Core themes 2021-2022

The LeidenAsiaCentre organises its research projects within wider core themes. This allows projects to deal with specific questions in the context of related projects.

In 2021 and 2022, the LAC will focus on risk in uncertain times. Recent regional and global dynamics have shown how vulnerable our political, economic, and social systems are to crises, and how the nature of risk and uncertainty have changed due to increased connectivity. Whether it is health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental crises such as those brought about by climate change, economic uncertainties caused by trade wars, or geopolitical anxieties such as those created by border disputes, our societies are today confronted with challenges that demand flexible responses in the face of uncertain and highly dynamic complexities, often mediated and accelerated by rapid technological changes. Our world is defined by complex interdependencies and transnational dynamics that challenge simple explanations and that challenge national policy responses.

Societies across Asia have long-standing experiences with decision-making under such conditions. Fallout from the financial crises of 1997 and 2008, numerous health crisis over the past two decades, recurring territorial disputes, and devastating natural disaster such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and the effects of global warming have long taught policymakers and practitioners how crucial it is to develop sustainable approaches to risk in an ever-more uncertain world. Decision-makers in the region have experimented extensively with new technologies and innovative political approaches, all the while strategically reassessing regional dynamics and the evolving nature of potential hazards and threats. Some of these approaches have privileged authoritarian measures, others have remained committed to liberal and participatory practices, and while many have ostensibly solved crucial issues, they have also generated side-effects, for instance aggravating problems of inequality or civic rights, which has in turn created yet new vulnerabilities.

To explore what we can learn from Asian approaches to risk and uncertainty, we will conduct enquiry-driven empirical research into risk and uncertainty in Asia, involving our wide network of collaborations in the region. This research will focus on four core themes: ‘agility in the face of change’, ‘the challenge of technological solutions’, ‘new challenges in communication’, and ‘shifting alliances’.

Theme 1: Agility in the Face of Change

Weathering contemporary crisis is not merely about addressing predictable hazards or threats, it is about generating socio-political contexts that can effectively and sustainably respond to unknown, dynamic problems. Such responses increasingly involve non-state actors and transnational cooperation, but this has not made the nation state obsolete. States continue to steer their societies in the face of crisis through their extensive policy-making powers, as is highly visible in Asia. What policy-measures have actors in Asia developed in order to anticipate, avoid, or ameliorate emerging crises? How have they tried to immunize their societies against risk? How effective have these measures been? And how do liberal-democratic approach measure up against authoritarian solutions? By combining policy-analyses and first-hand interviews with decision-makers, this theme will explore how the changing nature of hazards and threats is being assessed in Asian context, and it will draw lessons from the resulting policies and implementations.

Theme 2: The Challenge of Technological Solutions

Asian societies are renowned for their ubiquitous use of digital technology, which has become more than a series of conveniences in everyday life; it has become a crucial part of the political, economic, and social infrastructure. Within this research theme, our centre will assess how actors from Asia rely on technology to ostensibly address the challenges of uncertainty and risk, both in their designs and implementations, and what outcomes and side-effects these practices generate.

Theme 3: New Challenges in Communication

Whether it is within organizations, between various social and political groups, or through international diplomacy, crises shine a spotlight on the workings (and failings) of communication processes. Miscommunication can derail important crisis responses, for instance when scientific collaborations fall apart, become undermined, or fail to effectively communicate their findings. How do actors gather and relay information in highly networked contexts governed by uncertainty? How do they strategically persuade others of their values or obfuscate their own shortcomings?

Theme 4: Shifting Alliances

Changes in regional and global risk assessments across Asia have created incentives to rethink and rework political allegiances. Despite the border-crossing nature of contemporary crises, the past years have seen a strengthening of the nation state and its focus on sovereignty. Geopolitical and geoeconomics thinking are en vogue again, compelling many governments in Asia to recalibrate their interactions in line with geostrategic thinking. Relations between the US and China are just one arena in which such recalibration takes place, albeit a crucial one that will continue to shape Asian politics in the years to come. How are political agents in the region positioning themselves within the shifting contours of regional alliances?

Further details about upcoming projects to be announced. Please keep an eye on our projects & publications page.