The Elderly Person and the Liveable Asian City

Dr Katrina Louise Moore1

1University Of New South Wales Sydney, Sydney, Australia

Do Asian cities welcome the elderly?  How can cities become more liveable for elderly persons? This talk draws on social geography and anthropological perspectives to explore the concept of the elder-friendly, sustainable city. Sustainability pertains both to ecological issues, as it does to sustaining a life within an ecosystem. The talk draws on the author’s data from research conducted in western Japan in the summer of 2017 and incorporates insights from other cities in Asia. Its aim is to interrogate the design of the liveable city by paying close attention to gender, age, and mobility, and equity of access to support structures. Background discussion will address the streetscapes, design features, and history of urban planning in these cities.  The paper will then review a small range of technological aids used within these cities, including health status monitors, medical devices, home design features, and diet enhancement.  By looking at the plethora of aids, the paper seeks to move beyond simply describing the sheer number of long-living elders in these cities to analysing in-depth the creative appropriations of technology and space occurring in these cities today and are expected to take place in the future.


Katrina Moore is lecturer at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. She is the author of Joy of Noh: Embodied Learning and Discipline in Urban Japan (SUNY Press 2014); and contributed chapters to Vera Mackie and Mark McLelland (eds). Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia (Routledge 2015); Maren Godzik (ed) Altern in Japan. (Verlag 2009); and articles in Aging and Anthropology (2017), Japanese Studies (2013); Asian Anthropology (2010), and Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology (2010).

The Radhasoami Tradition in Canada and Its Future: Cultural Mobility and Ritual Practice

Prof. Diana Dimitrova1

1University Of Montreal, Montreal, Canada

This paper deals with the future of the Radhasoami tradition and studies its cultural mobility and ritual practices in transnational space, specifically in Canada. The Radhasoami is a reform movement that originates in India at the end of the nineteenth-century. It challenges and transcends orthodox Hinduism by rejecting the caste system and endorsing women’s education. My paper focuses on the ritual practice of the spiritual community during the satsang, or the collective religious service, in order to examine new developments pertaining to Radhasoami ritual and sacred space in Canada. In my presentation, I consider several aspects of the globalization of the Radhasoami movement in North America and its complex links with South Asian religion. My analysis of changes in ritual practice also discuss issues pertaining to cultural mobility. Some of the questions that I seek to answer are the following: Is the Radhasoami community in America global or local or translocal or transnational? Is it diasporic, cosmopolitan or traditional? How does one respond to local conditions in Canada? How do the conditions transnationalise? Is anything lost or gained in this cultural mobility? Does the new ritual space and practice provide an alternate “modernity” to that shaped by the West? How does this contribute to the building of new structures and spaces of thinking, being and believing? And ultimately, what is the future of the tradition in a global context? Thus, my paper examines the dynamic of the tradition in relation to several adaptations and accommodations of the ritual practice in the diaspora, and based on textual study of several Radhasoami texts, as well as on interviews with members of the community.


Diana Dimitrova is Professor of Hinduism and South Asian religions at the University of Montreal. She obtained her Ph.D. in Modern and Classical South Asian Studies, and English philology at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Prior to joining the University of Montreal, she held several academic positions in the United States, Canada and Germany. She is the author of Hinduism and Hindi Theatre (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016); Gender, Religion and Modern Hindu Drama (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008; and Western Tradition and Naturalistic Hindi Theatre (Peter Lang, 2004). She is also the editor of Divinizing in South Asian Traditions (Routledge, 2018, with Tatiana Oranskaia); Imagining ‘Indianness:’ Cultural Identity and Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017; paperback 2019, with Thomas de Bruijn); The Other in South Asian Religions, Literatures and Film: Perspectives on Otherism and Otherness (Routledge, 2014; paperback 2017); and Religion, Literature and Film in South Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). Her current research interests deal with Hindu devotional and reform traditions, such as Radhasoami, body in South Asian religions, and Bollywood film.

