Press news

Blind prejudice
from Press News, posted 02/21/2012 - 21:09

There is a widespread prejudice against edited volumes in the scholarly world, the idea being they are unedited conference papers with a cover slapped on. In a few cases this is true, the culprits often certain eminent academic presses. As a result, the mere mention of ‘edited volume’ can prompt many people and the majority of publishers to blindly reach for their nose.

But this judgement is unfair, the charge they are rough and raw is far from the truth for most edited volumes; many indeed are actually focused and subtle works. Moreover, often these volumes are the earliest channel for new scholars to bring fresh insights in their field to a wider readership.

Of course, it is especially irritating to bring together a group of scholars to write a focused collective work and then have this labelled a ‘conference volume’. As such, although it was gratifying that Lifestyle and Entertainment in Yangzhou, edited by Lucie Olivová and Vibeke Børdahl, was recently reviewed in the Journal of Asian Studies, we were less thrilled to see it called a ‘conference volume’.

Elsewhere, other edited volumes from NIAS Press were recently treated with greater respect – Saying the Unsayable, for instance, was judged ‘truly illuminating’ while a recent reviewer of Tai Lands and Thailand said the volume:

clearly succeeds in terms of identifying what’s at stake in the strategic manipulation of the meaning of community, by unpicking some of the reasons why advocates of community rights and empowerment became so disillusioned with the rural population’s electoral embrace of Thaksin Shinawatra that they more or less warmly welcomed the 2006 military coup which ousted his government - thus negating the voting rights of the country’s predominantly rural majority.



Pure Gold
from Press News, posted 01/24/2012 - 13:00

Apparently, the hot travel destinations this year are Uganda and Burma – at least according to Lonely Planet aficionados. If true, then sales of a recent NIAS Press book – listed as recommended reading in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Myanmar/Burma – might be about to explode (or maybe not, given its subject matter).

Let’s be honest, sales of Sean Turnell’s Fiery Dragons haven’t been breaking all records. This is no surprise. It may be a fascinating account of Burma’s financial system – of its banks, moneylenders and ‘microfinanciers’ – from colonial times to the present day and the reviews to date have been uniformly fulsome in their praise, but this is after all a book of greatest interest to economists and their ilk. Lonely Planet readers? Let’s see.

Mind you, someone impressed with the book is Aung San Suu Kyi, who met with the author in recent weeks. He was, she said, her ‘favourite economist’. In a note to me, Sean commented wryly, given the standing of the profession, that might not mean a lot!

Sean Turnell meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, December 2011

Certainly, no matter if it is recommended by Lonely Planet or appreciated by Aung San Suu Kyi, the simple fact remains that Fiery Dragons is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the country and the rapidly changing situation it faces today.

We are sure that two new NIAS Press titles out soon – Modern China–Myanmar Relations by David I. Steinberg and Hongwei Fan and The Authority of Influence by Jessica Harriden (more about them later) – will add to this understanding in significant ways. Nonetheless, we remain aware that Fiery Dragons remains the gold standard against which all later works will have to be measured.


The Rolls Royce of publishing
from Press News, posted 01/22/2012 - 15:14

Sometimes when you get a compliment, the sun shines and you simply have to share the moment. Here is one such occasion. In reply to a New Year greeting sent recently to an old author, I received the following response:

Ten days ago I had dinner with someone who knows the publishing world well and whose opinion I respect a lot, and we discussed my publications strategy. That’s because I’m leaving [somewhere in Asia] in the year of the dragon, back to live in [Europe], with several books in my head.

Anyway, when I asked about NIAS, the comment was: “NIAS Press is the Rolls Royce of publishing in our field”. I thought that’s great, as there are other reasons too why I’d like to publish there.

That made my Sunday.

Mind you, there’s something wrong here. We may aim for Rolls Royce quality in our publications but our prices? That is another matter entirely. As noted in our news item from last week, we aim to make all of our books affordable.


Terrific, and affordable
from Press News, posted 01/19/2012 - 14:40

In the lead-up to Taiwan’s presidential election last weekend, Jonathan Sullivan of the University of Nottingham wrote:

The China Quarterly recently asked me to review Mikael Mattlin’s book Politicized Society: The long shadow of Taiwan’s one-party legacy (2011, Copenhagen: NIAS). I’m glad they did, because it is terrific. I have excerpted the more relevant bits of the review below. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ll want to get hold of this book. It is highly recommended (and available as a relatively inexpensive paperback).


[I]n this carefully reasoned and strongly argued book (which avoids regressing into polemics despite the major thrust and substantive implications of its theories), Mikael Mattlin provides one of the most cogent arguments yet that many aspects of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation remain incomplete.

There is much, much more. Jonathan Sullivan’s full review will appear in The China Quarterly in the near future. Meantime, you can read much of his review in his blog posting on the subject.


