. Within this dense context of globalization, the study of culture and its processes must be reckoned with and understood anew by all scholars of Vietnamese history, politics and economics. Southeast Asian cultural studies, as a field, privileges the intersectional analysis of racial, class and gender politics that have been under-examined in Vietnam studies. Cultural studies approaches are often comparative in nature, across cultures and cultural forms (genre and media). Cultural traffic currently flows within Vietnam, throughout Southeast Asian area studies, and across oceans in very concrete material forms. Examining these processes, their forms, and their participants furthers the internationalization of the field of Vietnamese studies, in order to reveal unique ways in which Southeast Asian cultural history challenges existing theoretical and methodological approaches.

Is There a Southeast Asian Text in This Asian Cultural Studies Debate?
Adam Knee, , China

Recent debates in the overlapping subfields of Asian cultural studies, communication studies, media studies, and film studies have centered increasingly on the need for “de-Westernizaton” in their arenas, a shift conceptualized as comprising not only a self-conscious privileging of Asian subject matters and perspectives, but also as entailing a critical perspective upon dominant Western-originating methods of research and theoretical frameworks, in order to undo the marginalization of Asia. While this has constituted an important shift, this talk will raise the concern that the sub-region of Southeast Asia has gotten short shrift within these discussions, which have been dominated largely by an East and North Asian perspective—that is to say, while combating one form of marginalization, these arguments effect a new marginalization, relegating Southeast Asia to the periphery as it purports to rescue it from such. This presentation will approach the topic at hand initially through an analysis of how Southeast Asia has been figured (and/or has remained occluded) within some of these recent debates, looking in particular at a number of issues of the _Asian Journal of Communication_ that have focused on the topic, as well as a number of important recent anthologies. It will use this analysis to highlight the perils of a new kind of essentialism or chauvinism replacing the old (potentially replicating the problematic framework it seeks to destroy) and then pragmatically suggest ways such a theoretical and methodological impasse might be allayed (in particular by being open to conceptualize texts and contexts as multiply situated).