Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
Maximising Australia's Asian Knowledge
September 2009 | ISSN 1449-4418 | for the plain copy (no images) of this issue please click here

Sponsored by ARC Asia Pacific Futures Research Network

In this issue:

From the Editor

Two recent elections are likely to have a significant impact on their regions. In Afghanistan, the outcome of the presidential election on 20 August is still unclear, mired in allegations of fraud which, says Nematullah Bizhan, could lead to further instability in the country. Japan’ elections on 30 August brought about a historic political shift, with the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party swept from power by the Democratic Party of Japan. Purnendra Jain examines the reasons behind the DPJ’s stunning victory, and the challenges ahead for the new government.

The ASAA’s flagship journal Asian Studies Review could be in for some changes under new editor Peter Jackson, who talks about what we can expect to see in coming issues. While peer-review journals such as ASR continue to be the preferred means of publishing for most academics, challenges are arising from a new quarter—the academic blog. We talk to the founders of New Mandala, Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly, about their ‘experimental enterprise’ and the growing role of blogs as a forum for academic exchanges.

David Hill from Murdoch University tells us what he is doing to reverse the decline in Indonesian studies and language programs in Australian universities, and Michele Ford looks at the role of labour NGOs in the new Indonesia.

Gerry Groot asks whether we have the right strategies for making Australia more Asia-literate, and suggests a different approach may be more effective. Dean Chan reviews the latest performance work by Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto. We also profile the ASAA Council’s new West Asia representative, Minerva Nasser-Eddine, and our student of the month, Tamara Nair, talks about India’s dynamic environmentalism movement, and her field of research.

Allan Sharp

In the News


The recent Afghan presidential elections demonstrated a shift to a broader national agenda that will help the longer-term nation-building process. But, says Nematullah Bizhan, fraud allegations could undermine the legitimacy of the process, leading to either political instability or a second round in the election.

When the US military overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, a number of prominent Afghans met soon after in Bonn, under UN auspices, to agree on a plan for governing the country.

The ‘Bonn Agreement’ resulted in the establishment of the Afghan Interim Authority in December 2001 with a six-month mandate, the holding of the Emergency Loya Jirga (Traditional Grand Council), and the two-year Transitional Authority, after which elections were held.

Despite the devastation of infrastructure, human capital and the economy after 24 years of continuous conflict, Afghans’ hopes for a brighter future were again restored, and they stood by the new administration, welcoming the reforms and, military and civil efforts to stabilise and rehabilitate the country.

Soon after the collapse of the Taliban and the establishment of the Afghan Interim Authority and Transitional Authority, Afghanistan enjoyed a relatively more secure environment than it does today, and it was assumed the country would be moving to a better and more stable future. Some progress has been made in creating a macro-economic environment conducive to economic growth, building roads, school enrolment and access to basic health services. Yet, this has been overshadowed by corruption, insecurity, empowerment of warlords, existence of mafia groups and ‘black’ income from poppy cultivation.

Over time, the security efforts led by the coalition forces have proved to be less effective, and civilian causalities have been high. The fragmentation of the international community, and the internal strife within the Afghan government, has enabled the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to gain momentum.

According to the Asia Foundation, 64 per cent felt that the country was moving to the right direction in 2004, but this fell dramatically to 38 per cent in 2008.

The 20 August 2009 presidential election has been a big challenge for Afghans, with the Taliban intensifying their suicide-bombing and rocket attacks before and during polling day, killing ordinary Afghans and members of Afghan security and international security forces. Nevertheless, the election happened—and while the final result has yet to be determined, the outcome will be critical for the country’s political stability.

Afghans hoped that the election would bring momentum to improvements in their current situation and revitalise the government in order to tackle growing problems such as poverty, insecurity, corruption and coordination with donors for better use of international assistance. This hope gave them the courage to vote for their future, despite Taliban threats.

The 2004 presidential election had a 70 per cent voter turnout, but only 38 per cent turned out in 2009 because of security threats by the Taliban. Persistent allegations of fraud—mainly against incumbent president Hamid Karzai—may undermine the political legitimacy of the process and add to the already unstable and uncertain political and security situation.

According to Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IECA), the preliminary results gave Karzai victory, with 54.6 per cent of the vote; his major challenger, Dr Abudullah Abdullah, secured only 27.8 per cent. This has still to be officially confirmed. Recently the Election Complaint Commission (ECC) issued an order to void the results of 83 polling stations (600–700 votes for each station) in three provinces.

The IECA was asked to recount about 10 per cent of the votes.

At this stage, political stability remains the country’s top priority. If the recount affects the preliminary result, the election will go to a second round, depending on the number of votes voided and how acceptable that will be to key players. It is also possible that the country could fragment further. Either way, it will add to the growing crisis.

The legitimacy of the election process aside, the key will be how the new government addresses the growing challenges and remains committed to fighting corruption, reducing poverty, creating more jobs, fighting narcotics, strengthening the state and its capacity, improving good governance and maintaining security. This will not happen without the support of the international community and ordinary Afghans.

The persistent shift of the ‘international community’ strategy in Afghanistan and the lack of a long-term strategic vision and consensus have left the state weak and given the Taliban and Al-Qaeda momentum to reorganise and threaten the country and its development efforts. With poverty and unemployment now at an alarming rate, the growing insecurity diverts resources from development and social protection, multiplying human crises around the country. To avoid this, Afghanistan deserves a better strategy, committed government, and clean hands.

Although an election does not necessarily mean that the country has achieved full democracy, it is an important step towards building social capital and public confidence, and remains the key to sustaining the democratic process. In this process, the champions are those committed to democratic values. The recent election demonstrated that elections can be difficult, but possible. This presidential campaign has demonstrated a shift from a post-civil war, ethno-nationalism culture to a broader national agenda that will help the longer-term nation-building process.

The fraud allegations could undermine the legitimacy of the process, leading to either political instability or a second-round in the election. The IECA and the ECC need to address this rationally and transparently to protect the rights of ordinary citizens and to restore their confidence.

Nematullah Bizhan is PhD scholar in Political Science and International Relations, Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at The Australian National University.


Expectations are high for Japan’s new Hatoyama Government, but fixing the many challenges that have confronted the country over the past two decades will be a formidable task, says Purnendra Jain.

The 30 August general election in Japan has produced a historic political shift. The long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) performed shockingly poorly after its landslide victory in the last general election held in 2005. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), on the other hand, performed stunningly by sweeping 308 of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament.

DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama was elected as Japan’s prime minister on 16 September. This is only the fourth time since the formation of the LDP in 1955 that a non-LDP leader takes the political helm in Japan.

In the 1993 general election, the LDP lost its majority in the lower house for the first time. Morihiro Hosokawa followed by Tsutomu Hata served as prime ministers of a short-lived fragile coalition of opposition parties. The LDP returned to power in alliance with other opposition parties in 1994 and soon consolidated its dominant position, even though it had to accept briefly a socialist leader, Tomiichi Murayama, as prime minister.

The LDP reached its political climax in recent years under ‘reformist’ Junichiro Koizumi (2001–2006). But his neo-liberal and Thatcher-style policy prescriptions alienated many of his high-ranking LDP colleagues and produced very few results towards solving the economic and social challenges confronting Japanese society. Indeed, social and economic disparities in Japan became even more serious under his leadership. His three successors, each serving for about a year as prime minister, could do nothing to arrest the prevailing social and economic woes. It is not surprising then that voters took the bold decision of punishing the party almost perpetually in government and giving the DPJ a chance.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has selected his party executives and cabinet members with great diligence. He has given the task of party management to the veteran politician, strategist and tactician Ichiro Ozawa, who stepped down as leader in April due to a funding scandal involving a senior aide. Naoto Kan has been given the task of achieving DPJ’s pledge of reducing the influence of bureaucrats on policy and budget formulation by appointing him as minister in charge of the National Strategy Bureau—a new body in charge of economic, finance, science and technology policies—whose brief is to set out budgets and key policy directions.

The DPJ has invited two smaller parties—the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party—to form a tripartite coalition. Leaders of these two parties have been given one ministerial post each. Although these political parties have only a tiny number of members in the lower house, their cooperation is essential for the smooth passage of bills as the DPJ does not hold a simple majority in the upper house of parliament, whose role in establishing legislation is crucial.

