Posted by: yonariza | March 1, 2014

Notes from attending the XII APSA International Conference, Chiangmai Thailand, 15-16 February 2014


Reflection, experiences, and lesson learned from attending Asia Pacific Sociological Association Conference (APSA), Chiangmai, 15-16 February 2014

I took notes from Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, PhD, Chairperson of Conference Academic Committee in his remark during opening ceremony that there were 364  participants from 18 countries that are distributed into  45 English Panel and 14 Thai panels. Although view Indonesian participants failed to take off due to volcanoes eruption in Java, the conference went well as planned. Congratulation to the organizer for a successful event!

Being a member of API sponsored panel, I will take this opportunity to share reflection, our group’s experience during the conference, and lesson learnt from the conference.

But, firstly let me share my own experience being a sociologist attending some international sociologist gatherings as a basis for comparison. The first sociologist gathering I attended was the XIV International Sociological Association (ISA) World Congress in Montreal, Canada in 1998, two years after completing my MS Degree in Social Development Study, Ateneo de Manila University. The congress was well attended by more than 2000 participants, which was not well represented regionally, since more participant came from rich countries. From Asia, Japan was among significant number of participants. Of course money was a matter, I was lucky to be the Ford Foundation grantee that get support for my travel to Canada that took me a half globe traveling starting from Padang, Sumatra to Jakarta, Singapore, Tokyo, Los Angles, Chicago, then to Montreal.  To my surprise, I had only a 5 minutes presentation in the conference!

            What surprised me more was how huge field of sociology was and is. There were 50 Research Committees; each was with distinct area in sociology, i.e economy and society, sociology of education, sociology of aging, sociology of youth, etc. There were 5 working groups, i.e.; sociocybernetics and social system theory, famine and society, etc. There were still 4 thematic groups, i.e.  Sociology of local-global relations, national movement and imperialism, etc. There were also 17 ad hoc, i.e regional area, ethnicity and national state, etc. These all show that sociology presents in all field of social life and it is being used by several other professional such as medical doctor, engineer, military, development planners, and various kind of social sciences, law, political science, historian, economist, environmentalist, etc. I also enjoyed ad hoc of theory in sociology as well as research committee on logic and methodology in Sociology.

At the end, a commentator, seem to be a participant from less developed countries wrote his reflection about the ISA world congress by saying the congress was  for the west celebrating themselves! Simply because sociologist from under developed countries not only less represented but also they were minority in terms of sociological invention.

I was then absent for a long time from sociological association gathering particularly since I engage in one specific issue of  sociology, that is collective action as I join International Association of study of the commons (IASC, formerly IASCP International Association of the study of the commons Property), the organization invented by a Nobel Laureate  institutional economist the late Elinor Ostrom. This is a specific topic that interest a lot of scholars and widely used in resources management approach. I attended the Asia Regional IASCP conference held in Chiangmai 2003, IASCP Global Conference in Bali 2006, IASCP Global Conference  Cheltenham, England 2008, IASC Global Conference Fujiyama Japan 2013.

I only back to APSA during APSA XI conference held in Manila 2012 and this APSA Conference 2014. My comeback was also mainly because I engage in researching and teaching of sociology, despite travel grant offer.  The APSA Manila Conference was very much dominated by applied socio anthro disciplines.

Let’s go back to my intention here, sharing group experience, reflection, and lesson learned during the XII APSA Conference held in Chiangmai, Thailand.

I would like to reflect APSA 2014 Chiangmai conference as “From Sociology to Regional Study, Southeast Asian study in particular, an interdisciplinary social science gathering.”

APSA conference turned to be Asian studies conference or more specifically Southeast Asian study conference because those presented in the conference come all over the globe especially those who are expert in this regional study coming from different part of the world and presenting paper on several social science topic such as politic, economy, history, etc., all about Southeast Asia. They may not be APSA members and may not eligible for APSA membership since they reside in non ASIAN countries, these may not an issue but it rather blurs between APSA conferences with regional multidisciplinary study conference.

