The value of Development Studies to Asian Studies – and vice versa

Topics Education

The theme of the 2018 Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) conference held at the University of Sydney (3-5 July 2018) was Area Studies and Beyond. The conference aimed to reach out to academics who do not generally think of themselves as scholars of Asia, but who nonetheless do research in Asian countries or the region as a whole. It was a great success, the largest ASAA conference ever, with congratulations due to conference convenor Professor Michelle Ford from the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.

Development Studies was well represented, with 27 panels in the stream (over 100 papers), covering themes such as: ‘Rural Communities in Asia: governance and development’; ‘Hybridity and Friction in Activism’, and; ‘Discourses of Development, Progress and Family’. A particular highlight was the six panels examining various aspects of ‘Agrarian Change in Asia’, with much of the research funded by agencies such as DFAT and ACIAR. It was a great opportunity to hear about emerging and innovative research in Development Studies, to learn from renowned scholars, and to network with people in the field.

Area Studies conferences such as ASAA are a great way for researchers to keep up with the latest developments in the countries they work.
Tanya Jakimow, UNSW

I was personally really pleased to see so many researchers of, and for, development attending an Asian Studies conference. In the plenary I discussed what my background in Asian studies brought to my teaching and research in Development Studies. For me, having regional expertise, or at least familiarity with the social, cultural and political context of a country, is absolutely critical to understand what development is needed, how we should do development, and the consequences (good and bad) of development interventions. For this reason, I encourage my students to structure their degree to achieve this knowledge, to take opportunities to gain experience in Asia, and pick up a language if possible. Area Studies conferences such as ASAA are a great way for researchers to keep up with the latest developments in the countries they work.

What I did not have time to explore in the opening session was what Development Studies brings to our understanding of Asia. The places where I work—in India and Indonesia—are ‘thick’ with the discourses, institutions and practices of development. Understanding political systems, social relations, and even subjectivities, requires consideration of what development means, and how it is locally practiced. The analytical tools of Development Studies equip us to unravel these complexities. Students and scholars of Asia would do well to sit in on Development Studies classes, and I would like to think that many conference participants from disciplines such as anthropology, history, and law learnt a lot from the Development Studies panels.

This cross-fertilization of ideas and understandings was exactly what this conference aimed to achieve, and is certainly what I got out of it. My thanks to all the Development Studies researchers who shared their work with our Asian Studies colleagues, and vice versa.


Dr Tanya Jakimow is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at UNSW, Sydney.