Why Inter-Asia? Concepts for a thick transregionalism

Engseng HO

IUAES2015 Keynotes #2 16 July 2015, 10.15 – 11.00 hrs.


The current thickening of links across Asia is a late after-effect of decolonization. While European colonization re-oriented Asian countries to imperial metropoles, the recent resurgence of inter-Asian links can be thought of as a return to historical norm. As such, the new, reconnected Asia resonates in many ways with a pre-imperial Asia, in which people had kin in distant regions, diasporic life was normal, Buddhism and Islam made the unfamiliar familiar, and pilgrims and traders journeyed thousands of miles as a matter of course. While our inherited European social science categories are geared to conceptualizing single societies for single states, the inter-connected societies of Asia old and new provide rich veins of data for reconceptualizing inter-linked societies on a wider, transregional stage. What concepts can we draw from such inter-Asian data, contemporary and historical, to redirect social science and historical research?

Engseng HO is Professor of Anthropology, Professor of History, Duke University and Muhammad Alagil Distinguished Visiting Professor in Arabia Asia Studies, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. He is a specialist on Arab/Muslim diasporas across the Indian Ocean, and their relations with western empires, past and present. His writings include an article, “Empire through Diasporic Eyes: A View from the Other Boat (2004), a book, The Graves of Tarim, Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean (2006), and most recently a co-edited book, The Indian Ocean: Oceanic Connections and the Creation of New Societies (2014).