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Textbook Conflicts in South Asia

Politics of Memory and National Identity

Deepa Nair

The aftermath of World War II saw the emergence of many new nation-states on the Asian geopolitical map and a simultaneous attempt by these states to claim the agency of nationhood and to create an aura of a homogenous national identity. Textbooks have been the most potent tools used by nations to inject an idea of a national memory - in many instances with utter disregard for fundamental contradictions within the socio-political milieu. In South Asia, political sensitivity towards transmission of the past is reflected in the attempts of these states to revise or rewrite versions which are most consonant with the ideology of dominant players (political parties, religious organizations, ministries of education, publishing houses, NGOs, etc.) concerning the nature of the state and the identity of its citizens. This paper highlights the fundamental fault lines in the project of nation-building in states in South Asia by locating instances of the revision or rewriting of dominant interpretations of the past. By providing an overview of various revisionist exercises in South Asia, an attempt will be made to highlight important issues that are fundamental to the construction of identities in this diverse continent.

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Alpa Shah and Sara Shneiderman

This is the introduction to a special section of Focaal that includes seven articles on the anthropology of affirmative action in South Asia. The section promotes the sustained, critical ethnographic analysis of affirmative action measures adopted to combat historical inequalities around the world. Turning our attention to the social field of affirmative action opens up new fronts in the anthropological effort to understand the state by carefully engaging the relationship between the formation and effects of policies for differentiated citizenship. We explore this relationship in the historical and contemporary context of South Asia, notably India and Nepal. We argue that affirmative action policies always transform society, but not always as expected. The relationship between political and socioeconomic inequality can be contradictory. Socioeconomic inequalities may persist or be refigured in new terms, as policies of affirmative action and their experiential effects are intimately linked to broader processes of economic liberalization and political transformation.

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When Roads Cannot Be Used

The Use of Trained Elephants for Emergency Logistics, Off-Road Conveyance, and Political Revolt in South and Southeast Asia

Jacob Shell

This article is about the use of trained Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) for transportation, in particular across muddy or flooded terrain, clandestine off-road transportation, and during guerrilla operations or political revolts. In a sense, these are all in fact the same transport task: the terrestrial conveyance of people and supplies when, due to weather or politics or both, roads cannot be used. While much recent work from fields such as anthropology, geography, history, and conservation biology discusses the unique relationship between humans and trained elephants, the unique human mobilities opened up by elephant-based transportation has been for the most part overlooked as a research topic. Looking at both historical and recent (post–World War II) examples of elephant-based transportation throughout South and Southeast Asia, I suggest here that this mode of transportation has been especially associated with epistemologically less visible processes occurring outside of state-recognized, formal institutions.

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Catherine Mei Ling Wong

In East Asia, climate change as a policy concern has been a late developer. The last decade, however, has seen the mainstreaming of environmental issues in core policy circles, but in the form of market-friendly, pro-industrial development framings. This paper problematizes such environmental framings by looking at the politics of state-led ecological modernization and the institutional reforms that have emerged out of it. It argues that State-led ecological modernization necessarily leads to environmental framings that are too narrowly defined by state and industrial interests - hence the focus on carbon emissions, energy security and the impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The State-driven assumption that society can modernize itself out of its environmental crisis through greater advancements in technological development also ignores the fact that this process often leads to the creation of other environmental and social problems, which in turn undermines the fundamental goals of stability and sustainability. Civil society needs to be given greater space in the policy and framing processes in order to have a more balanced policy approach to environmental reform in a more equitable way.

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Democracy and Vietnam

Visceral Perspectives

Kim Huynh

This commentary considers proceedings from the workshop, “Can the Case be Made for Asian Democratic Theory or Practice?: Local Asian Perspectives,” held in Hanoi in February 2015. Particular attention is paid to the presentations of the two presiding professors, Pham Quang Minh and John Keane, both of whom argued that the Asian democracies of the twenty-first century would and should depart from the Western liberal democratic models of the late twentieth century. They also assuaged some of the visceral sentiments and tensions between the author (a boatperson who fled the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1979) and the local workshop participants (who were avid Vietnamese socialists).

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Muhammad Ayaz Naseem and Georg Stöber

The concept of identity has evolved from an essentialist notion of a dominant group (which largely disregards the existence of plural identities or “patchwork identities” and their contextuality)2 into a notion that recognizes the discursive and fluid constitution of identities that are “constantly in the process of change and transformation.”3 Beyond academic debate about definitions, identity remains a relevant category in politics and society. Identity politics mobilize followers and supporters and may foster nation building. They are seldom unchallenged, for different discourses of identity often struggle for supremacy.

