The Institute of Asian Studies (IAS) at Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei’s national university, was established in January 2012. The IAS’s inaugural research areas cluster around Borneo Studies, South China Sea Studies, popular culture in Asia, economic and financial integration in Asia and human/capital movements in Asia.
Given the country’s strategic location, its political stability and the growing emphasis attached to research and development at UBD, the Institute is an ideal home for scholars and practitioners engaged in research on Asian affairs.
Further, researchers and practitioners alike find the combination of Borneo’s lush natural environment, the campus location on the shores of the South China Sea, collegial professional atmosphere, and supportive university administration highly conducive to scholarly activities. The Institute places a very strong emphasis on research that is immediately relevant, academically rigorous and multi-disciplinary.
Within UBD, the Institute acts as a conduit across disciplines and faculties, drawing on core participation from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), the Academy of Brunei Studies (ABS), the UBD School of Business and Economics (UBDSBE), the Faculty of Science (FoS), the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education (SHBIE) and the Pengiran Anak Puteri Rashidah Sa’adatul Bolkiah Institute of Health Sciences (PAPRSB-IHS).
As part of this role, the Institute conducts a weekly Wednesday Seminar Series, wherein UBD academics and distinguished practitioners from the government, the private sector and civil society engage in lively discussions and debates on Asian affairs. Distinguished speakers have included Professor Hans-Dieter Evers, Emeritus Professor of Development Planning, University of Bonn; Professor Solvay Gerke, a Professor in IAS and Director of the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn; Professor Victor T. King, Visiting Professor at UBD and Emeritus Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Leeds University; Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, Head of International Affairs, South East Asian Programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) IDEAS, amongst others.
Despite its youth, the Institute has been privileged to host numerous eminent scholars of international renown. In 2016, the list of speakers includes Professor Guo Guang (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and Professor Simon Xu-hui Shen (the Chinese University of Hong Kong).
The Institute has also made itself into a regional presence, hosting workshops and conferences both independently and in collaboration with other universities in the region. Through linkages with other key centers of Asian Studies, the Institute aims to provide a multidisciplinary and dynamic research environment for scholars engaging in research on Asian Studies. To this end, the Institute launched in 2014 an IAS-Springer book series, “Asia in Transition.”
To pursue a rigorous focus towards research, IAS organises its research theme into three research clusters, each of which is led by an expert.
Asian Imaginaries: Narratives, Texts and Contexts
Investigators: Associate Professor Jeremy Jammes and Dr Kathrina Mohd Daud
How are Asian imaginaries and narratives produced? What constitutes belonging to the Asian imaginary? How do local and regional literature and narratives interact and resist each other? One of the fascinating features of the Asian imaginary is the replication, overlapping, transfer, translation, reinterpretation and appropriation of regional but also trans-Asian and Western concepts, literatures, narratives and myths in the local imaginary. The historical, anthropological and sociological implications of these connections, intertwined with the cultural and literary study of the narratives themselves, have much to offer contemporary understanding of the shaping of trans-Asian production, circulation and consumption of texts. This cluster invites research on any aspect of the Asian imaginary, from material production to ideological construction within various literary, ideological or religious contexts and identities.
Asian Diaspora and Migration
Investigators: Associate Professor Md Mizanur Rahman and Associate Professor Chang Yau Hoon
This cluster promotes research on a broad range of human migration issues including earlier migration such as the Chinese and South Asian diaspora, as well as contemporary migration, which comprises skilled, semi-skilled, permanent and temporary migration within and beyond Asia. The Asian diaspora, who share a common sentiment for, and an affiliation to, their origin countries in Asia, have been increasingly influential on the global stage. The connection between them and their home countries is strong and durable; it unfolds in many new forms in the increasingly interconnected world today. The diaspora communities often serve as critical bridges that facilitate movements of capital and ideas; they generate useful transnational networks that contribute to regional integration. With the growing interest of such phenomenon, the cluster holds sustained interest in investigating the different forms of diaspora engagement and its implications on development in the origin countries. On the other hand, the Asian contemporary migrants are diverse in their skill and gender composition, migration destination, and nature of migration. Given the importance of temporary form of migration in the region, the cluster is particularly interested in the intra-regional and inter-regional migration of labour with a focus on different national groups migrating for work in Asia.
Borneo in Transition: Bio-culture, Heritage and Tourism
Investigators: Dr Noor Hasharina Pg Hj Hassan, Professor Victor T. King and Professor Wan Zawawi Ibrahim
The Institute of Asian Studies is playing a crucial role in the coordination and support of research and teaching on Borneo across all universities and research centres and institutes in Brunei, Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan through the Borneo Studies Network whose secretariat is based at UBD-IAS. It is also actively involved in collaboration beyond the Borneo states both within Southeast Asia and the wider Asian region. IAS has therefore formulated a set of objectives to bring synergy to this wide range of research interests and networks both within and outside the university.
First, this Research Cluster examines changes in Borneo which require multidisciplinary collaboration across the social sciences and natural sciences, specifically focusing on environmental transformations and the conservation and protection of biodiversity as exemplified in the Heart of Borneo project, and those changes associated with modern technologies in such fields as industrial development and petroleum engineering. Second, we are focusing on the pre-historical and historical context of change in Borneo bringing together such disciplines and multidisciplinary interests as archaeology, history, language and linguistics, geography, classical and textual studies, and environmental studies. Third, we are addressing a range of modern issues affecting the populations and landscapes (both cultural and natural) in Borneo: among others, urbanisation and the emergence of an educated middle class; tourism development; the conservation and presentation of Biocultural Diversity; the development of popular culture and the media; changing identities in their widest sense (ethnic, gender, age, class, state and territory); migration, labour mobility, and diasporas; and rural change and development. Fourth, although we are pursuing academic or pure research, we are always conscious of the ways in which this research feeds into issues of policy and application; we are therefore constantly marrying concepts with practice. Fifth, we are committed to situating Borneo within the wider Southeast Asian region, not only with regard to Brunei and those countries with territories in Borneo, namely the Federation of Malaysia and the Republic of Indonesia, but also in relation to the other members of ASEAN and particularly those with interests in the South China Sea. Finally, because we are an Institute based in Brunei, we are concerned to promote the multidisciplinary study of Brunei and its relations with other parts of Borneo.
The Institute of Asian Studies
The Institute of Asian Studies is also a founding member of the Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA) and of the Borneo Studies Network (BSN).