The hope is that the Hatoyama government will produce some good policy outcomes. It is of course not easy for any new government to fix so many challenges that have confronted Japanese society over the last two decades. It becomes even more difficult for a party with no previous experience of running government and a party that aims to change long traditions like reducing the influence of bureaucrats in policy and budget formulation.

What is essential is that the DPJ leadership is able to convince the voters that the new government is honest and genuinely working towards achieving the pledges and promises it made during and before the elections—that it is a party that will make a difference to the people of Japan.

While opinion polls and other surveys will inform us of the public perception of the new government from time to time, the first political test will take place in July 2010 when half of the upper house seats will be up for elections.

If the DPJ can win a majority in this house, it will then have even a greater mandate to form policy and pass legislation.

As secretary-general of the party and the chief electoral strategist, Ozawa’s one eye will be on the next upper house elections while the other will be closely watching all party members, including some 143 first-time DPJ parliamentarians in the lower house.

Coordinating policy approaches within a DPJ that consists of members from different political backgrounds is already a formidable task. Added to this is the challenge of policy coordination with the two other coalition partners that hold different stances on some key policies such as Japan–United States relations.

The party also needs to maintain transparency and accountability, and can’t afford the luxury of the LDP, whose politicians very often got away lightly with financial and sexual scandals and political gaffes. Japanese voters are keeping a much closer eye on the DPJ than they ever did on the LDP.

The foreign diplomatic community in Japan and major powers globally are also keenly watching the political change in Japan and what it might mean for the world. While relations with the United States will remain the cornerstone of Japan’s foreign policy, the DPJ wishes to establish a ‘more equal Japan-United States ties’ and would seek some changes in the status of US forces stationed in Japan.

The party has declared to seek better relations with Asia, China in particular, and proposes an inclusive East Asian community with the possibility of a monetary union in the long term. Here is an opportunity for Australia to work closely with the new government in Japan in establishing a regional community. While Japan is Australia’s largest export destination and second largest trading partner, Australia–Japan relations have cooled in recent years. The new government in Japan provides a fresh opportunity for Australia to forge closer relations and work bilaterally towards a regional community to secure greater prosperity, peace and stability.

Purnendra Jain is Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Adelaide Centre for Asian studies and is Convenor of the 18th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia.



The new editor of Asian Studies Review, Peter Jackson, talks about his plans for the journal.

Peter Jackson is not one to shy away from a challenge. As a pioneer of studies in gay, lesbian and transgender cultures in Asia, Associate Professor Jackson admits that at times his path in that field has not been easy, both with some fellow academics and research-funding bodies.

Now he has taken on a new challenge—as editor of the Asian Studies Association of Australian (ASAA) journal, Asian Studies Review (ASR). Appointed to the role last January, Jackson, who is also Convenor of the Division of Pacific and Asian History at the Australian National University, is working with outgoing editor Maila Stivens on the transition, before assuming full responsibility for the journal at the beginning of next year.

‘Maila has done truly excellent work, particularly in working with our publisher Taylor and Francis in bringing the journal online and creating an internet-based submission and editing process,” he said. ‘Under her tenure, the number of downloads from libraries has virtually doubled. The journal is being more widely cited, and we’re getting many more submissions than we used to, particularly internationally.’

From its beginnings as an ASAA newsletter several decades ago, ASR has moved from having a strong Australian focus to become a genuinely international journal, particularly under Maila Stivens and her predecessor Kam Louie. Jackson intends to continue with the internationalisation of the journal.

‘There are a lot of Asian Studies journals out there now, and we’re in the process of defining our niche in that academic market,’ he said. ‘ASR has evolved to look at issues of modern Asian history, culture and society. And although we don’t do economic-measurement articles, we’re also interested in the economies of Asia as they interact with society, culture and history.

‘Historically, we’ve had regional editors, from Japan, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and now Korea, whose job has been to edit and oversight the peer review process for articles on their region. This will continue, but with the growth in globalisation, transnational and media studies, particularly among younger scholars, an increasing number of papers don’t fit into any one particular country, or even a region. Consequently, I’ve introduced two thematic areas—Transnational Asia, or what used to be called General Asia, and Diasporic Asia.’

With more and more books on Asia being published, Jackson also has plans for the ASR’s book review section. ‘The regional and thematic editors don’t have time to look after editing as well as book reviews, so we’ve established new positions of review editors for each region and theme,’ he said. ‘Another planned innovation is to introduce review essays, where we commission a reviewer to engage four or five books on a theme and base an essay around them of 3000–4000 words. This will be in addition to our usual book reviews.’

ASR readers can also expect to see more ‘guest’ issues. ‘With fewer publishing houses being interested in the traditional edited collection—produced from conferences, workshops, etc.—journals are becoming an increasing site for what used to be guest-edited collections,’ Jackson said.

‘Over the past couple of years the ASR has been receiving a growing number of applications and interest in special issues. Our publishers have found that ‘special issues’ often get double the interest of a general issue, so we’re in the process of defining our guidelines for people who may be interested in submitting proposals for special issues.

Jackson is optimistic about the continuing health of Asian Studies in Australia, and the future of academic journals such as the ASR. And as editor-in-chief, he says he will be interested in suggestions and feedback from readers on how they regard the journal.

‘The traditional areas for Asian studies, the departments in universities, are declining everywhere,’ he said, ‘but the study of Asia in the disciplines definitely remains strong. The number of papers, particularly by younger scholars, at last years ASAA biennial conference, for example, shows the breadth of what is still happening.

‘But what is happening is not occurring so much in the traditional departments of Asian Studies. People who are moving into Asian Studies may not have had anything to do with Asia until their PhD, or even after. So my interest in bringing on broad thematic editors is, in a sense, to reach that market.

Jackson says he finds it difficult to foresee the future for print journals such as ASR. ‘A lot of libraries now subscribe only to the online version of journals, and this is something the ASAA is considering—the considerations in maintaining the print version versus the online rights version. I’ve been quite happy with the online version of ASR because our publisher has digitised every issue. Nevertheless, I think there will continue to be a place for the print version, but maybe less so as time goes by.’

Jackson came to Asian Studies via Western philosophy, developing his interest, initially, in Asian religions and languages while backpacking in the region in the early 80s. Increasingly, his interest has focussed on Thailand, and while he maintains an interest in Buddhism, his research has moved more into the realm of social history, including the history of gender and sexuality in Asia. In 2005, with colleagues from Australia and Thailand, he organised the first International Conference in Asian Queer Studies in Bangkok. Of the 160 participants, 80 per cent were from Asia, reflecting the rapid growth of interest in studies in minority gender and sexuality issues in the region.

“Work in this field has not always been particularly easy and I’ve had quite a bit of resistance over the years, including the loss of a federal ARC grant,’ he said.

Jackson continues to work with gay and lesbian HIV/AIDS education NGOs in Bangkok, and recently won a large grant from the British Library Endangered Archives Program to digitise Thai gay and lesbian publications and put them on line to create an internally accessible resource in this field of study. The website for this project is Thai Rainbow Archives Project.

* Associate Professor Jackson has assumed full responsibility for all articles submitted to ASR since 1 January 2009, while Associate Professor Stivens remains responsible for looking after all articles submitted up to 31 December 2008.


Blogging is changing the nature of academic discourse. Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly* talk about their pathfinding blog, New Mandala, and the future of blogging in academia.

When New Mandala celebrated its third anniversary recently, its founders Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly were surprised at how far their blog had come since its tentative beginnings.

Established in June 2006 and hosted by the College of Asia and the Pacific at the ANU, New Mandala describes itself as providing ‘anecdote, analysis and new perspectives on mainland Southeast Asia’. Since its inception the site has devoted its attention to the politics and societies of this region, and especially Thailand and Burma.

‘Initially, we were getting perhaps tens of readers a day, and I remember our excitement when we hit 100,’ Walker said. ‘But the thing that gave it a real push was the coup in Thailand in September 2006.’

Farrelly also recalls the ‘tentative and slow’ start, and the time it took to build up a profile. ‘New Mandala, as we know it now, is something Andrew and I really couldn’t have anticipated when we first launched what was—and remains—a purely experimental enterprise,’ he said.

