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MLA Toronto 2020 CFP: Authoritarianism & SE Asia

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    Brian Bernards

    CFP: “Authoritarianism and Southeast Asia”

    Modern Language Association Annual Convention

    January 7–10, 2021, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

    Presidential Theme: “Persistence”

    The recent prominence of a global “New Right” has upended the progressivist teleology that, at the end of the Cold War, located the political and economic regime of the “modern” West—liberal democracy—at the “end of history.” This revanchist renewal of old tendencies—referred to variously as “right-wing populism,” “illiberal democracy,” “neofascism,” “counterrevolution,” the “Nationalist Internationale”—has been emerging in the United States and Europe since the 1960s as a reaction to Keynesian and social liberalism. In Southeast Asia, it has been entrenched since the same period, after decolonization—in People’s Action Party’s independent Singapore (1959–), Myanmar under military rule (1962–2016), the Philippines under Marcos’s “New Society” (1965–1986) and its resurrections, Indonesia under Suharto’s “New Order,” (1967–1998), the Sultan’s Brunei (1967–), the Communist Party’s reunified Vietnam (1975–)—making the region known for “authoritarian democracies.”

    The paradoxical names used to capture the resurgence of forces that have been lingering or developing attest to how the contemporary moment does not fit into dominant Western paradigms, or how what passes for common sense has imposed limits on what can be thought. Tellingly, what in the West seems like a “return of the repressed” is in Southeast Asia commonplace. Southeast Asia thus serves as a key site for the present conjuncture, given the conditions that, after decolonization, defined the region and fostered “new” authoritarian regimes. As these conditions increasingly characterize Western metropoles themselves, the West is forced to confront tendencies with which the world has long been grappling. How might we think about these postcolonial conditions, as they are generalized and addressed through disparate authoritarianisms on a global scale?

    What can we learn from Southeast Asia about the pasts and futures of increasingly empowered “new” authoritarianisms threatening to remake the global present? How do the varied and ambiguous functions of authoritarian rule in Southeast Asia—make possible economic development, fend off popular unrest amid economic inequities, provide a means to bridge tradition and modernity, put in place an Asian way to socialism, reject Western imperialism, or so proponents claim—resonate with the motivations behind the authoritarian reinforcement of national borders and group identities that is undermining formally democratic institutions around the world in the ruins of neoliberalism? Instead of the notion of Southeast Asia as showing where the West is headed—a “reversal” that keeps in place Orientalist tropes and Western teleology—what other temporalities capture the global entanglements that have led to the increasingly authoritarian present? How does the resurgence of the old as new signify persistence, and what other, critical forces, including in literature and culture, persist that might counter it? How might the humanities teach us how to persist, given the powers that persist?

    Contact Ben Tran (Asian Studies and English, Vanderbilt University) or Ryanson Alessandro Ku (English and Asian American and Diaspora Studies, Duke University) for inquiries. Jini Kim Watson (English and Comparative Literature, New York University) will serve as panel respondent.

    Send 250-word abstract and CV to ben.tran@vanderbilt.edu no later than Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

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