Press news

How much theory?
from Press News, posted 05/04/2011 - 13:06

A publisher once said, ‘Whenever I see theory, I reach for my knife.’ That might have been me, maybe not, but certainly this is not an uncommon viewpoint. The problem is not with theory as such but how much. Eighty pages of theory is not unusual in a Ph.D. dissertation but normally such detail is unnecessary in a monograph.

Sometimes, however, the main purpose of a monograph may be to challenge or otherwise extend existing theory. Here, a more detailed theoretical discussion will be necessary. Such was the case with Mona Lilja’s study, Power, Resistance and Women Politicians in Cambodia, which focuses on the concept of resistance and is perhaps less focused on its Cambodian setting than die-hard empiricists would like.

This distinction is certainly appreciated by Katherine Brickell (Royal Holloway, University of London). In her recent review for the International Feminist Journal of Politics, she writes:

While having some inherent deficiencies, the book nevertheless makes a much needed analytical contribution to studies of ‘power’ in Cambodia and in doing so, complements the more historically oriented work of Trudy Jacobsen (2008) on this topic (also published by NIAS Press). Lilja’s work is conceptually rigorous, using in a sophisticated manner the work of theorists such as Foucault, Bourdieu, Butler and Bhabha. In this way, Power, Resistance and Women Politicians in Cambodia is an important corrective to much work on Cambodia that has failed to connect its analyses to mainstream and current developments in theory.


For a longer extract from this review, take a look at the reviews page for Mona’s book.


Sai Baba is dead
from Press News, posted 04/26/2011 - 13:42

During the weekend we heard of the death of the godman, mystic, saint and charismatic religious leader, Shri Sathya Sai Baba, a neo-Hindu guru famed for his miracle-working. Credited with being was one of the significant constituents of modern Hinduism in contemporary India, Sai Baba also attracted a world-wide following of devotees. He was however a controversial figure, among other things accused of sorcery, trickery and uttering platitudes.

These aspects are nicely reflected in a study by Alexandra Kent of the Sai Baba phenomenon in Malaysia, published a few years ago by NIAS Press: Divinity and Diversity: A Hindu Revitalization Movement in Malaysia. More details and a free sample chapter can be found on the book’s webpage.


Launching the political future of China
from Press News, posted 04/19/2011 - 11:31

Academic book launches come in all shapes and sizes but four types are common: the public launch often held in a bookshop; the conference launch often squeezed desperately into a coffee or lunch break and forced to compete with conference-goers’ desire to network and generally make a noise; the after-work launch often laced with wine and barely disguised collegial rivalries; and the formal scholarly launch, often couched in the form of a seminar.

The recent launching of Mikael Mattlin’s new book, Politicized Society: The Long Shadow of Taiwan’s One-Party Legacy (recently published by NIAS Press), was just such a formal scholarly launch. Held at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) in Helsinki, the seminar addressed the “Transformation of a one-party system: What the Taiwan case tells about the political future of China”. Here, Dr Mattlin, a research fellow at FIIA, gave a presentation based on his book. This was followed by another presentation by the discussant, Dr Lauri Paltemaa, research fellow at the East-Asia Research Centre at the University of Turku. After the presentations, the audience participated in a discussion moderated by Dr Matti Nojonen of FIIA. Some 35 people attended the seminar.

The seminar examined what similarities and lessons the protracted political transformation of Taiwan could offer when considering different scenarios for Mainland China’s political future. Taiwan’s transition away from one-party rule beginning in 1987 and the societal and institutional changes that followed can be seen as a testing laboratory for what might be ahead in Mainland China if the Chinese Communist Party gradually relaxes its monopolistic hold on power, Dr Mattlin argued.