Walker concedes academics are divided about the legitimacy and ‘respectability’ of publishing on blogs such as New Mandala. ‘Some would take the view that it’s more journalistic than academic—perhaps a bit of a hobby, a bit of a stir; perhaps not core academic business. But others take the view that this is outreach, which plays into the production of academic work. It’s where you get academic discussions going in a broader community,’ he said.

‘My view is that blogging re-jigs the idea of peer review. Through blogging you can throw out relatively tentative ideas; expose them to a huge community of peers; get feedback, comments and ideas; and then perhaps develop them and put them into a more formal academic process. In terms of academic respectability, imitation is a great form of flattery, and now at the ANU we have two other high-profile blogs, East Asia Forum and South Asia Masala. They add a great deal of depth and regional breadth to the blogging stable at the ANU.’

On a normal day New Mandala will get about 2000 post reads, and between 60,000–70,000 in the average month.

During the political troubles in Thailand last April there were over 100,000. More than one-third of New Mandala’s readers are from Thailand, followed by the United States, Australia, England, Singapore and Canada, but during its life the blog has been visited by readers from about 200 countries.

‘When we first began it was basically just Andrew and I producing the content, but we’ve now developed a much larger stable of guest contributors—people who are real experts on mainland Southeast Asian issues in areas that Andrew and I don’t specialise in—from all corners of the world,’ Farrelly said.

Probably the issue New Mandala has become most famous—or infamous—for in some circles is Thailand’s lèse majesté laws. ‘New Mandala has taken quite a public position in the debates on these matters, and that position continues to provide a great deal of discussion on the site. Of the 17,000 comments we’ve received on the issue, a large proportion has been related to issues which in Thailand are sensitive and for which New Mandala seeks to provide a forum,’ Farrelly said.

Having seen New Mandala through its first three years, Walker and Farrelly are now looking ahead to the next three. ‘Three years from now I’d like to have a more sophisticated interface, so that people can go into the site and more easily research and find what they’re looking for, Walker said. ‘I’d also like more features, and I think our book reviews may grow.

We’re now at the point—and this goes to the area of academic respectability—where publishers are happy to send us books to review. I can see us appointing a review editor—so that’s pushing us a little bit more in the formal academic direction. We could also do with some technical support, and someone who has dedicated time to solicit material from the region.’

Increasingly, New Mandala’s material is being translated into regional languages, and particularly into Thai, so that some of the English-language political commentary posted on the site is available within a day or two in Thai.

Walker would also like to see more interaction between blogging and teaching, where students are not only reading the site, but contributing to it. ‘I could see ways of developing assignments that are built around blogging rather than essay writing,’ he said.

In the shorter-term, he doesn’t see blogging as a serious challenge to formal, peer-review journals. ‘But it could start to develop in academia that people will see blogging as a way of getting material out quickly, because of the long lead times of journals. Already we’re getting material from people who are saying that rather than wait ages to get things into a journal, they’d rather get it out there,’ he said.

‘The view that only articles published in peer-review journals are legitimate could begin shifting over the next few years, when people start to see certain blogs as very legitimate places to publish.’

Farrelly believes the impact and influence of the internet in academic publishing will also need to be looked at closely.

‘Journals attempt to measure the esteem in which they are held among the scholarly community, but one of the beautiful things about the internet is that it’s much more straight forward to get a good measure of impact, influence and readership size,’ he said. ‘All these things should be brought into consideration if we’re interested in working out what kind of scholarly work is the most important.’

*Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly work in the Department of Political and Social Change in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.

Indonesian Studies


At a time Australians should be strengthening their engagement with Indonesia, many Australian universities are winding back their Indonesian studies and language programs. David Hill *, however, remains optimistic about the future.

Like many scholars with a long involvement with Indonesia, David Hill, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Murdoch University, views the decline in Indonesian studies and language programs in Australian universities with concern—to the extent that he is trying to develop a strategy to reverse the trend.

With the assistance of a National Teaching Fellowship Grant from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC), formerly known as the Carrick Institute, over the next 12–18 months Hill will visit Australian universities and institutions that offer Indonesian studies and language programs.

‘Australian universities by and large have, at different periods, operated their Indonesian studies in isolation,’ he said. ‘There’s been no national strategy for what we’re doing in Indonesian studies. What is even more disconcerting is that decisions to close down Indonesian programs are being made without any consideration for the national interest or the intellectual investment that an institution may have put into the program over many years.

‘Often there has been no coordination between universities, even in the same city, offering Indonesian studies and language programs. Over the next 18 months I hope to visit all universities in Australian that offer Indonesian studies, with the aim of meeting teaching staff and the administrative staff who make the decisions about budgets, as well as students, to work out what is happening in regard to Indonesian. I’ll be looking at things like enrolment numbers, the kind of courses being offered and how they’re being offered, the teaching materials being used, the number of staff working in the field and the funding available to support teaching and administrative positions,’ he said.

Hill attributes the decline in interest in Indonesian studies to a number of independent factors that have converged in recent years into what has been described as ‘the perfect storm’. These include security concerns in the wake of the Jakarta and Bali bombings and Indonesia’s role in East Timor.

‘Over the years these events have eroded a sense of Indonesia as a positive place, and implied that the country is quite inhospitable for Australians—when, if fact, it is quite the contrary,’ he said. ‘There has been a general anxiety in Australia, dating back to the 1960s, about being in Indonesia, and whether Australians liked Indonesia enough to put time into learning the language.

This has also come at a time in Australia when interest in studying languages in general has been falling and of declining enrolments in humanities degrees.

‘Funding for languages is always an issue and many universities have cut the number of teaching hours because of the expensive, specialist and intensive nature of teaching them. Nevertheless—despite the falling interest in Indonesia in the Australian community—we’ve retained a core of very committed and enthusiastic students who appreciate the value of Indonesian and see it as an exciting and challenging opportunity,’ he said.

‘We need to communicate to students in high schools the importance of learning Indonesian when they’re making their subject choices and thinking about a career. We need to make them aware that Indonesian is a powerful addition to a degree, whether it’s in engineering, economics, business or law, or even areas like interior design. Indonesia is potentially an area where we can learn a lot, and also contribute a lot. It’s a massive economy and, as an emerging democratic state with devolved authority, it offers opportunities for those with Indonesian qualifications and experience’.

Hill is a strong advocate for Australians getting ‘in-country’ experience in Indonesia and in 1994 founded the Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesia Studies—ACICIS—to place foreign students into Indonesian universities for studies credited to their university degrees. Since then, the consortium, which is hosted by Murdoch University, has grown to include 19 Australian universities, together with University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Leiden University in The Netherlands and the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

More than 1000 Australian students have participated in the program, spending a semester in Indonesia at a university or gaining practical experience working with Indonesian businesses and organisations. The consortium’s achievement was recognised with an ALTC Award for ‘Programs that Enhance Student Learning’ in 2008. The consortium has now expanded into other types of in-country programs that don’t necessarily require Indonesian language skills. These include a six-week program for Australian journalism students, which involves work experience, as well as a two-week intensive academic program.

The consortium has also developed a semester program on Islamic studies, and is setting up a Development Studies program for students wanting to work in community development in Indonesia. With recent funding from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, it is initiating a further program for Indonesian-language teachers to strengthen their language skills.

Despite current trends in Indonesia studies, Hill remains optimistic about the future, and particularly initiatives such as the federal government’s three-year, $62 million National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program.

‘This is an important initiative, but many of us would argue that it’s insufficient,’ he said. ‘But it’s at least something, and we should take full advantage of it to do as much as possible with the money available. I believe the government needs to be putting many times that amount of money into the program—to invest, not on the basis of three years, but for 10, 20 years.

‘Another ground for optimism is the quality of students of Asian Studies, particularly those who have had a year studying in Indonesia. They’re coming out with very high levels of language ability and coming back to Australia to take up good positions in government or business,’ he said.

‘There were many lost opportunities when Australia turned its attention away from the region, but we have an Indonesianist community in Australia that is very supportive and very collegial, with a high regard for one another. We need to maximise the sharing of initiatives and collaborative endeavours. Unfortunately, much of this comes at a time universities are pressed to compete for funding. Without an overall national strategy, if one university closes down its Indonesian department, then everybody is impoverished.’

