We will be publishing a series of session reports in separate blog posts in the next few weeks. Following these session reports will be an overall reflection piece on the issues raised at the first SEAARC symposium and perhaps another piece on which direction should SEAARC be heading. This is the first report on Session 6: Architectural Networks, Circulations and Translations, written by the session chair Lee Kah Wee, NUS.
One locus of debate during the conference centres on the pluralization of modernity and what that means for scholarship on Southeast Asian architecture. Sir Bannister Fletcher’s “Tree of Architecture” was mentioned during the conference as a teleological picture of world architecture where only the West experienced historical progress while other civilizations were cast as timeless or static. A similar picture created by Modernization Theory has been attacked since the 1970s in favor of Dependency Theory or more South-South dialogue or other trajectories that do not conform to a standard core-periphery structure. Collected as part of the “mobility turn” in the social sciences, these debates remind us that theory production has a geography, and it is important to recognize that certain cities or buildings continue to serve unchallenged as “truth spots”, in the words of Thomas Gieryn, that overdetermine the ways historical materials are interpreted and what count as significant evidence in the first place. Foregrounding mobility as an analytic rather than a given seeks to problematize these invisible canons and replace origin-stories with networks of contingency. In this critical endeavor, the mobility turn in the social sciences has thrown up new concepts and methodologies, some of which feature prominently in the papers of this conference.