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Yujing Tan, PhD, Institute of Area Studies, Leiden University

Innovating China: Governance and Mobility in the New Economy

Yujing’s research fields include sociology of technological innovation and institutional innovation, and governance of new economy in contemporary China. Her thesis draws on her ethnography of “doing innovation” in the current massive socio-economic transition in urban China. This work interrogates how innovation, as a globalized “anti-global capitalism and corporatism” economic movement to invent the technologically enhanced newness and make the entrepreneurially engaged difference, is practice, imagined, mobilized, and reinterpreted through China’s local anxious developers and its subjects: the emerging surplus young tech-professionals in the national and global level. Empirically speaking, this study explores how and why subjects of Chinese innovation, namely the young professionals, local authorities, and policy-knowledge planners, converge in Chinese metropolitan cities, apply to economic movement to innovate China, and respond to the state’s rising governing agenda on technology and the society. I approach the emergence of Chinese innovation, a political-economic transition as well as a social movement, from the perspective of anthropology.


Gz. MeeNilankco Theiventhran, PhD, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Bergen

Energy Transitions in Transitional Societies: Equity, Geopolitics and Norwegian Engagement  

MeeNilankco Theiventhran is a PhD Research Fellow at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Bergen, Norway and his PhD is on energy transitions in transitional societies. MeeNilankco is from Sri Lanka and his research interest includes comparative politics, democratisation, energy transitions, geopolitics and South Asia.

Technological transformation of the global energy system will have a strong impact on society, and democratising this transformation is essential to attain democratic and equitable solutions, with the broadest possible acceptability of technological infrastructures, energy systems are arguably the deepest embedded in modern economies and societies.

There is a growing need to identify and analyse the potential social and economic disruption due to energy transition, taking into account policies and strategies that would ensure equitable energy systems and minimize if not pre-empt disruption. The prospect of creation of renewable energy systems in ways that are not socially inclusive, or cause ethnic, religious, regional, gender or socio-economic inequities cannot be ignored in the context of the difficulty and complexity of energy transition accompanied by competing interests, locally and internationally. Especially the countries in transition will have an uphill task in the face of their changing dynamics, political fluidity and economic challenges.

The research seeks to examine the prospect of transitional societies achieving energy transition in a socially just manner, and explore the potential pathways and associated challenges with in-depth case studies from Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Over the years, there has been much attention to the geopolitics of oil while the geopolitics of renewable energy received far less academic attention, especially in relation to the overall consequences of a global shift to renewable energy. Literature on the geopolitics of climate change as a broad issue is only occasionally relevant to the geopolitics of transition to renewable energy and much of it ignores the geopolitics of replacement of fossil fuel by renewable energy. It is paradoxical that minimal attention has been paid to the geopolitical consequences of renewable energy compare to the attention received by the geopolitics of oil. The PhD research also tries to fill the research gap in the geopolitics of energy transitions by understanding the geopolitics of energy transitions in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.



Yoojin Kim, PhD, University of Turku.

Academics in performative regime in contrasting countries: A Comparative Study of Research Universities in Finland and South Korea

I am Yoojin Kim (from South Korea), who is currently working at the faculty of Education in university of Turku in Finland as a doctoral candidate. My research field is sociology of education, higher education, and comparative education study. 

This study will investigate how academics in Finnish and Korean research university have experienced and perceived performance based management (PBM) in the name of effectiveness, efficiency and competitiveness. In particular, this study will focus on academic career and salary system which are core techniques (incentives) of PBM on academics in both countries. In order to comprehend this global phenomenon, actively respond to the changes and rethink about issues of policy borrowing or education export, this comparative education study considering socio-cultural aspects can play a pivotal role. In exploring how performative regime in research university applies to micro levels and aspects of different social systems, social democratic —vs. economic capitalist (such as Finland vs. South Korea)— education in globalisation can be thoroughly understood, and implications can be discovered for recent issues such as loss of academic autonomy, increase of precarity and underlining performativity causing fabrication.

  This study will also determine relations, conflicts and consensus among academic staff, students and policy in terms of a university’s purpose, through their perceptions and experiences of university marketisation.

The investigation will mainly consist of three domains and phases, which also aims to publish three articles. The first step of the study is reviewing literature. It concerns how previous studies have described the impacts of PBM. Second, to exploring the experience of academics in performative regime, semi-structured interviews will be conducted. The participants (in mid-stage of academic career) will be 8-10 in four research universities, considering position, age, gender, teacher-hood. Thematic analysis to explore academics’ experiences, and discourse analysis for seeking the identity and the idea of university from academics’ perspectives will be employed. It is an attempt to understand the academics’ responses to the performative ethos in the research universities, and to scrutinize possible influential factors to the academics’ perspectives based on socio-cultural aspects.


Hanna Mannila, PhD, University of Helsinki.

