Globalizing Local Knowledge: Social Science Research on Southeast Asia, 1970-2000

By Gerke, Solvay; Evers, Hans-Dieter | SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Globalizing Local Knowledge: Social Science Research on Southeast Asia, 1970-2000


Gerke, Solvay, Evers, Hans-Dieter, SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia


1. Academic Dependency and Reflexive Modernization

Southeast Asian academics, observing the development of the social sciences in Southeast Asia, have bemoaned the "academic dependency" on North American and European scholarship (Alatas 2000). They have pointed out that because of the power of Western scholars and institutions, the research agenda was largely set elsewhere rather than in Southeast Asia itself (Hadiz and Dhakidae 2005). On the other hand, a number of local Southeast Asian scholars have been influential in fuelling the intellectual debate in and on their own countries, acting as opinion leaders and producing good academic studies that were locally and internationally recognized.

The issue raised here has important implications for the social and cultural development of the region. Societies undergoing rapid social change and modernization have to reinvent themselves constantly to meet the challenges of globalization. This process of culturally reconstructing society and revising the local knowledge on how and why social life proceeds is taking place on various levels of society--not necessarily as intellectual debates but by putting tacit local knowledge and experience into action. There are usually specialists who record this process, namely journalists, artists, politicians, and, of course, social scientists. As Beck and Giddens have argued, modernization feeds upon itself by requiring constant reflection on the process itself (Beck, Giddens, et al. 1994). This reflexive modernization is in particular the domain of intellectuals and scholars. If, however, the academic debate on the structure, change, and direction of the society is primarily carried out elsewhere and not in the country it is concerned with, reflexive modernization takes an odd bend. Societies are then virtually constructed or reinvented by outsiders. This was definitely the case during the colonial period and was then challenged by nationalist intellectuals. In Indonesia, however, since independence the social sciences have "almost totally been in the service of whatever government was in power" (Heryanto 2005, p. 58). This statement could also be applied to most other countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The contribution of local social scientists may seem important in many respects, but from a global perspective the ideas on how Southeast Asian societies work have been outlined and described mainly by foreigners.

The debate on these issues is still emotionally charged. It is our intention to provide a set of empirical data to the analysis of social science research on and in Southeast Asia. We hasten to add that we do not claim our data to be "true" or that our analysis is "objective". The data are derived from data banks that are maintained in the United States and serve, perhaps unintentionally, as a bastion of "Western cultural imperialism" by controlling which scholarly output is regarded as valuable enough to be enshrined in the Social Sciences Citation Index, the Sociological Abstracts, or similar data banks. (1) This article examines and measures local knowledge that is made available globally in the areas of social science research. In particular, we attempt to answer the questions of how much knowledge is produced on Southeast Asian societies and cultures, and which proportion of this knowledge is produced locally. We see the rising local social science production as an increase in "reflexive modernization" (Beck, Giddens, et al. 1994) and conclude that concern for the direction of social and cultural processes, particularly of the emerging education-conscious middle classes (Gerke 2000) stimulates local knowledge production.

The bibliometric methods employed in this article are by now standard procedure to evaluate scientific output and performance (Moed, Luwel, et al. 2002; Wiberley 2003). They should be regarded as complementary to the usual qualitative review of the "knowledge" contained in books and papers published by social science researchers in and outside Southeast Asia. …

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