Category Archives: Events

Event: ASIA TRENDS 2013 (5 Nov @ Nat Lib)


‘Male Modernity’, Puritanism, and the Southeast Asian City

SPEAKER : Professor Anthony Reid, The Australian National University

DISCUSSANT : Professor Jane M. Jacobs, Yale-NUS College, Singapore

CHAIRPERSON : Professor Mike Douglass, National University of Singapore

When?  Tuesday 5 November 2013, 7:00 – 8:30pm

Where?  National Library Building, The Pod Level 16

Modernity did not so much privatize religion and secularize the city as it altered the nature of religious expression. There are some parallels in terms of mentalité between rapidly urbanizing industrial Europe in the 19th and early 20th century, and rapidly urbanizing Southeast Asian ones a century later. In both the newly urban lower middle classes appeared to seek both individual salvation and respectability in puritanical and patriarchal forms. This type of moralistic public piety lost its hold in Europe in the First World War, and was definitely over in the 1960s, but only hit its stride in Southeast Asian cities at about that time. This lecture will review the encounter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries between pre-modern Southeast Asia’s unusually balanced gender pattern and an exceptionally male, puritan, and alien model of modernity in government, business and religion. Although irresistible for western-educated Southeast Asian men, this offered a very poor fit for women accustomed to dominant roles in business. Southeast Asians were therefore judged to have failed the test of modernizing economically in the colonial era. Only the rapid urbanization after 1950 brought a similar dynamic to Southeast Asia as that which had accompanied Europe’s industrial transition a century earlier. We should not be surprised that patriarchy and puritanism then also became marks of piety and respectability in Southeast Asia. The fascinating question would be whether Southeast Asia could nevertheless retain its relatively balanced gender pattern in face of these pressures.


Anthony Reid is a New Zealand-born historian of Southeast Asia. His doctoral work at Cambridge University examined the contest for power in northern Sumatra, Indonesia in the late 19th century, and he extended this study into a book The Blood of the People on the national and social revolutions in that region 1945-49. He is most famous for his two volume book, The Age of Commerce, developed during his time at the Australian National University in Canberra. His later work includes a return to Sumatra where he strongly advocated a historical basis for the separate identity of Aceh. Professor Reid was Professor of Southeast Asia history at University of Malaya (1965–1970) and Australian National University (1970–1999). He became the founding director of the Southeast Asia Center, University of California, Los Angeles, 1999–2002, and then the founding director of Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), 2002-2007. He was Professor of Southeast Asian History and Research Leader at NUS from 2007-2009. Currently, Professor Reid is Professor (Emeritus) at The Australian National University.
Jane M. Jacobs is Professor of Urban Studies at Yale-NUS College of the Liberal Arts, Singapore. She trained as a Human Geographer and researches, publishes and teaches in the fields of urban studies, postcolonial studies, and qualitative urban methods. Professor Jacobs did her undergraduate and Masters training at the University of Adelaide, Australia. While at University of Adelaide she also worked on a national survey of tourist impact on Aboriginal rock art sites. She was awarded her PhD from University College London, where she examined heritage and community based opposition to large-scale urban redevelopment in a rapidly transforming City of London.

Jane Jacobs has taught at UCL, The University of Melbourne and The University of Edinburgh. While in Melbourne she was a founding member of the Institute of Postcolonial Studies and served a term as its Director. Professor Jacobs’ early research was on indigenous rights, and specifically land rights and cultural property activism and identity politics in settler Australia. She published widely in this area, including the co-authored book Uncanny Australia: Sacredness and Identity in a Postcolonial Nation (1998). On occasions she still publishes on indigenous-settler relations and indigenous activism. The main focus of her current research is urban studies. She has published on the postcolonial politics of cities, including her monograph Edge of Empire: Postcolonialism and the City (1996) and her co-edited book Cities of Difference (1998). Most recently her work has focussed on trans/nationalism and high-rise housing knowledges and infrastructures (; comparative urbanism and the relationship between architecture and society. This has resulted in various published papers as well as the co-authored book Architecture Must (MIT Press, Spring 2014) and Architecture and Geography (Routledge, 2014). She shares her name with a very famous, but now dead, urban scholar (the Jane Jacobs who authored, among other things, Death and Life of Great American Cities) and so has become an expert in professional disambiguation.

