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Outlook 2020 : new directions in Southeast Asian studies in Europe and Southeast Asia

Silvia Vignato
Università di Milano-Bicocca

Silvia Vignato
Università di Milano-Bicocca


Drawing on their experience both as researchers and as active members of national and international research associations, the participants will outsketch what they foresee as relevant themes and disciplines in Southeast Asia for the immediate future. They will especially focus on sites and themes of cross-pollination between academics of different disciplines and practitioners (fieldworkers of all kinds ranging from, for example, health specialists to politicians, policy-makers, teachers, architects, policemen, trade unionists and so on). They will debate how and why such geographical and/or symbolic sites are vital spots of analysis and can generate new understanding in social sciences at large and, more particularly, in European matters.

The participants come from different disciplines. Antonia Soriente, a linguist and an expert of Indonesian literature, will focus on the difficult relationship between litterature and social sciences thanks to the analysis of the publishing of a translation. Duncan McCargo, political scientist, will discuss how Southeast Asian research in the field of political science has proved particularly fertile for the whole discipline. Gabriele Weichart, anthropologist, considers the very popular theme of heritage, especially in relation to Southeast Asian colonial past. Silvia Vignato, anthropologist, argues that studying work and work-related cultural processes in Southeast Asia and more specifically, in Indonesia, brings a new light onto European social dynamics as well.

The participants carefully consider their role of active promoters of research and networks within Asia and Europe.


Silvia Vignato

Silvia Vignato carries out research on work, marginality, gender, evolving structures of families and unattached children in Indonesia and Malaysia. She is Vice-president of EUROSEAS. Since 2012 she is WP leader in Seatide, EU 7th FP, and chief editor of Antropologia.


Gabriele Weichart
University of Vienna

Gabriele weichart has done extensive fieldwork in Indonesia and Australia in the anthropology of art and material culture, food habits, indigeneity and gender. She was assistant curator at the Musuem of Ethnology in Vienna. Since 2006, she is a Board Member of the euroSEAS.

Cultural heritage and memory
Gabriele Weichart will explore the question of how cultural sites give form and coherence to discourses of ethnicity and identity in contemporary Indonesia. She will discuss in particular the role of museums and sites of heritage in the memorisation of the colonial past and distinctive local histories, and reflect on the challenges for the social sciences and humanities in forming useful and meaningful cooperation in researching memory, heritage and history.


Duncan McCargo
University of Leeds

Duncan McCargo is Professor of Political Science at the University of Leeds, a Visiting Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, and a well-known specialist on contemporary Thailand. His more recent books include The Thaksinization of Thailand (co-authored, NIAS 2005), Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand (Cornell 2008) (which won the inaugural 2009 Bernard Schwartz Book Prize from the Asia Society), and Mapping National Anxieties: Thailand’s Southern Conflict (NIAS 2012). Currently a Visitor at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, he is also the President of EuroSEAS, 2013-17.

Duncan McCargo will discuss the intellectual and professional challenges faced by political science scholars with Southeast Asia area-specific expertise, from other political scientists who insist that disciplinary rigor, big data or currently fashionable methodologies should take precedence over language competence, fieldwork and cultural fluency. He will argue that the “choice” between area and discipline is an empty one. Ironically, despite this increasing criticism of political scientists whose work is grounded in Southeast Asian expertise, the quality of the work being done by such scholars is both demonstrable and increasing.


Antonia Soriente
Università di Napoli-L’Orientale

Antonia Soriente is an Italian linguist specialized in the languages of Borneo and a lecturer of Indonesian language and literature at the Department of Asian, African and Mediterranean studies at University of Napoli ‘L’Orientale’. Her main research field is the description and the documentation of Kenyah and Punan languages of Borneo for which she has collected extensive documentation and also applied linguistics, bilingualism and child language acquisition. She also engages in research of Indonesian contemporary literature and culture and translates Indonesian literature.

Antonia Soriente, a linguist and a translator of Indonesian literature, will focus on the difficult relationship between literature and social sciences. She will discuss how Indonesian contemporary literary works can represent a way intellectuals deal with the past, the traditions and politics. Drawing from the experience of translating works by Ayu Utami, Oka Rusmini and Leila Chudori she will ask how the creative act of these writers sheds light on the understanding of social, political and cultural changes in contemporary Indonesia. Do the fictional characters in these three literary works give empirical statements respectively about political oppression, cultural and social values and the veridicity of historical facts? If so how different are they from ethnographers, sociologists and historians?


Arndt Graf
University of Frankfurt

Arndt Graf is Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Goethe University of Frankfurt, Germany, since 2009. Previously, he worked at Universiti Sains Malaysia (2007-9), the University of Hamburg (1999-2005), and Cornell University (1998-9). He also held Visiting Professorships at Universitas Islam Negeri Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta (2004), the Université de La Rochelle (2005/6), Universiti Malaya (2013), and the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) de Lyon (2014).His publications mostly cover Indonesian and Malaysian media, political communication, Higher Education as well as African-Asian interactions.

“Beyond traditional Southeast Asian Studies? New interactions between Africa and Southeast Asia and their implications on concepts of area studies.”

Since the early 2000s, new interactions between Africa and Southeast Asia can be observed in various fields. Most notable are the more than 25,000 African students in Malaysia, but also other Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, or Indonesia experience now increasing numbers of African migrants. This is in line with the new African diaspora in China, which is currently estimated between 500,000 and one million people. Reversely, also increasing numbers of Southeast Asians are now working and living in Africa, such as Vietnamese construction workers in Angola. This new empirical evidence provokes the question whether traditional concepts of “Southeast Asia” as well as “Southeast Asian Studies” need to be revised.


Henk Schulte-Nordholt

Henk Schulte Nordholt is Head of Research at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and professor of Indonesian History at Leiden University. He is also Secretary of EuroSEAS and involved in the development of EU-ASEAN research cooperation in the Humanities and Social Sciences.