Asian Borderlands: Enclosure, Interaction and Transformation

Asian Borderlands: Enclosure, Interaction and Transformation

Asian Borderlands Research Network
Chiang Mai University (RCSD), Thailand
Chiang Mai
From - Until
05.11.2010 - 07.11.2010
Vaddhanaphuti, Chayan

2nd Conference of the Asian Borderlands Research Network

State-centered views of the world continue to predominate, but it is increasingly apparent that these restrict perspectives on dynamics within broader regional fields. In an attempt to leapfrog a definition of the world in terms of national economies, societies, cultures and histories, ‘borderland' centered perspectives have emerged. But whereas borderland studies have quickly developed in Africa, Europe and North America, the field is still in its infancy in Asia. ‘Asian Borderlands: Enclosure, Interaction and Transformation' intends to encourage scholarship that looks across Asian borders.

The conference takes its cue from an important new book by James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale UP, 2009). In this book, Scott focuses on the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and its lower ranges that run from the Central Highlands in Vietnam, most of Laos, Northern Thailand, Southwest China, Northern Burma, Northeast India, Eastern Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. The 200 million people living in this huge region (over 15 million km2) are geographically dispersed and culturally diverse, yet they share crucial cultural, economic and social characteristics: hill agriculture, physical mobility, relatively egalitarian social structures, as well as commonalities in material culture and outlook. National borders often appear utterly arbitrary to them as many groups spill across two or more national borders. In this way they distinguish themselves from the lowland populations who dominate the states in which they live. Scott refers to this region as ‘Zomia', a term coined by Willem van Schendel (2002/2005).

What is the viability and relevance of a concept such as Zomia for the study of Asian borderlands? To what extend are people in such border zones sharing ideas, practices and attitudes? Why and how do they remain different? How are relationships, alliances and conflicts between hills and plains people defined? In what ways are cultural and social dynamics in and beyond such a region influenced by political boundaries? How do people engage in, and are engaged by, processes of modernization and globalization?

We invite conceptually innovative papers, based on new research, which address questions such as these, in order to develop new perspectives on the study of Asian borderlands. Panels will be considered that have a thematic focus, are of a comparative character, and involve scholars affiliated to distinct research institutions. Please visit to submit proposals. Participants will be notified by February 1st, 2010.

Deadline to send in abstracts / panel proposals: 1 December 2009

Participants are expected to fund their own travel and stay. Very limited financial support may be made available to specific scholars residing in Asia. If you would like to be considered for a grant: please submit with your abstract for a panel and/or paper a short letter motivating your request. Please specify the kind of funding that you have applied for or will receive from other sources. The conference operates on a very limited budget, and will not normally be able to provide more than a partial coverage of costs of travel and stay.

Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti
Prof. Willem van Schendel
Dr. Erik de Maaker

Asian Borderlands Research Network
Scholarly and political boundaries divide Asia artificially into units, such as South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and so on. These divisions not only mask the many and varied commonalities that transcend such boundaries, they also reinforce the marginalisation of people who live in the so-called border areas. Yet a better appreciation of these ‘transitional zones' is in fact critical to our historical understanding of processes of social and cultural change in the states lying beyond them. Nonetheless, such a focus remains peripheral to area studies and the disciplines which feed into them.

We believe that a new academic initiative is needed to recognise the links, both historical and contemporary, that connect people in these borderlands. The Asian Borderlands Research Network has been developed with the intention of focusing particularly on the border regions between South Asia, Central/East and Southeast Asia, where the prevailing notions of area studies have been particularly limiting.

The purpose of the network is to encourage academic exchange between both local and foreign scholars from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Its concerns are varied, ranging from migratory movements, transformations in cultural, linguistic and religious practices, to ethnic mobilization and conflict, marginalisation, and environmental concerns. Its aim is to generate new knowledge and methodologies in order that we should better understand these transitional zones, and to contribute to a reconfiguration of theoretical and methodological approaches to borderlands in general.

It is still open how the network will be organized, and what its activities will be. We particularly want to invite scholars from any of the regions involved to participate in the network, and contribute to the organizational effort. We hope that the 'International Conference on Northeast India and its Transnational Neighbourhood'
(see link on this page) will be attended by a large number of scholars who intend to contribute to the growth and activities of the network. The conference will host a business meeting, at which strategic choices regarding the future activities and the organizational structure of the network will be discussed.

Preliminary planning committee
Stuart Blackburn (SOAS, London)
Erik de Maaker (Leiden University)
Willem van Schendel (University of Amsterdam)
Mandy Sadan (University of Oxford)
Sanjib Baruah (Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati and Bard College, New York)


Contact (announcement)

Asian Borderlands Research Network
c/o International Institute for Asian Studies
Nonnensteeg 1-3
P.O. Box 9515
2300 RA Leiden
Editors Information
Published on
Temporal Classification
Regional Classification
Additional Informations
Country Event
Language(s) of event
Language of announcement