Programme Asia Week 2020

Asia Week will take place digitally on Zoom December 7-11, 2020. The program will be updated with more events during the next weeks.

Monday, December 7

The Politics of Beef in India

09:00 –10:00

Sagari Ramdas, Food Sovereignty Alliance; & Popular Education Programme at the Kudali Inter-generational Learning Centre, India


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One in every 13 Indians consumes beef, and India is the world’s largest exporter of beef (so-called cara-beef), thus belying the popular image of India as a vegetarian cow worshipping country. India’s beef is a by-product of buffaloes and cattle reared for milch or draught, and until recently, predominantly under mixed-crop-livestock production systems. This arguably makes it the least environmentally damaging beef globally. It is integral to the food systems of India’s most impoverished, oppressed and discriminated citizens: Adivasi, Dalits and Muslims; it is the cheapest source of non-industrial animal protein in the country; and the post-slaughter economy consisting of beef, skin and hides and other offals, is critical for the sustainable cycle of bovine production, resilient food farming systems, and people’s livelihoods. Currently, increasingly draconian anti-slaughter legislations, coupled with aggressive cow vigilantism, threatens to disrupt all of this. In this talk, Dr Sagari Ramdas discusses the politics of beef in the Indian context, and its importance for a sustainable, democratic and just India.

Sagari Ramdas is a veterinary scientist and member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance, India. She also heads the Popular Education Programme at the Kudali Inter-generational Learning Centre, in Telangana, India. She designs and facilitates transformative popular education processes for Social justice, Food Sovereignty and Buen Vivir, with Bahujan (Dalit-OBC-Muslim) and Adivasi Youth. She writes on her interests concerning social justice, food sovereignty, livestock and ecological governance.


Minerals are a shared inheritance: Accounting for the resource curse

12:00 – 13:00

Rahul Basu, Research Director, Goa Foundation, India


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Many countries badly mismanage their natural resource endowments. In this presentation, we argue that a fundamental change in paradigm is needed.

Specifically, we advocate treating non-renewable natural resources as a finite shared inheritance asset, and extraction as the sale of the inherited wealth. We identify several proposals that logically derive from treating mineral sale proceeds as intergenerational wealth rather than as revenues that can be spent. Wealth portfolio management suggests that mineral owners must strive for zero-loss when selling minerals, establish a passively invested future generations fund from the proceeds and distribute dividends from that fund to citizens as the rightful owners of the shared inheritance. The current dominant metaphor of proceeds from the exploitation of non-renewable mineral resources as being “windfall revenues” is underpinned by government accounting standards. The “windfall revenue” metaphor is not only inaccurate but also produces several pernicious effects that help explain the poor management of natural resource endowments in so many countries.

We do not anticipate that our ideas will quickly overturn centuries of established practice. We do, however, believe that the case needs to be made.


Future or Past? Climate change as seen from the global North and South

19:00 – 20:15

Amitav Ghosh, author of several best-selling books


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In the West, no matter whether in economics, science or indeed, fiction, climate change is almost always imagined in relation to the future. In the global South, however, the imagining of climate change is markedly different.

In this talk, Amitav Ghosh will examine and analyse some of the differences between the two perspectives, drawing on examples from Asia and elsewhere. The presentation is follow by a conversation with Dr Ursula Münster from the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities.

Amitav Ghosh is the author of several best-selling books, including The Hungry Tide, The Calcutta Chromosome, and Gun Island. His book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, a work of non-fiction, was given the inaugural Utah Award for the Environmental Humanities in 2018. He has been awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest honours, the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary honour, as well as several international prizes. In 2019, he was named one of the most global important thinkers of the preceding decade by Foreign Policy magazine.


Tuesday, December 8

Temporal and spatial complexities of territorial projects in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia


Anu K. Lounela, University Researcher in Development Studies at the University of Helsinki


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Central Kalimantan, located on the Indonesian side of Borneo, has often been described as a state frontier area where rapid changes take place in legal and administrative regimes and rules that govern access and ownership to land and nature. Today, frontier development includes state and non-state actors that bring natural resource projects aimed at producing long-term effects by engaging local people in the commodification of nature. Local people adopt and abandon these projects at a rapid pace due to changing conditions, policies and natural hazards. I will explore commodification in terms of territorial projects and the spatial and temporal reordering of human-nature relations within the landscapes of Central Kalimantan. Linked to the territorial expansion of trees and plants, commodification challenges local environmental practices and forms of sociality. In this talk, I argue that the commodification of nature and its territorial aspects brings new layers of complications and thus has unexpected effects on the lives of local populations.


