Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


IAS Critical Area Studies Funded Projects announced

10 April 2024

In 2024 the IAS offered a one-off fund to foster research, public engagement and/or innovative pedagogy in any field of critical area studies (CAS). Below you can find details of the recipients and their projects.

glass ball reflecting a river and mountains, Photo by Alin Andersen on Unsplash

Techno-Urban Atlas: Mapping Inter-Asian Transformations in Hsinchu, Taiwan and Chennai, India

Dr Pushpa Arabindoo, Geography; Dr Leah Lovett, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Bartlett; Richard Müller, Geography

person on a building site building a wall
The 21st Century has brought about an intensifying entanglement between urbanisms and digital technologies. This relationship presents innovative tools for connection and communication, while simultaneously generating new modes of extraction and marginalisation. However, the costs and benefits of this formulation are not distributed evenly on a planetary or urban level. Many Asian cities, as the epicentres of much of the world’s techno-industrial transformations, face new challenges and opportunities at this convergence of increasing connection and disarticulation. Two cities in particular, Hsinchu, Taiwan and Chennai, India have come into unanticipated proximity at the centre of these new global flows of material, capital, and labour. 

This project will facilitate two public engagement workshops in Chennai and Hsinchu and the creation of a web-based Techno-Urban Atlas to bear witness to and promote inter-Asian comparison regarding the socio-spatial reconfigurations emerging within these urban areas. The workshops will be in collaboration with local cultural organisation partners, the Chennai Photo Biennale and Hsinchu City Art-Site. The workshops will train participants in 3D-scanning methods before venturing on a walking tour through key techno-industrial areas within Chennai and Hsinchu. The participants will 3D-scan sensorial traces, surfaces, and artifacts of the urban landscapes which will then be aggregated into the public Techno-Urban Atlas website.

Imagining “the West”: An Interdisciplinary Workshop on the Portrayals of “the West” in Eastern Europe

Dr Jessie Barton Hronesova, SSEES; Dr Jelena Calic, SSEES; Prof Eric Gordy, SSEES

signpost with east and west with storm clouds in background
The aim of this workshop is to tease out the complicated facets of various contemporary understandings, imaginations, and meanings of the West in the realms beyond its imagined boundaries in Eastern Europe. While much ink has been spilled on debating the western imaginings of the East, this workshop will re-focus the discussion on the West as a political, cultural, and historical entity in eastern imaginations. In a discussion with scholars, artists and media experts, the workshop aims to trace the origins, contents, and changes in the imaginings and representations of the West in Eastern Europe in general, and in the former Yugoslavia in particular. It will also explore the idea of “disillusionment” with the West and ponder over the two dominant portrayals of the West: as a value-driven beacon of prosperity and democracy and a neo-colonial, interest-driven, interventionist hegemon to problematize these binary and myopic portrayals. The aim is to discuss the political currency of these representations and explore how integrating scholarly critiques and creative practices can capture both progressive and regressive aspects of Western political interventions. 

To be held on 7 June 2024 at SSEES.

‘South Asia’ + ‘Middle East’’ + Early Modern’ = ?

Dr Jagjeet Lally, History; Dr Seth Anziska, Hebrew & Jewish Studies, Prof Tariq Jazeel, Geography

Nan va Halva (Breads and Sweets) (MET, 1999.157)
This workshop examines what it means to put a period label derived from Europe’s historical experience and historiography, together with geographic categories originating in the Cold War West, for the study of places and peoples outside Euro-America. For scholars of Critical Area Studies, more often working on modern topics and problems, this workshop affords an opportunity to engage with historical perspectives broadly conceived – i.e., those from history, history of art, history of science, theology, geography, anthropology, etc. How do we productively reframe Area Studies once we go deeper into the past and farther from the era that gave meaning to ‘South Asia’ and the ‘Middle East’ and manifested these categories in real-life institutions and discourse? For scholars of South Asia and the Middle East, too, this workshop provides an opportunity to rethink categories, not least what has long been a Eurocentric one – namely, the ‘early modern’. Can we speak of a ‘global’ rather than merely a Europe-centred ‘early modernity’? Where can we locate South Asia and the Middle East in the early modern world at large, and what role(s) did these regions and their inhabitants play in shaping early modernity? And what do such findings offer, in turn, to how we understand the fields of ‘South Asian studies’ and ‘Middle East studies’? This workshop is being organised by the UCL Middle East Research Centre (MERC) and the UCL Centre for the Study of South Asia and the Indian Ocean World (CSSA), and is generously supported by the Institute of Advanced Studies.

See event page, 21 June 2024 in the IAS Forum

Image: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/453673

Precarity in urban China: surviving in capitalist ruins

Dr Alison Lamont, Social Research Institute, IOE; Dr Annabella Massey, Education Practice and Society, IOE

a street in China with neon signs and shops
The Chinese city now exists in a time and space where the economy slows, work intensifies, and Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” of social mobility dims. In this context, urban survival and thriving have become increasingly resource-intensive, and the rise of the “996” employee (working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week) in the popular imagination is currently being met by the widespread call to “lie flat” (tang ping) and to stop fighting for progress, and instead, to make do with indifference and mediocrity at an individual level. As Margaret Hillenbrand (2023) has recently demonstrated, these states of precarity in China’s urban spaces have been underexplored by scholars. Exploring precarity in Chinese cities can help us scrutinise the “global city” (Saskia Sassen, 1991) with a local eye: international capitalism under state-managed conditions has created particular pressures and responses which call for academic discussion.    

