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Newsletter 56

December 2000

  1. Membership Announcement
  2. IUAES Inter-Congress, Beijing, 24-28 July 2000
    by Eric Sunderland, President IUAES
  3. Minutes of the Meeting of the IUAES Executive Committee, 23 July 2000, Beijing
    by Peter J.M. Nas
  4. Mega-Urbanization in Indonesia, India, and China
    by Gregory Eliyu Guldin
  5. Note on the IUAES Inter-Congress in Beijing, July 24 to 28, 2000
    by Eveline Dürr
  6. A Challenge of Change: The IUAES Inter-Congress in Beijing
    by Tanja A.J. Houweling
  7. A Task Ahead: Closing Lecture delivered at the Beijing Inter-Congress, 28 July 2000
    by Peter J.M. Nas
  8. IUAES Membership

1. Membership Announcement

The newsletter will from now on only be distributed to individual members and to institutions. So, please subscribe with the IUAES treasurer Prof. Tomoko Hamada (thamad@wm.edu) if you want to receive the next newsletter and want to be informed about the coming activities of the Union.

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2. IUAES Inter-Congress, Beijing, 24-28 July 2000

by Eric Sunderland, President IUAES

As many readers of the Newsletter will know, the IUAES arranges mini-Congresses, termed Inter-Congresses held in most years separating the quinquennial major World Congresses. One such Inter-Congress was held in Beijing in July 2000, the major theme being ‘Metropolitan ethnic cultures: maintenance and interaction’. Concurrently the IUAES Commissions on Human Ecology, Anthropology in Policy and Practice, Ethnic Relations and Urban Anthropology organized successful sessions. The sessions which I was able to attend were in each instance well run with stimulating presentations and lively discussions.

The IUAES is most appreciative of the very hard work undertaken by our Chinese colleagues in arranging such a successful Inter-Congress, both academically and socially. In particular I wish warmly to thank the Honorary Chairman, Fei Xiaotong, the Chairman, Jiang Jiafu, the Executive Chairmen, Yang Houdi and Hao Shiyuan, Ma Rong and Yang Shengmin and also the Secretary-General Shen Lin. These individuals and their colleagues as well as many student helpers succeeded in making the Beijing Inter-Congress the undoubted success it was and I am more than grateful for their unstinting efforts.

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3. Minutes of the Meeting of the IUAES Executive Committee, 23 July 2000, Beijing

by Peter J.M. Nas

Participants: Prof. Eric Sunderland (President), Dr. Peter J.M. Nas (Secretary General), Prof. Tomoko Hamada (Treasurer), Dr. Deepak Kumar Behera, Prof. Brunetto Chiarelli, Dr. Anita Sujoldzic, Prof. Keiichi Omoto, Prof. Margaret Trawick, Prof. Luis Alberto Vargas.

  1. The President, Prof. Sunderland, welcomed all the members of the Executive Committee present. The minutes of the past meeting published in the Newsletter were accepted.
  2. The 2000 Beijing Inter-Congress is proceeding very well. The organization is in place and about 450 participants from all over the world are expected. Preparations have included a visit of a team of the organizers to England where Prof. Sunderland has discussed the organizational format with them.
  3. The 2001 Göttingen Inter-Congress in July, 2001 is on schedule. The Secretary General, Dr. Peter J.M. Nas, has received an e-mail from Prof. Bernd Herrmann that the funding application is being sent to the German Science Foundation. Only one symposium chair and one closing speech are missing. The internet page is almost ready.
  4. The 2002 Tokyo Inter-Congress is reported by the president of the organizing committee, Prof. Omoto. It will be held September 22-27, 2002 in Tokyo, and the theme is Anthropological Perspectives on the Human Body. The Science Council of Japan sponsors the congress. Other sponsors are being approached. The whole event will take place in one building in the center of Tokyo. A leaflet is distributed.
  5. The 2003 Florence Congress will take place July 5-12, 2003. There will be several pre-congresses in different places in Italy, and the congress with many different groups will be organized at one place. A website with information about the congress is available.
  6. The Treasurer, Prof. Tomoko Hamada, presents an overview of IUAES finances. The balance is positive, but the assets are considered minimal. Dr. Deepak Kuma Behera will put some proposals to raise IUAES income in a paper for discussion at the next Executive Committee meeting in Göttingen, 2001. Financial dues of national academies will also be discussed.
  7. The Secretary General presents an overview of activities related to the IUAES handbook (financed by the Wenner Gren Foundation), the newsletters and the website.
  8. The Executive Committee discusses the goals and support of three proposed commissions, on respectively the Anthropology of Mathematics, Global Bioethics, and Children and Childhood. All three proposed commissions are accepted in principle by the Committee and will be submitted for ratification by the Permanent Council in Göttingen, 2001. The proposed commissions can pursue their activities under ‘proposed’ status.

