>Jewish and Chinese Diasporas in Dialogue
University of Melbourne – 2 October 2008
I’d heard about this event at the last minute. Having a look at the program, and seeing that it included AASRN members John Fitzgerald (on a visit home from China where he’s heading up the Ford Foundation), Keir Reeves (we’re currently organising an October 2009 conference on Chinese Australian heritage issues [with Anna Kyi, Warwick Frost, Sophie Couchman, Paul Jones and Kate Bagnall]) and Barbara Nichol, meant that I really, really wanted to attend. Luckily, time was made and I lobbed up early (for me!) at the School of Historical Studies at UniMelb on that Thursday morning.
It was good to see Yvonne Foley (another AASRN member) there, and to meet Antonia Finnane (workshop co-convenor) at last. I’d heard a lot about (and read) Antonia’s work but hadn’t had the chance to meet her till now. As well as some known faces, I also met a lot of new folks, which was very rewarding. I’d been in email contact with Lewis Mayo and got to put a face to the name (Lewis was one of the speakers who ‘wrapped up’ the event, and very adeptly too, I might add). I’d never met the Jewish Studies scholars who were there, so it was great to hear about their work and chat to them in the breaks. In particular, meeting Gideon Reuveni (workshop co-convenor) and hearing his comments through the day was both engaging and useful.
For me, the cultural/social politics angle was the most interesting (even though the history had me uncritically enthralled, as only a non-historian can be…!) and it made me want to hear more about the comparative ways in which diasporic groups and individuals negotiated their modes of belonging (or ‘at home-ness’). A lot of the discussion about diasporic cultural identity was 2nd nature to me, having focused on this kind of theoretical material for most of my work thus far. What was additionally fascinating were the similarities between the Jewish and Chinese community/generational tensions and pressures for defining authenticity. I must admit to fronting up to the workshop wondering whether it was constructive to draw these diasporas together, given the wariness that I’ve witnessed with scholars using the term ‘diaspora’ (e.g. with some wanting to give it unique status in referring only to ‘true’ diasporas, such as the Jewish one, and others applying it to just about any dispersal of a particular cultural/ethnic group). Given the discussions and materials that were presented at the workshop, I’d have to say that it was one of the most intellectually stimulating things I’d been to in a long while.
Many thanks to Gideon and Antonia for putting together such an active, quality event. I wish more academic confabs were like this. More information about the workshop, including the full program, is archived on the UniMelb School of Historical Studies site HERE.
And if you think this was the name-droppingest blogpost you’ve ever seen? Well, this is the shape of things to come. After years of being very wary of naming names, I’ve decided to own the public and positive ways in which one can archive intellectual events and moments. I’m hoping to make event reviews a more regular part of this blog (cf. review of the premiere of Maximum Choppage: Round 2 in Fairfield).
Hopefully a post about my time at the ‘Diasporic Asian cultural studies’ panel at USyd in late Sept, and perhaps another event write-up after the Asia Week (U of Melbourne) screening of MC2 (with talks by Maria Tran and Timothy Ly), and the associated AA meetup.
I’ve also added a “review” tag to my posts and, while back-tagging the entries, realised how many write-ups there are about the AA meetups. That’s a cool archive to have!