Development and Urbanization
The idea of the public emerged from a European history to launch modernity and evolved (mainly through colonialism) into a global experience, turning into a more or less universalist paradigm framing discussions on citizenship, civil society and the state. In Asia, in particular, despite the fact that it is a culturally peculiar notion caught in the specific history of Europe, the idea of the public went beyond a European master narrative to become a modality of social life and indicates an arena in which modernity became a diversely appropriated experience. Its endurance through the dynamics of colonialism and postcolonialism suggests its continued significance in underwriting not only the norms of Asian social worlds but also rewriting its histories. While the idea of the public has equipped itself well in the face of criticism, responding to questions of race, class, gender, or even democratic practices by revealing newer sub-categories such as subaltern, plebeian, feminist, black or counter public spheres, there are concerns over the way it fits itself into the intricate and contested histories of Asia, risking preconceptions of a complex region. This has been reinforced by recent debates where scholars have asked if the global South needs the concept of public sphere, dismissing its theoretical proposition as entirely European. And yet, those seeking a fuller sense of the genealogy of the public in Asia maintain that it is not a totalising European reality invested as it is with multiple meanings. It is in this context that we need to be careful in responding to calls for a new analytical vocabulary to make sense of the major forms of collectivity in Asia, one may not derive from the idea of the public. This panel revisits the idea of the public in Asia, asking whether we need to revise it or, more drastically, reject it. It considers Asia as the site of provincialisation of the public to explore the myriad ways in which the public has been Asianised. This provides novel ways of understanding the idea of the public in Asia and its prospects
1. As an empirical object ranging from public spaces, print and other media, religion as well as interactions with the state.
2. As a comparative project across multiple Asias (be it totalitarian, illiberal/liberal, democratic, emerging/new, etc.).
3. As a means of bringing a different (Asianised) public back to Europe, through movement of people and circulation of ideas.