Conference on Changing Research Styles, Methodologies and Perspectives on Southeast Asia

Are there still some research areas to explore in Southeast Asian studies? Are there Southeast Asian societies and cultures still considered as ‘exotic’’, not-yet-explored and ready for new scholarly investigation? Can we come up with new methodologies, research materials and concepts to understand the rapid transformations of Southeast Asian peoples and cultures? Out of these changes, what is new and exciting empirically and conceptually, and what has transformed our current understandings of the human condition in Southeast Asia?  How have our changing approaches and the changing societies and cultures which we study influenced what we have discovered and how we have analyzed those findings in changing socio-cultural, economic and political contexts? 

To address this range of questions, the Institute of Asian Studies (IAS) and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) organized an international conference on 30 – 31 July 2018 at Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

Coordinated by Associate Professor Jeremy Jammes and Professor Victor T. King, this conference gave the opportunity to fifteen researchers in a range of disciplines embracing the social sciences and humanities (history, philology, geography/development, language and literature, sociology and anthropology) to reflect on their personal relationships to the research terrain, their fieldwork or their engagement with archives and library materials. The conference also brought together scholars who are representative of a range of ethnicities, of generations, and of scientific traditions (American, British, French, Australian, Southeast Asian).

An important theme for conference participants was to encourage panelists to reflect on and rethink their experiences of these changes both in their continuing personal and institutional research trajectories and in the ongoing need to address the ever-changing subjects of their studies. If a personal account might illuminate the motives and interests that could have inspired and edified research, it can also challenge our perceptions of the project of accessing and gathering research materials, the subject/object researched, and the societies themselves. An important focus which has not been sufficiently examined in the more recent formal methodological and ‘scientistic’ arenas which have given rise to several edited books on the region comprised the more informal and unexpected experiences of research, not simply those of personal encounters, of moral, intellectual and emotional investment with research subjects and their contextualization, but also ‘the importance of being wrong’, of ‘methodological blunders and mishaps’, ‘empirical errors’, ‘theoretical dead-ends’, historical misinterpretations’, ‘silencing as method’, ‘the anthropology of remembering’, ‘translation and self-reflexivity’, ‘shifting tracks and improvised itineraries’, ‘generational and digital challenges’, ‘the ethnography of secrets’, ‘transborder and local narratives in a regional context’ and ‘language change and moving identities’.