Plastic Nations: Transnational Networks of Plastic Waste Disposal from Japan to Malaysia

Dr Shiori Shakuto1

1National University Of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

Japan is one of the largest producers of plastic waste in industralised countries. It used to export a majority of its waste to China until China banned the import of plastic waste in 2018. Since then, Japan has been exporting its plastic waste to Southeast Asian countries, especially to Malaysia. This research tries to explore transnational frameworks through which to understand an unequal distribution of wealth and waste. The research complements the existing body of work on waste by moving the field of analysis from the inherited territorial units of nationhood to transnational networks. The transnational approach to the environmental question is especially pertinent when the effects of climate change is unevenly distributed across the world. The reconceptualisation of plastic waste as a transnational problem illuminates the cracks in the global political economy of plastic waste disposal chains. I conduct “multi-sited ethnography” that will involve participant observations and interviews with various social groups in Japan and Malaysia, from producers and consumers of plastic products to workers at recycling facilities to policy makers. I will show how transnational networks of plastic disposal come to ascribe values to waste, opening the door to current contests about the dilemmas of environment-society relations.


Shiori Shakuto is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. She obtained her PhD in Anthropology from the ANU. Her research interests lie in the intersection across gender, environment and migration, with a focus on the movement of people and things from Japan to Malaysia.

Constructing Life Stories of Gendered-Disability Experiences Through Agency and Structure: Case Studies from Post-Armed Conflict Sri Lanka

Dr Niro  Kandasamy3

3University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

This paper theorises the life stories of women with a disability in post-armed conflict Sri Lanka in terms of agency-structure theory. I examine the life stories of women of Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala backgrounds who have a disability and what agentive action means to them in highly vulnerable social and political contexts. By comparing the women’s experiences, the paper highlights the ways shared experiences of being a disabled woman generates forms of solidarity and trust that override historical tensions, and the continuing challenges facing women who have incurred a disability by the ‘ethnic other’ during the armed conflict and continue to experience forms of discrimination as the ‘ethnic other’. I interpret the gendered-disability life stories in terms of the iterative, projective and practical-evaluative components of agency within the historical, political and geographical conditions in which the women are enmeshed and navigate socially structured relationships that differently define their strategies of survival. I also highlight the significance of the body in understandings of agentive and structural aspects of gendered-disability experiences over the life course.


Niro Kandasamy completed her doctoral thesis at the University of Melbourne in 2019. Her thesis examines the role of memory in the life stories of young Tamil forced migrants resettled in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s. Her research interests are in forced migration, disability in the Global South, and welfare service delivery. She is currently a Senior Research Officer at the Brotherhood of St Laurence and teaches in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. She is the co-editor of a forthcoming book, A Sense of Viidu: The (Re)creation of Home by the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora in Australia.

Local Indonesian Newspapers Representations of Disability in Asian Para Games 2018

Mr Slamet Thohari4

4Universitas Brawijaya, Malang, Indonesia

The Asian Para Games 2018 was held in Jakarta, 6-13 October 2018. Joined by 43 countries and 2762 athletes, the Indonesian Government proudly declared it was one of the biggest sports events for people with disabilities ever held in Asia. This research explores how local Indonesian newspapers in three provinces in Java, represented people with disabilities during Asian para games. Using the content analysis method, it examines four local newspapers, Surya (East Java), Kedaulatan Rakyat (Yogyakarta), and Suara Merdeka (Central Java), and Wartakota (Jakarta). The findings show that Asian Para games coverage was  34% of the whole sports news reporting. It also brings evidence that most of the pictures of people with disabilities portrayed them in a passive performance. In terms of perspective, promoting equal rights (human rights-based), as the primary purpose of Asian Para-games, is not a popular approach of depiction.  Instead, the superscript and the inspiration model are the most common mindset describing disabled athletes.