Admission is free, however, registration is required. Kindly register early as seats are available on a first come, first served basis. We would greatly appreciate if you write to Sharon via email your name, email, organisation/affiliation and contact number.

This event is organized by the ARI’s Asian Urbanisms Cluster.

We hope to see you there. Please see here for further information, or download our ARItrends flyer.

AUC at the 8th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), Macau

Mike Douglass, AUC Cluster Leader, and Kong Chong Ho, Vice Dean of Research at FASS, organized a panel at the 24-27 June 2013 ICAS 8 conference in Macau. The theme of the panel was “Localizing Cosmopolis in a Global Age: The City at the Grass Roots in East & Southeast Asia.”  Papers presented drew from research in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Manila, Surabaya, Hanoi, and Singapore.

The ICAS organization interviewed Mike Douglass to gain an understanding of how his presentation on “From Globopolis to Cosmopolis – Remaking the City from the Grassroots” provided an overview of the panel.

Here is the brief interview:

The topic of urban transition is a significant one considering mass urbanization is increasingly both a regional and worldwide trend. What does your panel aim to discuss?

Our panel focuses on theories and experiences in accommodating the increasing social and cultural diversity accompanying Asia’s urban transition. Its concerns are about how people are able to confront marginalization, exclusion, and inequality through grassroots mobilizations and the production of alternative urban spaces.

You use a couple of interesting terms to describe cities. What does the word “Globopolis” mean?

Globopolis is a term that I put forth to characterize the cities emerging in Asia over the past 20-30 years.  Although variations are significant, they have commonalities that concern us: high and rising inequality, privatization public spaces and corporatization of public institutions, and diminishing opportunities for associational and public life. These cities are being drawn into an ideological shift from the idea of the city as a theatre of social life to a city as a hyper-competitive engine of economic growth and generator of wealth for a creative class. They increasingly depend on migrant and temporary workers who form a flexibly disposable labor force. The results are the elimination of the vernacular city of neighborhoods and communities produced with and by residents in favor of a city of the world’s tallest buildings, mega-global business hubs, vast gated housing enclaves, shopping malls, chain stores and repetitive franchise logos, and the simulacra of city marketing that has little to do with local histories. This is Globopolis. We see it emerging even in the poorest and most remote places in Asia today.

And “Cosmopolis”?

Cosmopolis is used as a term to distinguish the emergent Globopolis from the possibility of a city region, a Cosmopolis, that values diversity, accommodates the stranger on an equal footing with citizens, and has a plenitude of spaces where people can engage in associational life. It is a public city that is sustained through institutions and spaces for participatory decisionmaking, including peaceful contestations. Cosmopolitan cities are those in which people of all walks of life can assert their differences and negotiate them with others and in relation to government and private economic interests. Its culture accepts an idea of inclusion that goes beyond citizenship defined by the nation-state by extending the right to the city to everyone who comes to it. These defining characteristics might be idealistic, we know, but then we can say that Globopolis is a utopian fantasy that is founded on deeply flawed assumptions about its own viability as well as about human flourishing.

You focus on experiences from cities East and Southeast Asia in particular. Why so?

If you mean why not include all of Asia, we have no overarching reason other than the happenstance that our panelists have a long history of collaboration together in these parts of Asia. If you mean why would we focus on Asia more generally, a principal reason would be the context of the urban transition taking place across Asia that is exceptionally compressed in time and is occurring at a particular historical moment of globalization that differentiates it from earlier urban transitions in other world regions in Europe and Latin America as well as in contemporary Africa and the Middle East.  The transition in Asia entails a thorough remaking of cities and social relations in them. However, we are aware of the limitations of differentiating experiences at such a high regional scale. Variations in Asia are substantial, and cities in Asia do share commonalities with cities in other parts of the world. The important point is that we give attention to contextualizing the larger theme of our panel on diversity.

