Subaltern Agency and the Political Economy of Rural Social Change

Ms Rebecca Meckelburg1

1Murdoch University, Perth, Australia

Current explanations of social and political change in Indonesia since Reformasi largely focus on the mixed outcomes of decentralisation and democratisation of state power for elite actors. These explanations provide little or no framework for conceptualising popular political action in the context of this institutional restructuring. Based on a longiterm ethnographic study, this paper examines some of the diverse outcomes of political decentralisation in Indonesia since Reformasi focusing on the actions, ideas and experiences of subaltern actors. These outcomes are examined at the level of local and regional political economies which demonstrate a strong correlation with the historical development of class struggle politics within different regions and more local village societies. This examination considers how highly varied local experiences of mass violence and repression in 1965-66 strongly influenced subsequent expressions of social and political ideas under the New Order regime which continue to impact on the formation of local political claims, cultural identities and society-state relations until today.


Rebecca Meckelburg is a Doctoral candidate at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University. Her dissertation examines the persistent, often fragmented, popular struggles of rural subaltern groups to secure control of resources and shift social relations of power in favour of subaltern and other non-elite classes in Indonesia since Reformasi.

Experiments and the ‘Smart’ City: Governing sustainable and ‘smart’ infrastructures in Singapore’s high rise housing estates

Miss Nurul Amillin Hussain1

1University Of Oxford, United Kingdom

Increasingly, governance within smart cities engage in approaches that reach beyond the institutional, adapting methods accomplished through networks of more-than-human assemblages that include the socio-technical and material. This paper explores how governance takes the shape of “experimentation” within ‘smart city’ laboratories. It contextualizes the realities of governance experiments accomplished on-the-ground through studying the relationship between the human and 2 types of non-human actors – the material and the immaterial – responding to calls for empirically-grounded understandings of what visions of the ‘smart city’ might mean in the everyday lives of citizens. Focusing on the case study of the Singaporean Smart Nation, and in particular, the installation of solar panels and the experience of seasonal haze, this paper explores how conceiving of “living labs” as a particular assemblage of the human and non-human might allow us to reconceptualize notions of power and agency during periods of transformation, such as energy transitions, and periods of emergency, such as the cross-boundary haze crisis.  This paper hopes to expand current understandings of environmental governance by showing how assemblages can generate insights into the complex and often unexpected ways in which the non-material is significant to statecraft.


Nurul Amillin Hussain is a DPhil Candidate at the School of Geography and the Environment, in the University of Oxford. Her project explores ideas around sustainability within the ‘smart city’, focusing on the dense, urban city-state of Singapore. She holds an MPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge and a BA in Sociology from the Nanyang Technological University. Amillin worked as a sustainability consultant, working with clients in the maritime and palm-oil agribusiness industries, prior to coming to Oxford.

Housing Future Asian Australia

A/Prof. David Beynon1

1University Of Tasmania, Launceston

Ghassan Hage once asked “. . .  what is more part of Australia’s multicultural heritage than the many towns and villages from which Australia’s migrant population has originated?” This paper takes up this question in relation to how notions of what is Asian might be geographically reinterpreted through settlement of recent migrants from Asia in Australia. As Australia’s suburbs have become sites for the settlement of diverse Asian diasporas, what does the transposition to the Australian environment imply for definitions of what is Asian, what is Australian, and whether the distinction will remain useful in future? Australia’s self-identity in relation to built environments is based on having particular forms of housing, largely based on suburban traditions following European and North American models. However, new settlers from Asia may be accustomed to other forms, not only in relation to housing types, but also in the relations between domestic, commercial and public spaces. Complicating this apparent dichotomy when considering the future of housing Asia/Australia are the multiplicity of backgrounds of migrants (both from Asia and other locations) in Australia, and the influence of global trends, hegemonies and perceptions of class on architectural styles, housing types and settlement patterns across both Asia and Australia.


David Beynon is an Associate Professor in Architecture at the University of Tasmania. His research involves investigating the social, cultural and compositional dimensions of architecture in relation to migration, cultural change and urban renewal. His current work includes investigations into intercultural manifestations of contemporary architecture, historiographic implications of digitally reconstructing ancient temples, and the creative possibilities of post-industrial built environments.

