Monday, March 26, 2007

The Changing Asian Family as a Site of (State) Politics

The conference aims to bring together scholars of Asia whose work interrogates the state-family relationship.

The conference reflects on the complex political processes that produce “the Asian family” and to analyze the consequences of these processes for state and society.

The rapidly changing face of Asia is perhaps most sharply represented in the changing composition, functions, and meanings of its families. Scholarship on the Asian family has highlighted the myriad ways in which changes in the organization of economic lives, demographic trends, social mobility opportunities, migration patterns and global cultural influences have affected the shape, form, and significance of “the family” in people’s lives. Scholars have long acknowledged the family as an important site of state action within the context of these changes. The tendency remains, however, to conceptualize the family and the state as distinct entities—with the state impacting on the family—rather than formed in relation to each other. In this framework, the “public” state steps in to “interfere” with the “private” family only on specific “problems.” In this way, despite the richness of this scholarship, studies of the family continue to stand somewhat outside larger debates about political systems and state-society relations. Contemporary Asian state actors also contribute to perpetuating a view of “the Asian family” as private and primordial, and hence, its own actions as ameliorative and apolitical.

This conference focuses on the relational formation of state and family by highlighting the complex and sometimes contradictory power struggles and negotiations that render possible or impossible particular definitions of the contemporary Asian family, as well as the consequences of these processes on larger questions of political culture and state-society relationships. We aim to bring together scholars of the region whose research investigates the politics of state-family relations through these questions: How are familial forms produced—what are the political processes that produce specific definitions of “family members,” “family relations,” and “familial responsibilities and rights”? On the other hand, what are the consequences of these political processes—on individuals, on civil society, on the state’s own authority, and more broadly, on the texture and tone of power relations in society?

Key themes that follow:

State definitions of “the family”: rhetoric and practice; variations across time and space; “The family” as site of mobilization, movements, contestations and/or cooperation among different actors, vis-à-vis the state. These interactions may include different government agents, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in both national and transnational contexts, and contestations may be based around class, ethnic, gender, and other group interests and agenda;
The reach of the state and its limits in relation to its definitions of meanings, forms, and functions of family;
The (re)production of inequality and equality through interactions between state and family;
The (re)production of political culture and political subjectivity as a result of state and family interactions: the generation of interests, identities, and legitimate and illegitimate political behavior;
“Powerful” families—such as families of political elites and royal families—and their roles in shaping the definition of family in specific contexts, and in shaping state and family relations;
The changing family as a site where there is rethinking of the state and civil society in the era of rapid global change.

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