Two contrasting interwoven currents affect our world today. On the one hand, there is globalization where national economies are being opened rapidly and integrated into the global capitalist system, and where information technology (via the power of the web) is shared by an increasing number of the world’s people, and where culture appears more and more hegemonized. On the other hand, these global encounters have led to an increasing number of “localist responses,” manifested by communities defending their “traditions” against globalization, of countries bounding themselves into “regions” to come up with an effective response to globalization. This localization had also transformed politics and culture as universalistic ideologies have been replaced by ethnic and pre-modern creeds as a means of mobilizing people.
This global-local interface is even evident in ecological changes. The tsunami that hit the countries that surround the Indian Ocean, for example, was a natural phenomenon whose damage was on a global scale, but the victims are mostly the local people living in vulnerable situations. In the post-tsunami period, the demands for a constructing global warning system of disaster is worldwide and swift, but the difficulties of making this as a reality are mainly due to the problems at the local levels.
Researchers and scientists have come up with a new term to describe this contradictory intertwining process: ‘glocalization.’
Asia and Africa are the areas with distinct histories and cultures molded not only by their specific environments but also through their interaction with other areas. They are now facing an important historical turning point, as global events have affected how their histories would proceed in the 21st century. Both regions are being opened up ? sometimes forcefully ? by globalization. Their ecologies have changed radically as dominant and rising economies demand more of their resources, and as the rise in population and urbanization altered the urban-rural balance. Political conflicts have also exacerbated community relations, often leading to small wars in the name of religion and/or ethnicity. Hinterlands are being opened and the communities once isolated or semi-isolated now face the dilemma of preserving their way of life or joining the modernization process ? both options having potentially fatal consequences.
In this ‘glocalizing’ world we, as citizens and scholars, must contribute to the establishment of a new world arrangement that would reverse the negative impact of globalization and introduce a more sustainable development in Asia and Africa as they interact with the other areas of the world. We especially need to promote an interdisciplinary and integrated approach of area studies that transcends existing disciplinary boundaries and serves as an academic instrument that enables us to develop a better and more holistic understanding of divergent areas in the world.
Pursuing this interdisciplinary and integrated approach in area studies must be global, multi-disciplinary, and must be concretized through long-term cooperative research on the dynamics of human beings, nature, society, culture, politics, and economy.
Kyoto University has strived earnestly to the enrichment of this approach, especially in the deepening of academic knowledge of Asia and Africa. One of the University’s strongest traditions has been its emphasis on field science, and our research activities in the search of deepening understanding of these regions focuses finding a new paradigm and perspectives through the substantive results of fieldwork. The recent adoption of the theme “Harmonious Coexistence of the Global Community” as the University guiding principle for the 21st Century indicates the continuing relevance and significance of this approach to the University’s life.
To pursue this 21st century theme and in recognition of the complex ‘glocalization’ process we as human beings live in, Kyoto University will hold its 7th International Symposium on “Coexistence with Nature in a ‘Glocalizing’ World.” The symposium will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, November 23-24, 2005, and will bring together scholars from different departments of Kyoto University to engage in a dialogue and discussion with their counterparts from various Asian and African countries on the subject.
By specializing on an education program that emphasizes “positivism on foot” and transdisciplinary approaches of area studies, Kyoto University also seeks to train young people to develop a perspective with independent-minded and broad yet grounded in field experience in the areas. These are the kinds of people who will be needed in this ‘glocalized’ world of the 21st century. In the international symposium, we also intend to highlight the works of these young researchers from Kyoto University and their counterparts from universities and institutions in Thailand and other countries as a way of introducing their recent fieldworks and give us a glimpse of how the next generation of scholars and researchers would enrich this interdisciplinary perspective of area studies in Asia and Africa.
Kyoto University has had a long history in Southeast Asia. Its Center for Southeast Asian Studies has been involved in field-based area and country research studies for over the last 40 years now. Kyoto University has developed strong ties with colleagues in the universities and research institutes in Southeast Asia, and the University have mentored students from the different countries of the region. The International Symposium’s third and final aim, therefore, is to strengthen these bonds further.