“Collective Domestic”: Reconfiguring Patterns of Shared Inhabitation and Occupation in Contemporary Japan

Prof. Julian Worrall1

1University Of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia

One of the social phenomena to have emerged in post-bubble Japan is the “precariat” – a floating class of predominantly urban and generally young people, neither in full-time education nor in stable full-time employment. A subset of this group can be characterised as creative freelancers or “freeters”, who seek to construct identities linked to artistic or social goals outside conventional patterns of employment and family, replacing these with various combinations of self-realisation, affective communities, and shared enterprise. This refusal of conventional models and inherited norms also extends to the forms and modes of habitation.  This contribution would explore a selection of experimental forms of housing and habitation drawn from the past decade or so in Japan, and discuss them in relation to changing conceptions of publicness, privacy, labour, and enterprise. Examples may include artistic collectives such as Shibuhaus and Chim-pom; co-housing and community living models such as Kankan Mori; the intensive reoccupation of abandoned rural dwellings as exemplified by BankArt House in Kiriyama village in the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field; architect-led propositions at a neighbourhood scale, such as Riken Yamamoto’s “Local Community Area”; and spaces of collective occupation emerging in the post-disaster landscapes of Tohoku, exemplified by Toyo Ito’s “Home-for-all” initiative. As yet unknown exemplars may also emerge on my annual Japan return in January 2020.


Julian Worrall is Professor of Architecture at the University of Tasmania. An architect with a doctorate in urban history from the University of Tokyo, his research spans both design-based and historico-theoretic approaches, and is broadly concerned with the construction of “alternative modernities” as seen through the study of the built environments of East Asia, particularly those of Japan.

Hand in Hand with Crossed Top Plates: Mapping the Contribution of Chinese Carpenters to the Production and Installation of Prefabricated ‘Singapore Cottages’ in Melbourne

Dr John Ting3

3University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia

Prefabricated houses were imported into Victoria during the 1850s gold rush to address the lack of builders in the state. Manufactured by British colonial interests in Singapore, their architecture displayed European influence through their type, scale and form. However, they can also be seen as adapting vernacular approaches as the construction details of these buildings clearly show the involvement of migrant Chinese and Malay carpenters. As timber buildings, construction details were not masked or covered up but expressed as integrated parts of the architecture. The roof structures display Malay intermediate beams, and Chinese crossed top plates are used on top of the wall framing. Long runs of horizontal timber members were joined in what the Chinese call a ‘hand in hand’ connection (also known in European carpentry as ‘lightning scarf’ joints). These systems were not self-evident, and often required Singapore carpenters to accompany knocked-down prefabricated houses to export markets like Australia. This paper investigates why these highly skilled Chinese carpenters left their home country, how they might have implemented their skills in Singapore, and how they then came to move on to other colonial jurisdictions. It also examines the legacy of nineteenth century Chinese carpentry and construction practices in Australia.


Dr. John Ting is an architect, researcher and educator. He teaches in the architecture program at the University of Canberra, with a PhD from the University of Melbourne and a professional degree in architecture from RMIT University. His present research investigates Sarawak’s architectural history, the vernacular architecture of Malaysia, and mobile and prefabricated timber buildings in nineteenth century colonial Southeast Asia and Australia. He is the author of The History of Architecture in Sarawak before Malaysia, published in 2018.

Cultural Identity and the New Homestead: A Case Study of a Resettlement Village in Sri Lanka

Ms Nirodha Dissanayake4

4University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia

The connection between cultural identity and place is well documented, not least, in the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture and cultural geography.  Resettlement, planned or otherwise, is a disruptive process that can compromise cultural identity and attachment to place necessitating adjustment to a new geophysical and cultural context. This paper focuses on the impact of resettlement in Sri Lanka through the case study of a resettled agricultural community in the Dry Zone in the context of the Mahaweli Development Project.  How did a community of resettlers adjust to life in the new settlement in an environment that differed geographically, culturally and economically from the original settlement? Drawing on fieldwork observations and interviews with local residents, the paper identifies tactics to build familiarity in the new resettlement as a coping mechanism. Acknowledging, the wider context of resettlement and the drivers for this process as well as considerations of ethnicity and conflict, the paper considers the adjustments and adaptations that are constructed through the built environment. Focusing on the design of individual houses, the paper examines how the resettlers materialised their cultural identity in the domestic homestead through adaptations to the architecture and interventions in the landscape that differs from the indigenous character and style of the new location


Nirodha K M Dissanayake, a PhD Candidate at the University of Adelaide, South Australia comes from a multi-disciplinary background, including, agriculture, landscape and urban design. Her current research interests are regional re-settlements and housing and their social-political-economic context.