What elements are necessary to achieve more socially just cities?

Social justice is an on-going process, not just an end that can be achieved once and for all.  As such, we need to create openings in institutional and space-forming processes to allow for and peacefully negotiate among contesting voices and their claims about what constitutes social justice.  In summary form, this means that the city must be constituted as a polis of public discourse and decisionmaking over the production and uses of urban space. Such a city will depend on fostering an urban culture of inclusion and accommodation of differences that would hold the conviviality of associational life to be intrinsic to the idea of the good city.

Cluster Achievements

Our cluster leader Mike Douglass has put together a colourful powerpoint on our cluster activities and achievements. Some excerpts:

The Cluster has three research streams — Disaster Governance, Spaces of Hope, and The Vernacular City.

Flyers of our first two CityPossible Film festivals (many more to come):

Aggregated lists of Cluster members’ achievements:

Some pointers on the way forward…

You can download the complete PPT file here.

Further information can be found on ARI’s Asian Urbanisms Cluster website. In particular, please take note of current research projects and upcoming cluster events.

Asian Urbanisms Cluster Meeting & Lunch (Wed 7 August 2013)

Thank you again to all who joined us for our cluster meeting at Bar Bar Black Sheep, Cluny Court.

Present: Mike Douglass (cluster leader), Nausheen Anwar, Tim Bunnell, Stephen Cairns, Marco Garrido, Kong Chong Ho, Yumin Joo, Peter Marolt, Michelle Miller, Rita Padawangi, Tharuka Prematillake (research assistant), Asha Rathina-Pandi, David Strand.

After welcoming the cluster members, Mike Douglass introduced the cluster’s three main research themes: Vernacular City, Disaster Governance, and Spaces of Hope. He also shared that the recent City Possible film festival was a big success, and that future festivals might include other venues to screen the films. Mike also shared the following activities:

1)  Attempting to get a tier 2 grant. Principal investigators for this would be Graig and Mike.

2)  Applications for post-doc and (senior) research fellow positions will be closed on 1 September. Afterwards, Mike will shortlist the applicants and will have a meeting with the cluster members to discuss and make decisions.

3)  In January one post-doc is expected to join the cluster from Japan. He will also assist in the upcoming conference on Disaster Governance in November 2013.

4)  Mike also mentioned that he is currently involved in some action-oriented work in Hanoi. As a result of this project, the government has stopped destroying public markets, and park users now have a voice in park planning.

The cluster members then introduced their own current research foci in turn:

Nausheen Anwar shared that she is mainly working on 2 projects:

1)  A book project for which she is preparing a book proposal, currently titled ‘Mobility, Place and Politics in Globalizing Karachi’. The book focuses on issues of migration, political brokerage, and the role of the state in planning/city making, etc.

2)  Nausheen is also the Principal Investigator of a 26-months long project funded by the International Development Research Centre and Department for International Development under the Safe and Inclusive Cities program. Her project is titled “Gender and Violence in Urban Pakistan,” and is focused on two cities: Karachi and Islamabad. The main thrust of the project is on the discursive drivers of violence, its linkages with gender and infrastructure (sanitation, water, health, transportation).  The project secured funding of Canadian $500,000 in March 2013.

Nausheen is also working on a project titled “Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema” which connects with the cluster’s broader Spaces of Hope theme. In this she is a Co-Principal Investigator. Nausheen has received SGD $5,000 from ARI and US$25,0000 from the United States Institute of Peace for this project. The project is based in Karachi and focuses on three different, ethnically and religiously heterogeneous, low-income neighbourhoods. It aims at consolidating mobile video footages taken by people on their cell phones.  The first phase was launched in June and will continue until early January 2014.  Some delays are expected due to Karachi’s law and order situation.

Stephen Cairns is currently exploring the incredible environment he is living in for a project on Protection in Urban Planning. It is a 1-to-1 prototype building project based in Jakarta and Batam.

