Monday, September 28, 2015

The Place of Central Asia in Afro-Asian Discourse?

One thing I noticed at the conference Africa-Asia: A New Axis of Knowledge is that scholars of those parts of Asia that were part of the USSR are still marginalized in Asian studies. At this major conference on all of Asia and Africa the only area less represented than Central Asia was the Middle East and North Africa. The lack of representation by Central Asia is more worrisome than that of the Middle East and North Africa because this latter area has its own scholarly organizations that have proven themselves able to engage in politically independent research. The same is not true for Central Asia. Those organizations devoted only to Central Asia are far too parochial and subject to influence by Central Asian governments and elites. There are after all only five Central Asian states and US and UK scholars are unduly deferential to the regimes in Bishkek, Astana, and even Tashkent compared to people studying other regions of the world. Even if the Caucasus are included the world view of such organizations is still rather limited. Which is one major problem. There is a reason why Asian studies exists. Would one study Vietnam solely in the context of Indochinese studies organizations and closely ally western scholarship with the viewpoint of Hanoi? But, for the most part Central Asia is included in the study of Eurasia which continues to suffer from an excessive Russocentric and Soviet mentality. Intellectual decolonization requires that the study of the region be placed among other post-colonial states not with the former ruling power. After all Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are included in Asian studies not French studies. The argument that Russian and Soviet influence in Central Asia was greater than French influence in Vietnam is not an excuse for keeping Central Asia out of Asian studies and confined to a Soviet ghetto. In fact it is an argument for the opposite. British influence and French influence in West Africa is as great as Russian and Soviet influence in Central Asia. In fact in some ways it is greater. But, that is viewed as all the more reason to promote the study of places like Ghana and Nigeria in the context of Africa, not the UK and the white Commonwealth states. The negative influence of Soviet rule like that of colonialism needs to be countered in scholarship not reinforced like it is currently. Based upon their performance at this last conference in Ghana, Asian studies organizations like IIAS (International Institute for Asian Studies) and ICAS (International Convention of Asian Scholars) could do an awful lot more to incorporate and encourage the inclusion of scholarship on Central Asia within the context of scholarship on Asia. Currently the entire discourse of Africa-Asia excludes the former Soviet states leaving a huge lacuna in the scholarly map of Asia.

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