Upcoming events

Beyond nationalist historiographies of equatorial Southeast Asia


When: 17.30 - 19.00, 28 February 2017
Where: Seminar Room 446, New Law School Annexe, University of Sydney

After the Second World War, the anti-colonial struggles of Southeast Asians were often cast in terms of national self-determination. In the equatorial part of the region, this resulted in the creation of independent states defined along national lines, such as Indonesia (1945/1949), Malaysia (1957/1963), Singapore (1965), Timor-Leste (1975/2002) and Brunei Darussalam (1984). These new national communities rejected colonial ways of looking at their history, and created their own historiographies in which the nation-state and its leaders played the central role. Half a century later, the limitations of nationalist historiography have become clear. We can gain new and valuable insights into the historical processes of Southeast Asia when we de-centre the nation, and instead examine its position in networks of historical agency that include non-state actors, foreign powers and global economic forces.

Two eminent historians of Southeast Asia, Ooi Keat Gin (Malaysia) and Bambang Purwanto (Indonesia), present two seminars that move beyond the nationalist paradigm.

Professor Ooi in Twists and Turns for Hearts and Minds analyses the extent to which developments in Borneo during the Cold War (1950 – 1990) were influenced by local actors on the one hand, and foreign intervention on the other. This seminar examines the complex agencies at work in this contested zone, avoiding the conventional models that imagine events being wholly controlled either by national leaders or by foreign conspiracies.

Professor Purwanto in Issues in Contemporary Indonesian Historiography surveys the theoretical and methodological problems facing tohistorians in that country. He explains the reasons for the apparent failure of ‘Indonesia-centric’ historiography to adequately fulfill the ethical and intellectual demands of the Indonesian community.

Fungible life: experiment in the Asian city of life

Book discussion with Aihwa Ong


When: 14.30 - 17.00, 31 March 2017
Where: CCANESA Boardroom, Madsen Building (F09), University of Sydney

Co-hosted by the Biopolitics of Science Research Network

In Fungible Life Aihwa Ong explores the dynamic world of cutting-edge bioscience research, offering critical insights into the complex ways Asian bioscientific worlds and cosmopolitan sciences are entangled in a tropical environment brimming with the threat of emergent diseases. At biomedical centers in Singapore and China scientists map genetic variants, disease risks, and biomarkers, mobilizing ethnicized "Asian" bodies and health data for genomic research. Their differentiation between Chinese, Indian, and Malay DNA makes fungible Singapore's ethnic-stratified databases that come to "represent" majority populations in Asia. By deploying genomic science as a public good, researchers reconfigure the relationships between objects, peoples, and spaces, thus rendering "Asia" itself as a shifting entity. In Ong's analysis, Asia emerges as a richly layered mode of entanglements, where the population's genetic pasts, anxieties and hopes, shared genetic weaknesses, and embattled genetic futures intersect. Furthermore, her illustration of the contrasting methods and goals of the Biopolis biomedical centre in Singapore and BGI Genomics in China raises questions about the future direction of cosmopolitan science in Asia and beyond.

Aihwa Ong is Robert H. Lowie Distinguished Chair in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.