Roundtable: Decarbonising Asia: The road ahead


  • Jørgen Delman, Professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen

  • Gøril Heggelund, Research Professor at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute

  • Karina Standal, Senior Researcher at CICERO – Center for International Climate Research

  • Marius Korsnes, Research Scientist at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology


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About 60 percent of the world’s population is located in Asia, with China and India alone housing 2.7 billion people. The continent has experienced rapid social changes the past 40 years, and among the crucial questions that currently confront policymakers, academics and the general population is how to ensure access to affordable, safe and clean electricity for the population. This panel looks closer at the experiences in China and India particularly.

The panelists will cover topics such as how the low carbon energy transition in India presents challenges for social justice, as well as the opportunities and challenges that China faces in its ongoing decarbonization process.


The Statist Construction of Ecological Civilization: Marxist Roots and the One-World World


Dan Smyer Yü, Kuige Professor of Ethnology, School of Ethnology and Sociology and the National Centre for Borderlands Ethnic Studies in Southwest China at Yunnan University


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This talk is based on a research paper on the author’s ongoing studies of the either highly eulogized or critiqued impacts of the Chinese state’s ecological civilization initiative. It revisits the ideological roots of this world-changing project for the sake of generating a clearer understanding of its intentionality, ontology, and projected outcomes.

Situated in the currently difficult situation of China’s international relations with the European Union, the United States, Canada, and their allies around the world, this talk connects its inquiries and discussions with the increasingly recognized divergent values between the Chinese state and its European and North American counterparts as well as with some of their common interests in sustainability goals facilitated through international policy instruments such as UNEP. It raises questions about the conceptual and ideological building blocks of China’s so-called ecological civilization: What do “ecology” and “civilization,” individually, mean in this state-initiated, globally-propagated civilizing project? Whom and what does this state-led civilizing project intend to civilize? How does it connect or disconnect itself from the overall environmental movements and discourses seen around the world in the last half a century As the peoples of the world hold their diverse traditional knowledge and / or modern environmental measures for sustainable living, why do the architects of “Ecological Civilization” see the need to propagate a universal mode of being across the world? How likely is it that the ecological civilization is an anthropogenic response to anthropogenic impacts of economic globalization in a circular process?

In the process of addressing these questions, this talk offers an ontological assessment of this statist project in which the worldwide propagation of the core-values of the Chinese Communist Party is the ultimate, below-the-radar goal and, in which, thus, the environment is a secondary concern regarded as a “reusable” natural resource used to fuel the priority goal.


Wednesday, December 9

Welfare, Inequality, and the Constitution of 21st Century Social Orders


Jonathan London, Associate Professor of Global Political Economy – Asia, at the University of Leiden


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The 21st century was greeted with a spirit of uncertainty amid profoundly contradictory global trends, including economic expansion, an intensifying ecological crisis, and highly varied improvements in the wellbeing of human populations both across and within countries. Within this context, social life globally and in innumerable local settings played against the backdrop of seemingly-inexorable and profoundly political processes of marketization. Viewed from the perspective of social political economy, marketization has entailed several key elements. These have included the spatial and institutional reconfiguration of global and local economies, the political emplacement and hardening of unaccountable varieties of capitalism, and the defeat (for now) of efforts to subordinate and harness global and local economies in the interests of maximizing human wellbeing and the sustainability of economies overall.

While Asia has been widely seen to be a beneficiary of globalization, this talk presents a more complex and interesting dynamic. Namely, that processes of world scale marketization that have figured so prominently in the last forty years of world history have registered differently across Asia, eliciting varied responses, and generating unequal welfare and inequality outcomes. These differences can be usefully understood to reflect variability in the social constitution and dynamics of the region’s countries’ nationally-scaled political economies, or social orders. Questions about the sustainability and democratic accountability of varieties of capitalism in contemporary Asia benefit from an understanding of this variability.


India’s New Coal Geography: Transitioning to more fossil energy?