    It is decided that all commissions will be reviewed during the Göttingen Inter-Congress. The Secretary General will inform all of the commissions, request information on past activities and invite them to present their results in Göttingen.
  9. Several projects supported by ISSC, ICSU, and Wenner Gren is presented and discussed.
  10. Prof. Paul Nkwi will be the official representative of the IUAES at the ISSC General Assembly in Paris, November 29, 2001. Lourdes Arispe will be the official IUAES candidate for ISSC Vice President.
  11. Prof. Brunetto Chiarelli will be the official representative of the IUAES for the General Meeting of ICSU, February 19, 2002. He will also represent the IUAES at the Conference on Electronic Scientific Publishing.
  12. Prof. Faye Harrison is appointed official representative of the IUAES for the World Conference on Racism, to be held in South Africa, 2001.
  13. Prof. Margaret Trawick and Dr. Stephanie Wiesbauer (Commission on Urgent Anthropology) are proposed as experts for the determination of masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity, UNESCO.
  14. Prof. Marazzi will be asked to contact CIPSH and formulate a project proposal on visual anthropology.
  15. Under the heading of Other Matters, the IUAES Statement on Race (see IUAES website) is discussed as well as the International Center for Advanced Anthropology in Dubrovnik.
  16. The meeting is closed at 16.30 hours.

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4. Mega-Urbanization in Indonesia, India, and China

by Gregory Eliyu Guldin

The ICAES Inter-Congress held in Beijing in July 2000 was the venue for a comparative look at rural urbanization and the growth of mega-urban areas (the latter defined as a form of region-based urbanization with highly discontinuous land use patterns). Ten panelists delivered eight brief papers and fully half the session was devoted to a lively discussion of comparisons between south, southeast, and east Asian urbanization as reviewed in the papers. Eminent professors Walter Goldschmidt of the USA and Aidan Southall of the United Kingdom were discussants.

The avowed aim of the panel was to explore the possibility that a pan-Asian trend or trends were emerging in the urbanization of this section of the globe. The scholars present noted some key commonalities which have or are affecting the following areas: globalization, rising population densities, capitalist marketization, agricultural involution, increasing inequality (both between classes and between nations), and parallel media/values influences. Differences between the areas noted were: of political economy and political regimes, of population size, and of resource base. Problems raised in comparing the regions included questions of boundaries and definitions, as well as relevant theoretical frameworks.

The assembled group came to a number of conclusions. One was that rural urbanization is a process distinct from, although related to, mega-urbanization. Secondly, there might be some validity in exploring Castells’ concepts of the space of place and the space of flows in attempting to understand Asian urbanization. Lastly, it appeared that in India, the decline of small towns remains as a major contrast to the experience of China, and, to a lesser degree, that of Southeast Asia.

Given the high level of enthusiasm in the room, and the shared feeling that this type of national/regional comparison is worthwhile, the decision was made to arrange a follow-up panel and discussion (or workshop) within the next two years. Freek Colombijn (Colombijn@rullet.leidenuniv.nl) agreed to coordinate information/discussion regarding this possibility.

The panelists and their papers:
Peter J. M. Nas and Antonia Houweling: ‘Mega-Urbanization in Southeast Asia’
Freek Colombijn , ‘Mega-Urbanization in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur’
Buddhadeb and Sumita Chaudhuri, ‘Urbanization in India: The Emerging Trends’
Zhou Daming, ‘Urbanization in China: The Only Way for Densely Populated Areas’
Shi Yilong, ‘One Path of the China Countryside’s Urbanization’
Gao Chong, ‘The Village of Nanchang: Maintenance within a Metropolis’
Gregory Eliyu Guldin, ‘Townizing Southern China: Chinese Desakotas?’