Kong-Chong Ho is currently working on two projects. One is with HDB and the other is on livability, sustainability and spaces encountered.

David Strand recently conducted a seminar titled A” Walk in the Park: Singapore’s Green Corridor in Light of Manhattan’s High Line.” He mentioned that this project is not yet completed. Currently he is trying to make contacts with relevant people for interviews in order to understand what happened to the green corridor between 2010 until now.

Michelle Miller is currently working on two main cluster events:

1)  International conference on Disaster Governance: the Urban Transition in Asia, 7-8 November 2013.

2)  International workshop on Flooding in Urban Asia, 20 January 2014. This will be co-sponsored by the Pacific Affairs journal.

The two events are intended to widen the spectrum of networks. Michelle also mentioned that the Australian National University is planning to sign a MoU with ARI to work on disaster networks in Asia. China’s Nanjing University also intends to collaborate in the future. Mike emphasized that the word ‘governance’ is used to include civil society and suggested that the projects  are intended to bridge the humanities and social sciences.

Michelle is also continuing her work on the following projects: Decentering Nation (with Tim Bunnell), and Situating Decentralization in an Urban Milieu.

Asha Rathina-Pandi mentioned that her dissertation was on the impact of blogs and media on political activities in Malaysia. At ARI she intends to work on publications regarding the fall of the Malaysian political party and do more work on physical (urban) space. Asha will be presenting a paper on linkages between physical and online spaces for the conference titled “Conceptualizing Cyber-Urban Connections in Asia and the Middle East” which will be held in January 2014.

Yumin Joo is an assistant professor at the LKY School of Public Policy and only recently joined ARI as an associate. Her interest is on urbanization in Asia and focuses mainly on a) urbanization (mega events), to understand what they do for secondary cities; b) (together with LKY school colleagues) Asia’s Global Cities: Mayors, Networks, and Global Status,” which compares three global cities, namely, Tokyo, Seoul and Bangkok; and c) housing policies of Korea and Singapore.

Rita Padawangi mentioned that she co-organized a workshop with Tim Bunnell and Mike Douglass on Geographies of Aspiration, held in July 2013. This was organized by ARI and the Cities Research Cluster at FASS in NUS. The purpose was to better understand how cities are constituted through geographically extended relations. Rita is planning to have a conference in July next year. She mentioned that she would now focus on publications pertaining to the cluster’s Vernacular City theme.

Tim Bunnell will be co-organizing a workshop on Friendship and the Convivial City in September. It aims at initiating a research agenda around the social and spatial configurations of friendship, which have implications for urban dwellers’ experiences of city life, and in opening up potentialities for new ways of living together with diversity. Tim is also completing his book manuscript entitled, “From World City to the World in One City: Liverpool through Malay Lives” for the IJURR-Wiley-Blackwell book series on Studies in Urban and Social Change. He is also working on a research project (Ministry of Education, Tier 2) on “Aspirations, Urban Governance and the Remaking of Asian Cities.” Tim is the principal investigator of it and his own research is conducted in the city of Solo, Central Java, Indonesia.

Peter Marolt is currently working on a couple of projects. They include a (second) co-edited volume on Online China: locating society in online spaces (for Routledge); an edited book project on Global Insurgencies (with Mike and Rita); collaborating on the Urban Aspirations research project (PI: Tim Bunnell); an upcoming conference on “Conceptualizing Cyber-Urban Connections in Asia and the Middle East” (with Asha). Peter is also working on a book manuscript titled Cyber China: making space for change.

Marco Garrido’s work focuses on the impact of emerging patterns of spatial inequality in Metro Manila on class relations and the political views of the urban poor and middle class. He intends to connect a spatial configuration of class interspersion with political polarization – specifically, the resurgence of populism on the one hand and, on the other, the rise of a reformist politics.

The convivial lunch meeting ended at 2.30pm.