Patrik Oskarsson, Associate Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences


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The advance of renewable energy around the world have kindled hopes that coal-based energy is on the way out. Recent data, however, make it clear that growing coal consumption in India coupled with continued use in China keeps coal-based energy at 40 percent of the world’s heat and power generation.

As part of the consolidation of coal-based power in India, we analyse an energy transition to, rather than away from, carbon-intensive energy over the past two decades via the establishment of an entirely new resource geography. We term this geography India’s new coal geography, comprised by new ports and power plants by private sector actors along the coastline fuelled by imported coal. This geography runs parallel to, and is yet distinct from, India’s ‘old’ coal geography based on domestic public sector coal mining and thermal power generation. We understand the development of coastal thermal power as an outcome of long-term electrical energy shortages and significant public controversy in the old coal geography. By analysing the making of the new coal geography at a national level, and scrutinizing its localised manifestation and impact through a case study of Goa state, we outline the significant infrastructural investment and policy work of a dispersed network of public and private sector actors that slowly enabled this new coal energy avatar. We argue that this enormous effort to establish India’s new coal geography further entrenches the country’s reliance on coal: For India, energy security is a choice between domestic and imported coal.


Book talk: Citizenship in a Caste Polity: Religion, Identity and Belonging in Goa


Jason Keith Fernandes, Researcher at the Centre for Research in Anthropology, ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon


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In the mid-1980s, Goa witnessed mass demonstrations, violent protests and political mobilising, following which Konkani was declared the official language of the Goan territory. However, Konkani was recognised only in the Devanagari script, one of two scripts used for the language in Goa, the other being the Roman script. Set against this historical background, Citizenship in a Caste Polity: Religion, Language and Belonging in Goa studies the more recent contestations around the demand that the Roman script also be officially recognised and given equal status.

Based on meetings and interviews with individuals involved in this mobilisation, Fernandes explores the interconnected themes of language, citizenship and identity, showing how, by deliberately excluding the Roman script, the largely lower-caste and lower-class Catholic users of this script were denoted as less-than-authentic members of civil society.

Fernandes claims that the inquiry into these issues is of significance for more than just students of Goa interested in studying a group that has remained largely underrepresented in research. As citizens of a former Portuguese territory, the Goan Catholics’ experience of Indian citizenship does not fall entirely within the framework of British Indian history. For this reason, this study allows for the appreciation of the experience of citizenship in post-colonial India from outside of the British Indian framework which is hegemonic in India studies, and opens new vistas through which to view India. Further, a focus on Catholics enables a departure from the Hindu-Muslim binary which by and large defines the study of Indian secularism. Given that the Muslim is understood as the Other to the Hindu, an obsession with this binary ties the question of Indian secularism even more firmly to Hindu nationalism. Finally, the focus on caste and citizenship allows an interrogation of India’s claims as a liberal democracy to demonstrate the reality of a functioning caste polity.


Thursday, December 10

Is Asia and the Pacific on track to meet the ambitions of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development?


Gemma Van Halderen, Director of the Statistics Division in the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).


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In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted an ambitious agenda, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom and all countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, implement the plan. The 2030 Agenda’s brand is its 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, and it is supported by a monitoring framework comprising 231 globally agreed indicators. The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, or ESCAP, produced a baseline report in 2017 on progress by the Asia-Pacific region towards the 2030 Agenda and has been annually reporting since. In 2020, five years into the 2030 Agenda, Asia and the Pacific is not on track to meet any of the Goals although may get there for quality education (Goal 4) and affordable and clean energy (Goal 7). For some Goals, Asia and the Pacific is not even heading in the right direction – it is regressing, not progressing. Using a methodology which can be applied globally, regionally, or nationally, this presentation will discuss progress towards the 2030 Agenda and its plan for people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnerships.

Gemma van Halderen is Director of the Statistics Division in the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). Prior to joining ESCAP in 2018, she was a member of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Executive Team leading, amongst other things, ABS’ contribution to the Australian Government’s Data Integration Partnership for Australia.