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5. Note on the IUAES Inter-Congress in Beijing, July 24 to 28, 2000

by Eveline Dürr

The IUAES 2000 Inter-Congress in Beijing was mainly dedicated to issues related to urban anthropology and focused on the topic Metropolitan Ethnic Cultures: Maintenance and Interaction. The conference was hosted and organized by the China Urban Anthropology Association in conjunction with the IUAES Commission on Urban Anthropology and with the cooperation of the IUAES Commission of Human Ecology, the IUAES Commission on Anthropology in Policy and Practice, the IUAES Commission on Ethnic Relations and the Institute of Nationality Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Distinguished anthropologists and scholars of other disciplines met in the city of Beijing intensively to discuss and evaluate the dynamics of contemporary and future urban research, detailing the transformation processes of multicultural cities located in different parts of the world.

The official languages of the Inter-Congress were English and Chinese. All contributions - papers as well as discussions - were simultaneously translated by bilingual local interpreters. This fact allowed an intense exchange of arguments, views and objections, stimulating the scientific dialogue between the Chinese and foreign participants - without any relevant language barriers. Diverse opinions became transparent to all scientists, who came from 46 countries to participate in a polyphonic and provocative discussion.

The keynote speakers at the opening ceremony were Fei Xiaotong (P.R. China), Walter Goldschmidt (U.S.A.) and Aidan Southall (U.K.). Fei Xiaotong, more than 90 years old, gave an impressive insight into his personal experiences describing the meaning of acting and working as an anthropologist in China. His biography reflects the development of the anthropological discipline embedded in different historical and political chapters of the P.R. China. Walter Goldschmidt explored current trends in cultural anthropology in the U.S., discussing the problematic gap between theory and empiricism in anthropological research. Aidan Southall, an outstanding urban anthropologist, contrasted studies of metropolitan ethnic cultures in China with those carried out in western cities, taking into account the characteristics of Chinese social anthropology and those of western countries. He focused especially on ethnicity, ethnic groups, and migration in reference to the political and ideological transformations in China.

The sessions held at the conference offered a wide range of methodological, regional and spatial perspectives of urban research topics. Many papers were based on case studies conducted in particular cities or in a specific part of a city which others dealt with a comparative perspective offering a deeper level of theoretical reflection. Vibrant discussions were observed in most of the panels and contributed to a more general view of the specific empirical data.

The following panels were conducted:

Six sessions, organized by Yang Houdi, President of the China Urban Anthropology Association, focused on Issues of Ethnic Cultures in Cities: The Characteristics of Inter-Ethnic Cultural Influences in 20th Century Cities; The Relationship between Traditional Cultures and Moderinzation in Cities; The Role of the Media, Bilingual Education and Community in Protecting Ethnic Cultures; Types of Multicultural Cities in the World and their Future; Urban Ethnic Festivals, Buildings, and Tourism; Urban Ethnic Customs and Ethnic Relationships.

The IUAES Commission on Urban Anthropology held six sessions, organized by Freek Colombijn, Executive Secretary of the Commission on Urban Anthropology: Children and Childhood in Metropolitan Ethnic Cultures; Ethnicity and the Urban Poor -Struggle for Survival; Human Rights and Multi-Ethnic Societies; Mega-urbanization in Indonesia, India and China: The Dynamic of Rural Urbanization in Indonesia, India and China in a Comparative Perspective; Traditional Knowledge and Wisdom Related to Health: Relevance in the Changing Global Environment and Globalization; The Spatial Consequences of Urban Ethnic Diversity. It was decided by the participants of the latter session to organize a follow up panel taking place at the next Inter-Congress in Göttingen, Germany, in 2001.

The IUAES Commission on Anthropology in Policy and Practice conducted three sessions, organized by Carmen Boeno Castellanos, co-chairperson of the Commission on Anthropology in Policy and Practice: Technology and Culture, Teaching and Training for Careers in Applied Anthropology; Culture, Communication and the Making of Industrial Disasters.

