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Call for Papers

Negotiating Tradition and Modernity in Contemporary Malaysia and Southeast Asia


A One-Day Colloquium organized by the Department of English

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya


13 Dec 2017

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

University of Malaya


For much of the twentieth century, Southeast Asia had had to come to terms with various forces of modernity thrust upon what were essentially societies and polities rooted in cultural and historical experiences and systems of thinking and knowing that go back centuries. These encounters between local and imposed ways of understanding the world have often been framed in terms of the “tradition versus modernity” debate. Tradition on the one hand is said to ground non-Western societies in time-honoured patterns of thought and behaviour. On the other hand, the pull of modernity impels those societies forwards and outwards to embrace more progressive paradigms and ideologies. Two decades into the twenty-first century, we would like to initiate a discussion of how these two forces – the “return to tradition” and “embrace of modernity” – continue to determine how we in Malaysia in particular, but also societies in the wider Southeast Asian region, negotiate the tradition-modernity nexus.


We would like to put the whole notion of modernity up for discussion. Do societies in the region view modernity as a grand narrative of attitudes and patterns of knowing, or are there multiple discourses of modernity, each engaged in a subtle dance with the different traditions rooted in this diverse region? Are modernity and tradition then reconcilable? How emancipatory is the discourse of modernity? Is there a distinct Malaysian or Southeast Asian discourse or experience of modernity and if so, how does this articulate with the universalist project of modernity that has its roots in the European Enlightenment? We invite researchers to think about how societies in the region are negotiating the intellectual and other spaces opened up by these two forces working with or against each other.


We welcome submission of abstracts on this topic from the standpoints of literary and cultural studies for a one-day colloquium to be held at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, on 13 December 2017. Apart from the more abstract theorizing about the nature of tradition and modernity and how they articulate with each other as outlined above, suggested areas of inquiry include, but are not limited to:


-       negotiating tradition and modernity in the contemporary literature and film and the other visual arts, music, fashion and popular cultural productions of the region

-       the interplay of tradition and modernity in the contemporary linguistic patterns and practices of the region

-       the role of the new technologies in the nexus between tradition and modernity

-       the impact of IT and the knowledge economy

-       the role of social media and/or the culture industries in the interplay between tradition and modernity

-       the rethinking of identities —gender, religious,  cultural and national —at the nexus between modernity and tradition

-       the emergence of new identities

-       the impact of modernity on historical and contemporary forms of migration and notions of cultural diversity and difference in society

-       the body as the locus of negotiation between tradition and modernity

-       urban spaces and other places  as sites of such negotiations

-       the impact of the tradition-modernity nexus on notions of “heritage”

Papers presented at the colloquium will be considered for publication in an edited volume with an academic publisher and/or a special issue of an international peer-reviewed journal.


The extended deadline for submission of abstracts is 30 September 2017. 


Format for submission of abstracts 


Current Institutional Affiliation 

E-mail Address

Title of Paper

Main Body of Abstract 200- 300 words

Keywords Three keywords

Biodata Confine this to a brief account of your academic or professional background, relevant publications, if any, and areas of research or academic interest [max 50 words].

Abstracts are to be submitted by e-mail to the following email address by 30 September 2017:  Notification of acceptance/rejection of your abstract will be sent to you by e-mail before 15 October 2017.

The working language for the colloquium is English.



Dr Sharifah Aishah Osman

Senior Lecturer, Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya


Looi Siew Teip

Lecturer, Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya






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