*David Hill is Professor of Southeast Asian Studies in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Murdoch University.
  • ACICIS has put together a package of resources, including a short five-minute DVD and a suite of flyers which give a general overview of the consortium’s programs. The package is available free of charge and would be useful to show to Indonesian language students so they can start thinking about where their language studies can take them in the near future. More information.


With the destruction of independent trade unions under Suharto’s New Order, it fell to middle-class student groups and NGOs to find ways to reinvigorate the labour movement. But, writes Michele Ford, while the balance has now shifted strongly towards more internationally recognisable forms of trade unionism, Indonesia’s labour NGOs still have a role to play.

From the 1990s scholars began to pay attention to NGOs’ international labour networks and campaigns as they sought to explain the ‘new globalisation’ of labour issues, prompted by the rise of the anti-globalisation movement, the North American Free Trade Agreement and cross-border migration within the European Union.

Yet despite this increasing focus on trade union involvement in coalitions with NGOs, scholars have largely ignored NGO involvement in issues and practices traditionally considered the province of trade unions. In doing so, they have failed to recognise the contribution of local labour NGOs and their international counterparts to the contemporary labour movement.

Much of the work done by labour NGOs in the developing world, including Asia, has been located on the periphery of trade union concerns—organising groups considered ‘unorganisable’ by trade unions such as overseas labour migrants, domestic and child labour, people employed in the informal sector and outworkers.

In Malaysia, for example, NGOs have concentrated on groups which are perceived to lie outside the ambit of traditional trade unions, particularly women and migrant workers, and on issues such as housing and welfare, which the Malaysian Trade Union Congress considers to lie beyond its scope.

However, in settings like South Korea in the 1970s, in the Philippines under Marcos—and in New Order Indonesia—labour NGOs also sought to organise, help and engage in advocacy on behalf of industrial workers.

With the destruction of independent trade unions and the stifling of other forms of mass organisation under Suharto’s New Order (1967–98), it fell to middle-class student groups and NGOs to find ways to reinvigorate the labour movement.

Indonesia’s labour NGO activists were part of a much broader community of human rights activists that emerged in opposition to Suharto’s authoritarian rule.

Products of a highly stratified society, these middle-class, non-worker outsiders behaved as classical labour intellectuals, seeking to bring knowledge and class consciousness to industrial workers and to alert the wider community to the plight of the first generation of Indonesians to flood into the factories. In the process, they helped to organise workers’ groups in the industrial communities around the factories as well as alternative unions, even in some cases training ‘guerrilla workers’ to infiltrate the official union.

At the same time, however, they were deeply ambivalent about their involvement in the labour movement. On one hand, they believed they had a duty and the power to help otherwise powerless workers to challenge the New Order’s punitive and repressive system of labour control. On the other hand, most of them saw no permanent place for non-worker intellectuals like themselves in an organised labour movement that they believed should rightly consist only of unions organised by, for and of workers. Significantly, their ideas about what a trade union should be came not from any indigenous understanding of worker representation—as the New Order

claimed—but from local interpretations of the international labour theory debates of the beginning of the 20th century viewed through almost a century of Indonesian labour history.

After the fall of Suharto, the balance shifted strongly towards more internationally recognisable forms of trade unionism as international labour bodies renewed their influence in Indonesia and began to shape Indonesian trade unions in their own image.

Workers exercised their new freedom to organise, forming tens of thousands of new trade unions across the nation and asserting themselves in workplaces and nationally. Some trade unionists even began to seek alliances with political parties when it became clear that their ability to achieve lasting change would be limited without recourse to formal politics.

These changes precipitated a fundamental shift in the relationship between worker-activists and labour NGOs, bringing to a head tensions that had surfaced in the late New Order period. As a result, many NGOs felt that they should step back once independent unionism had again became possible in Indonesia’s reconfigured labour movement.

Others, however, developed new kinds of relationships with the worker groups they had formerly sponsored and with other trade unions, in the process creating useful niches for themselves as advisors, trainers and advocates, roles recognised and valued by parts of the international labour movement as well as by many local trade unionists.

In the process, these NGOs have carved out a continuing role for themselves in the Indonesian labour movement and, in doing so, challenged both dominant trade union-only definitions of the labour movement and the scholarly analyses that rely on them.

Dr Ford is Senior lecturer and Chair of the Department of Indonesian Studies, University of Sydney, and the author of Workers and Intellectuals: NGOs, Trade Unions and the Indonesian Labour Movement, Singapore: NUS Press/Hawaii/KITLV, 2009.

Language and literacy


Job options for Australian students graduating with Asian languages will remain limited unless we take a new approach to spreading Asian literacy, writes Gerry Groot.

‘In Singapore last year, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, declared: ‘I am committed to making Australia the most Asia-literate country in the collective West.’ He went even further when he said he envisioned new generations of business people, professionals and artists developing language skills to open Asia up to them.

But dreams are one thing—setting clear goals and criteria is much more difficult. Getting value for taxpayers’ money is even harder. Alas, the prime minister already seems to be pushing yet another top-down initiative that won’t address the fundamental problems discouraging young Australians from learning any foreign language, Asian ones in particular.

Despite ever closer economic and cultural links with Asia, Australian Asian language departments are struggling and some would have doubtless gone under but for the influx of Asian students learning more of their mother tongues. Even Asian country-specific social science courses often fail to draw much interest.

Many people assume that Asian languages are in fact in demand because they automatically link such a growth in demand to the growing economic importance of Asia to Australia—some sort of natural corollary. Unfortunately, few Australian firms, or even governments, are looking for—let alone rewarding in any substantial way—anyone who takes the time and effort to learn Asian languages and cultures. Even if there were, would it pay enough to cover the opportunity costs incurred in the first place? Simply put, Asian languages don’t pay.

For many years, the only regularly advertised well-paid jobs for graduates of Japanese were for coach drivers or tour guides. Although better paid than university lecturers, these jobs failed to inspire students. Face it: Australian firms and governments would much rather employ English-speaking migrants with the relevant language than locals who had completed a bachelor’s degree. If Australians go overseas to further their study, they incur more costs, but no guarantee of a subsequent return. Teaching English overseas is better compensated. Interpreting and translating? With so many migrants looking for a job, this avenue leads to undervalued piecework, but no career.

If they do return there are very few options. Teaching? This is increasingly difficult and demoralising work in which teachers may see students for as little as half an hour a week. No wonder many primary school kids go on to high school lucky to be able to say ‘hello’ and to count to 10. Anyway, in year 10, when hard choices have to be made about maximising university entrance scores, teachers, counsellors and parents will more than likely tell students to drop any language, but especially Asian ones: too much effort, too risky and too little reward. And we haven’t even touched on the incredible aversion that Australian students have to competing with migrant students studying their mother tongue in the same class!

What is surprising is that schools and universities still get the number of language students they do, not that that they are in decline. Unfortunately, in today’s university, degrees and course structures reflecting funding limitations, rewards and disincentives, etc, mean that few students can study the breadth and depth required to actually master an Asian language. Few graduates are able to read and write well enough to reach anything like native-speaker proficiency. And they know it. Apart from the handful of school teachers and a tiny number aspiring to academia, most let their hard-won employment-irrelevant skills simply fade away. Of the thousands who start, only dozens finish. Overall then, the Australian system is extremely wasteful, akin to taking a whole tree and turning it into a pencil.

If money is to be no object then, Australia can become an outstanding and Asia-literate nation, in a generation or two. You could again make foreign languages compulsory for university—improbable. But you have to inject substantially more funds in to language teaching at universities and schools over a decade to make this happen.

Realistically, money is likely to be very tight. Moreover, the necessary skills are in very short supply precisely because, until now, learning Asian languages and about Asia has been more for love than money. Any new schemes that spread limited funds thinly will achieve indifferent to negative outcomes. Half an hour a week in primary or high schools won’t achieve anything,

but a desirable five hours or more a week will be unaffordable and impractical. Can it even be wedged into already overcrowded curricula? If it could, would enough parents see it as desirable? Unlikely if the existing disincentives remain.

One solution is to teach intensively those with the most to gain. Many of Australia’s million expatriates are in Asia, and many realise just how important it is to be able to communicate more effectively with their staff or their Asian bosses. There is only one problem. The opportunity cost for learning languages to the level needed is too high for professionals who often have partners, children and mortgages.

