"Doing Theory in Archipelagic Southeast Asia"
This seminar, to be convened at the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) conference in Chicago on 19-22 March 2020, will explore what it means to ‘do theory’ in and about Southeast Asia.
Recent initiatives such as the University of California System’s International Consortium for Critical Theory Programs and Asia Theories Network, the University of Hong Kong’s Hong Kong Studies program, and National Taiwan University’s Knowledge Taiwan Collective have aimed to decolonize theoretical frameworks and vocabularies away from dominant sites of knowledge production concentrated in North America, Europe, and Australia. Conscious that shifting the objects and terms of inquiry to Asia can result in new hierarchies, this seminar is part of a larger grant-funded research project, which will involve an international conference, to expand the corpus and scope of critical theory beyond South Asia and Northeast Asia to elsewhere in the region. Although problematic in its provenance and conceptualization, Southeast Asia could serve as a provisional schema for apprehending the diverse cultures of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN, which officially consist of Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Myanmar, Timor Leste, and the Philippines but whose historical and aesthetic linkages have included nearby Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The seminar hopes to consider the following questions:
- How might keywords act as focal points for producing, documenting, and sharing conceptual understandings of the diversity and complexity of social, economic, political, and ecological conditions?
- How might cultural and ethnographic research, which emphasizes local particularity, offer sources for suitable theoretical frameworks?
- How are theories developed ‘abroad’ or ‘elsewhere’ “creolized” through their appropriation, negotiation, and transformation in new contexts?
- How might theory inform the praxis of everyday experience and political action by presenting the analysis of reality and its impasse with new avenues of possibility?
- How do creative producers such as writers, filmmakers, artists, and curators borrow and create theory?