Slamet Thohari is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology and a senior researcher at Centre for Disability studies and services, Universitas Brawijaya. He is also the Indonesian chair of AIDRAN (Australia Indonesia Disability and Advocacy Network). He perused his degree at Department of Philosophy at Universitas Gadjah Mada and Departement of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

‘Being’ the Change: From Transactional to Relational and Mutually Transformative Disability Inclusion

Dr Alex Gartrell2

2Independent, Melbourne, Australia

International development organisations are increasing investing in and adopting twin track approaches to disability inclusion. Disability inclusion is framed as a cross-cutting issue to be mainstreamed across the programs of international development organisations – often alongside gender, disaster risk reduction and in some cases child protection. Whilst disability inclusion is being added to program strategies and activities, organisational values, mission and purpose may continue to inadvertently exclude and leave persons with disabilities invisible. The challenge for the development sector is to move disability from a donor compliance issue that is approached transactionally to an intentional, relational approach that is mutually beneficial and ultimately renders programmatic support unnecessary. Development workers and their organisations must urgently ensure that persons with disabilities and their representative organisations continue to represent, advocate and be accountable to their members and not to donor reporting requirements. The challenge is for us as development workers to shift from the ‘doing’ of development, to the ever-present opportunity to ‘being’ a leader and supporter of change who shares and ultimately hands over power.


Alex Gartrell is an applied social researcher who has worked in academia, with NGO’s, and in partnerships with DPOs on disability inclusive employment, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, and health programs. Alex is particularly interested in women with disabilities agency and leadership, their intimate lived experiences and transforming development programs and workers to be responsive to these.

Disability Embodied Connectivities: Ancient Imaginings, Contemporary Navigations

A/Prof. Karen Soldatic1

1Western Sydney University, Parramatta, Australia

Ancient journeys of travel and trade have been at the forefront of the popular imaginary and the ways in which cultures, peoples and sociality have been described, analysed and imagined.  Often these imaginaries seek to distil socio-cultural differentiation, disparate regimes of cultural embodied practices, and divergent imaginaries of conflict. Albeit, throughout these discursive constructions of ancient paths and navigations, socio-cultural representations have rarely explored the interpretative narratives disability embodiment that are shared practices of socio-cultural practices and diffused across the region through ancient maritime journeys.  This paper draws together the work of Gartrell (Cambodia), Kandasamy (Sri Lanka) and Thohari (Indonesia) to illustrate the critical significance of ancient maritime connectivities in forging new imaginaries of disability research that remain central to globalised relations of bodies, peoples and trade.  The paper will suggest that a more nuanced, rigorous and engaged navigational analysis of disability is necessary to understand the diffusion of socio-cultural representations across the region, inform analysis of the continuum of divergent and diverse socio-cultural representations and finally, to navigate new paths of development inclusive of disabled people.


Karen Soldatic, is Associate Professor, Institute for Culture & Society, School of Social Sciences, Western Sydney University. Her research largely focuses on disability in the global south and post-colonial contexts and draws upon her extensive applied experience as a development worker and policy analyst. She has worked in Cambodia, Sri Lanka and is a founding member of the Australia Indonesia Disability and Advocacy Network (AIDRAN – Secretary, 2017-2019) and the International Executive Editor of the international journal Disability & the Global South.

Crossing Seas of Ancient Connectivity: Disability Diffusion, Diversity and Development

A/Prof. Karen Soldatic1, Dr Alex Gartrell2, Dr Niro  Kandasamy3, Mr Slamet Thohari4

1Western Sydney University, Parramatta, Australia, 2Independent, Melbourne, Australia, 3University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, 4Universitas Brawijaya, Malang, Indonesia

