Between August 14-16, FASS was delighted to present Forefront Asia: the Signature Series, an annual meeting for expert dialogues on Asia. Each forum in the annual series consists of focused workshops on topics of critical interest, as well as talks designed for a wider audience of scholars, graduate students and interested members of the public. The first workshop in FASS’s Forefront Asia Signature Series, “The Study of Southeast Asia Today: A Dialogue at NUS”, showcased the latest scholarship on Southeast Asia while creating a forum for dialogue and interaction among FASS colleagues working on this region, together with Southeast Asianists from the region and beyond.
The first keynote speaker was Professor Anthony Reid (Emeritus Professor at ANU), whose talk on “Three Reasons Southeast Asian History Matters” drew on three unique historical, geographical and political facets of the region. Firstly Southeast Asia is unique due to the relative equality and autonomy of its women, especially in production and commerce in the period preceding 19th century modernisation. Secondly Southeast Asia warrants study due to its tectonics and the global climate impact eruptions and earthquakes have caused in the past and will continue to do so. Thirdly the region is unique in how the nation-state is only a relatively new import and so a deeper study of the region reveals how the concept of nation-state need not be the narrative core of a place’s history.
Following several paper presentations, Professor Jonathan Rigg (Durham University/NUS), the second keynote speaker presented his paper titled “Chasing after the wind: A cautionary tale of Southeast Asian success”, which addressed how the very success of the region’s economies has, however, bred new challenges and fresh tensions. These challenges, problems and tensions range from seemingly intractable pockets of poverty, to failures of government and governance, questions over the future sustainability of growth, new issues connected with emerging social maladies, environmental degradation and what some commentators perceived to be a declining quality of life.
On day two, Professor Abidin Kusno (University of British Columbia), the third keynote speaker, gave his talk on “City of the Dammed” about flooding, or ‘banjir’ in Jakarta. The talk touched on city planning and architecture while addressing questions such as consciousness of time, space and politics, environmental justice, flood management, representation, climate change and North-South debates.
In between the other papers of the second day, the Dean was also delighted to officially launch the Faculty’s new PhD in Comparative Asian Studies.
The third day of the conference concluded with a roundtable for Journal Editors who represented most of the top journals that cover Southeast Asian and the region.