SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

Area Studies and the Urgent Need for Global Intercultural Dialogue

Yin Yang Earth
Geir Helgesen (SOAS Centre of Korean Studies/Fudan Development Institute, Shanghai), Chunrong Liu (Fudan Development Institute, Shanghai and NIAS, Copenhagen University), Rachel Harrison (SOAS)

Date: 3 December 2019Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 3 December 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: RG01

Type of Event: Round Table


In this roundtable discussion we propose that, given the precarious and fragile state of the world, it is essential for Area Studies to play a more important role. Placing the importance of culture centre-stage, Area Studies should foster a greater understanding and appreciation of cultural difference to counter the global spread of animosities. Key to this is the ambition to transform human perceptions of difference from being the source of such problems to offering their very solution. To take up this challenge, we need to work collaboratively, across cultures and across traditional disciplinary divides to nurture and to mediate intercultural dialogue. In short, we need to engage in activities where understanding and empathizing with the Other is the primary goal.

The ever-increasing pace of globalization has often been presented as erasing cultural differences, making them irrelevant; and implying that a focus on similarities would be more rewarding. In reality, however, differences persist. Without a deep respect, therefore, for the varying ways in which cultures see themselves and register differences between each other, effective intercultural dialogue is impossible. This is all the more so because of rapid advances in technology whereby people can communicate more quickly, widely and with greater impact than ever before, but without the empathy of a face-to-face encounter.

Geir Helgesen will speak to this topic with specific reference to the demonization of the enemy “Other”, most notably in the case of North Korea; and the impact of the mainstream media in contributing to this demonization process.

Chunrong Liu will address the question of Chinese-European relations, suggest that both parties have work to do in the sphere of cross-cultural understanding in order to reach a better mutual normative resonance.

Rachel Harrison will expand on the role of embodiment, community and belonging in shaping the contributions that Area Studies can make in relation to cultural understanding and intercultural dialogue.

(Photo credit: 'Yin Yang Sky Earth' by DonkeyHotey on flickr)

Speaker Biographies

Dr Geir Helgesen retired at the end of 2018 from the post as Director of NIAS, the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies and of the Fudan-European Centre for China Studies, University of Copenhagen. Helgesen has focused on Korean affairs since the early 1980s, with a special emphasis on the political cultures of the two systems on the Korean Peninsula. His main work on Korea is “Democracy and Authority in Korea. The Cultural Dimension in Korean Politics”. Curzon Press, Richmond and St. Martin’s Press New York 1998, and “Politics, Culture and Self. East Asian and North European Attitudes”, NIAS Press, 2006, co-edited with S.R. Thomsen. His latest book on North Korea (with Hatla Thelle) was “Dialogue With North Korea? Preconditions for Talking Human Rights With a Hermit Kingdom”. NIAS Press 2013. He has further drafted reports for the Danish and the Norwegian Foreign Ministries on the situation in North Korea; co-organized training courses on doing business in South Korea for the Confederation of Danish Industries; and organized Track-2 initiatives with North Korean counterparts sponsored by the Scandinavian ministries of foreign affairs. He is a regular commentator on Korean affairs in the Nordic media, and acts as an advisor to public and private organizations regarding relations with the two Koreas.

Dr Chunrong Liu is associate professor at School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University. He is co-director of Fudan-European Centre for China Studies at University of Copenhagen and a researcher at the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies. His research interests are in the areas of political sociology and comparative political studies. Dr Liu has published widely on China’s state-society relations and he is currently working on a project about Sino-Nordic cooperation. 

Rachel Harrison is Professor of Thai Cultural Studies at SOAS University of London, where she also studied her undergraduate degree and PhD. Having taught at SOAS since 1989, she has developed her interests over the years on a range of issues in connection with contemporary mainland South East Asia in general, and with Thailand in particular. Her research in Thai literature, film and culture has led to a wider engagement with public health, well-being, social cohesion and intercultural communication and the relationship of all these fields to Area Studies. She is a strong believer in the benefits of interdisciplinary research and multidisciplinary teamwork, with all the challenges and rewards of differences that it entails. She is known for her 2010 co-edited book with Peter A. Jackson: The Ambiguous Allure of the West: Traces of the Colonial in Siam/Thailand and she is also editor of the quarterly journal South East Asia Research.


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