Hanoi, Vietnam - September 19, 2014: View of people crossing the Huc Bridge in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam.
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Xiao Liu
Assistant Professor, East Asian Studies, McGill University

Shuang Shen
Associate Professor, Comparative Literature Department & Asian Studies Department, Pennsylvania State University


It is said that we are now living in a “network society,” in which digital social media such as Twitter and Wechat, or information and communication technologies from smart mobile phones to portable minicomputers, form nodes and edges that knit everyone into interconnected networks. While digital and information technologies have indeed transformed the ways in which people interact with each other, the fetish of the “new” media and information technologies in this understanding of the “network society” obscures historical forms of connectivity and the materiality of networks. A historical understanding of network would enable to us to gain a better understanding of the past and future of inter-Asia connections.

Although Asia has never been unified, there have been multifarious socio-political formations and cultural imaginaries aimed at bridging the gaps between disparate localities or nations-states in Asia. Whether we are talking about the spread of certain universalist philosophies and worldviews or the political alliances created in defiance against the domination of Superpowers, inter-Asian connections have persisted throughout Asia’s historical passage from the era of empire and colonialism to the decades of nationalism and globalization. How can current discussions of “network society” come to terms with inter-Asian connectivity as histories of contact, contest, and negotiation in Asia? How do “new” media co-exist and intersect with networks and infrastructure that have facilitated the flows of goods, people, or ideas and allowed for their exchange over space and continuously reshaped geopolitical imaginations of Asia?

This panel foregrounds the deep time of network and adopts an interdisciplinary perspective to connectivity and infrastructure. As we probe into the conjunction between historical and present forms of connectivity as well as the intersection between “new” and “old” media in an inter-Asian context, we intend to move beyond the narrow understanding of “media” as merely content carrier or the means for representing existing things. Rather, we want to draw attention to the infrastructural aspect of the media in enabling the circulation of knowledge and things and producing new relations and connections. Asia is one of the fastest growing areas for new media and digital technology. Yet this fervor for the new media barely paints over an uneven space and discrepant histories of modernization and development. Only by viewing networks from historical and materialist perspectives, and only through examining media or cultural networks in conjunction with networks of resource, labor, and commerce, can we hope to gain a better understanding of contemporary Asia and inter-Asian connectivity in the era of globalization.

We invite a wide range of explorations into cultural and social networks and infrastructures that address the following questions: How do existing infrastructural networks, from railway to historically evolved telecommunication networks, to undersea cable systems, indicate layers of historical powers and connectivity, and thus, the palimpsestic nature of networks? How does infrastructure register the presence and legacy of imperial and colonial power or symbolize the strategic alliance across sovereign, linguistic, ethnic, and religious borders? How have different regions, societies, localities in Asia responded to the advent of the so-called “information age”? How do they make strategic uses of historical networks and cultural memories of connectivity to construct new information infrastructures and networks? How do local and regional flows of labor, resources, and knowledge suggest innovative forms of inter-Asian relationality that challenge historical or emergent geopolitical patterns, such as the polarized divides of the Cold War?

Potential topics include but are not limited to:

  • Comparison of the ways in which different regions and areas go through the process of “informationization” by making use of their existing infrastructures and networks
  • The overlapping of the purported “new” and “old” information technologies in specific or comparative Asian contexts
  • The repurposing of old infrastructure for new and emergent media networks
  • Translocal and regional media flows and media culture across Asia
  • The circulatory histories of the flow of resources, labor and ideas underrepresented by national histories
  • The networks of knowledge production, both ancient and contemporary that continuously reshape the imaginations of “Asia”
  • The infrastructural as institutional memories and records of human cost, particularly those pertaining to inter-Asian connections
  • Online shopping media platforms in and across Asia such as Taobao and Amazon and logistical labor as part of everyday infrastructures that facilitate the smooth circulation of products and commodities