The prime minister can spread Asia literacy by establishing a prestigious and generous Australian postgraduate Asian languages scholarship scheme (an oxymoron in Australia) that pays well enough to allow Australian professionals to take leave long enough to learn Asian languages, cultures and other aspects to very high levels in intensive courses of one to three years.

This scheme would attract high-achieving mature students with strong desires to learn and the ability to turn this learning to immediate productive ends in their areas of expertise when they graduate. Corporate lawyers in Hong Kong would be able to work directly with Chinese legal texts; aid workers would become more effective; advertising executives could well sell more Australian stuff; and Australian film makers would be more likely to make films that succeeded in non English-speaking markets. Kevin Rudd’s dream could be realised.

The return to Australia would be a dramatic boost in the number of Australian high flyers able to work effectively in Asia, enhancing their effectiveness and boosting Australia’s reputation. They could act as exemplars for undergraduates in Australia. They might even, gradually, change the attitudes of Australian employers, so that language learning becomes, if not essential, then at least desirable. This, in turn, might well inspire young people in Australian schools to see that Asian languages, or any languages, are do-able and worthwhile.

Dr Groot is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies, Centre for Asian Studies, University of Adelaide. In 2004 Prime Minister Rudd launched his book, Managing Transitions: The Chinese Communist Party, United Front Work, Hegemony and Corporatism.

Art and Culture


Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto’s latest performance work acts as a living memorial to the victims of the Sidoarjo mud volcano and a meditation on trauma, survival and collective memory. Dean Chan reports.

Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto’s latest performance work acts as a living memorial to the victims of the Sidoarjo mud volcano and a meditation on trauma, survival and collective memory. Dean Chan reports.

In May 2006, mud started flowing out from a gas-drilling borehole in the Sidoarjo region of East Java, Indonesia. According to The Jakarta Globe, the mud volcano has, to date, buried 12 villages, killed 13 people, displaced over 42000 residents, and eradicated 800 hectares of farming and industrial land.

Various steps have been taken to try to stop the mudflow—including dropping concrete balls into the volcano crater in 2007—but to no avail. The mud still continues to flow. The region remains a disaster zone.

Like Walter Benjamin’s allegorical angel of history, the titular survivor in Christanto’s work gazes on the wreckage of the past while being simultaneously propelled onwards by the relentless storms of progress and modernity.

Nevertheless, Survivor is not primarily concerned with telling a cautionary tale about unchecked industrial progress, or enacting a simplistic politics of blame. Instead, the title of the piece draws attention to the object and subject of its inquiry: those who are left behind, ostensibly to grieve, mourn, and perhaps most of all, remember. Survivor is very simply staged. A group of mud-coated performer-participants, including Christanto, adopt discreetly stylised poses (standing, sitting, squatting or lying down)

in this silent and mostly static piece. The performers also hold photographic portraits of those who have gone missing in the Sidoarjo incident.

The work was originally performed in Jakarta in 2007, where the localised context and ensemble of local performers no doubt colluded to frame and modulate interpretations of the work as either a politicised critique or an affective domestic memorial. The Australian Survivor is closely modelled on the Indonesian performance, but there are significant variances.

In Australia, Survivor was presented as a three-hour performance event at Gallery 4A, Sydney, on Saturday 15 August 2009. Christanto performed with a multi-ethnic group of about 30 local male and female participants. The Australian localisation of the performance arguably expanded the hermeneutical frame of the work by effectively staging collective memory as a transnational ethic that fundamentally connects us, here and there.

Christanto has lived in Australia since 1999. He was born in 1957 in Tegal, Central Java and studied painting in the 1970s in Yogyakarta. His recent artworks—encompassing painting, sculpture, installation and performance—have been included in major international exhibitions such as the First and Third Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (1993 and 1999), the Havana Biennale (1994), and the Gwangju Biennial (2000).

Christanto’s previous works are recalled in Survivor. In particular, They Give Evidence, which was purchased in 2003 for the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, serves as a companion piece and pedagogical analogue. This installation comprises sixteen standing figures fashioned from terracotta and fibreglass resin and placed in orderly rows within the gallery space. These larger-than-life-size male and female figures carry in their outstretched arms pieces of seemingly calcified clothing that have retained the imprints of their absent wearers, thereby inferring the bodies of those who have gone missing.

They Give Evidence specifically harkens back to a tragic event in Christanto’s childhood when his ethnic Chinese father was taken away in one of the political purges in 1965. He has not seen his father ever since. This particular incident has become a powerful leitmotif in Christanto’s work and continues to inform current projects such as Survivor.

The standing figures holding empty human-shaped shrouds in They Give Evidence and the mud-covered performers clasping photographs of the Sidoarjo victims in Survivor effectively re-member the dead and the disappeared. In this regard Christanto’s projects collectively re-enact the body politics of trauma, survival and memory.

In Survivor, the performers subtly change poses and positions throughout the piece: One of the performers is totally soaked through with mud and gingerly shifts his stance to keep his balance. Another appears to be perspiring ever so slightly on that unseasonably warm Sydney winter’s afternoon. In contrast, a female performer nearby looks cold and uncomfortable. Someone else surreptitiously steps out of the performance area and is replaced by another performer who is already pre-coated in mud. These are bodies that can tire, sweat, shiver, and lose balance.

As a living memorial to the victims of Sidoarjo, Survivor is an elegiac and powerful performance work, which is ultimately about the corporeality, fragility, and tenacity of human existence.

  • Photo credit: Survivor,2009, 3 hours. Performance held on 15 August 2009, Gallery 4A, Sydney NSW. Image by Garry Trinh.
Dr Chan teaches in the honours and postgraduate programs at the School of Communications and Arts, Edith Cowan University, Perth. He is the co-editor of Gaming Cultures and Place in Asia-Pacific (Routledge, 2009) and a joint chief investigator on an ARC Discovery Project, ‘Being Asian in Australia and the United States’.



The new West Asia representative on the ASAA Council, Dr Minerva Nasser-Eddine, has wide-ranging interests, as well as a successful business career.

Tell us something of your background and how you became interested in West Asia?

I’m a second generation Australian of Arabic-speaking background. My parents migrated from Lebanon and I grew up in a politically aware household. I found that my passion for the region, its history, its inhabitants, its cultural richness and diversity only grew, which led me to specialise in this significant geo-political mass and its complex Diaspora communities. I found myself sharing this passion with anyone who would listen.

You’ve written and lectured on media representations of Arabs, Muslims and the Middle East in Australia. In a general sense, what are these perceptions, and (if they’re negative) what can be done to change them?

Myths and representations—whether false or misconstrued—are a reality. They may not be based on fact but they persist and at times can be very damaging. For the last decade I’ve been involved in providing cross-cultural and inter-cultural awareness seminars and training. Participant feedback has always noted that they have never been challenged or questioned about these daily images, myths and representations. It is a matter of finding a forum which allows the opportunity to challenge some of these perspectives, and provide participants with informed, factual, and relevant information.

Australian mainstream media in recent years have improved their reporting, although many acknowledge there is still a long way to go. While federal and State governments have made some inroads, as have dozens of inter-faith based organisations around Australia, their main emphasis has been on the issue of religion. I believe the representations are broader than religion but no doubt every little bit helps broaden one’s understanding of the Other.

As well as your research interests, you’re involved in business activities and were the first female chair of the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce, SA Chapter. Tell us about your interest in business?

We all know that education and the sharing of knowledge doesn’t end in the class room—everyday life experiences, contact with strangers, our family, friends and our colleagues (regardless of profession), as well as the power of media and marketing all contribute to this life-long learning.

In my research and discussions with the business community I found there was a niche market for my area of expertise. As I was getting close to submitting my doctorate I applied for the University of Adelaide’s Business Initiative Graduate (BIG) scheme and was successful in obtaining a place in the program. As a result, in 2001 I established Al Hikma Middle East Advisory Agency, which provides project viability and risk assessment from socio-political and cultural perspectives.

In addition, it provides inter-cultural and cross-cultural training as well as translation services. The business’ core function is to provide advice to the public and private sectors contemplating investing in the Middle East, as well as to investors from the Middle East interested in Australia.

It was through the establishment of this business that it proved crucial to join the right business organisations. One of these organisations was the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AACCI). On joining as a member in 2001 I also became a committee member and then deputy chair.