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Lauri Siitonen

There is a possible conflict between two current policy guidelines in post-conflict countries, human security, and state rebuilding. This article analyzes how weak statehood and low human security are mutually interlinked in complex ways in the case of post-conflict Nepal. The analysis is based on economic, political, and social data, recent reports by international organizations and NGOs, as well as on statements by major politicians and political parties. A dilemma can be identified in post-conflict Nepal: in order to remedy weak statehood and decrease the level of crime, the presence of the state in the rural areas needs to be enhanced. Yet people feel mistrust toward the police and state administration, which keep many people marginalized. Therefore external actors, particularly the EU, should strengthen their support for democratization of the state while at the same time keeping an eye on the peace process.

Spanish Existe un posible conflicto entre dos orientaciones de las políticas actuales en los países post-conflicto: la seguridad humana y la reconstrucción del Estado. Este artículo analiza cómo la debilidad estatal y la seguridad humana están mutuamente relacionadas entre sí de manera compleja en el caso del post-conflicto en Nepal. El análisis se basa en los datos económicos, políticos y sociales, en los últimos informes de las organizaciones internacionales y no-gubernamentales, así como en las declaraciones de los más importantes políticos y partidos políticos. Es posible identificar un dilema en el Nepal post-conflicto: con el fin de fortalecer al Estado débil y disminuir el nivel de la criminalidad, es preciso mejorar la presencia del Estado en las zonas rurales. Sin embargo, la gente siente desconfianza hacia la policía y la administración estatal, que mantienen a un gran número de personas en la marginalidad. Por lo tanto los actores externos, especialmente la UE, deben fortalecer su apoyo a la democratización del Estado a la vez que deben estar atentos al proceso de paz.

French Il existe une possibilité de conflit entre les deux actuelles lignes directrices en matière de politiques dans les pays en sortie de guerre, à savoir entre la sécurité humaine et la reconstruction de l'État. Cet article analyse comment un état défaillant et une faible sécurité humaine sont reliés mutuellement de façon complexe dans le contexte d'après-guerre au Népal. L'analyse est basée sur des données économiques, politiques et sociales, des rapports récents d'organisations internationales et d'ONG, ainsi que sur les discours des plus importants politiciens et partis politiques. Un dilemme apparaît dans le cas du Népal : afin de renforcer le pouvoir de l'État et de diminuer les taux de criminalité, la présence de l'État doit être accrue dans les milieux ruraux. Or, la population montre une certaine méfiance envers la police et l'administration publique, instances considérées comme responsables de la marginalisation d'une grande partie de la société. C'est pourquoi des acteurs externes, telle l'Union Européenne, devraient renforcer leur aide à la démocratisation de l'État et surveiller en même temps le processus de paix.

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(Dis-)Embedding Museums

On the Creation of New Urban Museumscapes in Hong Kong and Seoul

Birgit Mersmann

Driven by global economic and cultural competition, Asian megacities seek future-oriented local and global self-representation using cutting-edge museums of contemporary art. This article analyzes the embedding of two vanguard museum projects, the “Museum+” in Hong Kong, China, and the new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, South Korea, into long-term urban planning strategies and concepts. In order to understand the intended purpose and process of how the new museums of contemporary art are devised as public spaces of cultural selfrepresentation and urban identity building, the study monitors the complete design process from the city government’s urban and institutional planning strategies over architectural design to the museum’s mission statement and collection strategy. By comparatively tracing the museum projects in Hong Kong and Seoul, the evidence shows that, although they share a common global cities agenda, their pathways of urban place-making and community-building vary greatly. These variations depend on the historical role and current geopolitical repositioning of each city.

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Robert B. Marks

In nature, tigers have existed only in Asia. Over the millennia, Asian peoples have had much interaction with tigers, and those experiences have come to influence the patterns of everyday life, especially for villagers. In short, humans and tigers have a long history in Asia. Through case studies of China, the Malay world, and India from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, this article argues that Asian rulers used tigers—or more properly, their control of tigers—to enhance their political power, further the reach of central states, and inform their understanding of colonizing European powers.

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Ritika Prasad

Focusing on the wide-ranging scholarship on how railway technology, travel, and infrastructure has affected South Asia‚ this article highlights recent interventions and shifts. It discusses how questions about land‚ labor‚ capital‚ and markets are being increasingly integrated with questions about how railways affected society‚ culture‚ and politics. It also stresses the increasing interest in comparative work‚ both in terms of locating railways within wider structures of transport and mobility as well as analyzing how South Asia’s engagement relates to the global impact of this technology.