Notes of meeting recorded by: Tharuka Prematillake

Film Festival : CityPossible II

The CityPossible II Film Festival

Date:  02 Jul 2013
Time:  18:00 – 21:30
Venue:  The Substation Theatre, 45 Armenian St, Singapore 179936
Organisers:  Dr PADAWANGI Rita, Prof DOUGLASS Michael
Download Files: Program and Sypnosis

This event is co-organised by FASS Cities Research Cluster, Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA), ARI Asian Urbanisms Cluster, and the Future Cities Lab.

The CityPossible Film Festival is back for the second time in Singapore! We continue to ask the question: What is the possible city?

Current urban development trajectories encourage commercialisation to extract profit from various layers of the increasingly urban society. Meaningful communities are challenged to find space, time, and resources when they are diverted to focus on lifestyle and consumption within placeless architectures. Unfettered capitalism pushes cities to become engines of growth rather than theatres of social life. The CityPossible Film Festival brings together the stories of people who have joined together to resist the loss of their life-spaces and to remake the city through their own visions of what could be. From the street corner to the metropolis, these films inspire us as we celebrate the human spirit through cinema.

This is held in conjunction with the Workshop on “Asian Urbanisms in Theory and Practice: The Future of the Vernacular City” on 1-2 July 2013.

Admission is free, please register your interest with Ms Rachel Devi Amtzis (, if you’d like to attend, and indicate your name, email, designation, organization and contact number.

Please note that seats are available on a first-come-first served basis and we will not be able to allow entry once the theatre is full.

Workshop Convenors:
Prof Mike Douglass
Asia Research Institute and Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore
Dr Rita Padawangi
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Please visit this link or the SubStation website for more information on the above film festival.

Conference : The Future of the Vernacular City

Asian Urbanisms in Theory and Practice: The Future of the Vernacular City

Date:  01 Jul 2013 – 02 Jul 2013
Venue:  ValueLab, Future Cities Laboratory, CREATE Building 6th Floor, U Town NUS @ Kent Ridge
Organisers:  Dr PADAWANGI Rita, Prof DOUGLASS Michael, Dr BUNNELL Tim

Co-organised by the FASS Cities Research Cluster, Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA), ARI Asian Urbanisms Cluster, and the Future Cities Lab

This workshop will bring together scholars in the region to assert the relevance of urban theories in practice, followed by a special focus on the vernacular city. This workshop will work towards developing an urban theory that is grounded in the complexities, diversities, and richness of cities, particularly in Asia. The separation between social and cultural emphasis in urban theories and the practicality of financial and economic considerations in urban policies is problematic and needs to be addressed. This workshop taps into the resources and the network of the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA) that has recently started working on building urban knowledge in Asia (April 2012). In particular, this workshop will address the following three themes:

1. The Idea of the City
What is the city? The disconnect between urban theory and urban policies stems from different visions of what constitutes the city, what the city should be, and how it should function. This theme will come up with an epistemological approach to cities by looking at how knowledge of Asian cities is acquired and shaped, and by whom. The conscious move to represent Asian cities will provide updates to and will reshape urban theories to increase their relevance to broader sets of urban realities.

2. Cities by and for the People
The focus on economic growth in many developing cities has often left behind the people dimension. There have been efforts to promote participatory approaches, but eventually these approaches are secondary to financial considerations. To reassert the importance of the city as a social and cultural reality, there needs to be a thorough examination of urban residents’ opportunities and challenges in shaping Asian cities. Residents’ participation can be through various levels of participation in decision-making processes or hands-on actions in building their own spaces in the city. The objective is to integrate the theoretical importance of civil societies in determining their urban realities. This highlights the people’s role of in crafting urban places in the form of action, decision-making and policies in the actuality of Asian cities.

3. The Future of Cities
This theme will address the critical issues that define urban life and the future of urbanisation in Asia. The discourse on future cities has been much dominated by technological imaginations and utopias that confines humanities and social sciences approaches in projecting the future of cities to empirical statistics. However, technological developments are dependent upon how those technologies are socially derived, politically framed, and culturally accepted. It is important to revive the importance of urban theory to construct a holistic view of the future of cities that addresses the built environment, infrastructures, and the socio-cultural fabric.