In August 2006 I was elected the first female chair of AACCI, SA Chapter.

It is by identifying the right networks and then becoming involved within them that business success and your core message can be best communicated. By breaking down the barriers and overcoming myths (negative or otherwise) true understanding and appreciation of other cultures can begin to take place.

What is your current role and research focus at the UniSA?

I’ve recently commenced working at UniSA’s Hawke Research Institute as a post-doctoral research fellow. I’ll be examining the sense of belonging and identity among first-generation Australians of Middle Eastern, Arab and Muslim background and their children (second-generation Australians). I’ll also be examining the anti-terrorism policies of the previous federal government and the impact they had—and continue to have—on these communities.

How strong is interest in West Asia in Australian universities, and how does that compare with interest in other Asian regions?

Other than a few universities on the eastern seaboard which have established Middle East studies and research centres many other universities around the nation have largely neglected this often misrepresented and misunderstood region. This is ironic considering the far-reaching regional and international implications of historical, political and contemporary issues occupying the modern Middle East and West Asia.

By comparison, other Asian regions are understandably better represented in tertiary courses—due to geographic proximity, trade interests, and security issues. Having said that, changes are being noted in South Australia. I’m delighted to report that recently I delivered a Winter School course at The University of Adelaide—Conflict and Crisis in the Middle East—which was well received and will be offered again in 2010.

I’m hoping that this, along with the Middle East (politics) subject offered through Flinders University and UniSA’s Hawke Research Institute, that South Australia will make its mark in contributing to inter-disciplinary research and studies with a greater focus on West Asia, it inhabitants and its Diaspora communities.

As the new West Asia representative on the ASAA Council, what will you be hoping to achieve?

At the end of the September I’ll be participating in a roundtable discussion at the APSA conference on the possibility of establishing a new era in Middle East (West Asia) Studies association in Australasia. As a former secretary of AMESA (Australasian Middle East Studies Association), I believe it’s imperative to have the support structures and networks for higher degree research and, early career research, and scholars with an interest in West Asia within Australia and among its neighbouring countries. Historically, geographically, politically, socially and culturally it is too significant an area to be overlooked.

As the new West Asia rep on the ASAA Council I’m hoping that I can contribute to the great work the council has achieved. I also hope that a strong working connection can be made with any research/studies organisation that may emerge covering the Middle East/West Asia; potentially allowing for the partnering of future events with ASAA. The 2010 ASAA Conference may see such an inaugural event. Watch this space…

Dr Nasser-Eddine is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences at the Hawke Research Institute of the University of South Australia.

Student of the month


Since India’s economic liberalisation and the influx of multinational corporations and private companies, environmentalism has become a dynamic issue. But, says PhD candidate Tamara Nair*, cultural contexts are making it difficult for some local communities to engage in effective environmental management.

Tell us about your PhD research on environmentalism in India?

Very often environmentalism in India has been described as a ‘peasant’ versus ‘state’ phenomenon. This line of thinking has actually served to further marginalise subgroups within what we describe as ‘peasants’, for example, women and ‘lower’ castes/class, making strategies that include local communities in environmental management ineffective.

Such strategies for environmental management should acknowledge inherent social stratifications. I suggest—based on works of other scholars of Indian environmentalism—that paying close attention to the cultural contexts (which serve to reveal social stratifications) of environmental issues is one way of identifying barriers to effective environmental management strategies that include local communities.

How did you become interested in this field?

I was a geography and English-language teacher in Singapore before I left teaching to pursue a Masters degree in Environmental Management at the University of New South Wales. What first started as a break from my job turned into something I became deeply interested in.

Within two years of returning to Singapore and going back to teaching, I left once again to Sydney, this time to complete a postgraduate diploma in research focussing on environmentalism in India. India seemed to be an interesting case to examine given its diverse natural environments, a mosaic of cultures, religions, practices and beliefs, and of course the close ties that the majority of the population still has with the environment, both in terms of natural resources as well as traditional practices.

I’ve learnt that the majority environmental issues in a country like India tend to focus on access and availability of natural resources for survival—though this is not the case for urban areas or for the burgeoning middleclass—rather than altruistic reasons for environmental preservation. The different ways in which preservation of the natural environment is construed in the developing and developed world is in itself an interesting aspect of ‘environmentalism’ that is worthy of exploration.

Apart from this I also have personal reasons for choosing India. Though I’m second generation Singaporean, my family was originally from Kerala in South India. I had lived in Tamil Nadu for three years and received part of my primary school education there. I have friends and family in India, especially in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and have travelled the region extensively. I was also lucky enough to be awarded the Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship to pursue further studies in this particular field.

What is the current state of the environmentalist movement in India?

The environmentalism in India is dynamic and new issues, controversies and groups are constantly emerging, especially since India’s economic liberalisation and the influx of multinational corporations and private companies.

India’s democratic system allows for practically anyone to question environmental practices of an organisation and for people to mobilise freely against what they think are issues of social/environmental justice.

There is also abundant scholarship on environmentalism ranging from ‘spiritual’ ecology, Gandhiism and the environment, social ecology and sustainable development, just to name a few. However, despite legal mechanisms in place and such rich scholarship, the circumstances that shape the environmentalist movement in India vary from state to state and from issue to issue.

What have been some of the notable achievements of the environmentalist movement there?

I feel that there cannot be any discussion on notable achievements without mentioning popular movements like

Chipko and Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA or ‘save the Narmada movement’). Both these movements have placed environmentalism in India on the map, harnessing global awareness and support against massive deforestation in the Himalayan foothills in the case of Chipko and against mega-dam construction and its detrimental effects in the case of the NBA.

These movements have forced the State to acknowledge the difficulties faced by people most affected, in most cases peasants, poor farmers and tribal communities, as a result of these projects.

Another achievement has been the prevention of the construction of a dam in Silent Valley in the Western Ghats, in Kerala in the south. The project was abandoned as a result of protests from civil movements, especially the people’s science movement in Kerala that cited major reasons, including possible extinction of the lion-tailed macaque, one of the most endangered of primates and endemic to the region, not to go ahead with construction.

Environmental movements in India can be strong but their effects and/or their successes are varied. For every Chipko or NBA or Silent Valley, there can be numerous projects that go ahead as planned, to the detriment of both people and the natural environment.

As India progresses along the path of globalisation and grows to be the most populated country in the world, what will be the main challenges for environmentalists in India?

Currently much of India’s environmental issues tend to be issues that surround the struggle for access to and availability of natural resources like water, land and trees to the majority of India’s population. This scenario is changing with India’s rapid economic growth and development.

With its burgeoning middle class and nouveau rich, consumption patterns have changed and demand for consumer and high-end goods has sky-rocketed. With the expansion and growth of cities and greater demands from its population, one of the greatest challenges for environmentalists will be to deal with these emerging issues.

Environmental issues will move from resource-based struggles to issues such as pollution, sanitation and provision of energy and clean water in urban areas. There are already signs of such changes, for example pollution in New Delhi, slums in Mumbai and Calcutta and the building of more dams in Kerala for energy and water for major cities in the state.

Environmental issues may change from issues of social/environmental justice to issues of health, energy consumption and wastage and physical infrastructure and will mostly have to do with middle class lifestyles and consumption patterns.

What can India teach other developing nations about environmental issues?

India’s environmental issues are in certain ways similar to some developing nations that have experienced a history of resource exploitation in colonial times to current resource-based struggles. Proper management of natural resources and effective environmental conservation strategies in India can serve as examples to these other nations. Given India’s size, resource base, population, and political economy, India can in fact lead in formulating environmental policies or programs that promote economic, social and ecological sustainability.

What are your plans post-PhD?

My post-PhD plans include exploring a number of possibilities that include teaching and further research in the field of cultural politics of natural resources. At the moment I’m leaving my options open, but one particular area I would like to focus on in the future is exploring tourism and eco-tourism trends in South India and their impact on local communities and the natural environment.

My main concern is whether the ‘aggressive’ push towards promoting the cultural and natural wealth of the southern states, especially Kerala, would be detrimental to local communities or might these communities play a part in environmental and economic sustainability that is promised by the tourism industry.

*Tamara Nair is a PhD student in the School of History and Philosophy, The University of New South Wales.

