Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

I have been busying myself during the autumn term with an LSE centre called Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, which I hav begun directing since the beginning of August 2018. This newsletter in the tweet below sums up some of the activities of the Centre. 

NEWS

Prof Hyun Bang Shin appointed as LSE SEAC Director

Professor Hyun Bang Shin has commenced his directorship for SEAC on 01 August 2018. He is Professor of Geography and Urban Studies in the Department of Geography and Environment and has been working on the critical analysis of the political economy of urbanisation with particular attention to cities in Asian countries such as Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea, China and more recently, Ecuador. Prof Shin’s biography is available here.

SEAC staff presented at the 9th East Asian Regional Conference on Alternative Geography

Professor Hyun Bang Shin (Centre Director) and Dr Do Young Oh (Centre Coordinator) have participated in the 9th East Asian Regional Conference on Alternative Geography (EARCAG) between 10 and 12 December to give papers on Vietnam and Singapore respectively. Professor Shin additionally organised a session on ‘Urban Spectacles and Social Injustice in the Global East’.

LSE SEAC Director met the Centre donors

SEAC Director Professor Hyun Bang Shin visited Singapore to meet Centre donors, Professor Saw Swee Hock at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and Mr Arvind Khattar, and to participate in the alumni event hosted by the Singapore LSE Trust and the Alumni Association of Singapore on 13 November 2018.

Inter-Korea summit meeting and the peace process in the Korean peninsula #KoreaSummit #USNorthKorea

Upon the request of the LSE media team, I had a chance to elaborate on my own thoughts regarding the recent Inter-Korea summit meeting on 27 April, and also the role of the US. The series of videos were released on 30 April, and what I said then still seems to be relevant to the forthcoming North Korea-US summit meeting that is about to go ahead on 12 June. Here are the links to the interview clips:

LSE Thinks | Why have the leaders of North and South Korea started negotiations? https://youtu.be/J0eWPeeObZM

LSE Thinks | What has been the role of the US in peace negotiations between North and South Korea? https://youtu.be/8eQqxZ68oCw

Below is a written version of what I have tried to say in this series of video interviews.

  1. What has brought about this ‘renewed’ enthusiasm for negotiations between the two Koreas and the US?

It is important to understand how these negotiations have historically developed. The popular discourse seems to regard the current negotiation as very new. However, the two Koreas already had two summit meetings, once in 2000 between President Kim Dae-Jung and Kim Jeong-il, the father of the current leader of North Korea, and again in 2007 between President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jeong-il.

While peaceful negotiations were already in place more than a decade ago, the process stopped during the last ten years between 2008 and 2017 when the two successive conservative governments of South Korea were reluctant to promote inter-Korea cooperation and at times hostile towards peaceful engagement.

The candle light revolution in South Korea in 2016 and 2017, praised by the world as the example of democracy, has led to the change of government, led by President Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer turned politician. And, the new South Korean government has been committing to the peaceful engagement with North Korea, and to mediating the relationship between North Korea and the US.

It is also important to highlight the fact that the general population in South Korea has been largely in support of peaceful negotiation with North Korea to resolve the military confrontation. Surveys indicate that a large majority of the South Korean population supported talks with North Korea rather than military resolution. This was despite the missile threats from the north and the development of nuclear programmes. The South Korean government and President Moon Jae-in’s firm position for ‘no war on the peninsular’ was strongly supported by the public opinion.

  1. What will be the implications of the negotiations for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula?

I think both Koreas are quite serious about the need of producing peaceful co-existence for the survival and development of North Korea. In particular, it is important to understand that the 2018 inter-Korea summit meeting took place within less than a year of South Korean president’s terms of office. And, he has another four years before his presidency comes to an end. There is ample momentum that can build up to produce positive outcomes. Denuclearisation is not just about demobilising North Korea’s nuclear programme. It is also about ending the military confrontation between South and North Koreas, who are technically at war, only suspended by the armistice signed in 1953 between North Korea and the United Nations force led by the US. Ending the war and signing a peace treaty has been the stated aim of both Korean governments, and I think there is a very good chance this is going to happen, now that all regional powers are expected to agree to this transition.

