A Working Concept of Inter-Asia Research

We conceptualize “InterAsia” as an analytic that focuses on the ways that flows of people, objects, practices, and ideologies across time and space produce our objects of analysis in an imagined “Asia.”  We aim to think in terms of “Asia as process,” which would include analyses of the connections as well as tensions and exclusions involved in the processes of creating “Asia” from the ground up.  In this sense, our task is to examine the situated techniques and strategies by which Asian interconnections are made imaginable and serviceable for particular ends, and what its exclusions and blind-spots (political effects) might be.

Under this framing, there are several strands of possible inquiry:

(1)   Use of historically-grounded forms of analysis on global connections: Study how “Asia” is constructed and deployed by particular actors at particular times in history, attending to the inclusions and exclusions that happen at various scales in this process.  These approaches might also include traces of past inter-Asian connections in contemporary networks.

(2)   “Asia” as an explanatory narrative or myth that people employ to realize particular interests and aspirations.  Examine the various imaginaries of “Asia” that people invoke to connect different places and people, and to what ends and effects.  In this approach, we would need to be vigilant of essentialisms, e.g. saying that there is something “Korean” in the spread of Korean pop culture in Southeast Asia, or that there’s something “Asian” in Korean soap opera’s appeal to Burmese audiences.

(3)   Trace connected phenomena around the world that constitute “Asia,” and the exclusions that happen in the process.  This method would attend to the power dynamics, truth-claims, contingencies, and inconsistencies that make connections with and across “Asia”—however that is invoked by people in that moment of connectivity and exclusion—possible only in fleeting and uneven ways.

(4)   Attend to the internal divides within assumed units of analysis in “Asia.” Asia is divided in more ways than it is unified, and yet, it still appears as unified at particular junctures in time and space. Thus, inter-Asian analyses would need to look at urban-rural, class, gender, race, and other divides that fracture nation-states or regional imaginaries of “Asia” along different scales.  That is, for example, how is the deployment of “Asia” by scholars as well as our informants influenced by urban-rural hierarchies?

A recurring issue in all of these approaches is the question of where and when “Asia” begins and ends, and how to conceptualize its simultaneous elasticity and boundaries, ambiguity and fixity, stratification and integration.