Of Resilience and Assimilation: Contesting Spatial Dynamics of the Cocos Malay Dwelling Culture in Malaysia

Dr Md Mizanur Rashid2, Associate Professor Noor Aziah Mohd Ariffin5

2Deakin University, Geelong, Australia, 5International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In the turn of the 19th century a small group of Malay population has settled in the small island of Cocos (Keeling Islands of Australia) as labourer for the private coconut plantation of John Clunies-Ross. These Cocos Malays are originated from the descendants of Malay settlers from the British colonies of British Malaya, Singapore, Brunei and the Riau Archipelago of Dutch East Indies.  During the 1940’s the island became over populated faced significant shortage of food supply and hence  a large  number of the  descendent family members were transhipped initially to Singapore and later  in different parts of  Borneo and peninsular Malaysia. This paper focuses on little known facet of the architectural history of material culture of Cocos Malays, who are later settled in Kampung Balung Cocos in Sabah. It would offer a critical interpretation of the Cocos Malay Dwelling Culture in a broader sense and scrutinize how it was developed and transformed through ages in comparison with the mainland Malay dwelling culture after almost one and half centuries of separation. The study takes an anthropological-architectural approach to discern different historical layers that reflects their value system, social status, resilience and assimilation and most importantly their imaginary parallel of a homely space in an apparently alienated land (not their place of origin). Moreover, by reading their architectures and settlement as text this paper would reveal the contesting dynamics of their material culture as well as of their everyday resilience to assimilate, which was never been recorded in the main stream discourse on Malay traditional dwelling culture.


Mizanur Rashid is an academic with particular interest on Historical Narrative, Digital Design and 4d capturing of cultural heritage using virtual and augmented reality tools. Mizanur’s research focuses exclusively on the pluralistic (both tangible and intangible) aspects of architecture and its narratives. He is currently working as Senior Lecturer of Architecture at Deakin University.

Noor Aziah Mohd Ariffin works as a faculty member at the Dept. of Architecture, International Islamic University Malaysia. She specializes in energy efficient design particularly in housing design in Malaysia. Her interests also include sustainable design and development, ecological sustainable issues and climatic and comfort studies of heritage buildings especially of the Muslim world.


Hotels as Spaces of ‘Unnationalism’ in Bombay, Bali and Beijing: The Design Practice of Alan Gilbert and Sarah Lo in the 1970s and 80s

Dr Amit Srivastava5, Dr Peter Scriver5

5The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia

By the late 1960s, with the advent of jet powered commercial air travel, the rise of a new generation of hotels in modern Asian cities was beginning to transcend the dualism between nationalism and internationalism in the architecture and urbanism of the first half of the century. Whilst the expansion of Asian hotel companies was changing the position of elite Asian entrepreneurs in a transnational field, the projects for the actual design of these hotels were fertile grounds for negotiation, where governments, developers and architects all modified their individual concerns to accommodate the complex aspirations of the elite entrepreneurial class. Finally, the hotels themselves furnished safe spaces for progressive discourse that facilitated the exchange of ideas beyond national limits, not least with the International press among other overseas travellers. The hotels were also spaces for exhibition and performance that encouraged the construction of personal and professional networks across many internal social and cultural borders as well.

Connecting cognate developments in three different Asian contexts – Bombay, Bali and Beijing – the paper examines the agency of Australian architect/designer Alan Gilbert and his partner Sarah Lo who practiced out of Hong Kong. We explore how their interior design practice engaged with different entrepreneurs in the hotel and building industries to fashion architecturally hybrid spaces that sat somewhere between and apart from both national and international priorities.


