Eva Hansson, Forum for Asian Studies, Stockholm University, Stockholm
Meredith Weiss, University at Albany, State University of New York

Conference program (224 Kb)

List of Participants (221 Kb)

Asia’s political landscape is in flux. Conventional, institutional taxonomies are limiting: classifying regimes along an authoritarian–democratic continuum suggests a static, homogenous categorization that aligns imperfectly with the experience of most citizens. Policy access, civil liberties, and political empowerment are less broadly
disseminated in the illiberal regimes predominant across Asia than in liberal democracies, however unequal even in the latter. Authoritarianism cannot preclude political participation but may push other types of participation into informal, less visible, more creative, less readily suppressed niches. Even in more liberal politics, the core attributes of “democracy” are unevenly distributed; not all actors have equal chance of being heard or influential. What most characterizes these struggles across regimes is the asymmetry of resources, options and alliances available to each side. Moreover, a dichotomous division of civil society and political society fits poorly at best where new online media, transnational networks, and other dimensions of political space transcend or sidestep both territorial and institutional boundaries.

In the face of these changes, political space – the discursive and material terrain of politics – bears closer examination. That need is especially keen in authoritarian or hybrid (electoral authoritarian or semi-democratic) contexts, where political space may be obscured, manipulated, inconsistently influential, or subject to novel or subtle means of construction, policing, and constraint.

This conference aims to deconstruct and disentangle political space across interactive subnational, national and transnational scales; across categories of individuals and groups, including those with greater or lesser access to decision-making power; and across modes and media, from street protests and rallies, to documentary film and graffiti, to petitions and press conferences. Our focus is primarily outside formal, or electoral politics, although a given actor or group may also use available institutional channels for influence.

Among the key questions we aim to explore are: What actors benefit from new technologies of participation, and in what ways? How do categorical inequalities structure access to voice, given changes in available political space and allies? Who creates, controls, and polices political space – as some of these arenas may be outside the purview of the state itself? How does the interconnection or interplay of scales for political engagement change the distribution of channels and voice (though we are less interested in transnational civil society per se than in domestic implications)? How homogenous is authoritarianism, in the sense of state capacity to patrol or structure engagement, given economic development patterns, proximity to capital cities, or geostrategic considerations? To what extent are the repertoires or symbols that characterize political spaces path-dependent or modular – should we look for certain forms of engagement or discourses in certain places or arenas? Given the mutability of political space, how do we best conceptualize patterns of participation and representation across Asian political regimes?

The two-day conference is to be held at Stockholm University on 22-24 November 2015 will address these and related questions in the context of East, Southeast, and South Asia with participants from across disciplines. For more information, please download the conference program above.

Political participation in Asia- CfP (1218 Kb)