CFP: AAA 2017 CfA: “Consuming the Past in Contemporary East Asia”

AAA General Meeting
29 November- 3 December 2017
Washington DC

Panel: Consuming the Past in Contemporary East Asia

East Asia is currently experiencing a ‘nostalgic boom’ (Hillenbrand 2010) that is characterised by a widespread desire among its populace to ‘consume’—broadly defined here as an act where an individual acquires a meaningful relationship with im/material goods— the histories of their respective societies. This consumption of history has manifested across the region in a myriad of forms; from the proliferation of nostalgic autobiographic literature available in bookstores; an increased demand for antiques especially among the nouveau riche and the burgeoning middle-classes; an emerging interest towards traditional customs, knowledges, and paraphernalia displayed by the younger generations; the spread of historical television dramas and films for entertainment purposes; and the growing numbers of people participating in domestic nostalgic tourism by visiting heritage trails and sites, idyllic landscapes in the countryside, and old urban neighbourhoods in search of an authentic past.
But consumption is not a politically-neutral endeavour. Domestic consumption of history has been carefully managed by East Asian states, used as a tool of governance to inculcate good citizenship among their populations, to support the state economy, and to facilitate the branding of the nation to a global audience (Callahan 2006). At the same time, alternative political discourses can be posited and realised through consumption, as witnessed from the emergence of populist nostalgias that have led to the emergence of grassroots initiatives spearheading conservation movements protecting historical monuments, communities, and sites from state-led development projects (Matsuda and Mengoni 2016). In East Asia, consumption is a site where different imaginings of the past are projected, resisted, and negotiated. Anthropology allows us to trace these political tensions, to examine the experiential aspect of consuming history, to attain an intimate look at how individuals and groups interpret and interact with im/material representations of their pasts. This panel thus invites papers that ethnographically and theoretically explore contemporary trends in how history is being consumed within the East Asian context, and to address some of the following queries and more:

-Who is participating in the consumption of history, and what compels them to yearn for the past?

-How is the past being commoditised, and what im/material guises do these resultant commodities assume? How is the past being represented through these goods? Whose narratives of the past are being included and excluded in this process of commoditising history? Do the consumers of such commodities find certain historical eras more appealing over others, how do they choose what to consume?

-How is the consumption of history, and the circulation of historical commodities, being enabled and managed? Who are the agents that governs these processes, and what sort of power dynamic exists between them?

-What ideologies and subjectivities are being derived from the consumption of historical commodities? How does consuming history reconfigure individual perceptions of the self, the relationships between individuals and communities, and manifestations of the socio-political (not to mention, physical) East Asian landscapes?

If interested, please send an abstract of no more than 250 words to Sonia Lam-Knott (<>) by 28 March 2017. Accepted abstracts will be notified by 7 April 2017.

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