Indian Dance Gurus in Transformation: Changes and Continuities in Their Role, Status and Function from Text to Digital Media.

Hanna Mannila is currently a PhD student at the University of Helsinki, Department of Cultures. Her PhD project in the field of South Asian Studies investigates the changes and continuities in the guru tradition and the perceptions of the guru’s authority among the dancers of Indian classical kathak dance. Based upon ethnographic data gathered through participant observation and interviews in India, the research focuses on contemporary kathak gurus, with reference to textual sources on gurus from the classical period onwards.

My PhD research project explores the transformations in the figure of guru and his authority in Indian society from classical Sanskrit texts to the contemporary mediatized contexts, focusing on the gurus of Indian classical kathak dance. Gurus traditionally have a highly revered position in Indian society – they can be seen as an embodiment of authority. Gurus and guru-like figures can be found everywhere in Indian society, from religion and arts to politics and business. This research focuses on kathak dance as the base of exploration, examining the changes and continuities in the authority ascribed to the guru in the transmission of dance heritage from one generation to the next. The approach is multi-disciplinary, combining methodological and theoretical elements from South Asian Studies, Religious Studies, Ethnology, and Communication and Media Studies. The key theoretical concepts of the research are authority and mediatization. The methodological approach is Indo-Ethnological, i.e. the research focuses on the historical transformation process, with the research material consisting of classical and medieval Sanskrit and Hindi texts as well as ethnographical fieldwork material. In addition, new media material such as text and videos will also be used.

Traditionally, the transmission of heritage – whether religious or artistic such as music and dance – has taken place through the so-called guru-śiṣya-paramparā (teacher-disciple-tradition), a personal and intimate relationship between the teacher and his (nowadays also her) disciple. The earliest mentions to the guru are in the classical Sanskrit literature from the early 1st millennium BCE. This guru tradition remained relatively unchanged until recently, but the time period from the early 20th century onwards has seen radical changes in the transmission of Indian classical dance, including kathak, first with the establishment of Western style dance schools and more recently with the introduction and expanding use of the new media, through which dance videos are spreading rapidly and globally. The research aims to find out how and why the perception of the guru has changed from the classical literature to the contemporary practice of kathak dance; what are the continuities and the changes in the authority of the guru in the 20th–21st century kathak practice, in reference to the early textual sources as well as later text; what role do the (new) media play in these continuities and changes in the authority of the guru; and how do they reflect those in the wider Indian society, in the context of secularization, globalization, institutionalization and mediatization?

New NIAS Director

We are happy to announce that Professor Duncan McCargo has been appointed new director of NIAS.

Professor McCargo currently works at Columbia and Leeds. He has published extensively on South East Asian affairs, primarily Thailand. He has served twice as head of department in Leeds.

Professor McCargo first visited NIAS in 1997 and holds the Institute in the highest regard and affection. He has a clear vision for NIAS, and the competences to carry it out. It is important for him to begin by listening to staff, stake-holders and the Nordic Asia community. He plans a “roadshow” of the Nordic capitals this Autumn.

Duncan McCargo will take up a position as full professor in the Department of Political Science as well as director of NIAS.


Lærke L. Jensen, MA, University of Aarhus

Japanese folklore: Yōkai in popular media

I am a master student at Aarhus University of Asian-studies - specializing in Japan. In my master thesis I will be writing about the present supernatural creature-boom, or yōkai-boom, in Japanese popular culture. These supernatural creatures have permeated Japanese society not only at this moment, but throughout Japanese history at large. Currently, many Japanese anime and manga narratives draw on Japanese folklore, reimagining tales for the modern audience, and contain references to or examples of these supernatural creatures, in Japanese yōkai. As yōkai covers a great variety of creatures they have become a rich source of material for contemporary narratives, and even become known overseas.

To explore this development, my thesis will dive into the historical, sociological and cultural history that has taken yōkai all the way to modern society. In order to understand what makes yōkai so fascinating to a 20th and 21st century audience, my paper will look into how yōkai are used in the narrative of GeGeGe no Kitarō, Spooky Kitarō, which is ultimately one of the most well-known series in Japan, which first ran in the 1960’s and now has six seasons, which draws on an extensive source of yōkai.


Caroline Bennett New Guest Researcher at NIAS

Caroline writes:

Currently a lecturer in cultural anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, I am currently on research leave at NIAS until June.  While I'm here I'll be working on the preparation of my book manuscript - an anthropological examination of mass graves from the Khmer Rouge regime in contemporary Cambodia - as well as working on pulling together the final strands of a volume on new ethnographic research challenges in Asia that I am co-editing with Nayantara Sheoran Appleton, a colleague in New Zealand.