Recent Interesting Books on Asia

Contributed by Sally Burdon of Asia Bookroom

Workers and Intellectuals: NGOs, Trade Unions and the Indonesian Labour Movement.

Michele Ford

See New Books from the ASAAA series below. This latest book by the chair of Indonesian studies at the University of Sydney and the current ASAA Secretary will be launched at the Indonesia Update at the ANU, 9–10 October 2009.

How the Years Were Named. Rainen wa Nanidoshi

Chizuko Kamichi

Bilingual cards Japanese/English. $65.95

Kamishibai is a form of street storytelling which was popular throughout Japan between the 1920s and the 1950s. The kamishibai storyteller was an itinerant sweet-seller who called children out of their homes to hear the latest episode of the exciting story he had to tell, and to buy his sweets. The storyteller used the large kamishibai cards to tell the story, and usually left the story in a very exciting place so that the children couldn't wait for his return. The advent of television in Japan brought the kamishibai storyteller's living to an end, but in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest, particularly in schools and community settings. A wide variety of kamishibai cards are now being published, of which this story of the Japanese zodiac is just one. These bilingual cards come with teachers notes.

Kampung Boy


Black and white illustrations, 142pp, paperback, Wilkins Farago, Melbourne. 2009. ISBN 9780980607000. $22.99

Australian publisher Wilkins Farago should be congratulated for bringing the much-loved Malaysian cartoonist Lat's Kampung Boy to Australia. This bestselling cartoon book from Malaysia's favourite cartoonist is a classic of the genre. Funny, warm and full of surprises, Lat's unforgettable memoir of growing up in a small village will appeal to cartoon lovers of all ages.

History of Aid to Laos. Motivations and Impacts

Viliam Phraxayavong

Maps, xxi + 322pp, notes, bibliography, index, paperback, Mekong Press, Chiang Mai,. 2009. ISBN 9786119005303. $54.95

This is the first comprehensive publication on development assistance to Laos. Written by a former senior Lao official in international cooperation, it investigates the situation of a country dependent on foreign aid for more than half a century and the ways in which donor nations have shaped Lao development and political relationships through the aid process.

Tuttle Concise Balinese Dictionary

I Gusti Muda Sutjaja

632pp, paperback. Tuttle, Tokyo, 2009. ISBN 9780804837569. $32.99

This is the only available bi-directional Balinese/English/Indonesian dictionary. The addition of Indonesian equivalents in all of the entries enables Indonesian speakers to make good use of the dictionary, as well as providing valuable comparative insights into linguistics. Balinese words are presented in both romanised and Balinese script forms. Information on parts of speech for headwords is given along with useful meanings, common collocations, idiomatic expressions and sample sentences in this title.

Wartime Kitchen: Food And Eating In Singapore (1942-1950)

Wong Hong Suen

Colour illustrations, 144pp, notes, bibliography, Editions Didier Millet, Singapore, 2009. ISBN 9789814217583. $39.95

Wartime Kitchen captures the resilience and adaptability of a people faced with limited resources and shortages during the Japanese occupation and in post-war Singapore.


The books in this selection have been written or edited by Australian scholars and are available in Australia and New Zealand through InBooks

Fiery Dragons: Banks, Moneylenders and Microfinance in Burma

Sean Turnell

Paperback, 416 pp, NIAS Press, Copenhagen, 2009. ISBN 9788776940409

This book tells the story of Burma’s financial system from colonial times to the present day. It argues that Burma’s financial system matters, and that the careful study of it can tell us something about the country—not least about how the richest country in Southeast Asia at the dawn of the 20th century became the poorest at the dawn of the 21st. While financial systems and institutions matter in all countries, the book argues that they especially count in Burma. Events in the financial and monetary sphere have been unusually, spectacularly, prominent in Burma’s turbulent modern history. It is a dramatic story, and an important one.

Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-Building Project

Michael Barr & Zlatko Skrbis

Paperback, 318 pp., illustrated, NIAS Press, Copenhagen, 2009. ISBN 9788776940294

Today Singapore is by far the most successful exemplar of material development in Southeast Asia and often finds itself the envy of developed countries. Over the past three or four decades the ruling party has presided over the formation of a thriving community of Singaporeans who love and are proud of their country. Nothing about these processes has been 'natural' in any sense of the word. Much of the country's investment in nation-building has in fact gone into the selection, training and formation of a ruling and administrative elite that reflects and will perpetuate its vision of the nation. This critical study of the politics of ethnicity and elitism in Singapore looks inside the supposedly 'meritocratic' system, from nursery school to university and beyond, that produces Singapore's political and administrative elite.

People of Virtue: Reconfiguring Religion, Power and Moral Order in Cambodia Today

Edited by Alexandra Kent & David Chandler

Paperback, 344 pp., illustrated, NIAS Press, Copenhagen, 2009. ISBN 9788776940379

Much attention has been given to Cambodia’s ‘killing fields’, far less to how the country can recover and heal itself after such an experience. Crucial to this process has been the formation of a new moral order, and hence the revival of religion in the country. The importance of this volume is not only that it contributes to the new interest in religion in Cambodia but also because it places the religious revival in a nuanced social, cultural and political context and shows how Cambodia pursues order in large part through reference to her past.

Lost Goddesses: The Denial of Female Power in Cambodian History

Trudy Jacobsen

Paperback, 358 pp., illustrated, NIAS Press, Copenhagen, 2008. ISBN 9788776940010

Women had a high status in pre-modern Southeast Asia; this is constantly stated, especially in relation to discussions on their status today in the region. Why, then, is it that the position of women there today is far from equitable? This is the first study to address women’s place in Cambodian history, and revises accepted perspectives in the history and geopolitical organisation of Cambodia since c. 230 CE. In so doing, it examines the relationship between women and power and analyses the extent of female political and economic participation as revealed in historical sources, including the ways in which women were represented in art and literature. This study will be of interest to scholars working in history, anthropology, gender studies, politics, religion, Cambodian/Khmer studies, and Southeast Asian studies.


Kashgar: Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road

George Mitchell, Marika Vicziany & Tsui Yen Hu. Photographs, John Gollins

Hardback, 159pp, Francis Lincoln, London, 2008. ISBN 9780711229136. £UK 50.00 pounds, US $50.00

Reviewed by Auriol Weigold

Described as a ‘photographic essay, this attractive book with its superb photographs of the old city of Kashgar, its merchants, markets, mosques and shrines is enriched by its scholarly text. It examines Kasghar’s historical role as a trading city, the history of Uyghur people and their continuing presence there. It gives an account of the city’s urbanism and modernisation, already substantial before the extensive demolition of the old city that has recently, and alarmingly, taken place.

More than 4,000 kilometres from Beijing, and a unique oasis on the routes of long distance trade that in the past made up the Old Silk Road, Kashgar’s “green mantle” has provided such relief to the sand-blown faces of countless visitors approaching from many different directions’ over a period of some 2000 years. The densely packed houses, some quite magnificent and narrow lanes of the old city, dotted with mosques, madrasas, stalls and markets are recorded in John Gollins’ magnificent photographs. Now many have been demolished, the traditionally Muslim society’s activities moved to other less attractive urban locations.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is a government-designated ethnic minority, with legal protections for the preservation of culture and cultural heritage—but in practice central and local government authorities exert firm control. Demolitions have been in the planning stages for several years, but the recent razing of historically important buildings coincided with the period of heightened repression in the region. This year’s events underline the importance of this book as a record of the ‘Oasis City’ as it was before that latest Chinese project to ‘reconstruct’ the old-city section as a way to address perceived infrastructure problems.

The authors and photographer inspire both enthusiasm and sadness—enthusiasm to read an inspiring book about a city that has been largely ignored for a century; sadness for the inevitability of change.

Dr Weigold is a Visiting Fellow, University of Canberra.


