Upcoming Conference Examines Trans-Asian Indigeneity

Marking the ten-year anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), this year’s Asian Studies Summer Institute at the Pennsylvania State University will focus on the theme of “Trans-Asian Indigeneity.” The Institute, June 18-24, 2017, will be directed by Neal Keating, Pasang Yangjee Sherpa and Charlotte Eubanks.

Exterior of the Old Botany Building at Penn State University (Source: George Chriss/Creative Commons).
Exterior of the Old Botany Building at Penn State University (Source: George Chriss/Creative Commons).

For the Institute, we invite applications from the humanities, arts and sciences —anthropology, environmental studies, history, political ecology, geography, art and literature— that examine “Indigeneity” as a protean concept and lived reality in Asia, Asian America, and Asian diasporic communities across the globe. Applicants must have completed their PhDs between August 2012 and 2017, or be advanced graduate students who are completing their dissertations. Institute participants spend a week reading and thinking about the annual theme, as well as significant time workshopping their work in progress. Particularly strong work may be considered for publication in the “Indigeneity” special issue of Verge: Studies in Global Asias.

We are especially interested in attending to the concept’s travels between Asian and western settler societies, or those following the movement’s historical concurrence with the rise of neoliberal political economy and the onset of massive anthropogenic environmental change. We explore the possibilities of strengthening collective indigenous identities that are not antithetical to state sovereignty and citizenry, but nonetheless challenge the status quo of nation-states and finance capital to make political space for “other” peoples with collective human rights that are now recognized in international law. We are also interested in the current historical, political and ecological moment, and the growing realization of planetary limits to unchecked economic growth. New forms of human organization are becoming imaginable, and Indigeneity may be among the most sustainable of these. We encourage applications that connect discourses of ‘Asian’ indigeneities with the larger planetary flows of capital and people.

Picture of Bhote Khampas in Bajura, Nepal celebrating Lhosar 2016 (Source: Pasang Sherpa)
Picture of Bhote Khampas in Bajura, Nepal celebrating Lhosar 2016 (Source: Pasang Sherpa).

Participants whose work draws on any region in Asia are welcome. For the readers of GlacierHub, we note that the indigenous peoples of the high mountain regions of Asia represent a variety of forms of engagement with indigeneity. Lying along the frontiers of the former Russian, British and Chinese empires, they negotiated with rulers in distant capitals who applied different systems of classification to them, and who often ran borders through the lands of specific peoples. At this time, some indigenous peoples began diasporas that have continued to the present. Their encounters with independent nations after the end of these empires have also been complex and marked by a growing number of new diasporas. We note as well that the lower mountain ranges of southeast Asia and the easternmost Himalayas have been characterized as a large zone of peoples who resist state rule altogether, as James C. Scott argued in his 2009 The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia.

Ordo Sakhna ensemble performing for the Kyrgyz community in Brooklyn, NY in 2010. (Source: Eurasianet.org)

This Institute provides a venue to reflect on how far the indigenous communities on the frontlines of climate change in Asia have come in 2017, as we also mark a decade since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). How are indigenous mountain peoples like the Sherpas dealing with threats from glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs)? How are Bhote Khampas adapting to the changes in the availability of forest herbs?

Penn State will provide a graduated travel stipend ($400 from the East Coast, $600 from the Midwest, $800 from the West Coast; $1000 from Europe; $1350 from Asia). We will also cover the costs of housing and most meals for the week of the Institute. To apply, please send the following documents in a single PDF file to verge@psu.edu by March 15, 2017.

  • A cover letter (up to 2pp) outlining your current career/research stage, and articulating a connection to the Institute theme.
  • A sample of your current work (10-20 pp). This need not be the piece you plan to workshop over the summer. It should nonetheless give the review committee some sense of your current and future work.
  • A current c.v.
  • Advanced graduate students must also include a letter from the dissertation adviser on academic progress and status. (This may be sent under separate cover, rather than as a part of the single PDF file for items 1-3.)

Decisions will be made by the first week of April 2017. Other inquiries regarding the Summer Institute may be directed to Charlotte Eubanks (cde13@psu.edu).

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