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Keynote Speakers' Biographies and Abstracts

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Devanathan Parthasarathy (South Asian Studies Programme, National University of Singapore/Sociology, Indian Institute of Technology)

D. Parthasarathy is Professor of Sociology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India. He has been involved in researching issues related to urban studies, micro-finance, impact assessment, development planning, and climate studies. His current research interests include urban informality, transnational urbanism, commons, legal pluralism, and vulnerability to climate risks. He has held visiting positions at the Australian National University, National University of Singapore, and Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin. He recently co-edited (with Tim Bunnell and Eric Thompson) “Cleavage, Connection and Conflict in Rural, Urban and Contemporary Asia” (ARI-Springer Series, 2013).

“Relationality, Simultaneity, Multiplicity: Theorizing Structures and Flows in Asia”

Anthropologists involved in ethnographic field research in India often speak of the difficulty of reconciling Appadurai’s interpretative mapping of transnational flows and ‘scapes’ with the ‘in your face’ structural contradictions of class, caste, patriarchy, ethnicity, power, and regional inequality that confront the ethnographer. This difficulty mirrors challenges reflected in broader social science research in Asia as they attempt to cope with discourses that are both derivative and rooted in binaries of rural-urban, tradition-modern, and global-local. Building on field research in Mumbai, Singapore and Bangkok, this paper addresses issues of temporality, spatiality, and scale in exploring and interpreting the intersections of flows, mobilities, and spatially demarcated but traveling and expansive structural contradictions in Asia.

Inspired by Doreen Massey’s critique of multiplicity and power-geometry, and Indian anthropological critiques of village studies and urban studies, this talk uses a series of ethnographic illustrations to innovate our ways of comprehending relationality, connectedness, simultaneity, and multiplicity in empirical analysis and theorization of migration, mobility and flows across temporal and spatial units and scales. It is suggested that temporal and spatial heterogeneity in Asia conceal simultaneous but linked histories of struggles against structural forms of domination which may express in a politics of aspiration, even as various forms of relationality and flows sustain entrenched forms of dominance and control. The talk also emphasizes the significance of some methodological issues related to the study of urban public spaces, the study of flows and mobilities, and our ideas of the temporal, the spatial, and the scalar. Asian migration in particular but all kinds of migration in general ought to be framed by a knowledge of multiplicity as a dimension of space, of “the more-than-one”, of “a plurality of positionalities”; flows of capital, ideas, policies, people, and technologies of production create, in the words of Amin Ash a new “politics of propinquities” that are as significant as the transformations engendered by such flows.

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Eric C. Thompson (Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore)

Eric C. Thompson is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. Before joining NUS, he completed a PhD in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Washington and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of California Los Angeles. He teaches anthropology, gender studies, urban studies and research methods. His research spans field sites across Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. His research interests include transnational networking, urbanism, agrarian transitions, and ASEAN regionalism. His work has appeared in the journals American Ethnologist, Urban Studies, Political Geography, Asian Studies Review, Contemporary Sociology, and Contemporary Southeast Asian Studies among others. He is author of Unsettling Absences: Urbanism in Rural Malaysia (NUS Press, 2007). He is co-editor of Cleavage, Connection and Conflict in Rural, Urban, and Contemporary Asia (Springer, 2012).

“Circular Migration and Theatres of Accumulation”

In the 1980s, McGee and Armstrong proposed a model of cities as “theatres of accumulation” in order to provide a geographic point of reference for processes of capitalist accumulation within a world-systems or dependency theory framework. For McGee and Armstrong, the city was conceptualized as the site where global capitalism extracted local national surplus value – including both natural resources and human resources – and channeled that value, in the form of profits, from periphery to metropole in the world system. While not discounting the value of their analysis, in this presentation, I examine the city as a theatre of accumulation not from the top-down but rather from the bottom-up, that is from the point-of-view of rural-to-urban and transnational migrants for whom cities are sites to accumulate financial as well as social and cultural capital in order to fulfill their own aspirations. Importantly, drawing on examples from Bangkok and Singapore, the site of those aspirations is often elsewhere – not in the city but “back home” in rural areas or other countries. I use this analysis to critique the “right to the city” framework that has become an important discourse within urban studies and to consider the implications that intentionally circular migration (coming to a city, but not intending to stay) has for articulating urban, national and transnational planning and policy.

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