How can Asian Encounters help expose blind spots in sociological research?
During its 27th biannual conference, the Nordic Sociological Association (NSA) hosted the panel discussion Asian Encounters – Exposing or creating blind spots? Building on the theme of the conference – Exploring blind spots, the panel discussed the drawbacks and merits of studying Asia, as well as encounters between Asia and the Nordic countries.
With the purpose of spurring interest and also provide some hands-on insights and experiences informing and inspiring more research on Asia the panel discussed: What can we learn from Asia and what can Asia learn from us? Can the study of Asia reveal insights about our own societies and vice versa? Or do we by applying “Western” theory in the study of Asian societies create blind spots and thereby fail to understand social change in those societies?
The panel was organized and chaired by Lisa Eklund, Department of Sociology, Lund University, and consisted of Hilda Roemer Christensen, Copenhagen University, Ravinder Kaur, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Cecilia Milwertz, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, and Wang Feng, University of California, Irvine.
Roemer Christensen suggested that the endeavor of exposing blind spots in how we understand the “West” and the “East” may be more successful by applying theoretical concepts, rather than applying full-fledged theories, which may risk creating blind spots rather than revealing them. By comparing China and Denmark she gave examples of how she had come to understand Denmark differently, particularly with regards to how the past shapes the present, and how dichotomies can be bridged.
Kaur made a strong case for comparative sociology, suggesting there is an urgent need to look beyond nation states, where comparison may indeed be more fruitful along domains and not nation states. She suggested time is ripe for asking “How Other is the Other?”, and also called for more comparison within Asia, where for example China and India have much to learn from comparing and contrasting different phenomena and practices along lines of class, space, gender and education.
As argued by Milwertz, there is also a need to recognize the inseparability of “West” and “East”, and to understand how practices, policies and technology evolve in in separate and interdependent ways. Rather than studying separate geopolitical entities, there is a need to acknowledge the inseparability of for examples consumers and producers in East and West.
Taking the example of the population policy in China, Wang also drew attention to how knowledge has evolved in dynamics ways between East and West, in this case with regards to the relationship between population and development. Endorsing Kaur’s call for comparative sociology, Wang also proposed the need for historical sociology, reinforcing Roemer Christensen’s point about the importance of the past for understanding the present. Wang also pointed at the many global trends, including migration and varieties of capitalism, which need to be studied in comparative perspectives, both across time and space. He also argued for the possibility of comparing countries with small and large populations, and with different levels of economic development, something which indeed is done in many other disciplines. The panellists agreed on the importance for sociology to embrace interdisciplinary perspectives when studying social change across societies, various groups and domains.
Lisa Eklund är doktor i sociologi med erfarenhet av att arbeta även utanför akademin, främst med FNs befolkningsfond (UNFPA) i Peking och Geneve.