Southeast Asia Series

Workers and Intellectuals: NGOs, Trade Unions and the Indonesian Labour Movement
Michele Ford
272pp, paperback, National University of Singapore, 2009. ISBN 9789971694883. $49.95

Javanese Performances on an Indonesian Stage: Celebrating Culture, Embracing Change
Barbara Hatley
Paperback, 321ppNUS Press, 2008, ISBN 978997169410 4. US$28, S$38

Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya: Negotiating Urban Space in Malaysia
Ross King
Paperback, 320pp, NUS Press, 2008. ISBN 9789971694159. US$28, S$38

Women in Asia Series

Gender Islam and Democracy in Indonesia
Kathryn Robinson
Hardback, 230pp, Routledge, 2009. ISBN 9780415415835. $160

Gender and Labour in Korea and Japan: Sexing Class
Ruth Barraclough & Elyssa Faison
Hardback, 160pp, Routledge, 2009. ISBN 9780415776639. $125

Feminist Movements in Contemporary Japan
Laura Dale
Hardback, 176pp, Routledge, 2009. ISBN 978-0-415-45941-9. $125

Sex, Love and Feminism in the Asia Pacific
Chilla Bulbeck
Hardback, 288pp, Routledge, 2009. ISBN 978041547006-3. $150.00

Young Women in Japan: Transitions to Adulthood
Kaori Okano
Hardback, 320pp, Routledge, 2009. ISBN: 9780415469418. $150

Gender, State and Social Power in Indonesia
Kate O’Shaughnessy
Hardback, 304pp, Routledge, 2009. ISBN: 9780415476508. $150

Books can be ordered through Asia Bookroom.

Website of the month

The Berzin Archives is a collection of translations and teachings by Dr Alexander Berzin, primarily on the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Covering the areas of sutra, tantra, Kalachakra, dzogchen, and mahamudra meditation, the Archives presents material from all five Tibetan traditions: Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug, and Bon, as well as comparisons with Theravada Buddhism and Islam. Also featured are Tibetan astrology and medicine, Shambhala, and Buddhist history. The site is part of the Asian Studies WWW Virtual Library by Matthew Ciolek.

Awards and grants


Fulbright has added Indonesian to the list of eligible languages for Critical Language Enhancement Award funding. Students interested in proposing study or research in Indonesia, including music, dance and theatre, have an excellent chance of receiving extra funding. Go to the Fulbright website (in both the Critical Language Enhancement Award Program information and the individual Participating Country Summary for Indonesia for more information.


The National Library of Australia (NLA) invites applications for its 2009–10 Japan Study Grants program. The grants are open to postgraduates, honours students, academic staff or independent researchers in Australia wishing to use the NLA’s Japanese or Japan-related collections for their research. The grants are intended to make the library’s Japanese collections better known outside Canberra and to support researchers requiring access to a large and accessible library collection on Japan.

Grants are offered for periods of up to four weeks and support travel to Canberra and living costs. At least four grants are awarded each year. For full details visit the website. Applications close on 30 September 2009. Applicants will be notified by the end of November. The awards can be taken up at any time from 1 December and before 30 September 2010.

NLA Japan Fellowship

The NLA’s annual Japan Fellowship is open to established Australian and international researchers in Japanese studies to undertake extended research based on the NLA collections. Fellowships are not provided to assist with the completion of degree studies, and applications from currently enrolled students will not be considered. The fellowship funds travel to and living costs in Canberra for a 3–6 month period.

Applications for the 2011 calendar year will be accepted from February 2010 until 30 April 2010. For further information on the Japan Study Grants program, contact Amelia McKenzie, Director, Overseas Collections Management, 02 6262 1519. For enquiries about the Japanese Collection, contact Mayumi Shinozaki, Librarian, Japanese Unit, Asian Collections, 02 62621615.

Positions vacant


These sites offer career prospects for graduates and postgraduate in Asian Studies. If you know of other useful sites advertising jobs for postgrads in Asian Studies, please send them to and advertise worldwide academic posts. is a free-to-access website run by The International Studies Association. is a free service run by the United Nations to recruit for NGO jobs. has a paid subscription service providing access to jobs worldwide in the international development industry. is a US-based site with a worldwide scope. Asia-related jobs (mostly academic) come up most weeks. is the website of the Association for Asian Studies. New job listings are posted on the first and third Monday of each month. You must be a current AAS member to view job listings. The Times Higher Education Supplement. is the site of The Communication Initiative Network. The site includes listings of jobs, consultants, requests for proposals, events, trainings, and books, journals, and videos for sale related to all development issues and strategies. You can view all posts on these pages without registering, but will need to register to post your items.

Diary dates

BOOK LAUNCH, ASAA series, Canberra, 28 September 2009. Patricia Spyer (FAS Global Distinguished Professor, New York University, and Professor of Anthropology, Leiden University) and Professor Ben White (ISS, The Hague) will launch Gender Islam and Democracy in Indonesia by Kathryn Robinson (ASAA Women in Asia Series: Routledge 2009) and Kampung, Islam and State in Urban Java, by Patrick Guinness (ASAA Southeast Asia Series, NUS 2009) at the Asia Bookroom, Unit 2, 1–3 Lawry Place, Macquarie (near Jamieson shopping centre), 6pm–8pm.

JAPAN: DESCENDING ASIAN GIANT? workshop, Adelaide, 23–24 November 2009, organised by the Japan–Korea node of the Asia Pacific Futures Research Network. Professor JAA Stockwin, University of Oxford, will chair and facilitate the workshop for postgraduates and early career researchers at the University of Adelaide. Ten to 15 speakers from Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States will discuss aspects of contemporary Japanese economy, politics, society, demography and international relations.

MEETING THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS: OLD PROBLEMS, NEW CHALLENGES, conference, Melbourne, 30 November–1 December 2009. Organised by the Australian Council for International Development and Institute for Human Security, La Trobe University, the conference will critically engage the Millennium Development Goals and the processes or rather possibilities for change. A key aim is to bring together development practitioners, academics, policy makers and the business community. For more information, see the conference website.

GENDER AND OCCUPATIONS AND INTERVENTIONS IN THE ASIA PACIFIC, 1945–2009, workshop, Wollongong, 10–11 December 2009. Sponsored by the Asia Pacific Futures Research Network,

CAPSTRANS and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Wollongong, this small workshop, at the University of Wollongong, will bring together for the first time established scholars, ECRs, postgraduates and community members and activists to discuss issues related to gender, occupation and intervention. A few competitive places for sponsored positions (travel within Australia only and accommodation for two nights) for postgraduates and ECRs are available. See the workshop website for more information or contact the organisers: Dr Rowena Ward or Dr Christine de Matos.

IN THE IMAGE OF ASIA: MOVING ACROSS AND BETWEEN LOCATIONS conference, Canberra, 13–15 April 2010. This interdisciplinary conference explores how ‘Asia’ has been imagined, imaged, represented and transferred visually across linguistic, geopolitical and cultural boundaries. It aims to challenge established assumptions (and consumptions) of cultural products of ‘Asia’, from arts, artefacts and film to performance.

ASAA BIENNIAL CONFERENCE, Adelaide, 6–8 July 2010. The 18th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia will be held at the University of Adelaide. Its theme is ‘Asia: Crisis and Opportunity’. See the conference website for further details and call for papers and panels.

DISPLACEMENT, DIVISION AND RENEWAL conference, Sarawak, Malaysia, 8–9 July 2010. The Curtin University Research Unit for the Study of Societies in Change (RUSSIC), in conjunction with Curtin University in Sarawak, is calling for panel proposals for its conference, which will be held at Miri, Sarawak, as a sequel to the conference ‘Crossing Borders’, held in Sarawak in 2007. Call for papers will open on 1 October 2009. A conference website with further registration and location details will open soon. Enquiries and expressions of interest to Dr Aileen Hoath.

You are welcome to advertise Asia-related events in this space. Send details to Allan Sharp.


What would be useful for you? Human interest stories, profiles of successful graduates of Asian studies, more news about what's on, moderated discussions on topical issues? Send your ideas to Allan Sharp.

About the ASAA

The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) promotes the study of Asian languages, societies, cultures, and politics in Australia, supports teaching and research in Asian studies and works towards an understanding of Asia in the community at large. It publishes the Asian Studies Review journal and holds a biennial conference.

The ASAA believes there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has called on the government to show national leadership in the promotion of Australia’s Asia knowledge and skills. See Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge Repositioning and Renewal of a National Asset.

Asian Currents is published by the ASAA and edited by Allan Sharp. The editorial board consists of Kathryn Robinson, ASAA President; Michele Ford, ASAA Secretary; Mina Roces, ASAA Publications officer; and Lenore Lyons, ASAA Council member.

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