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Illustrated Panel Report: "Governance in Asia"

20. Okt. 2011

"Shifting Facets of Governance in Asia: A Transcultural Perspective" was the theme of a panel by students of the Cluster's Graduate Programme: Julten Abdelhalim, Bidisha Chaudhuri, Lion König, Mareike Ohlberg and Yujie Zhu. It was presented at the conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) and the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) in March/April 2011 in Honolulu. In the following report, the PhD students summarize their panel discussions on socio-political concepts such as power and state in the Asian context.

A Transcultural Perspective of Governance

J. Abdelhalim, M. Ohlberg, Y. Zhu
J. Abdelhalim, M. Ohlberg, Y. Zhu

The idea behind this panel, which was chaired by Anja Kluge, a doctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science of Heidelberg’s South Asia Institute, was to bring together various academic disciplines as well as different geographical areas of research—India and China—to make the concept of ‘transculturality’ more concrete and applicable. While the papers differed in their methodological approaches, they were united in their focus on transculturality as a new paradigm to research into socio-political concepts, such as power, state, governance, and citizenship in the Asian context.

Opening Lecture on Health Governance

Entrance Hall of Hawaii Convention Center
Entrance Hall of Hawaii Convention Center

Anja Kluge opened the panel with her talk “Aspects of Governance: India and the Transcultural Dimension of Global Health Governance”. On the basis of globally affecting factors in the need of a globally effective strategy the main question of the paper focused on health in the context of globalization and discussed the transcultural flows of different health concepts through the process of global health governance. While problematising the question of whether globalization is a new or an old phenomenon, it was argued that this process of globalization brought changes into different systems of societies which in modern times have become increasingly visible. In this paper, global governance has basically been understood as an instrument to protect global public goods.

Julten Abdelhalim on Muslim Politics in India

A topic of equally global extent and relevance, also using India as a case study, was discussed by Julten Abdelhalim who in her paper, “Being a Governed Muslim in a Non-Muslim State” sought to provide an anti-essentialist perspective to the discussion of Muslim politics and the dilemma of accommodating Islam and citizenship within a context of democratic governance. The case of Indian Muslims offered interesting insights into showing how transculturality could form a basic tenet of understanding citizenship in a postcolonial, yet democratic setting. One task was to confront the Eurocentric bias and simultaneously to try not to fall into its trap of essentialization and ‘Othernization’. To an extent this was attained by showing how Islam, as a worldview, presented different and intriguing conceptualizations of political action and agency. Hence, it was argued that the case of Indian Muslims defies liberal and republican-based paradigms and presents us with alternative hybrid and postcolonial conceptions of what a citizen is.   

A Study of Citizenship by Lion König

Conference Attendees at Hawaii Convention Centre
Conference Attendees at Hawaii Convention Centre

Another approach to the study of citizenship in a multicultural context was outlined by Lion König who in his presentation “Governance in the Age of the Mass Media: Indian (National) Identity at the Crossroads?” looked at the way in which state-owned mass media were employed to promote a ‘united citizenship’ and thereby neglected issues which were regarded as relevant to minority communities—a process which was continued after privately-owned, commercial media entered the market. Rather than subscribing to the oft-voiced suggestion to strengthen the so-called ‘community media’, Lion König argued that the answer rather lies in a hybridization of the mass and the non-mass media to guarantee that minority and majority communities find themselves represented in the same sphere. Understanding ‘transculturality’ as ‘transpolicy’ the conclusion drawn in the paper was that in times of global ‘mediascapes’ policymakers have to ensure a flow of policies. This is crucial since it is by institutionalizing the democratization of the media, a process in which other countries are more advanced than India, that the level of governance can be heightened.  

Bidisha Chaudhuri discussed 'Good Governance'

The variable of governance also figured prominently in Bidisha Chaudhuri’s lecture “Good Governance in a Transcultural Context: A Case Study of E-Governance Initiatives in India”, where she deconstructed the package of ‘good governance’ to address the politics of governance in India through the lens of e-governance initiatives taken by the government. Here again, transculturality set the framework of analysis by bringing in conceptual tools such as cultural flows, asymmetry and hybridity.  

An Urge for Generalization: Mareike Ohlberg on China's Soft Power

Question and Answer Session
Question and Answer Session

The following two papers emphasized the panel’s urge for generalization. Moving away from the South Asian context, they showed that the variables outlined above embedded into the canvas of ‘transculturality’ are valid to describe and explain governance-related phenomena in other geo-political settings. In the panel’s first paper on China, entitled “Transnational Image Management: The Bureaucratic Basis of Strengthening China’s Soft Power”, Mareike Ohlberg dealt with the increasing number of bureaucratic agencies involved in Chinese propaganda targeted at foreigners (literally: 'external propaganda' or duiwai xuanchuan), activities known by the term 'public diplomacy' in most other countries today. Although concrete institutional arrangements have varied, 'external propaganda' has always been spread out over two distinct policy sectors, namely the propaganda system and the foreign affairs system, each headed by a leading small group at the top. After outlining various past attempts to improve coordination issues in the past, Mareike Ohlberg concluded that judging by the information openly available, the problems of coordinating policy making have as of yet not been solved, and that this might be an important reason for the some of the inadequacies of Chinese 'external propaganda'.  

Yujie Zhu links Governance and Heritage Tourism in China

“When Global Meets Local: Cultural Flows in Governance of the World Heritage Site Old Town of Lijiang, China”, the final presentation of the panel, was a case study of governance in Lijiang which showed how the government has acted as a mediator in the communication with international NGOs and other agencies in the context of heritage tourism. Yujie Zhu argued that Lijiang is an example of the commercialization which is becoming a universal phenomenon in heritage sites under the threats of mass tourism in the context of modernization and globalization. Hence, the academic contribution to the discussion of different criteria and practices of "better governance" and "sustainable management strategies" is becoming necessary.   

Concluding Discussion

Book Fair at the Conference
Book Fair at the Conference
Music Performance
Music Performance

The panel, which was attended by both junior and senior scholars, was very well-received. Presentations were followed by stimulating academic discussions, which led to new insights and exchanges of ideas, particularly helpful to all the presenters. These new ideas will find their entry into the papers when they are rewritten for publication. We are most grateful to Professor Subrata K. Mitra, former speaker of Research Area A, for having invited us to publish our work in a special issue of the Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics (HPSACP).

Apart from the immense value that our panel held for us, the conference on a whole was most rewarding. Being one of the world’s largest scholarly conferences on Asia with more than 4000 participants from very diverse backgrounds, the AAS/ICAS joint conference proved to be an unrivalled venue—an international platform to present our findings and receive feedback which would further contribute to our research. The conference’s various evening receptions provided an opportunity to meet scholars working on related topics in a relaxed setting and thereby enrich our contact base. Additional advantages were the exposure to different programmes and research opportunities in the US, Europe and Asia as well as the exhibitions by big academic publishing houses—insights which will be helpful for us in the future.

We do consider ourselves privileged to have been able to experience an academic gathering of this scale at a very early stage of our academic careers and would like to express our gratitude to the Cluster of Excellence for having made this possible.

Additional Information

About the conference:

The conference was jointly held by the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) and the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS). It took place in Honolulu, USA, from 31 March to 3 April 2011.

About the authors:

Julten Abdelhalim, Bidisha Chaudhuri, Lion König, Mareike Ohlberg, and Yujie Zhu are PhD students of the Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies (GPTS) at the Cluster "Asia and Europe".

Picture credits:

All pictures by Wim Vreeburg (www.vreeburgavservices.nl) except the second picture that was made by the authors.


  • Audience at the conference