ASIANET 2021: Authoritarianism, populism and new forms of nationalism in Asia. Day 1

The annual Asianet conference 2021 is hosted by MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society, in collaboration with the Norwegian Network for Asian Studies.


21.10.2021 - 08:30 til 18:00

The recent decade has witnessed a turn to authoritarianism in many countries in Asia. We see this in India under Modi, the Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka, the civil-military rule in Thailand, the rule of Duterte in the Philippines, China’s assertive nationalist turn, and last but not least the military coup in Myanmar. This authoritarian turn is intrinsically linked to various forms of populist politics and new forms of nationalism or “nation-building”. At this year’s Asianet conference we focus on these interlinkages between authoritarianism, populism and nationalism in contemporary Asia. We also want to explore the ways in which new digital technologies are re-shaping Asian politics, including state control and popular resistance; the role of institutions; and the relationship between religion/culture and new political formations. Insights into these dimensions of the authoritarian turn in Asia are essential if we are to understand how Asia will look in the 21st century. We wish to stimulate debate along these lines by zooming in on the following clusters:


What role do institutions play in strengthening or challenging authoritarianism in Asia? What are the implications for political, legal, social and religious institutions? What role do military institutions play for increasing authoritarianism? And how are institutions re-shaped by authoritarianism? The panel also seeks to discuss how we might redefine institutions from Asian perspectives.

New technologies

What role do new digital technologies and social media play for authoritarian politics, for example with regard to state surveillance of citizens, styles of political performance, or mass mobilization? In what ways do new media technologies allow for resistance and “counter-politics” (e.g. the Milk Tea Alliance in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Myanmar)?

Nation-building and citizenship

How does authoritarianism and/or populist policies impact upon nationalism, nation-building processes, levels of xenophobia/racism, or questions of citizenship/statelessness? How might they inform legal regulation of “race”, ethnicity and religion? To what extent is authoritarianism and/or populism “racialized” in Asia today?

Geopolitical implications of the “authoritarian turn”

How do authoritarianism and/or populism affect regional co-operation and relations? What are the geopolitical implications of such developments? How do neighbouring states respond to rising nationalism and neo-imperial policies?


8.30 – 9.00: Arrival and coffee

9.00 – 9.10: Opening speech by Arve Hansen, leader, Network for Asian Studies - Centre for Development and the Environment, UiO.

9.10 – 9.15: Greetings from rector Vidar L. Haanes - MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society.

9.15 – 9.30: Welcome & practical information from conference organizers Henrik Nykvist and Iselin Frydenlund.

9.30 – 10.30: Keynote speech by Duncan McCargo. Professor of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen, and Director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies.

Paper: Digital Natives and Political Participation: From Thai Protests to the Milk Tea Alliance

40 min presentation, 20 min Q&A.

Chair: Iselin Frydenlund

10.30 – 10.45: Coffee break

10.45 – 11.45: The 1 February 2021 military coup: What now for Myanmar?

Panel organizer: Iselin Frydenlund, MF  

Chair: Marte Nilsen, The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Nyi Nyi Kyaw, Fellow Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI)/Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities. University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. - Myanmar Spring? From Protest to Civil Disobedience to Armed Revolution.

Nitha Bor Siangpum, - (International Research Consultant at NINU -Women in Action Group) - Facebook, the De-Facto Government of Myanmar: The role of social media in the Myanmar´s Spring Revolution 2021.

Terese Virginia Gagnon (University of Copenhagen/NIAS) – The Role of Ethnic Organizations in Resisting Authoritarianism and Nation-Building in Post-Coup Myanmar

11.45 – 12.30: Lunch break at MF canteen

12.30 – 14.00: Round Table Book Discussion - Routledge Handbook of Autocratization in South Asia.

Panel organizer: Kenneth Bo Nielsen, (UiO/IKOS)

Chair: Kenneth Bo Nielsen

Sten Widmalm, (Uppsala University)

Øivind Fuglerud, (Museum of Cultural History/UiO)

Maren Aase, (SUM/UiO)

Marc Lanteigne, (The Arctic University of Norway)

Farah Mihlar, (University of Exeter)

14.00 – 14.15: Coffee break

14.15 – 15.15: Strongmen of Asia

Authoritarian leadership is an increasingly dominant style in South and Southeast Asian democracies. Why is that?

Panel Organizer: Arild Engelsen Ruud, (UiO/IKOS)

Chair: Sten Widmalm, (Uppsala University)

Nicole Curato, (University of Canberra) - The Spectacle of the Strongman: The case of Rodrigo Duterte (Nicole will give her presentation on Zoom).

Arild Engelsen Ruud, (UiO/IKOS) - On the possible usefulness of the term strongman.

Øivind Fuglerud, (UiO/Museum of Cultural History) - The King and the Demon: oligarchic politics in post-war Sri Lanka.

15.15 – 15.30: Coffee break

15.30 – 17.00: Round Table Discussion - Local Traditions, Heritage-Making, and the Nation-State: Whales of Power.

Panel organizer: Aike Rots, (UiO/IKOS)

Chair: Aike Rots, (UiO/IKOS)

Lindsey DeWitt, (Ghent University)

Florence Durney, (UiO/IKOS)

Tuan Anh Nguyen, (UiO/IKOS)

Marius Palz, (UiO/IKOS)

Sonja Åman, (UiO/IKOS)

18.00: Dinner

Friday 22. October