When the phones stop ringing
from Press News, posted 12/23/2011 - 16:28

Recently, it’s been a wee bit mad at NIAS with Kim Jong-il dying and the media from all over ringing for comment. It is moreover our financial end of year and - incidentally - three new books headed off to the printer this week (more about that later).

But when the phones stop ringing, the building is silent and the coffee machine goes on strike, well maybe it’s time to stop staring into the computer.

Time indeed to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a fruitful, rewarding new year. See you in January.


All aboard the McCargo Express
from Press News, posted 12/01/2011 - 15:28

 Perhaps as befitting his globetrotter reputation, Duncan McCargo launched his latest book, Mapping National Anxieties, at several venues in November. And there is more to come.

Of special note for us was the launch at NIAS on November 17th. Here, a wee celebration of the book was preceded by a fascinating lecture by Professor McCargo of his ‘take’ on the southern Thai situation and its wider implications for the country’s future. The fact that this low-profile conflict has been one of the world’s bloodiest in recent years – #3 behind Iraq and Afghanistan – was surprising. He also made a fascinating comparison of this conflict with that from the 1980s and ’90s in Northern Ireland (the author spent a year in Belfast at the height of the ‘Troubles’). All in all, this was a well-attended launch with a great deal of interaction between the attendees.

Thereafter, the author presented his book in Stockholm on the 21st and again in Oslo a week later.

Now we hear that Professor McCargo will be showcasing the book in New York next week, at a ‘Brown Bag Discussion / Book Talk’ at Columbia University on the 9th. Should you be in the vicinity of this event, you will find it well worth the trip to attend; Duncan is always an entertaining speaker. Further details are here.

No doubt a hometown launch of the book in Leeds will follow one of these days, if his colleagues can tie him down.


Making a difference
from Press News, posted 11/18/2011 - 09:01

All of will be familiar with requests from above for this report or that plan, next year’s budget or last year’s results, often to be delivered at short notice. It was thus refreshing recently to be asked to supply one or more success stories for the Press, things that showed how the work that we do actually makes a difference.

At the risk of sounding boastful, here is a few of those stories.

Building careers

In line with the institute’s task to support Asian studies in the Nordic region, NIAS Press has worked to publish the work of (especially young) Nordic scholars and bring this to the attention of the international scholarly community. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the careers of many Nordic scholars now in positions of influence (at home and increasingly abroad) were founded or have been boosted by being published by NIAS.

Nurturing new authors

Indeed, our focus on nurturing new authors - not always an easy matter - has spawned a sideline activity: running seminars for PhD students and post-docs on getting published. Time and again, we are thanked by newly published authors (many of them not published by NIAS) for the insights and hard information we offered them at a critical moment.

Going the extra distance for all authors

A continual problem for Asian-studies authors is the unwillingness of publishers to work with non-Latin scripts (or indeed entertain the idea of footnotes). NIAS Press may not be a publishing giant but it is known for going the extra distance for its authors and building a sense of family and loyalty in the process. The other day when visiting Copenhagen, Professor Duncan McCargo of Leeds University (whose Mapping National Anxieties was recently published by NIAS Press) commented that NIAS was the only publisher he knew who not only offered footnotes but also Thai script in both the text and footnotes, not simply buried away in a glossary.

Building an international profile

A key consideration behind the launch of a full-time, professional publishing programme at NIAS in the early 1990s was to raise the international profile of the institute. This goal was soon realised but not without some ‘mistranslation’ in the process. Frequently, when travelling in Asia, NIAS staff get to visit far larger institutes (often with 100 or more researchers). Quite frequently, here the perception is that, with NIAS being so prominent on the Asian studies scene, it must be at least of an equivalent size.

Visible in many places

One nitty-gritty reason for the international reach of NIAS Press is its global network of distributors and agents promoting and selling our books. That - plus our policy of generally publishing low-cost paperback editions of our books - means that NIAS books are found not only on the shelves of (say) the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Menzies Library in Canberra but also in countless bookstores like Monument Books in Phnom Penh.

Daring to be innovative

Arguably, all scholarship should be innovative even if building on earlier work. Sadly, much that is published in all academic fields is of the ‘me too’ variety (often for commercial reasons). One thing that we are proud of at NIAS Press, however, is record of moving the scholarly discourse in new directions. Social perceptions of the environment, Asian values, the threat (or mirage) of maritime piracy and various awkward political issues are some of the things that spring to mind.

Offering alternative viewpoints

A significant number of books published by NIAS have been by authors associated with the international development work of Danida and Sida. This work tends to have a different approach to development than that pushed by the ‘Washington Consensus’ (IMF, World Bank, etc.). It has been interesting to receive feedback from various Asian diplomats that publication and a wide dissemination of this alternative approach is much appreciated in Asia.