Nevertheles, level of participation in APSA Conference inclined. During the 2012 Manila APSA Conference, there were 176 paper abstracts submitted including those from Philippines. While at 12th Chiangmai APSA Conference, there were 228 English abstract and 50 Thais abstract gives a total of 278 abstract. Chiangmai APSA conference received more abstract and participant despite of political turmoil that affect Bangkok. Chiangmai is 800 kms away from Bangkok, so it was not affected by political turmoil. Nevertheless, the last two APSA events, since they were held in Southeast Asia, the participant mostly coming from the SEA region. It lacks East, South, and West Asia representation, event an Indian invited speaker could not make a trip to Chiangmai. It was less participation from Japan, which was so much different from ISA World Conference. It can be said the last two APSA conferences was Southeast Asia sociologist celebrate themselves.

As Asia is going through transformation, interdisciplinary approach within social science and guided by sociology is a way to understand the consequence and impact of the transformation. APSA participants have variety of social science background and using interdisciplinary social science and API community is a home of those interdisciplinary.

            As it appears to become Southeast Asian scholar gathering, where API Community members mainly reside, ASEAN Community is an interesting topic. There were four panels related to this topic, such as; Regional integration in Southeast Asia viewed from the grassroots. A presentation of the SEATIDE Project; Sociopolitical and economic implication of ASEAN Economic Community 2015 and the roles of Asian Public Intellectuals (API); ASEAN Integration through People’s Participation: Voices from Below (roundtable); and ASEAN Community, Democracy and Values. These reflect how sociology sees transformation in Southeast Asia will be a significant one although in one discussion, a presenter mentions that ASEAN Organization produces so many documents but they are less implemented. Nevertheless, next coming ASEAN economic community may play significant role in transforming the region. By setting up ASEAN as single market and production base by 2015 where flows of good, skilled labor, and capital are going to be free among countries in Southeast Asia, one would see cooperation and competition among countries in the region. API fellows may play role in the process especially in helping the poor in market economy.

The conference was not only well attended but also well organized by attentive people and supported by a representative logistic particularly conference room. In my experience of attending this kind of  scientific gatherings, main obstacle was to find room for parallel session as the room may scatter in different buildings far apart from each other and a short time break in between session, it causes a chaos sometime where participant fails to reach a panel of his/her interest. This did not happened during Chiangmai APSA conference since the plenary session and parallel session were held in the same building. In addition, being a muslim, our particular need was well facilitated by organizer by setting up Muslim prayer room in conference venue although we had to have our wudhu’ in the nearby toilet. The Halal and tasty Muslim food was also serve during lunch time.

This is a well-organized conference as admitted by many participants, one of them, Dr. Reinhard Hohler wrote in his blog.

Lastly, let me share our group experience during the conference. I would say, API Community building can be enhanced by developing solidarity among members where they are willing to share benefit and cost and must live economically.

It is sad to say that API Panel at 2014 Chiangmai APSA Conference consisted of only Indonesian fellows, three API fellows and 1 non API fellow. The same might also happened during previous  API sponsored panel. This may show in part a great variety of interest among fellows, of course only those who are really interested and with relevant background to join and set up a panel would participate. At the end, grant competition among fellow is low.

With the spirit of API fellow solidarity, Indonesian API fellow in the panel share API grant with 5 or 6 participants, the grant was supposed only to support three participants. How could it be? They use air fare allocation to support most expensive three participants considering the distance, and they use pocket money of the three to support air fare for another two participants. So, how they cover accommodation, local transport and food? They still have small remaining money to cover cheap accommodation (500 THB or USD 15 per night) by sharing room at a guest house in Chiangmai downtown. Each of them also shares the remaining cost, such as registration fee and food. API fellowship could cover air fare for 5 people and accommodation for six people, additional one non API fellow from Andalas University, Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia. The API money was used most economically only with spirit of solidarity and willingness to share the benefit and cost.  Why they were willing to share the cost? It is their secret. But, would it happen should the panel members come from different socioeconomic background? Yes, if they share the spirit of API community.

Attending conference can be economically cheap that funding agencies did not have to dig a lot of money. ASIA must thank to low cost carriers that connect the continent in a most affordable way despite the API fellows are not so demanding with regards to accommodation. APSA 2014 conference proves that accommodation provided for only three people, in fact accommodate 6 people. It still accommodate extra two tickets for participants.  How efficient it is.

What lesson learned?

This is very opportune for us to attend such academic gathering. Listening to several presentation, on my part I am interested in listening to agrarian transformation in Southeast Asia, methodology of sociology, and ASEAN economic community. Asia is in transformation, API community may play significance role in the process.



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