Online workshop-- Escaping Kakania: Eastern European Travels in Colonial Southeast Asia

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Escaping Kakania

Eastern European Travels in Colonial Southeast Asia


A workshop organized by the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.


4-6 March 2021, afternoons and evenings|Online (Zoom)

Free and open to all, but registration is required.

More info on workshop webpage:



Scholarship on European representations of Southeast Asia in the colonial period largely deals with Western European colonial powers and their particular imagination, political relationships, orientalisms, and racisms. It is on this limited perspective, defined by the empires, that generalizations about “Europe”, “the West”, and “Western” views of “the East”, are usually based. The workshop complicates this picture by focusing on the experiences and writings of people who travelled to/in colonial Southeast Asia from “Eastern Europe”—Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, Serbs, and a Romanian. The workshop brings together scholars of/from different Eastern European and Southeast Asian countries and a variety of specializations, aiming to cross the boundaries of academic enclaves and stimulate non-disciplinary conversations.


Eastern European identities and self-determination were dreamed, negotiated, struggled for in the margins, or under the rule, of great empires, West and East, which aimed to divide the region among themselves, rather like Western European empires did in Southeast Asia. We focus on people from nations that -- rather like most of Southeast Asia -- did not have colonies, were at times (semi-)colonized, and were orientalised in Western perspectives. Yet, to see them as merely “marginal” would be to adopt imperial perspectives. They were Europeans who shared much with colonized people in Asia, but who, especially during their travels or stay in Asia, were/became White and in various ways dependent on the colonial powers.


The workshop thematises the particularity and diversity of the traveller-writers’ experiences and views of themselves (including their sense of belonging to one or multiple nations/empires; their sense of being “European”, “Western”, “Eastern,” etc.; and a variety of other personal and professional affinities); their views of Southeast Asia and its people (both otherness and familiarity); their views of Western Europeans (as fellow Europeans, as the more European Europeans and/or as the other Other); and their attitudes to colonialism. At the same time, we hope to avoid exoticising Eastern Europe, and simplifying its difference from imperial Western Europe. The papers highlight the multiplicity of views, countries, and historical situations – including forms of internal colonialism, orientalism, etc. – and explore how Eastern Europeans navigated between adopting (or fantasizing such adoption) and deviating from colonial identities, narratives and practices.


Kakania, Robert Musil’s name for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, comes from the designation kaiserlich (und) königlich, “Imperial (and) Royal,” in the imperial language commonly abbreviated to k. k. [pronounced kah-kah]. Kaka- is also the children’s word for “pooping” (in German, Czech, Croatian, etc.). The Imperial and Royal / Poo-poo-land refers to the particular Empire, but it is also an attitude, like a childish giggle, to any empire, establishment, identity, mentality, theoretical framework. We evoke Kakania not to delimit scope or impose a framework but to tickle and loosen imagination. Escaping Kakania can be understood in all its poetic and ironic (im)possibilities and contradictions, forgetting neither the creative and emancipatory desires and unexpected encounters, revelations and transformations that may be part of escaping, nor the ways travelers carry Kakania – along with other dreams and nightmares of self and homeland – within them, or recognize it, perhaps as their own k.k., in colonial Southeast Asia.