The Australia-Netherlands Research Collaboration (ANRC)

Proceedings of the Transmission of academic values in Asian Studies workshop

25 & 26 June 2009
The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Robert Cribb, School of Culture, History and Language, The Australian National University

First published 2011
ISBN 978-1-74076-225-0


The traditional practice of academic work has changed greatly over the last few decades. The measurement of performance has become increasingly fine-grained, academic procedures are increasingly regulated and monitored by institutions which do not themselves engage in academic work, the expectation that academics will be entrepreneurial has grown apace and there is a relentless drive for innovation and ‘border-crossing’ in research and teaching. Contemporary scholarship emphasises innovation, and the funders of research and scholarly meetings characteristically stress the need to show novelty and originality in order to obtain financial support. Contemporary university management emphasises performance and outcomes, and tends to see formalized ‘correct’ procedure as the most reliable way to achieve good outcomes.

In this process of change, much of it driven by good intentions, relatively little public attention has been given to the question of what is lost in turning academia into a bureaucracy and a business or to the corresponding question of which intellectual values should be preserved while seeking novelty. Still less attention has been given to how those valued might be maintained and transmitted.

In order to begin addressing this topic, a workshop was held in Canberra on 25 and 26 June 2009 under the auspices of the Australia-Netherlands Research Collaboration (ANRC) with the specific aim of examining issues surrounding the transmission of scholarly values in Asian Studies. The mandate of the ANRC was to promote collaboration between Dutch and Australian researchers, including both established scholars and PhD candidates, in the social sciences and humanities as they relate to Southeast Asian Studies. The ANRC began its work at a time when the future of Southeast Asian Studies in both The Netherlands and Australia appeared to be under some threat as a result of declining student interest and consequent diminishing recruitment to the academic workforce. Our concern, therefore, was not only with what could be renewed and revitalized but with what needed to be preserved as an important part of the intellectual and professional heritage of Asian Studies. The workshop drew upon the views of scholars from a range of life-stages in order to seek a clearer picture of the values that they saw as important to preserve and of the techniques for achieving transmission between the generations.

The values discussed include markers of scholarly excellence such as rigorous attention to empirical detail (including language competence), interpretative bravura, and theoretical sophistication, as well as markers of social significance such as policy relevance and the accessibility of writing to a broader public. They also include values related to ethical behaviour in research (both in relation to other researchers and in relation to informants and others who contribute to research) and to the issue of engagement with political and social affairs. A particularly important issue is that of inter-generational relations: how do younger scholars balance the need for loyalty to their mentors with the need for creating a reputation of their own by overthrowing previous generations? How do senior scholars respond to being debunked?

Identifying these values led us to the question of how to transmit them. The styles of interaction between researchers and postgraduate students vary greatly from country to country and indeed from supervisor to supervisor. In Australia, institutional regulation of research ethics and research best practice has been greeted with some hostility by practical researchers, but there has been little progress in identifying how better outcomes might be achieved with less institutional regulation.

Rather than hearing developed papers, the workshop participants first listened to brief, ‘trigger’-style statements based on written statements of no more than two pages that were circulated prior to the discussion. A number of the participants then developed these statements into full papers which are published here.

The papers were peer-reviewed prior to publication and the editor would like to thank the anonymous referees for prompt and efficient work.