Inter-Asia Cultural Studies: Movements

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  »  Issues Contents  2009-07-01 Editorial introduction


Editorial introduction
Kuan-Hsing CHEN
In July 2005, the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society conference organized a double panel on the 'Transformations of knowledge production in the era of neo-liberal globalization' held at the Korean National University of Arts. Most of the essays included in this special issue were first presented in that context. I would like to thank Professor Kim Soyoung and her team for hosting the conference.
      In many unthinking respects, neo-globalization forces based on an American model are profoundly changing the structure, protocols, mores, and ranking systems of higher education all over the world, and hence, modes of knowledge are in the process of being transformed. In Asia, there have been long traditions of intellectual practices that situate themselves beyond the university, in the social and political spaces; intellectuals are by definition 'public' in the sense that the driving concerns and energies have always been towards the public arena and social interest; they have never been confined within the academic institution. This intimate relation between the social, the political and the intellectual has slowly been built up in the process of democratization movement; and the legitimacy and originality of intellectual work has precisely come from that intense engagement. With the coming of the recent wave of marketization, expressed in the form of privatization and professionalism, the evaluation system and the institutional measurement of academic performance and university promotion practices have, in effect, become a weapon to dismantle quickly the critical modes of knowledge production. To compare notes on the conditions of knowledge in different locations and to defend the space for critical intellectual works are the motives of this special issue.
      Similar to the history of capitalism, the operating principles of the neo-liberal have to negotiate with the existing local forces. The specificities of changing conditions vary. From different angles, activist scholars Ozawa Hiroaki and Minoru Iwasaki analyze the impacts on diverse levels of the 2004 'National University Corporation Law' orchestrated by the Japanese state. The forming alliance of 'industry, state and academe' towards national competition in the international economy has meant the loss of job security for faculty and staff, the increase of students and family's financial burden, and the emergence of a top down centralized decision making structure, which is echoed by Angel Lin's account of changes taking place in Hong Kong where university as a part of a civil service system is now eroded. Public universities in South Korea and Taiwan are not yet corporatized, but the loss of autonomy is the common trend. Myungkoo Kang's ambitious essay charts the contour of the state led reform and indicts this direction as a self-colonizing movement. Within this wider trend, the essay co-written by Nancy Abelmann, So Jin Park and Hyunhee Kim, based on their ethnographic work on the ground, pinpoints the problem of neo-liberal subjectivity on the student body.
      One of the most controversial issues emerging in the neo-liberal transformation of conditions of knowledge in Asia is the widely spread movement to internationalize local scholarship, a movement heralded by the state, and mediated through the academic regime. In humanities and social science, this form of internationalization is manifested in the forced adoption of the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) and Arts and Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI) as the standard of measuring academic performance. Essays by Myungkoo Kang, Kuan-Hsing Chen and Sechin Y.S. Chien, Angel Lin, and Hong Duck-Ryul analyze the serious problems generated in Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong; essays by Wan-wen Chu and Arthur Hou-ming Huang account for the actual practice in the disciplines of economics and sociology. Similar measurement systems have also been adopted in China, Singapore, the Philippines, and are now beginning to take off in South Asia. To be sure, SSCI and A&HCI in themselves are not the problems. These indexes were established to serve the purpose of academic research, but were never intended as a performance measurement index. It is the sentiment of the ex/developmental state to promote international competition that finds SSCI and A&HCI as the only convenient means to achieve its supposed end. Without proper understanding, prior analysis, and a democratic consultation process, the state's blind adoption is very effectively destroying local academic culture. SSCI and A&HCI are English-centered indexes. Important non-English-language journals, with a long history and reputation, such as Thought in Japanese, Creation and Criticism in Korean, and Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies in mandarin Chinese, are not included. To publish in English journals means not only the ability to write in a language which is not one's own, but to cater for the established concerns and rules of Anglo-American academic cultures. In effect, as all of these essays point out, local concerns are pushed aside; and for job security purposes, younger scholars are forced to prioritize writing in English (if this is even an option) since 'local-national' and other languages count as less credit. The expected or unexpected effect of internationalization thus goes against the spirit of multiculturalism. This raises further the question of internationalization. No doubt, in this era of neo-globalization, the closure of national culture is neither possible nor desirable. But the actual and active relations with the global can only be imagined from the historical relations established in the local. And more importantly, the understanding of the global circuits has to be multiplied; oftentimes, to be connected in the regional network which is already inside the structure and route of the global.
      Since September 2008, the global financial crisis has begun to hit all corners on earth. Neo-liberal confidence and arrogance is now contested. In the years to come, we expect heated debates to happen at the center of the 'state-industry-academe' complex. When the entire world system, as well as its direction of movement, is being called into question, the blind faith in pushing local autonomous knowledge production into one imagined system of measurement will need to be radically challenged. This special issue, one hopes, will become useful documentation for active intellectuals to intervene in changing the larger conditions of knowledge and the world.

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