Dr Paltemaa was especially pleased about the solid groundwork for the book, and the fact that it explored a less researched area of Taiwan’s transition, namely what happens when the political transition formally has been completed. According to Dr Paltemaa, the initial push for transforming a political system is usually prompted by a crisis; in Taiwan it was the foreign policy crisis after the United States changed the course of its China policy towards the People’s Republic. If the leaders of Mainland China some day come to the conclusion that they have to loosen up one-party politics, Dr Paltemaa agreed that they were most likely to follow Taiwan’s path.

Of course, the book is new and review copies are only now being sent out. But down track it will be interesting to see how the book is received – and how much that events on the ground in China match the Taiwanese experience.


No book prize this time
from Press News, posted 04/14/2011 - 22:13

 The huge AAS-ICAS conference in Honolulu is over and the city’s balmy warmth just a fading memory. This was not a year that NIAS Press walked off with one of the book prizes but our old colleague Stein Tønnesson did win the ICAS prize (and we are talking with him seriously about his next project. Time will tell).

Otherwise, it was a busy and successful week in Honolulu with many sessions to sit in on and my own presentation (on coping with rejection) delivered to a gratifyingly large audience. More important perhaps were the potential new authors to court and old authors to catch up with. In total maybe two hours of author interviews were filmed. Expect to see these online in the near future.

Then of course there was a reception, a joint “Hawai‘i” affair involving all the publishers like NIAS exhibiting at the conference and distributed in the Americas by our friends at the University of Hawai‘i Press. Books were shoved aside and an enormous sticky, rich chocolate cake plonked on our stand.

It took forever to eat, thankfully not by me.


High on the reading list
from Press News, posted 03/16/2011 - 11:39

We like to boast that NIAS Press books are available everywhere. They are also found in many places - for instance, Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia was recently spotted at the top of Mount Titlis in Switzerland.



‘Asian Cities’ off to print
from Press News, posted 03/11/2011 - 00:35

 The giant ICAS/AAS conference in Honolulu is approaching fast. One of the new NIAS titles we want to exhibit there is Malcolm McKinnon’s Asian Cities

This is a title where we are splitting the print run, the hardback edition being digitally printed in the UK, the paperback by a traditional offset printer somewhere in Asia.But now things are happening. The hardback went off to the printer late last week and the printer’s proofs for it arrived yesterday.

Thankfully, these proofs looked superb and with great relief I gave the go-ahead for printing. Printed copies will arrive at our UK warehouse within a fortnight, and at our US warehouse soon after.

Be warned, however. Printing the paperback will take much longer, no copies available in Europe until late May. That said, if the print quality is anywhere as good as that which I saw today for the hardback, then the wait will be well worth it.


Pluses and minuses
from Press News, posted 03/07/2011 - 18:19

 Last week I wrote of the frisson of receiving a new book review in the post: shall our morning coffee be sweetened with praise or will the vented spleen of an irritated reviewer make the coffee undrinkable? Today’s coffee was less sweet but it was far from undrinkable.

Writing in the last year’s volume (no. 98) of the Journal of the Siam Society, Patrick Jory dishes out praise and a little criticism of Johan Fischer’s Proper Islamic Consumption:

Of the thousands of scholarly articles and books and academic seminars that have been devoted to the study of Islam in Southeast Asia in recent years, attention has focused mostly on issues concerning religious revivalism, politics, education, history, law, gender, morality, finance and economics, and of course, extremism and terrorism. It is surprising, therefore, that much less attention has been given to the activity that most Southeast Asian Muslims, like their counterparts in other religions, spend an ever-increasing amount of their time doing today: shopping and consuming. It is this activity that is the subject of Johan Fischer’s original study of Islam and consumerism in Malaysia. …

The focus of Fischer’s study is a number of Malay middle-class families living in the suburbs of Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. The anthropology of suburbia in Southeast Asia lags far behind the anthropology of village society, so Fischer’s attention to suburban life in Malaysia is another novel and welcome feature of the book. …

This book intends to make a theoretical contribution to the scholarly literature on consumption in Asia. Some readers will be distracted by the liberal use of theoretical jargon that derives from the outer reaches of cultural studies. A more readable book could indeed have been written shorn of these theoretical excesses. Yet if the reader is willing to plough through occasional paragraphs of admittedly challenging jargon it will be well worth the effort required to gain the many original and important insights that Fischer makes into consumption and religion in Malaysia.