The IUAES Commission on Ethnic Relations held three sessions, organized by N.O. Kielstra: The Influence of Immigrant Groups on their New and/or Old Society; Ethnic Relations Through Music; Ethnic Relations in the 20th and in the 21st Century.

Concurrently with the Inter-Congress, the 7th World Academic Conference on Human Ecology was held, organized by Napoleon Wolanski, Chairman of the IUAES Commission of Human Ecology. The sessions in this field focused on the topic of ‘Biology of Humans in Urban and Rural Areas in Contemporary Civilization’. The following three panels were arranged: Growth and Development of Children and Youth in Urban and Rural Areas; Secular Changes in Urban and Rural Environments; Aging in Cities.

In addition, there were 10 more sessions dealing with issues concerning specific Chinese urban research projects or addressing more general themes of anthropological research like gender, film, biological anthropology, theoretical approaches as well as pastoralists in conflict and conformity with urbanization. The organizers of these sessions were mainly scientists from Chinese universities and institutions.

Even though many different topics were covered and disparate approaches were chosen to analyze the empirical data, the major theme of the conference was the rapid transformation of cities in a globalizing world, the relevance of multiculturalism and ethnicity for future research as well as the creation of new methods in anthropological research matching the rapid global development in an adequate manner.

The Chinese hosts were extremely well prepared for this scientific event, which was the largest international conference on anthropological and ethnological sciences held in Beijing up to the present. The organizational arrangements started at the airport guiding the participants to the Olympic Hotel, which was a perfect place to conduct the conference. Most sessions took place in the Olympic Hotel thus avoiding long and unnecessary trips and making the meeting of colleagues much easier. Other proceedings like the opening and closing ceremony were carried out at the National Library Hall, located opposite the hotel.

Beside the academic dialogue the hosts encouraged social and informal interaction among the participants. In the middle of the conference, they organized a guided tour to the famous historical sites in and around Beijing, like the Forbidden City, Tian’anman Square and the colorful Chinese Ethnic Park, as well as to Beijing outskirts to visit the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. These excursions provided an excellent opportunity informally to discuss further issues of urban research and to plan future co-operation. An elaborate banquet sponsored by the organizers culminated the warm hospitality of the Chinese hosts.

The China Urban Anthropology Association (CUAA), established in 1992, represents a sophisticated and influential society in the Chinese academic community with over 400 members. It holds a membership in the IUAES and is eager to participate in international scientific exchange – sending scholars abroad to international conferences and relevant institutions worldwide as well as publishing advanced studies of urban research in contemporary Chinese society. The hosting of the 2000 Inter-Congress was surely an important step further to integrate the CUAA in the international academic community - not only to diffuse western views and critiques to Chinese scholars but to learn as well about Chinese approaches and the results of their intense urban research. On a national level, the CUAA is also active outside the academic context and has provided consulting services to several Chinese cities.

At the closing ceremony the summarizers (Freek Colombijn, Ruan Xihu, Deepak Kumar Behera, Napoleon Wolanski) each gave a short overview on the results of their panels. In addition, it was announced, that the proposed Commission on the Anthropology of Children and Childhood had been approved in principle by the executive committee of the IUAES and will be chaired by Deepak Kumar Behera. This new commission aims to draw scholars engaged with childhood together and to stimulate an intercultural debate on children and childhood in diverse societies.

In a final lecture, Peter J.M. Nas, Secretary General of the IUAES, gave an outline of future anthropological research in globalizing cities. He invited us to face the profound social and economic transformations and to consider global flows of capital and information as well as the creation of virtual cultures in new projects on the urban environment.

There are certainly many more aspects in regard to the conference which can not be touched on here. Those not attending can get additional details from the publication of selected papers. The conference provided an excellent floor for further discussion and academic exchange in the new millennium. The city of Beijing was an appropriate venue for such a conference, representing the political, commercial and cultural centre of the most populated country in the world.

