Inter-Asian Legalities

Valerie  Yeo's picture

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Call for Papers
August 31, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Asian History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Law and Legal History, Social History / Studies, Urban History / Studies

Workshop on Inter-Asian Legalities
12-14 January 2023, Singapore


This workshop will consider the contemporary realities and historical foundations that legal systems and cultures are built upon in Asia. It responds to a conundrum that entails the reconceptualization of Asia as a set of interconnected processes: as borders are being crossed more easily than ever before, abetted by technological advancements in digital infrastructure, local legal regimes and actors continue to maintain their socio-political and territorial resonance. We time this workshop at the moment when the globe is bouncing back from a health pandemic and restrictions on travel has shaken the assumptions of a globalized world. It is thus a useful juncture to pause and reflect upon transnational legalities and governance structures, which have been disrupted, but remain in effect across the Asian region (see, for example, Ho, 2017; Kingsley, 2021).

The workshop contributes to social-legal studies, area studies and urban studies by foregrounding “Inter-Asia” as a mode of interdisciplinary work that privileges mobility, relationality and porosity (Chua, Ken, Ho, Ho, Rigg & Yeoh, 2019). First, it highlights how transnational legalities operating at different scales across Asia are underpinned by a fabric of governance that weaves state and non-state actors. Both state and non-state actors work through different institutions and regulatory frameworks that challenge traditional notions of jurisdiction and applicable substantive law while illuminating existing schisms (Kingsley, 2018).  Recognizing the heterogeneous nature of governance is critical as there has been an acceleration of infrastructures – physical, digital and social – of multi-scalar connections over the last two decades (for a discussion of social infrastructures, see Elyachar, 2010). The sphere and construction of law is being redrawn, blending non-state local rules, domestic state laws, international law, and privatised transnational law (based on contractual relationships).  By showing how such processes are often carried out in plural legal environments, we identify and analyze the necessary work carried out by legal intermediaries (von Benda-Beckman, 2021). It is these legal intermediaries that create new, and heterogeneous, fabrics of governance.

Second, the workshop brings history to bear on the present. The fabric of governance that has emerged today has deep historical roots (Duara, 2010; Hussin, 2002). For sure, businesses – engaged in both legal and illegal activities – are being transformed and the challenges from climate change to pandemics require new kinds of legal response and modes of practice. However, to interpret contemporary Asian circumstances we need to recognise our legal realities are built on historical foundations and long-standing ideational, and systemic, foundations (Laffan, 2011; Yahaya, 2020). Acknowledging these historical foundations reorient the frames of reference that are often taken for granted (such as Western models of liberal jurisprudence) as well as bring to surface the geographies of development that appear to have faded away in the present. For example, maritime trade networks from the Arabian Gulf through the Bay of Bengal to the great ports of Southeast Asia and beyond, have created a sea of documented, and relational, legal connections and these are replicated on the maritime and inland trade routes today (Bishara, 2017). Colonial law and juridical principles continue to haunt the contemporary, revealing the uneven trajectories and strategic use of law in different Asian polities.

Finally, the workshop recognises that the infrastructures of legal connectivity end up in urban centres that connect and disconnect different parts of the world. As scholars of global cities (Appadurai, 1990; Sassen, 2001) have shown, the international division of labour and the concentration of global corporate power has produced urban centres where the actual work of globalization is done. The fabric of governance that involve state and non-state actors as described above find specific expression in these centres – headquarters of international organizations and law firms, meeting grounds for legal mediation and networking, and “liveable” cities for the social reproduction of global elites. Yet, at the same time, global cities are not totally disembedded from local jurisdictions, which have strong territorial fixity and whose specific laws may or may not conform with what these experts prescribe for others. 

It is into this porous socio-political and governance environment that we have today’s grand challenges, whether they be environmental, health or mercantile. Asia’s legal and governance interconnections are, therefore, pragmatic and unavoidable. They are at the heart of Inter-Asian connections and legalities. 

Consequently, this workshop will consider four questions:

  1. How should we define Inter-Asian legalities? What activities, ideas and histories give meaning to this concept?
  2. What state and non-state actors, institutions and rules create the strands of the fabric of governance weaving its way across Asia?
  3. How do our disciplinary orientations colour the way we interpret the modes of connectivity and the actors who participate in Inter-Asian legalities?
  4. In an interconnected Asia, how does the built environment, spatial factors and geographic parameters effect law, governance and social order?


To participate, please send your paper proposal, which should include a title, an abstract (200 words maximum) and a brief personal biography of 100 words to by 31 August 2022. Successful applicants will be notified by mid-September 2022.

Panel presenters will be required to submit drafts of papers (6,000) words by 12 December 2022. These drafts will be circulated to fellow panellists and discussants in advance. Drafts need not be fully polished. Indeed, we expect that presenters will be open to feedback from fellow participants.

Each participant will be assigned the role of discussant for another participant’s paper. During the 2.5 day workshop, authors, discussants, and participants will meet in-person and on Zoom.


A/P Maitrii Aung-Thwin
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

A/P Lee Kah-Wee
Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore

Dr Jeremy J. Kingsley
Swinburne Law School, Swinburne University of Technology

Contact Info: 

Valerie Yeo
Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore

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