This half-day workshop uses Anna Tsing’s (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins as a gateway to invite participants to explore these local conditions, particularly in connection to the idea that people are currently piecing together lives and meaning in the “ruins” of capitalism. Tsing’s concept of capitalist ruins invokes images of what is left behind in the wake of capitalist advancement and reminds us that capitalism has boundaries and externality, domains of non-capitalist experience which capitalism itself scavenges for the accumulation of value. Tsing uses her ethnographic “art of noticing” to illuminate the areas of life from which capitalism scours resources, noting that they are often created within the ruined remains of capitalism’s own processes. 

We therefore invite researchers to think of their work in China’s cities and distinct model of capitalism in connection to Tsing’s notions of “salvage accumulation”, and to explore the “landscapes of unintentional design” that rapid development leaves behind, while also drawing attention to the global pull of supply chains and markets. Ranging from lived experiences of precarity and informal work and social media livelihoods, to urban exploration, to urban planning policy, through to play and rebellion in the city, the workshop aims to highlight the Chinese city as both a space of precarity and a space made up of creative responses to that precarity. 

To be held on 21 June in the IAS Common Ground

‘Traversing beyond Borders: Intermediality and Cross-Cultural Communication’ PG Conference

Serena Pei, SELCS; Gefan Wang, King’s College London

painting sev kardesim love sister and brother by merve iseri
Our one-day PGR Conference aims to showcase the research of PGR students from various fields whose work is relevant to the discourse of either ‘intermediality’ or ‘cross-cultural communication’. We will not only explore the interaction between different cultures and languages in world literature, but also discuss the intersection between different forms of media, such as poetry and visual arts, music and literature, especially the artist creations whose inspiration is connected to literary works. The conference also plans to invite artists to participate as panellists and workshop leaders in the spirit of encouraging the collaboration between academia and creative industries.

We are enormously delighted to announce that we have invited London-based Turkish artist Merve İşeri to be our keynote speaker, whose creation is based on the unique understanding of immigration, displacement of identity, cross-cultural experience, and memory. For more information about İşeri’s works, please see her website: https://www.merveiseri.com/

To be held on 31 May in the IAS Common Ground. View the call for papers

Image credit: ‘Sev Kardesim’* (love, sister and brother) by Merve İşeri (2021). Oil, pastel, acrylic, and pigment spray paint on canvas. * The painting’s title alludes to the song of the same name by Turkish singer Şenay.

Infrastructure Soundscapes

Dr Igor Rogelja, EISPS; Manca Bajec, Goldsmiths University of London; ZRC SAZU, Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences

sketch with watercolours of a high-rise building complex
Infrastructures defy the human scale with their size, reach and temporal dimensions, yet they underpin much of the modern human experience. By deploying an innovative methodology of a walking seminar, this collaborative project joins infrastructure researcher Dr Igor Rogelja (EISPS) and artist-curator Dr Manca Bajec (Goldsmiths) with an existing research programme hosted by the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts called "Route Biographies of Istria". We will join ten other researchers and practitioners on a hike through this Mediterranean region's infrastructural "back stage". Exploring questions of visibility and invisibility of infrastructures, the team will spend several days conducting an embodied form of research, thinking and writing. Simultaneously, Dr Bajec will produce a sound-based artistic intervention in conjunction with the rest of the team's work.

The artistic intervention will consist of a continuous recording of soundscapes along the route, but also two 'stopping points' in Trieste, where the artist will consider how infrastructures that have lost their original purpose come to occupy a space of cultural identity. Considering the methodological approach of interviewing objects and images, we will be interviewing the buildings in question in relation to the sounds of untold and often repeated histories. The project will produce a soundscape map and essay, hosted on the project’s digital portal Footnotes.

Presented at IAS in early summer 2024.

Image credit: Silas Capps

Children’s Letters for Palestinian childhoods

Prof Rachel Rosen, Social Research Institute, IOE; Dr Feryal Awan, Culture, Communicatin and Media, IOE; Osama Al-Azza, Palestinian storyteller and actor

painting of two people embracing, 'Shelter' by Malak Mattar
Children's Letters for Palestinian Childhoods brings research insights about Palestine and children’s lives into conversation with a Palestinian artist from Gaza, to develop and run creative workshops with children in London. The texts and images produced by children in these workshops will be transformed into a public exhibition, centring children and their unique questions and insights to create public awareness and spaces for conversation about Palestine and its transnational meanings and connections. 

The project is an extension of Letters for Palestinian Childhoods, which is a response to a global call to action by childhood studies scholars and students, who demanded an immediate ceasefire and called on people to stand in solidarity and counter the dehumanisation of Palestinian children and adults. The result was a coming together of international academics and artists, who used their area studies knowledge to build an online (website / Instagram) and travelling exhibition.

Image credit: Shelter, by Malak Mattar (2021)

Indigeneity and Art in the Himalayas

Sangita Thebe Limbu, Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction; Mridu Rai, Anthropology

two people on a snowy mountain with spacesuits on
A new generation of Indigenous artists, educators, and writers have been producing an influential body of work in recent years, which aims to reclaim and represent Indigenous stories, experiences, and marginalised histories in the Himalayas. They also seek to reimagine new futures and possibilities amidst the unfolding climatic and social crises. 

Our project aims to bring together artists and researchers from Nepal and India to share their experiences of working on issues of identity and collective rights in the eastern Himalayas. In doing so, we will critically reflect on Indigenous storytelling, knowledge production and methodologies, and the contested discourse on Indigeneity in Asia. 

Through a one-day event comprised of film screening, a shadow play, a photo exhibition and a panel discussion, the project aims to create a safe and collaborative space where artists, storytellers, researchers, community mobilisers can come together to network, learn from one another, and co-produce shared agendas and approaches.  

Images: video still from the docufiction Ningwasum. The photo was provided by artist Subash Thebe Limbu.