  1. What will be the implications of the negotiations for the people in the peninsula and the economy of the Korean peninsula?

All regional economies, and by extension the global economy, will definitely gain a lot from the anticipated transition from armistice to peace treaty. At the moment, nearly two million armed soldiers are confronting each other on the peninsular as of now, excluding the US force stationed in South Korea. The regional insecurity and uncertainty will reduce substantially, triggering more investment to arrive in the peninsula. South Korea has been struggling to create a new momentum for economic development, and the opening of the North Korean economy will provide the new avenue of economic growth. North Korea would emerge as an attractive destination for global investors.

It is also not just about the investment. There will be additional resources to be secured by reduced military spending. According to the World Bank data, in 2016, South Korea’s military expenditure amounted to 2.6% of its GDP, higher than the average for the world (2.2%) or for East Asia and the Pacific region (1.7%). This is equivalent to 10.4% of the South Korean central government expenditure (World, 8.1%). We do not have data for North Korea, but the ratio would certainly be much higher. Imagine the reduction of military spending that can be released for investment in social and physical infrastructure.

Obviously, there is much to learn from the neighbouring country, China, and from former East Germany, in terms of how to transform a planned economy into a market economy. The key concern is more about how the North Korean economic reform would proceed without widening social discrimination, economic injustice and regional inequalities. Overcoming the political and ideological differences is another big challenge. A peace treaty would provide time and space for this challenging process to be initiated.

My first memory of David Harvey – How he shared his working draft with MSc students

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David Harvey, 2000, Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development

I met David Harvey in person for the first time while auditing his course during my MSc study at the LSE in 1999/2000 academic year. I think the course was simply called “Historical Geographical Materialism” or something similar. It was one of the few courses that sounded anything like Marx at the LSE, and I was drawn towards it. After having had my several years in the private sector after my first degree, I was in thirst of input by progressive scholarship. I did not know David at the time, as I knew few geographers by then. It was a small seminar course, having only about 12-13 students, with discussions for two hours or so each week. Readings included his own work and the works of Gramsci, Lefebvre and more that I cannot remember. If my memory is correct, he used to occupy a small office where he held his office hours. Now that I think of it, it was too small a room for such a figure like David, equipped with fairly empty bookshelves, a desktop and a printer. It wasn’t filled with books, as I presume he was at the LSE at the time on a three-year stint and did not relocate completely. The office is what is numbered as S509 at present, and coincidentally, it happened to be my office during my first year or so as professor at LSE.

One day during the term, he came in with copies of handouts, and he told us it was a working draft of his new paper. I think he was inviting any comments from his students. The draft paper was entitled “Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development”. Another week or two later, he brought a thicker version of the same paper, revsied substantially but still a working version, and this time, its title read “Working Notes Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development”. While clearing an old ring binder from my MSc/PhD period, I came across with the paper copy again, and realised this draft actually was the basis for his 2006 Verso book Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development”, first published as Spaces of Neo-liberalization by Franz Steiner Verlag in 2005. As the course took place in the spring of 2000, it must have taken another 4-5 years for the paper to be substantially revised, perhaps presented at several academic occasions, before it came out as a book. The memory of him sharing his paper is still vividly within me, and I appreciated a distinguished professor like David willing to share unpolished version of his drafts and inviting postgraduate students to comment on them.

Latest LSE Review of Books Podcast on Architecture and Design: Framing the urban experience

LSE Review of Books is an online initiative that publishes daily reviews of academic publications across all areas of social science. Part of its initiatives includes a series of podcast, featuring academics’ views on chosen topics and the books that had some impact on their academic life.

Earlier in this academic year, the LSE Review of Books team kindly asked me to take part in their production of podcast series and present my own stories on those books that have had some influence on my thinking. The podcast has just been released and can be heard by visiting their web page. I genuinely thank Amy Mollett (managing editor) and Cheryl Brumley (multimedia editor) for giving me this opportunity to reflect upon part of my history.

Listen to the latest LSE Review of Books Podcast: Architecture and Design: Framing the urban experience

Below is the introduction to my bit in the podcast:

Hyun Bang Shin, LSE Associate Professor in Geography and Urban Studies, talks about reading Marx under South Korea’s strict national security laws and how this has influenced his own work on urban displacement.