Beyond defensiveness
from Press News, posted 11/14/2011 - 13:34

It is one thing for us to lambast the situation in our own country, another for outsiders (ignorant foreigners) to level any criticism. This defensiveness is a very human reaction and rather common in academic circles. Not surprisingly, Constructing Singapore by Michael Barr and Zatko Skrbiš has provoked a fair amount of local criticism in Singapore since its publication two years ago.

It was thus refreshing to read a far more measured response to the study by the Singaporean scholar, You Yenn Teo, recently published in Pacific Affairs (vol. 84:3, September 2011). Although in a few respects critical of the study, nonetheless overall he is rather positive about the book.

Constructing Singapore begins with a provocative claim: that Singapore, outwardly a modern, secular state committed to meritocracy and multiracialism has in fact, beginning from the 1980s, moved toward a model of nation building that prioritizes ethnic Chinese and a particular form of Chineseness. Focusing on the education system and particularly on elite selection within it, Barr and Skrbiš draw on historical data and interviews with key informants, to illustrate the ways in which ethnic minorities are systematically disadvantaged and left out of the administrative and political elite in contemporary Singapore.

This book is a welcome addition to recent critical scholarship on the Singapore state and particularly its incomplete and often one-sided version of history. In its detailing of Singapore’s education system over the past few decades, it provides a valuable record of key moments and changes, central logics and tensions. Most importantly, the authors maintain a sustained commitment to showing the institutionalization of inequalities. They paint a compelling image of what these patterns of segregation have meant for Singaporean Malays in particular, and for Singapore citizens more generally. 


Barr and Skrbiš end with another provocative claim: that the system of elitism fosters among ordinary Singaporeans a sense of skepticism and distaste that may ultimately undermine sentiments of national belonging. 

The book will not be surprising for scholars familiar with the Singapore case, particular those who have themselves undergone the education system, but its attention to the specificities of the system gives much-needed concreteness to impressions. 

As the authors point out, the ethnic Chinese majority are often oblivious to their own advantages. I can therefore see the book opening the eyes and shaping discussions in university classrooms. Barr and Skrbiš have also paved the way for future research by showing the gaps in our understanding of how inequality is reproduced and the costs that are borne by all Singaporeans.

This review is unlikely to change attitudes to Constructing Singapore in some quarters. Nonetheless, having an insider acknowledge that these particular outsiders are not ignorant (and their study not rubbish) - far from it - is very much welcome here at the Press.


Printing difficulties
from Press News, posted 11/03/2011 - 09:28

In our latest e-newsletter (released yesterday) we announced the recent release of Duncan McCargo’s Mapping National Anxieties. To tell the truth, the book is only available in Europe right now. Copies will be available in North America soon but Asian copies are another matter. This is the street where the book will be printed in Thailand.

Much of the news we get here in Europe focuses on flooding in Bangkok. But, as you can see from this screenshot of a UNOSAT webpage, the flooding is far more extensive throughout Thailand than this. (Nor does this map show the full extent of flooding.)

As such, for those of you in Asia keen to get a copy of Duncan’s book, please be patient a little longer. Not so much for your sake than for the poor people of Thailand affected by the situation, we hope that these floodwaters dissipate soon.


Taking risks
from Press News, posted 10/10/2011 - 16:26

Late last year, when were we about to publish Saying the Unsayable,  we knew there was a chance that this study of the Thai monarchy might be banned in Thailand (indeed, might fall foul of the country’s strict lèse-majesté laws). Certainly, we didn’t want our authors, distributor or ourselves to end up in prison like the Australian, Harry Nicolaides, did in 2009.

We worked hard to avoid that outcome, and succeeded. This was not surprising to Chris Baker, writing a review of the book last December in the Bangkok Post: ‘this is a careful book which has nothing personal or strident, no whiff of revolt.’

Michael K. Connors disagrees. In a 17-page review essay of the book appearing in the latest issue of the Journal of Contemporary Asia (vol. 41:4), he writes:

Radical pamphleteering it is not, but there is revolt in the fashioning of wide-ranging and well-grounded arguments that carefully mould the unsayable into the sayable. This approach has ensured the book remains on sale in Thailand, despite its challenge to monarchical myths. […]

But if we are to take anything from the massive increase in lèse-majesté cases and the draconian efforts of the state to close down discussion, it is that STV [the Standard view of the Thai Monarchy] and its liberal variants have been worn thin, and a new politics is struggling to burst through. Individuals and groups, not yet acting as a collective social force, are beginning to say the unsayable, even if at times in crude form. They are literally taking the wall down, piece by piece, making possible important books such as this. In speaking and relating to this mood, Saying the Unsayable is a pioneering scholarly work. It is likely to outlast the precarious times that have produced it.

Risks add a little frisson to the working day. Succeeding is even better!


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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