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[Call for Papers] Conference "The Tsarist/Soviet empires and the history of modernity in Asia"

International Conference at the LMU Munich


The Chair of Russian-Asian Studies, Prof. Dr. Andreas Renner, at the LMU Munich and the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies invites paper submissions for the international conference "The Tsarist/Soviet empires and the history of modernity in Asia" that will take place in Munich September 12-14, 2017.

The conference seeks to examine entanglements between Tsarist/Soviet and Asian modernities since the late 19th century. In Eurasia, Russia’s rise to great power status anticipated Japan’s (or later, China’s and India’s) transformation from an object of European expansion to a competitive, ‘modern’ rival. In postwar Asia (notions of) modernity were not only influenced by the ‘Western’ model, but also and, arguably, even stronger by developments in the Soviet Union (China and Japan). Though the history of modernities in Asia cannot, of course, be reduced to Tsarist/Soviet influences, they may provide a starting point to the analysis of modernity beyond its Western shape. We argue that the evolution and interaction of competing modernities are elementary not only to the understanding of the way the entire vast region of Asia has been operating, but also that they have broad repercussions on regional and global scales.

So far, modernity in both Tsarist and Soviet Russia has been almost exclusively studied using Western blueprints – i.e as backwardness or chasing-up, as incompatibility or failure. To be sure, modernization theorists accepted the Soviet Union to be fundamentally modern; in fact, the US-Soviet rivalry of the late 1950s served as one starting point. Yet modernization theories never incorporated the Soviet challenge into their (implicit) models of modernity. It was historians who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, began to systematically analyse Soviet modernity. Building on this research and on recent debates about multiple modernites, the conference aims to explore new fields of research. First, the Soviet experience, now labelled a deadlock in history, had long been seen as an alternative road to modernity or rather a road to an alternative modernity. Second, Tsarist strategies and even more so the Soviet ideology of modernization were biased, yet not exclusive towards Western models. Third, the Soviet Union inspired (and supported) national and anti-colonial constructions of modernity in South and East Asia. If the the search for an anti-Western modernity failed in the Soviet Union, it is ongoing in China and Vietnam.

By using the terms ‘modernity’, we mean the particular socio-cultural mindset, norms, attitudes and practices that first and foremost arose in Europe and developed rapidly during the period of roughly the last 150 years in other parts of the world, in Asia in particular. As such it comprises the intellectual interpretation of modernization, the subjective or existential experience it involves, and their ongoing impact on various facets of human culture, institutions, and politics. But which theoretical frameworks can help us research modernity beyond western societies? Shmuel N. Eisenstadt’s theory of multiple modernities has opened new perspectives on Non-Western societies – but, more recently, critics have challenged Eisenstadt’s concept. Were there indeed multiple modernities or only several varieties of one modernity? Can this theory withstand historical application or shall we return to theories of modernization for framing the processes of social and cultural change and in Asian societies? Thus, the aim of the conference is to discuss theoretical concepts of modernity against the backdrop of historical case studies.

We are especially, though not exclusively, interested in applications focussing on the following four topics, all in the time perspective of the 19th and 20th centuries:

a) Theoretical reflections on concepts of modernity and modernization with regard to Asia
b) The entanglement and comparison of modernization processes within the regions under consideration
c) National reflections and representations of social change
d) Tsarist and/or Soviet Russia as models and supporters of modernization processes

The conference will certainly not exhaust all the afore-mentioned issues. They should offer new perspectives on the history of modernity in Asia. Basically, our idea is to take stock of an expanding (and expandable) field of research and to create networks. Thus we explicitly invite pre-docs and post-docs to present their projects. For an inspiring and intensive discussion, it is essential that you hand in your papers by no later than 4 weeks before the conference and limit yourselves to a maximum of 15 minutes' speaking time in Munich. We are pleased that Professor Ronald G. Suny (University of Chicago / University of Michigan) is giving the conference key-note lecture.

We welcome participants working in the history of Russian, Soviet and/or Asian modernities from a broad range of disciplines. Please hand in your proposals (max. 750 words) and short CVs by March 1, 2017 to Helena Holzberger. The Conference language will be English. Currently we cannot confirm full cost coverage but we do hope that we can reimburse (most of) your expenses.

Conveners: Prof. Dr. Andreas Renner & Helena Holzberger, M.A.

Time: September 12-14, 2017

Application deadline: March 10, 2017

Working language: English