Thanks, Patrick, that is good food for thought. I am almost tempted to add a quip about how properly Islamic it is.


Nice feedback
from Press News, posted 03/01/2011 - 09:37

The arrival of new reviews of NIAS books is an everyday thing, though this doesn’t mean they are boring. There is always the frisson: shall our morning coffee be sweetened with praise or will the vented spleen of an irritated reviewer make the coffee undrinkable?

Every so often, however, we receive a personal communication from someone happy about one of our books. Today was one such day. Responding to Gender Politics in Asia, Dr Anindita Datta of the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, writes:

The book has been of immense relevance to me in my teaching and research. Gender politics in Asia has gone beyond the question of women’s participation in politics to probe deeply the manner in which Asian women subtly and yet quite effectively manoeuvre their way in male dominated societies. What is interesting and of significance is the way the essays bring out the use of traditional gender roles to grant agency in the political sphere. This is a theme I have been pursuing in my ongoing research too and find my points vindicated by the essays in the book. What was immediately appealing to me is the way the essays in the book foreground the diverse cultural contexts within which women negotiate. The editors resist the temptation to find and highlight Asian patterns choosing wisely instead to present the great variety of contexts within which women have been able to effectively strategise and influence power.

A recently added post graduate course that I have introduced in my department touches upon the question of indigenous feminisms, while another M.Phil course on Gender and Development I introduced about five years ago, includes the question of women’s participation in politics. I find the book especially relevant to these sections of the courses and also in my overall project of visibilising Asian feminisms. I heartily recommend the book to everybody researching gender questions in Asia and complement the editors for their insightful handling of the theme.

Well, of course we knew all of this. But it helps to be reminded every so often.


Yet another review of ‘Proper Islamic Consumption’
from Press News, posted 02/22/2011 - 18:14

 Johan Fischer’s Proper Islamic Consumption has attracted an impressive number of book reviews. Here is the latest (very positive) assessment of this innovative study.

‘Fischer’s ethnography is a valuable contribution to the growing literature on middle-class identity formation and the Islamic revival in Southeast Asia. The social insights and clear presentation in Proper Islamic Consumption make this a fitting addition to a graduate or undergraduate course on class and religion in postcolonial Southeast Asia.’ (Claire-Marie Hefner, Emory University, in American Anthropologist, Vol. 113, No. 1, March 2011)

Did I hear the words ‘course adoption’? Every bit helps!



First review received of ‘Submitting to God’
from Press News, posted 02/21/2011 - 12:45

Every NIAS book published is sent to a generous number of academic journals for review (usually about 20). To improve the chances of having the book reviewed, we like to ask first. The result is that we have a better than average ‘hit rate’ for books reviewed.

The problem is, however, that not all journals tell us when they review our books. A case in point is this review of Sylva Frisk’s Submitting to God, which was published in Contemporary Islam late last year but only noticed by us today. Sadly for us, the review also only mentions the US edition of the book (always a problem when one sells co-editions to other publishers).

The reviewer, David Banks, is rather impressed by the study:

“Sylva Frisk’s Submitting to God is an important contribution to the understanding of grassroots women’s Islamic activities in Malaysia. … I strongly recom­mend [it] to readers seeking a humane approach to Islam in Malaysia, a text that is not filled with negative images and addresses real spiritual as well as other social issues.”

There is much, much more in this vein. Go here to read the full review.


Press news

  • Aug. 9 2019
    Carol Ann Boshier's book 'Mapping Cultural Nationalism: The Scholars of the Burma Research Society,1910-1935' has been shortlisted for the EuroSEAS Humanities Book Prize 2019. Congratulations!

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