The podcast also includes stories from David Kohn (architect and co-designer of A Room for London) and Fran Tonkiss (Reader in Sociology, LSE).

Below is the list of my own reviews that I have done so far for the blog:

Academic life, ethics and the importance of record keeping

I’ve earlier emphasised the importance of keeping all the records of your activity logs and correspondence (both e-mail and paper-based). This is crucial not only for the need of tracing the roots of your evolving thoughts, but also for the protection of your own reputation. Sometimes, you will need to recount particular events, identify what action was following which previous action on what dates, and what were the supporting documents to substantiate your own account of facts.

Very recently, with regard to a published paper of mine, somebody was telling me that I did not acknowledge his workshop in the paper’s acknowledgement, even though my paper’s empirical findings were earlier presented at his workshop and benefited from the workshop discussions. This was the first time that I had received such a remark.

The thing is, his account was completely groundless, as I did not present my paper’s empirical findings at his workshop, but elsewhere in a separate conference session on a different continent three months later (and the conference was of course acknowledged in my paper). He was present in both events (the latter event as an attendant), so it’s very possible that he got things mixed up. What I presented at his workshop was a completely different paper, and this was never published – he was informing people at the time about a possible publication project based on workshop papers, so I set this paper aside but no news of the publication proposal since then…

In order to point out his errors, I had to go through all my previous versions of the paper (across more than four-year period), dig out PPT files presented at both events, check the last-save dates, check e-mail correspondences and diary entries and so on. Thankfully, all the records could be found, but all these were really a complete waste of my time because of the person who just did not check the simple fact and could not remember what I actually presented at his own event.

Researchers talk about the importance of vigilantly keeping field diaries, minutes of meetings with interviewees and informants or personal accounts of events, etc. Academics teach their students about the importance of these A to Z of research methods. These are all going to be very important when triangulating your findings and contribute to producing evidence-based research outputs, as these records not only become the field data themselves but also help you establish an accurate account of what happened in the often chaotic field. It is important to apply these basic rules to one’s day-to-day administrative and/or academic life as well outside field research sites. One should avoid as much as possible not to resort to ill-founded or vague memories when making important decisions or remarks. Evidence-based thinking helps.

Well, more on these issues later when the summer term quietens…

Neil R. Smith, 1954 – 2012

Neil R. Smith , 1954 – 2012

http://pcp.gc.cuny.edu/2012/09/neil-r-smith-1954-2012/

The sudden death of Neil Smith, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geograph at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, comes as a shock, and Neil’s premature departure was never expected. A great loss to all those who fought for a better world.

I’ve only had a couple of brief encounters with him at academic gatherings – the first one at the Revanchist Urbanism workshop at the University of Newcastle in 2006 where he was an invited speaker, and the second time at the Asia-Pacific Network for Housing Research conference in Hong Kong in December 2011. While I haven’t had the chance to talk to him in length (and sadly never will…), I’ve always kept his writings close to me. They will surely continue to be with me for much longer.

Thank you Neil for what you left behind to be shared amongst us.

From Guangzhou to Hong Kong: Guangzhou students’ views on the Asian Games

My official schedule in Guangzhou is over as of tonight. Just came back from giving a guest lecture on Olympic Games and Mega-event Politics to the students at the School of Urban Planning and Geography.

When I gave talk on the same topic to some students at the School of Government a few days ago, I did an impromptu survey on how many of the people in the lecture room were in favour and against having the Asian Games in Guangzhou. About 30% of the attendants said they were against it, and 15% in favour. Tonight, I did a similar survey, and about 15% said they were in favour of it, while 5% said they were against it. Well, it’s difficult to know the full picture until one finds out what the silent mass really thought about the issue, but it was an interesting exercise. I wonder if there was any difference in the disciplinary approach that produced contrasting results…

I will be off to Hong Kong on Wednesday, the mid-autumn festival day when families get together in South Korea, and lantern festival takes place in Hong Kong. As was the case last year, again mid-autumn festival while being on the road…