ISA 2018-2020 Medium Term Research Program (MTRP, 15-04-2018)

"Crisis, Mobility, and Transformation in Asia: Pursuing and elaborating qualitative anthropological research and methods for the past and the present"

“Crisis, Mobility and Transformation: Pursuing and elaborating qualitative anthropological research and methods for the past and the present” represents a specification of ISA’s programmatic mission statement orientation on “Consensus and conflict”. The three concepts of crisis, mobility and transformation feature a combination of specific orientations from socio-cultural anthropology together with potentials for trans- and interdisciplinary connections to other fields in the humanities as well as the social and life sciences. As critical guiding orientations, the empirical usage of these key concepts by ISA’s researchers is always embedded within specific regions and temporal periods of contemporary or past history. These main regions are pre-defined by ISA’s programmatic specialization for a) Islamic regions of Western Asia and North East Africa, b) Mongolian, Tibetan-speaking and Himalayan areas, and c) mainland and insular Southeast Asia including neighbouring Indian Ocean islands. Interactions with main Asian centres such as India, China or Japan are analyzed within these specific contexts.

This Medium-Term Research Program’s (MTRP) main concept of “crisis” includes socio-cultural systemic as well as biographic dimensions. In a systemic sense, crisis refers to contested continuities (including critique and its counterparts), to increased precariousness, and to potential demise as well as to structural innovation. Arenas in question are fields of Asian regional socio-political societies and their environments including interactions with the wider worlds. In its biographic dimension, crisis addresses potential ruptures in personal lives that may relate to religious or socio-political aspects as much as to life’s complicated changes, from refuge and enforced migration to rites of passage or to health. ISA’s usage of “crisis” with its emphasis on precarious changes therefore also frequently encompasses the notion of “risk”. – The concept of “mobility” in this MTRP connects and further specifies ISA’s concern with crises in the specific contexts of movements, i.e. movements of ideas, things, and persons and the respective limitations that are imposed by borders, frontiers, and other restrictions. Mobility and its counterparts are understood both in their ritualized and their everyday dimensions, as well as in their socio-political, religious, economic or biographical senses. Mobility thus may also – yet need not necessarily – encompass “migration”. ISA’s emphasis in this realm, however, is not centred on Europe but on Asia. – In this ranked sequence of significance, “transformations” comes last and specifies those special contexts in which crises and their relation to mobility are critically assessed and investigated by ISA. These are special historical or contemporary contexts of structural change, as conspicuous in anthropology’s research experience with the term: in the present MTRP, ISA’s researchers thus are less interested in minor adjustments to new challenges – but much more in more systemic and or/structural changes, whenever potentially fundamental crises of systems or lives are occurring.

Pursuing and elaborating qualitative anthropological research and methods for the past and the present confirms ISA’s commitment of practicing and refining anthropological and other qualitative methods in historical as well as in contemporary fields of regional specialization, in their practicing (applied) as well as in their long- term (basic) dimensions. ISA’s pluralist and inclusive methodological portfolio thereby continues a priority for long-term ethnographic fieldwork with participant observation at its core, based on active local language skills. For contemporary purposes, this may be combined with all useful forms of digital inquiries in the virtual world, with other productive qualitative methods of inquiry, with various forms of experimental and quantitative investigation where necessary, and with all versions of archival work and museum studies demonstrating the wider relevance of particular case studies. In its historical work ISA places sufficient priority on written sources (if available) in local languages, and on their assessment and interpretation along the various dimensions of historical anthropology in its dialogues with the historical, philological and archaeological fields. Finally, in ISA’s basic understanding both contemporary as well as historical methodological orientations require comparative elements on all levels – i.e. conceptual, empirical, and analytical. Anthropological comparisons in their various formats thus are pursued for situating individual research endeavors within wider research landscapes, and for highlighting the relevance of specific results within wider contexts of empirical analysis and theoretical interpretation.