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6. A Challenge of Change: The IUAES Inter-Congress in Beijing

by Tanja A.J. Houweling

‘How things have changed in Beijing.’ Not that I would know, since this was only my first visit. But that’s what I was told. From the IUAES Inter-Congress in Beijing, it indeed became clear that things are changing, not only in China itself, but also in anthropology.

The Inter-Congress itself may stand as an example of this change. China is opening up to the western world. The event can be seen as the open-door policy in practice: inviting scholars from all over the world to have a look at how the government is handling the often sensitive topic of ethnic minorities. Self-confidently it let scholars stroll around the ‘Ethnic Park’, where the different ethnic groups, or ‘nationalities’ as the government calls them, are on display with their ‘traditional’ houses and costumes. It is at least somewhat remarkable that the IUAES as an international organisation of anthropologists, who often have the habit of criticising national governments of suppressing minority groups, should hold its Inter-Congress in China. Fortunately, despite a call not to go to Beijing, the turnout was enormous.

When looking at the demographic composition of the main speakers during the opening ceremony of the congress, you would say that China is changing faster than the IUAES. Virtually all these speakers were men; some even had reached the age - they told me - at which they get the reaction ‘hey, you’re still alive!’. I think here is a challenge for change close at home!

However, some interesting changes within the discipline of anthropology became apparent during the congress. First, there is increasing attention paid to the anthropology of children and childhood. After the ‘discovery’ of women as an often neglected group in the study of culture, the time has come for the study of children. During the congress, several sessions were devoted to this topic. Papers on for example ‘Cyberkids in the US’ and ‘Environmental safety and exposure to violence of inner city children’ were presented. Moreover, there was a proposal to establish a new IUAES commission on children to give more structural attention within our organisation to this yet understudied group.

Secondly, an appeal for change within the discipline was made by Walter Goldschmidt in his opening speech. He argued that we should devote more energy to bringing together the until now too much separated academic worlds which study nature and which study nurture. If we really are to understand human behaviour, it is necessary to study the interaction between biology and culture. The sessions on human ecology can be put into this perspective. These sessions were, among others, devoted to the growth and development of children. The presentations dealt for instance with the question of how the development of height and weight of children is related to socio-economic status.

Related to this, I would argue here that more attention should be paid to the question of what unites humanity. The overwhelming attention of anthropologists to cultural specifics, should be balanced with the study of the commonalities of humankind. If not, there will be a danger that scholars become so much tied up in their ivory towers of ideas concerning the specifics of their favourite village or subject of study, that they become unable to communicate with each other. The Beijing congress provided us with the opportunity to put specific research results in a broader framework. One of the initiatives to bridge separate knowledge worlds was made by Guldin. In the session on mega-urbanisation in Indonesia, India and China, he attempted, through brainstorming and discussion with a broad public, to answer the question whether there is such a thing as pan-Asian urbanisation. This topic will continue to be under debate through an e-mail discussion group.

Of course, besides all this serious business, there was also much time for fun and social activities. For me as a young anthropologist, it was exciting to meet the persons behind the famous names I had always heard about. I even happened to meet the couple that wrote the first textbook I had studied as a freshman! Moreover, there were some nice tours organised for us. So we strolled around the Forbidden City, walked into sweat at the Great Wall, and had a lot of water excitement at the Ethnic Park. Some of us took the opportunity to dance to the beat with Chinese students in a Beijing night club. I am grateful to our Chinese hosts for their hospitality. Due to the time and effort of the Chinese organising committee and all its volunteers, this congress turned into a fruitful exchange of ideas between anthropologists from all over the world.

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I thank the Doctor Catharine van Tussenbroek Fund for making it financially feasible for me to come to Beijing.