As a social and forensic anthropologist, my research focusses on politics and violence, with specific attention to genocide, human rights abuses, and the politics of death and the dead. I consider relations to human remains after mass death and disaster, with a particular focus right now on exploring the use of political violence and mass death in projects of nation and state building in contemporary Cambodia. My research intersects the practical and theoretical approaches to mass grave investigation and the recovery and identification of human remains. I hold a BSc in Anthropology (University College London), MSc in Forensic Anthropology (Bradford University), MA in Visual Anthropology (University of Kent), and a PhD in Social Anthropology (University of Kent).


Jiyu Zhang, PhD, Department of Film and Literary Studies at Leiden University, the Netherlands. 

Sinoscope: Reimagining Chinese Cinema in the Global Age

Jiyu's fields of interest include film and media studies, comparative and world literature, modern and contemporary China. His research project attends to the ways in which language, culture, and geography map onto identity politics in Chinese-speaking communities.  He studies the representation of ethnic minorities in contemporary Chinese cinema. Premised on specific historical conditions, he contend that the construction of minority communities renders a site of ambivalence that invites both convergence and divergence to China's nationalist project. On the one hand, modern China was erected on an ideal of egalitarian multinational state in the face of Western influence, a pursuit to integrate Han and non-Han peoples into a holistic regime. On the other hand, the rise of Han ethnocentrism has been compromising the unity of the Chinese nation at the cost of ethnic diversity and equality. While during Mao’s era ethnic minority films served to cultivate a collective identification, narrative patterns of this untenable genre have disintegrated in aspects of language, aesthetics, and structure since the post-Mao era.


Wahiduzzaman Siddique, MA, University of Tampere

"I am Wahid and I am from Bangladesh. I am studying Master’s programme in Peace Mediation and Conflict Research at Tampere University, Finland. I did my bachelor International Relations at University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. At this moment I am doing my master’s thesis on “Impact of Rohingya Refugee on Local Host Community”. Beside studies, I have engaged myself in different voluntary works with Save the Children, Finnish Refugee Council and Finnish Red Cross. After graduation, I aspire to pursue a career in one of the humanitarian aid organizations."


Trine Flaaøien, MA, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

"I am a master student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technoloy in Trondheim. I am studying sceince and technology studies. In my master thesis, I am writing about China's increase use of dockless sharing bicycles. The purpose of the study is to enhance the understanding of dockless bike-sharing in China, focusing on issues such as teh reason for the popularity of the bike, the understanding of the users, and teh impact on the city and residents' daily life."


Milla Mariella Susanna Heikkinen, MA, Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Turku, Finland

Future Attitudes Towards Japanese Families: The Stigmas that Impede Family Ideals 

"I am a second year East Asian Studies master’s degree student at the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Turku, Finland. I graduated in May 2017 with a BA in Global Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lincoln, NE, USA, where I have spent the majority of my school years after moving from Vantaa, Finland at the age of eight. Last summer I completed an internship at the Lincoln Asian Community and Cultural Center as the Grant Writing and Resource Development intern, where I learned valuable skills in working for a non-profit organization.

I am currently finishing my studies at CEAS by writing my MA thesis and planning to graduate in May. My MA thesis topic revolves around Japanese families and the attitudes toward family by the next generation of parents, as well as the impact of prevailing stigmas in society. The goal of my research is to figure out how the prevailing stigmas and society are preventing young adults from wanting to have children in the future and to acknowledge that the current government programs are geared toward today’s parents and not those of tomorrow."


Call for Papers: AsiaInFocus

Friday, April 5, 2019


Call for Papers for Asia in Focus, Issue 8

Asia in Focus is an entirely free open access publication devoted to research on modern Asian societies from the standpoint of the humanities and the social sciences, with Level 1 ranking in Norway. Now in its second year of publication, Asia in Focus has published an extremely wide range of subject areas from political economy and societal change, to international relations, popular culture, literature, education and film.


We operate a triple-blind review process; the identity of the reviewers and authors are not disclosed to either party. We usually publish two issues per year and have a short turnaround time for the entire review and publishing process (6 months).


  • Submissions should be made via (register as an Author)
  • Submissions must follow APA style referencing
  • Authors must refer to for full details on how to submit
  • The deadline for submissions is 5 April 2019

More information.

New workplace student at NIAS

NIAS is happy to welcome Iben Carlsen.

Iben writes:

I am studying Advanced Migration Studies, an interdisciplinary master’s degree at University of Copenhagen and I hold a BA degree in International Development Studies from Roskilde University. As a part of my studies, I have spent one semester in Tamil Nadu in India and done an internship with the Danish Embassy in Myanmar.

Research Area
I am writing my master’s thesis on community-based tourism (CBT) in Myanmar (Burma). 
CBT offers an alternative to mass tourism by focusing on sustainability and empowerment of marginalised communities. Based on fieldwork done in different CBT sites in Myanmar, I research how CBT is understood among external stakeholders working with CBT and how it is practised within the communities. I also look into different meanings of empowerment and to what extent CBT can be used as an empowerment tool in the context Myanmar where the military is still a powerful force.