Roundtable: Sustainability in the high Himalayas: A panel debate on social, economic and environmental dynamics in times of rapid change


  • Andrea Nightingale, Professor at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo
  • Rune Bolding Bennike, Assistant Professor at the Section for Global Development, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen

  • Heidi E. Fjeld, Associate Professor at the Section for Medical Anthropology and Medical History, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo


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Although Himalayan communities are in the periphery of the massive growth we see in production and consumption in the bigger cities of Asia, these high altitude villages and areas are in the midst of rapid transformational changes that challenge, alter, redefine life in the mountains. In this panel debate, we focus on sustainability in the Nepalese Himalayas, exploring possibilities and challenges of sustainable village lives. Many of the high Himalayan villages are going through processes of depopulation, or in the case of tourist destinations, repopulation, which shift social, economic and environmental dynamics. At the same time, living close to the Himalayan glaciers in what on often called the third pole climate change is increasingly becoming a concern of the everyday life. In the panel, we approach sustainability in Himalaya, understood in a broad sense, by bringing together examples of adaptation to climate change, tourism as development, and innovative migration practices, and perspectives from human geography, political science and social anthropology.


Policy Translation and Energy Transition in China


Jørgen Delman, Professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen


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China's leadership is in the middle of overseeing a green transition of the Chinese energy system that aims to replace fossil fuels with clean energy. This will help make China's air cleaner and reduce China's emissions of greenhouse gases. To move the energy transition ahead, there has been an acute need to continuously develop and adapt guiding policies and regulatory frameworks to stimulate the development of green technologies, complex reform solutions, and appropriate institutions. The responsible Chinese authorities and energy policy actors have chosen to collaborate with international partners to do this. They see Denmark as a best-practice learning case, and through a strategic government-to-government partnership, Denmark has gradually become one of China’s preferred strategic policy interlocutors on energy politics. With the Sino-Danish energy policy collaboration as a case, this chapter examines the role of international policy learning and policy translation in energy policy design in China. The study finds that specific ‘commanding moments’ associated with wicked policy problems in China’s energy transition have been important to stimulate the interest in mobilizing bilateral collaborative efforts to translate relevant Danish policy ideas, concepts, and solutions into the Chinese context. The chapter elaborates an analytical model to guide the analysis of policy translation practices, which views policy translation as a process of pragmatic, interactional, adaptive, solution-oriented collaborative efforts that combine a variety of tools to translate foreign policy meanings into Chinese energy politics. The demand-driven collaboration has co-produced reform-oriented ideological conceptions and policy recommendations and inputs that have often transmuted into indigenized energy policies in China. It has also produced public value on both sides and helped overcome resistance to reforms in China.


Friday, December 11

Religious Environmental Activism in Asia


Leslie Sponsel, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii


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Throughout the world religious organizations are exploring and implementing into action ideas about the relevance of religion and spirituality in dealing with a growing multitude of environmental issues and problems. Religion and spirituality have the potential to be extremely influential for the better at many levels and in many ways through their intellectual, emotional, and activist components. This talk is based on the edited book Religious Environmental Activism in Asia, and provides concrete cases of environmental activism involving some of the main Asian religions. Collectively, these case studies reveal a fascinating and significant movement of environmental initiatives in engaged practical spiritual ecology in Asia.


Closing event with research project TRANSSUSTAIN

Transcendence and Sustainability: Asian Visions with Global Promise


Mette Halskov Hansen, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo

Koen Wellens, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo

Daniel Münster, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo

Amita Baviskar, Department of Environmental Studies, Ashoka University


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In this seminar, members of the research project “Transcendence and Sustainability: Asian Visions with Global Potential” (Transsustain) discuss what role spiritually and religiously inspired environmental movements in Asia can play in contributing to the global goal of environmental sustainability.

The Transsustain project emerges from the observation that scholars, activists, and even politicians in India and China and Taiwan have increasingly found inspiration in traditional knowledge and in premodern texts and practices of, for instance, Daoist, Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucian traditions to envision more ecologically sustainable futures. Against this backdrop, the project explores the mobilisation and recalibration of traditional Asian religio-philosophical ideas in response to the global environmental crisis. Key research foci include how these transcendent ideas about the value of human-nature relations are put into practice among contemporary policymakers, religious institutions, and spiritual-environmental movements. In this seminar, four researchers from the Transsustain team present preliminary results from their work on the societal impact of such movements and, ultimately, their universal potential.

Prior to the seminar, the Norwegian Network for Asian Studies announces the winner of the best Norwegian MA-thesis on an Asian topic for the year 2019/2020!


Published Sep. 15, 2020 10:33 AM - Last modified Oct. 5, 2021 10:53 PM