7. A Task Ahead: Closing Lecture delivered at the Beijing Inter-Congress, 28 July 2000

by Peter J.M. Nas

In the 1970s, the famous Greek urbanist C.A. Doxiadis, who published the journal Ekistics, was trying to map the future of the city and urbanization. In his publications, he projected a world city, which was called ecumenopolis. This city had the form of a grid pattern connecting existing urban centers and leaving apart the areas that were considered uninhabitable because of high altitude, lack of water, extreme climatic conditions, and other factors preventing dense and permanent settlement. This world city or ecumenopolis was for many people a terrible image. They felt horrified by the thought of a completely integrated settlement structure covering the earth’s crust with tentacles on all continents. Yet now, half a century later, we know better. In the present year 2000 it is estimated that about 50% of the world population is living in cities, and that this percentage is increasing constantly. Not only in Western countries which may be considered almost totally urbanized as even the farmers are completely mechanized, industrialized and market driven, but increasingly in Latin America and particularly in Asia and Africa, where the levels of urbanization are substantially lower. In these areas, however, the biggest cities of the world are located, such as Mexico-city and Tokyo. Their present-day sizes completely ridicule earlier scientific discussions on the optimum size of cities and I am convinced that, notwithstanding the great difficulties we envisage to create a sustainable ecumenopolis that honours human needs and at the same time respects environmental capacity, this ecumenopolis is positive in principle. The city is one of the great human inventions that figures prominently among others, such as the use of fire, the invention of the wheel, and steam and electric energy used for industry. Generally speaking, cities by means of high levels of population density have created opportunities for increased human cooperation and specialization leading to potential high levels of production, multi-formity of life styles and subcultures, and openness to innovation, intercultural contact and interethnic relations (as was shown in so many papers presented during the past days in the different panels). So, whether we like it or not, and I am aware that many anthropologists prefer the tribal and rural conditions for their fieldwork above the urban environments, within half a century from now the vision of Doxiadis will turn out to have become reality. Perhaps this is already the case now, if transport and communication lines are considered integral parts of the world city, since there exists a network of airlines, telephone, fax and e-mail that connects all the centres. This system is nowadays conceived as consisting of mega-urban areas of different levels. This hierarchy has Tokyo, London and New York as global cities topping several layers of lower level centers and performing distinctive functions in the globalized world of financial flows.

In his work on Southeast Asia with Robinson, McGee states that mega-cities are rapidly expanding beyond their boundaries. ‘This process’ - I quote - ‘has particularly affected the largest cities, but is also now occurring in the largest secondary ones, such as Chiang Mai in Thailand, Bandung in Indonesia, and Cebu City in the Philippines. Metropolitan growth tends to sprawl along major expressways and railroad lines radiating out from the urban cores, and leapfrogs in all directions, putting down new towns and industrial estates. Regions of dense population and mixed land use are created, in which traditional agriculture is found side by side with modern factories, commercial activities, and suburban development.’ The concept of the extended metropolitan region or desakota zones (Bahasa Indonesia for village-town zones), has been coined for this amoeba-like spatial form of region-based urbanization, which seems diametrically opposed to the city-based urbanization to which we are accustomed. These urban regions have several components such as the ‘city-core’, the ‘metropolitan area’, and the ‘extended metropolitan area’, the last constituting a patched area of mixed agricultural and non-agricultural activities. Pertinently, mega-urban regions may follow divergent patterns of spatial growth. An example of the ‘expanding state model’ is the growth triangle of Singapore, also involving part of Malaysian Johor and Indonesian Riau. Kuala Lumpur is a case in point following the ‘extended metropolitan region model’ and Jakarta, Manila, and Bangkok are examples of ‘high-density extended metropolitan regions’.

I present these concepts to you for two reasons. The first is to show that we are dealing with new urban phenomena, which cannot be analyzed with ideas developed for the reality of the ancient town or the old metropolis in mind. Many of these ideas are obsolete and are inapplicable to mega-urban regions. The large size of cities, for example, need not be a problem in itself. Contrary to the general run of feelings, such regions can also be sustainable, and need not be economically parasitic. Cogently, these regions are certainly not only cities of the poor, although many poor live there, but it is proven that the poor often have better chances and are better off in cities than they are in the rural areas. Moreover, concepts like town and countryside are difficult to apply to such diverse regions as these mega-urban areas.