Chair: A/Prof. Karen Soldatic


Cultural diffusion across ancient routes of trade and connectivity are rarely revisited to examine the ways inter-connected maritime histories remain influential in the socio-political imaginary of bodies and socio-cultural practices of embodiment. Socio-cultural interpretation within the western academy usually situates bodies and socio-cultural practices of embodiment to sites of European colonisation where nuance is often located within discrete sites of European empire and imperalism. European empire, imperialism and colonisation marks Cambodia as part of French Indochina, Indonesia as largely a colony of the Dutch, and Sri Lanka as the spice colony of the British empire, once known as Ceylon. Yet, as this panel illustrates, future imaginaries across these three diverse, yet acutely inter-connected Asian nations suggests that ancient imaginaries of socio-cultural diffusion may play a more critical role in the representation of disability within the contemporary era. Through critically engaged work, we examine the interconnectivity of Asian representations of disability embodiment across three geographical locations – Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka – that illustrate the significance of ancient maritime journeys of the diffusion of disability socio-cultural representations. The final discussion of the panel will draw out how these ancient maritime navigations critically situate and guide impending disability representations across futuristic moments of belonging, inclusion and transnational solidarity.

Beyond Beliefs: Exploring Disability and Identity in Myanmar

Miss Tawng Mai1

1Social Policy And Poverty Research Group, Yangon, Myanmar

A wealth of recent research highlights the critical role of narratives in identity construction, locating identity beyond biological categories to complex and fluid intersections of beliefs and performance, in which the narratives of self and others play a critical role in shaping, interpreting and re-shaping emergent identities. This paper analyses the narratives of the lived experiences of 20 persons with different types of disabilities who from Yangon region in Myanmar, to explore the role of negatives in the construction of their identity. The narratives demonstrate a complex interplay between self-identity construction based around the lived experience of limitations and stigmatization, and identity constructions conferred by family and community members based on their own beliefs on disability often derived from religious beliefs or traditional concepts of well-being.  Identity is a key process for social transformation, both on an individual and community level and it is hoped that this study will be a powerful tool for awareness raising and proactive campaigns to facilitate more enabling environments in which persons with disabilities can embody new more self-determined identities.


Tawng Mai has worked gender and disability rights for seven years mainly with INGOs, civic society’s organizations and DPOs. She currently works as a research assistant at Social Policy and Poverty Research Group (SPPRG), which is based in Yangon, Myanmar. SPPRG has a particular focus on conducting research relevant to emerging government policy.

Trading Places: A Gendered Assessment of Barriers to Livelihood for People with Disabilities in Rural Myanmar

Ms Aye Aye Myo1, Ms May Thinzar Phyo2

1Social Policy And Poverty Research Group (spprg), Monywa, Myanmar, 2Social Policy And Poverty Research Group (spprg), Monywa, Myanmar

Recent research suggests that, globally, women with disabilities encounter multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion from mainstream society when compared with their female peers and men without disability, particularly in rural areas. Myanmar’s poverty reduction programme places a strong emphasis on rural livelihoods, but progress is hampered by inequalities linked to gender and disability. Whilst the existence of gendered barriers to inclusion of people with disabilities into rural development activities is known, less is known of the intersectional processes by which the barriers arise and are maintained, and of the change processes required to address them. This paper draws on data from an action research project conducted in northwest Myanmar, which identified and addressed physical, attitudinal, social and institutional barriers to inclusion into a government-led rural development project.  Action research enabled a critical analysis of the power hierarchies embedded in normative processes of project implementation both by government and by communities, where a combination of tiered knowledge, an emphasis on managerial efficiency and an absence of space for critical appraisal undermined policy efforts aimed at achieving inclusion. Conversely, the research also illustrated the powerful impact of narratives as key stimuli for change. These point to the need to look beyond technical solutions for achieving gender/disability inclusion, and instead highlight the need to critically appraise ordinary operational procedures which tend to maintain existing power dynamics and priorities.


Aye Aye Myo works as Project Manager of Inclusive Development of Enable Existing Actors Project (IDEA) implemented by the Social Policy and Poverty Research Group (Myanmar). She has worked in community based inclusive development projects for people with disabilities for over 10 years.



The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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