Amit Srivastava is the Director (India) for the Centre of Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture (CAMEA) based at the University of Adelaide, in Australia. His current research focuses on the transnational exchange of materials and processes between Australia and Asia, and its impact on the professionalisation of architectural practice in Asia. Latest publications include India: Modern Architectures in History (Reaktion, 2015) and The Elements of Modern Architecture (Thames & Hudson, 2014).

Peter Scriver is co-founder and Director (South and Southeast Asia) of the Centre for Asian and Middle-Eastern Architecture (CAMEA) at the University of Adelaide, Australia. He is a critical authority on the architectural history of modern India, and colonial and postcolonial architectural culture and production more broadly. He has published a number of seminal books including After the Masters: Contemporary Indian Architecture (Mapin 1990), Colonial Modernities: Building, Dwelling and Architecture in British India and Ceylon (Routledge 2007), with Vikramaditya Prakash, and India: Modern Architectures in History (Reaktion 2015), with Amit Srivastava.

The Propensity of Things: Cultural Relics and the Reconstruction of Histories

Dr Cecilia Chu3

3The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

This paper explores the role of archaeological remains as a medium for narrating competing cultural histories that challenge normative conceptions of place identities associated with national sovereignties. It does so by tracing recent debates over the conservation of several archaeological sites in postcolonial Hong Kong where old foundation stones and cultural relics from the pre-colonial era were recently excavated. Since the transfer of its sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997, the Hong Kong government has invested significant resources for conserving the city’s historic relics and reinterpreting them as symbols of its Chineseness, hearkening back to shared origins to argue for a common future of “Greater China.” However, these very same sites have been interpreted by “localist” groups as cultural assets that highlight Hong Kong as a unique “historical-cultural place” that is connected to but always lie outside the Chinese nation. By tracing the contested historical claims and moral assumptions associated with these sites, this paper illustrates the propensity of cultural relics for narrating different layers of histories, invoking competing conceptions of localities and territories, and constructing divergent spatial imaginaries of the past and future.


Cecilia Chu is a faculty member in the Division of Landscape Architecture at the University of Hong Kong. She is the author of Colonial Urban Development in Hong Kong: Speculative Housing and Segregation in the City (Routledge, 2020) and co-editor of The Speculative City: Emergent Forms and Norms of the Built Environment (University of Toronto Press, 2020).

The Subversion of Spaces of Nationalism: The Violence of the Innocent Mall

Dr Manu Sobti4

4The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia

The spaces of nationalism – historically identified, mnemonically re-discovered, or artificially embellished – are more often than not spaces of overt and occasionally genuine social solidarity. Starting in the early 1990s, greater Asia and specifically India witnessed an unmitigated economic boom, one aligning neo-liberal politics with the subversion of meanings ascribed to space, place and ownership. In excavating this cusp of change, this paper repositions political discourse vis-à-vis architectural making and un-making. It interrogates the unbridled intrusion and metastasis of a rouge building typology that defiled the Indian imagination – the insidious and ubiquitous Mall. Germinating in the post-modern 1990s, the Mall proliferated as a building typology, systematically replacing the labyrinthine and lattice-like traditional bazaar across the volatile Indian landscape. While the Mall’s social ‘dividing practices’ also made collective spatial expressions of identity at the indigenous carnival ground and the ‘maidan’ utterly obsolete, these ‘temples of consumption’ also forged a ‘new elite’ positioned in ‘economic alterities’ that both challenged and subverted the notions of the national and collective with the unnational, the private and the experiential. This paper asserts that this unfortunate ‘institutionalisation’ of the Mall challenges the conventionally attributed spaces of nationalism – one street, one bazaar and one neighbourhood at a time.


Manu P. Sobti is Director International Engagement/Senior Lecturer at School of Architecture at the University of Queensland. His work on landscape mobilities and mappings of early-medieval urbanities and architecture along the Silk Road and the Indian Subcontinent is well-recognised, especially his filmic project on Central Asia’s Amu Darya River titled Medieval Riverlogues. He has authored Chandigarh Re-think (ORO Publishers, published 2017), Space and Collective Identity in South Asia: Migration, Architecture and Urban Development (Bloomsbury Press, forthcoming 2020) and Riverine Landscapes, Urbanity and Conflict: Narratives from East and West (Routledge-Taylor & Francis, forthcoming 2019).


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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