Please visit this link or this link for more information on the above workshop.

The CityPossible Film Festival

In conjunction with our conference, we have organized a film fest. The screening will take place on Tuesday 4 December from 6 to 10pm, at the SubStation in Singapore.

Our point of departure was: What is the possible city? Today the vision of a city is all too often filled with promotions of placeless architecture at inhuman scales and landscapes of nowhere that relentlessly diminish the public city as it gives way to privatized zones of franchised consumption and corporate management. The CityPossible FilmFestival brings together the stories of people who have joined together to resist the loss of their life-spaces and to remake the city through their own visions of what could be. From the street corner to the metropolis, these films inspire us as we celebrate the human spirit through cinema.

List of films (film programme available here):

by Mike DiGregorio (25 min)

by Shashi Ghosh Gupta(8:19 min)

by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh (3 min)

by Justin McGuirk (2 min)

by Zeynep Uygun (14 mins)

by Beatrice Dina (1:30 min)

by Tanguy Malibert & Quentin Largouët (5 mins)

by Mike Aristomenopoulos (7:30 min)

by Michael Douglass and Henry Mochida (26 min)

by Maple Razsa and Pacho Velez (54 min)

Admission is free.

Dialogic Conference on Global Insurgencies: (re)making the Public City in Asia

On 3 and 4 December we are running our long-planned dialogic conference on Global Insurgencies – Remaking the Public City in Asia.

Brief description:

In Asia and beyond, we are witnessing a sea change of the idea of the city that is fundamentally altering prospects for a shared urban future. In contrast to the long held idea of the city as a form of collective social life with governance for the common good and industries and markets in service of social needs, we now see the city portrayed as an “urban sector” that is an “engine of growth” with government in service of a corporate economy as maker of wealth that is highly uneven in its distribution of income and assets. Driven by corporate interests, governments around the world are willingly or unwittingly propagating this narrative and its urban intentions by selling off vital public spaces and facilitating the construction of ever larger privatized zones for business complexes, exclusionary living and consumption. Vernacular architecture, historic sites, lower and middle-class neighbourhoods and local commercial spaces are lost in this corporatization process.

This dialogic conference aims to bring together new and established scholars to discuss and integrate empirical findings and conceptual understandings of the ways in which corporatization and insurgencies invoke the remaking of the public city. These invocations go in two main directions, and we welcome papers that—while remaining sensitive to emplaced specificities in Asia—speak to at least one of these two key issues:

1) Corporate Capture and Undermining of the Public City

How does the corporate economy appropriate, control and alter urban space? How does the privatization of urban public space affect civil society across Asia in general, and the social construction of insurgent spaces in particular? What does this mean for conceptualizations of social learning or collective action for socio-political or institutional change?

2) Projects to Remake the Public City

How do diverse civil society groupings across Asia respond to the intersections of corporate and government power as they are manifested in the production and control of urban space? What kinds of alternative projects are appearing from the grassroots to counter the hegemony of the corporatization of city life and economy? How do these projects claim public spaces and re-image life spaces and the meaning of place? How do we discover and analyze such alternative “spaces of hope”? As they tend to be small-scale, are they destined to be ephemeral or can they scale up to larger and sustainable contributions to remaking the public city?

As we live in a world in which physical space and cyberspace have become interdependent and inseparable dimensions of political consciousness and activity, we encourage participants to reflect on how various actors utilize the Internet and social media to propel – or hinder – the remaking of the public city through the production of urban spaces as well as bringing forth contributions to participatory governance. We also invite elaborations on how diversely originated, often small-scale and local aspirations, initiatives, movements, or institutions might inform urban planning, policy, and governance.


Conference Convenors:

Prof Mike Douglass
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Dr Peter Marolt
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Dr Rita Padawangi
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

The programme is available here.

This Dialogic Conference is co-organized by the Asia Research Institute and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS.