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2018. 10.23

[Essay] World Social Science Forum 2018 by Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman

Talking Infrastructure, Belts and Roads, Connectivity in Asia and Beyond


Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, PhD, Guwahati, Assam, India


The World Social Science Forum 2018, which was held in Fukuoka, Japan during 25-28 September 2018, had a theme of Security and Equality for Sustainable Futures. This large gathering of social science scholars from around the world became the site of convergence of many interesting academic conversations and exchanges. One of the conversations that I was a part of was within the broader domain of border studies in the world, with particular focus on Asia, its role and strategic outreach to the world. Over the four days, we discussed the contemporary events and geopolitics relating to infrastructure, belts and roads, and connectivity in Asia and beyond. A generous funding by Kyushu University, enabling scholars from various parts of the world, with interdisciplinary backgrounds, to attend WSSF 2018, started such conversations.


An interesting combination of panels at the WSSF 2018 at Fukuoka made for a rich discussion, which included a panel on border studies, which I had the opportunity to moderate along with Edward Boyle of Kyushu University. This set the ball rolling on the broader questions and theorizations of border studies in the contemporary world, which saw definitive presentations being made by Martin van der Velde, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, Serghei Golunov and Akihiro Iwashita. The discussions that followed the presentations underlined the importance of the panel, which sparked considerable interest among the audience on wide-ranging issues related to borders in the contemporary world, including political, economic, social and environmental border dynamics and layers, with a focus on broader Asian contexts and experiences.


The panel on Arctic routes, geopolitics and connectivity, co-chaired by Naomi Chi of Sapporo University and Akihiro Iwashita of Kyushu University, which I had attended, brought together scholars who discussed the broader contours of climate change and its strategic dimensions. The Belt and Road Initiative of China came into sharp focus in this panel, as the discussions led to outlining alternative strategies and challenges that the larger Asian region was faced with, as a consequence of mega connectivity projects and ambitions of China. The South China Sea dispute and the non-participation of India in China’s Belt and Road Initiative were potential triggers for China to look seriously at the Arctic routes, and how the larger Asian region need to confront critical questions of sustainability and of long term climate change concerns.


My own panel during the WSSF was on the politics of inclusion and exclusion in the context of sustainable development goals, which was facilitated and moderated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Comparative Research Program on Poverty (CROP), Norway. The discussions during this panel revolved around issues and experiences from diverse regions of the world, including from Africa, Asia and Europe, with speakers from Zambia, Japan and India participating. New insights on the politics of inclusion were juxtaposed in contrast with the already prevailing and dominant economic understanding of inclusion and exclusion in the disciplinary field, and the discussions as a result were rich and contributed to a diverse and interdisciplinary understanding involving politics as core.


I spoke about the politics of inclusion and exclusion of local communities in the development discourse in Northeast India, and how the promise of opening up to Southeast Asia, and being the connecting bridge with South Asia was positioned in a context of democratic deficit and lack of meaningful participation. The manner and method of infrastructural development and connectivity projects in this frontier region of India were excellent examples of how communities were excluded and core issues of environmental protection and long term sustainability was being ignored by the nation-state of India. At the same time, other panelists were talking of examples of India, where grassroots movements were powerful and strong, something to emulated by the Global South. This highlighted the stark contradictions within the same India.


I further travelled after WSSF to Kanazawa, where the 31st Japanese Association of South Asian Studies Annual Conference was being held. I was part of a panel led by Edward Boyle of Kyushu University, which included India’s foremost China specialist Jabin Jacob and environmental historian Rohan DSouza of Kyoto University. The discussions in this panel focused mainly on Northeast India, the challenges of connectivity and infrastructure development in a borderland, which involved China in the proximate neighbourhood. Rohan DSouza took a larger Asian view of connectivity and environment. The discussions were very rich and the question and answer session was reflective of that, as the audience came up with many interesting questions on how connectivity is framed on a very gendered manner.


My last engagement was amidst the spanking new infrastructure of Ito Campus of Kyushu University, in which commemoration the various panels and discussions were possible. The large campus and the infrastructural bounty at once struck me, and we discussed about how something like this is indeed an asset in the long run. The stage was set for another round of discussions on infrastructure and connectivity in Northeast India, to an audience, which comprised of young students and professors of Kyushu University. The discussion brought forward the interesting aspect of how the ‘peripheralization’ of Northeast India, and the borderland politics and contextualization within India’s history could be seen in a comparative perspective and applied to North East Asian contexts as well, as articulated by Akihiro Iwashita.


The core question of democracy was brought up in the discussions, and an interesting comparative dimension of how such democratic practices of resistance took place in a borderland between India and China. It was still possible for local communities in India to stall a mega hydropower dam project for over five years, and how local communities absolutely did not have a chance across the border in Tibet in China, was a testament of how democratic practice was core to how we see development in Asia now and in the long run. I am grateful to Kyushu University for its generous support to enable me to participate in this series of enriching discussions, where I learnt much more than I could contribute. This encourages me to look at development challenges/opportunities in a comparative dimension, and carry forward my research.



2018. 09. 29

ABSj Workshop at Chuo University, Tokyo. 29 September 2018.

Border Studies Today: Seen from North America, Europe and Asia”


On 29 September 2018 with a typhoon fast approaching, the Association of Borderlands Studies – Japan (ABSj) held a workshop at Chuo University’s Surugadai Memorial Hall in Tokyo. Presided over by Professor Fuminori Kawakubo of Chuo Gakuin University, the day began with an introduction from ABSj President Professor Naomi Chi of Hokkaido University. Greeting students and scholars attending the workshop, Chi introduced ABSj’s activities as an East Asian hub for global borderlands studies, before handing over to Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera of George Mason University in the United States, a former president of the global Association of Borderlands Studies. Correa-Cabrera delivered a provocative and engaging paper showing how representations of the US-Mexico border and those who cross it have transformed into a lurid media ‘spectacle’ during the presidency of Donald Trump. Following this, Professor Martin van der Velde of Radboud University in the Netherlands offered a complementary perspective from Europe, arguing in his paper that, despite its comparatively permeable borders, the continent counterintuitively is still characterised by immobility as Europeans largely choose not to migrate. Finally, Professor Akihiro Iwashita of Hokkaido University and Kyushu University spoke in a more light-hearted but nevertheless stimulating vein, describing a tour along and across one of Asia’s most bewitching borders, that between China and Russia. Recounting visits to previously off-limits military zones, relics of the pre-1990s Sino-Soviet Split, and new tourist attractions on both sides of the border, Iwashita’s presentation – commented upon by Ed Pulford of Hokkaido University – rounded off a stimulating afternoon of trans-continental frontier exploration.

(Ed Pulford, JSPS Postdoctoral Researcher)




2018. 09. 25–28

World Social Science Forum 2018 – Kyushu University, 25th – 28th September 2018

The World Social Science Forum (WSSF) takes place once every three years as one of the International Social Science Council’s (ISSC) flagship activities. ISSC is a non-governmental organization established by UNESCO in 1952. The fourth WSSF will be hosted by Kyushu University and will be held in Asia for the first time. The Eurasia Unit for Border Research, Japan (UBRJ) will also participate in WSSF and contribute to the organizing of this forum.


World Social Science Forum 2018 (WSSF 2018)

Date: 25th September – 28th September 2018

Venue: Fukuoka International Congress Center

Official website:


In the fourth WSSF, the participants will look into various dimensions of security, interrogating how the demand for security relates to societies’ quest for equality and sustainability. There will be famous researchers in the fields of Social Sciences and Humanities, including Sir Partha Dasgupta (Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics at the Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge). You can see below the abstracts of the members of UBRJ and our collaborators.


Timetable and abstracts of the members of UBRJ and our collaborators


The deadline for the registration is 31st August.


(Written by Keiko Saito)



Paper Call for Special Issue on Northeast Asian Studies in Eurasia Border Review

The Eurasia Border Review (EBR) is a peer-reviewed, annually published periodical of Eurasia Unit for Border Research (Japan) at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University. The EBR is committed to publishing in-depth scholarly research for a diverse audience of scholars, practitioners and policy decision-makers, and welcomes original manuscript submissions that focus on borders or borderland issues in the wider Eurasian region from across the humanities and social sciences.


To mark the 10th anniversary of EBR, Volume 10 (2019) will be a special issue on Northeast Asian Studies. This EBR will be published in cooperation with Japan’s main organization for area studies - the National Institutes for the Humanities (NIHU). The Slavic-Eurasian Research Center is currently working on “Northeast Asian Area Studies” with NIHU. Over the past decade, NIHU has developed a global reputation by conducting several area studies projects including “Islamic Area Studies,” “Contemporary Chinese Area Studies,” and “Contemporary India Area Studies”.


The special issue will focus on international relations, community building, economy and environment, migration and mobility, and mutual perception and culture related to Northeast Asia. The editor also welcomes contributions from comparative area studies as well as more historical and theoretical studies, especially with an emphasis on future perspectives for the area. Northeast Asian community building was a fashionable topic for discussion in the early post-cold war period but the concept is now rarely mentioned. What should we reflect on regarding past failures of community building? What shared characteristics does the region have as a result of the rapidly changing relations between the US, North Korea and other countries? How might border studies contribute to Northeast Asian affairs? These are only some of the research questions that might be kept in mind. The editor invites contributions with innovative and fresh insights for area studies to the special issue.


Deadline for submission: May 31, 2019

The manuscript submission guideline is available at:


Akihiro Iwashita, Editor of EBR & Representative of Hokkaido University: “Northeast Asia, Slavic-Eurasian Research Center (NoA-SRC)”



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