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Focus Asia 2013

27 March, 25-27 April & 25-26 November

Entrenched Inequalities - East and West

Theories of inequality have so far almost exclusively been based on the empirical example of Western societies or have offered little more than quantitative data. However, each social structure is unique in its local and national characteristics. Inequalities of class may be more entrenched in the old democracies of the West because they have become invisible under the surface of democracy and formal equality, while struggles for citizenship make entrenched inequalities objects of discourse and politics in the global South.

 

Memory and Documentary Film: Exploring Painful and Forgotten Memories in China, India, and Indonesia

Documentary film can play an important role in helping to retrieve repressed memories and to commemorate painful, violent, and forgotten events. The films we have selected for screening show how difficult it can be to express and deal with individual and collective memories of conflict, violence, and disaster. This is especially the case when these memories are deliberately ignored, suppressed, or distorted in official history writing and contemporary politics and popular culture.

The films dealt with very different events, the Great Famine in China 1959-1961, the violence against communists in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, and communal violence in Mumbai, India, in 1992-1993, but what they had in common is the fact that none of the events have been fully acknowledged by the authorities and seldom are addressed in public debates. The films explored the intersection of individual and collective memories, how and what people remember of painful events, what, how and why they choose to forget, and why some are forced to forget and suppress their memories while others have the power to re-write history and suppress others’ memories. The filmmakers have chosen different ways and methods to evoke and document memories, ranging from more personal stories and self-revelations, direct observation and interviews, to re-enactment and cinematic interventions. The films tell us as much about the filmmakers’ own wishes and reasons for wanting to retrieve memory as it does about the local communities’ memory-making practices.

Two documentary film projects based in China respectively India were introduced and nine films from and about China, India, and Indonesia were screened with the directors present for Q&A.

 

Open Spaces and Closed Doors - The Internet in China

China today has about 560 million Internet users and more than 300 million people are active on blogs or social-networking sites. Already now, Internet enabled devices permeate almost any aspect of urban life and one day they might do so in rural areas as well. At the same time, however, Internet use is closely monitored and freedom of expression remains severely restricted. Increasing interconnectedness, therefore, has become a two-edged sword as it opens new ways for cooperation and access to information and at the same time generates strong incentives for various stakeholders to intrude on privacy. The Internet in China has caught much attention worldwide not least because it is believed to be a driver for political change. Public and political perceptions, however, are often shaped within the dialectic of suppression (censorship) and resistance (online protests). Yet, lived virtual reality often is not explicitly but rather latently political. Mundane practices and purposes of Internet use still have a strong impact on changing state-society relations because they alter both how society negotiates competing interests and what is regarded as negotiable.

The case of China demonstrates that the spirit of decentralized and non-hierarchical governance of the Internet in its early days is not irreversible. And it is therefore not only the Internet that changes China but China changes also the Internet. From this perspective it becomes obvious that embracing networked communication is not necessarily a privilege of democracies or an inevitable path towards it. Understanding the transformational power of the Internet in China, therefore, requires a closer look at the enabling and constraining factors that shape virtual spaces for information sharing, critical discussions, government innovations, social interaction, and business opportunities as well as their impact on and representation of real world social relations; in other words the technological and institutional constitution of an newly emerging digital society.