The second reason that I present these terms is that I do not find them very satisfying. Concepts like desakoto zones have an oriental and mystic spell, but they are not well defined. However, they refer to all sorts of new urban conditions that should be studied and theoretically grasped by anthropologists. Urgent anthropology, also within the context of the IUAES, has an important task to document perishing cultures. But a new laboratory of urban life styles and subcultures is generated in mega-urban settings, which deserve urgent attention by anthropologists. I do not know if the anthropological community is ready for this shift in emphasis, which however, in the end will be inescapable. Therefore, I am very glad and excited that the Chinese anthropologists who have no long tradition in urban anthropological research, but do have a long urban tradition, are the first to organize an IUAES inter-congress completely devoted to urban settings, and have constituted a strong urban anthropological association. As Aidan Southall put it in the introductory lecture, urban anthropology has become ‘the humble and appropriate instrument chosen at this juncture to bear the burden and the excitement of exploration and discovery in China’, and particularly urban China, I would add. I am convinced that the existing relationship between the IUAES and the CUAA (China Urban Anthropological Association), as well as the personal relationships immanent to the cooperation, will prove to be fertile soil for further exchange of anthropological knowledge in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, some time ago I flew from Yogyakarta via Jakarta to Banda Aceh, the capital of the Indonesian province of Aceh in the northern part of the island of Sumatra. In the framework of a project on traditional houses in Sumatra, which had to be documented as they are rapidly disappearing, I had taken up the task to do research in this city that I did not know, and where I knew nobody. While exploring the city, I found out that traditional wooden houses still existed in the periphery of the city, but also that modern buildings in the centre were very peculiar. It appeared that a branch of modern ethnic architecture had developed as an expression of Acehnese identity. So, I decided to do research among the architects who designed these buildings. I visited them at their offices, ate with them, toured the buildings they had designed with them, visited their homes and recreated with them at the beach. However, as they lived scattered over the city, this type of urban research differs from research in more homogeneous social settings. I discovered that there were five generations of architects, all of whom had different views on the matter of ethnic architecture and criticized each other, especially the younger generation criticizing the older generation. However, I tell this because one senior architect of about 70 years old, who was unable to draw at his drawing board longer than ten minutes at a time anymore because of eye problems, made an important statement. He said that when he started his career, he had to make a choice: he would either design in a modern way or he would design in an ethnic way. He had to make the choice between going global or going local. And this brings me to what I said earlier, that a new mindset is needed to deal with mega-urban regions because the old concepts are not applicable anymore. Probably the recent work of Castells on the Network Society, which is a very thorough specification of the processes of globalization and localization in he present-day world, can provide us with such a new mindset.

According to Castells’ theory, a new phase in societal development has to be added to the scheme of modes of production by Marx. The Asiatic mode, ancient mode, feudal mode, and capitalistic mode are at this very moment bit by bit and irregularly substituted by the informational mode of production. Ecumenopolis will not be more of the same, but it will be very different from what we have now. Castells has tried to analyze the impact of the digital revolution on society, among others production, labour, consumption, politics and the state, international crime networks, the family system and grassroots social movements, the latter being his old time trade. I cannot present all his interesting findings here, because they are so rich and varied. Basically, he thinks that the new production forces of the digital revolution lead to new production relations and new worldviews. The production relations are globalizing and take the network format of flexible and hierarchical relationships. In reaction to the global flows of capital and information circulating between regions and groups, as well as the resulting uniformity, reactive and proactive, localized identities are formed. The state and politics are strongly influenced by these dual processes because they have to conform to international requirements in the global sphere, but have their constituency on the local level, which they also have to reckon with. So, the state is torn apart and so are politics with probable negative effects on democracy. The central thesis of Castells is that the network is becoming the dominant morphology of society. This is a new metaphor, in addition to other metaphors used in social science, such as society as a clock, or as an organism. Now it is society as a computer network. This network is characterized by uneven diffusion throughout the world. Not everybody and not every region is included. The concepts of excluded and included imply new definitions of poverty and class struggle. This simplified presentation of a masterpiece, whatever criticism I may have, is very relevant for us as anthropologists. I think that anthropology has to transfer part of its efforts to the implications of this digital or informational revolution. The personal computer as we use it at the moment, is comparable to the steam engine at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Major transformations in the informational means of production will lead to a complete restructuring of our urban society, and this will open up a laboratory for anthropological research. Going through the abstracts of the papers presented here in Beijing, I came across just one paper on Cyberkids by Margaret Trawick. Perhaps an IUAES commission on the culture of the Internet should be established.

