The promise that the 21st century would be an Asian century has already been realized. Asia is home to more than half the world’s population and the region’s economic might grows with each passing year. Whether one thinks of Canada or Brazil, Australia or Ghana, the United States or Iran, Asia is never far away. Global affairs are inescapably also Asian affairs.
Yet even as Asia decenters our understanding of the global, so too has globalization decentered Asia. It is a region going through momentous changes: cities are growing at unprecedented rates, agrarian economies are being upended, publics are becoming increasingly connected, and transnational linkages are becoming commonplace. As a consequence, the relationships between social classes, between states and citizens, between nation-states, and between humans and the environment, are in search of new footings.
Through our research and teaching, we at the Asian Institute at the University of Toronto strive to comprehend these momentous changes. We embrace approaches that take seriously real world problems while also taking the long view of regional and global transformation. Situated within the policy-oriented Munk School of Global Affairs, we have courses, speakers’ series, and research programs that address crucial issues related to urbanization, poverty, global health, governance, and climate change. We build from a foundation of area studies expertise—on Southeast Asia, East Asia, and South Asia—while supporting and encouraging thematic clusters and cross-regional conversations. We invite policy-makers to collaborate with social scientists, and sometimes also doctors and engineers, to seek innovative solutions to problems faced by communities in Asia. We use multidisciplinary encounters and cross-regional conversations to challenge existing theoretical frameworks and spark new ideas and lines of inquiry. Through courses, seminars, research fellowships and study travel, our students are active participants in all our activities.
Under the capable stewardship of my predecessors, the Asian Institute has emerged as a unique intellectual space within the landscape of Asian studies, both in Canada and worldwide. I have been researching Asia for two decades, yet my colleagues in the Asian Institute constantly surprise me with the creativity of their thought, the depth of their knowledge, and the sharpness of their insights. In the upcoming years, we will use this creativity, this knowledge and these insights to inform cross-disciplinary and cross-regional conversations about issues critical to Asia and Asian studies.
As an example this year we will inaugurate a speakers’ series on “Asian Infrastructures,” which will focus on the political, economic, and social dimensions of efforts to build out the systems that enable and constrain the movement of people, goods, and ideas at various socio-spatial scales.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in shaping the future of this premiere institution.
Director, Asian Institute