This leads us to one final point, related to the introductory lecture by Walter Goldschmidt who discussed the concept of the ‘symbolic self’. I will leave aside that the symbolic self by the use of computers and Internet interaction will acquire a complete new level in virtual reality, which may transform into real virtuality. It is clear that virtual culture has to become a topic for anthropological research. What is also important, is that cities and mega-urban regions are saturated with symbolism. Cities are containers of rituals and symbols which, to a certain extent, are already studied by anthropologists. During this conference, a session was dedicated to rituals and festivals among others in Osaka, Kobe and Yunnan. These studies, however, often remain restricted to a particular symbol or ritual without relating it to the whole body of such symbolic expressions of the city or the mega-urban region. Anthropologists have in a crude way characterized cities as wholes, but it is only since the beginning of the 1990s that the symbolic and ritual dimension of urban communities have been more systematically explored to characterize them as wholes in an anthropological and not a sociological or geographical way. This is important, as there exists besides a symbolic self also a symbolic self of cities. This becomes particularly clear when present-day strategies of city marketing even on an international scale are taken into account. The symbolic and ritual dimension of urban regions as expressed in monuments, statues, place and street names, festivities, ritual, myths, stories and poems, architecture and so on and so forth, is a historically layered, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally produced body of often ambiguous meanings that encompass the traumas, achievements, intentions and hopes of the multi-faceted urban community. This landscape of meanings is a fertile soil for anthropological investigation, not just for the sake of knowledge, but also for the sake of community building as part of applied anthropological interest.

I would like to express the hope that this IUAES Inter-Congress in Beijing has laid further foundations to develop anthropology in the new directions that our changing world is demanding. Probably it is not just by accident that the Chinese anthropologists have chosen urban anthropology as the means to establish a platform for international cooperation and to foster their own scientific performance. As we see in the rapidly developing urban environments around us in Beijing, and in what is also known from the Pearl River Delta economic and spatial transition, China is facing a huge leap forward, this time not by agricultural and rural development, but by the formation of mega-urban regions.

I have reached the end of my presentation entitled ‘A task ahead’. On the invitation of the Chinese organizers of this congress I acted as summarizer, but in a defective way, because I can not do justice to the great variety of topics dealt with during this congress, nor to the richness of materials and details from all corners of the world presented here. They include field data on children and the elderly, pastoralists and city dwellers, men and women, immigrants and locals, poor and rich. They encompass discourses on theory and methods of research, including film. Next to acting as a summarizer, I would now like to address you in my capacity of Secretary General of the IUAES. Our hosts of the China Urban Anthropology Association have done a great job in cooperation with a number of supporting organizations such as the Institute of Nationality Studies, the Ministry of Nationalities, and a number of Anthropology Departments and specialized centers. They have also effectively cooperated with the IUAES Executive Committee to make this congress a success. Moreover, they were very adequately supported by the secretarial staff of the Commission and the staff of simultaneous translators, as well as the personnel of Olympic Hotel. It must have been a gigantic task and effort to receive all of the participants so nicely at the airport and to guide them through the whole congress including the trip to the Nationalities Garden on Wednesday. I also want to thank the persons who have addressed the closing ceremony: Tudao Duoji, Freek Colombijn, Deepak Kumar Behera, Ruan Xihu, Napoleon Wolanski and Hao Shiyuan, for they had a difficult task to oversee such a diverse body of scholarly thoughts as were presented during the last days. However, our gratitude is particularly directed at the members of the Organizing Committee, namely Fei Xiaotong, Jiang Jiafu, Yang Houdi, Hao Shiyuan, Ruan Xihu, Tao Siliang, Ma Rong, Yang Shengmin, Shen Lin, Naran Bilik, Zhou Damin, Ma Guoqing, Wang Jianmin, Zhang Jijiao and Du Yu. On behalf of the IUAES and all the participants meeting here, I thank our Chinese colleagues mentioned and all others who have played invaluable roles in the preparation of this very successful Inter-Congress. Of course, I also thank you, the participants from all over the world, for your contributions.

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