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Cluster Overview

IIAS adopts a thematic approach to the study of Asia, involving scholars and experts from different disciplines and regions in its activities. IIAS works together with academic and non-academic partners, including cultural, political and social organisations.  While we remain open to other possible avenues of knowledge, our current thematic and interconnected research clusters are 'Cities', ‘Global Asia’ and the 'Politics of Culture' (previously named 'Asian Heritages').


The Cities cluster at IIAS comprises three research and activist networks and a book series entitled 'Asian Cities', published with Amsterdam University Press. Together, they form a dynamic platform for investigating urbanisation in Asia and beyond through a comparative perspective on cities in Asia and the rest of the world. The Cities networks and book series present IIAS fellows and external scholars with multiple opportunities for engagement and collaboration around the urban 'space'. 

Research and Activist Networks

  1. Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA)
  2. Southeast Asia Neighborhoods Network (SEANNET)
  3. River Cities Network (RCN)

Book Series

Asian Cities


Research Themes

Initially developed by three Urban Knowledge Network Asia research groups, a set of themes links the activities in all three urban networks and the Asian Cities book series. These themes present the questions and explorations that remain of particular interest to the IIAS Cities cluster: 

  1. Ideas of the City
  2. Cities by and for the People
  3. Urban Transformation, Resilience and Justice

These themes overlap and are not exclusive—other work may also be accepted in the Cluster. They indicate the priorities of our urban platform partners and betray the values of the IIAS Cities cluster.

We prefer multidisciplinary and even transdisciplinary approaches and modes of collaboration that critically evaluate mainstream Western theories of the city and have the potential to evolve into a broad and innovative, multidisciplinary body of knowledge that contributes to the dynamic development of Asian cities today. 

Global Asia

Paying attention to past and present trends, the 'Global Asia' cluster addresses contemporary issues related to transnational interactions within the Asian region as well as throughout the world via the flows of people, goods, capital and ideas.

The cluster aims to expand the understanding of the process of globalisation by considering the various ways Asian and other world regions are interconnected within a long-term historical framework, recognising Asia's historic economic prominence and geopolitical influence from before the colonial era. Acknowledging the central role of Asia as an agent of global transformations, it challenges western perspectives that underlie much of the current literature on the subject, and explores new forms of non-hegemonic intellectual interactions in the form of 'south-south-north' and 'east-west' dialogue models.

IIAS also aims to develop a more evenly balanced field of Asian Studies, by collaborating in trans-regional capacity building initiatives and by working on new types of methodological approaches that encourage synergies and interactions between disciplines, regions and practices.

In principle, any research dealing with Asian global interactions is of interest. Topics include, but are not limited to: the migration of peoples and their diasporas, religious transnational pilgrimages and networks, forms of economic expansion, cultural dissemination, geo-strategic projections and engagements. Also of interest are issues that are central to the contemporary discussion on knowledge production and its circulation within a globalised world.

Flagship initiatives 
Humanities Across Borders (HAB)
Asia-Africa: A New Axis of Knowledge

The Politics of Culture (previously 'Asian Heritages')

Originally a concept coined by the nation-state, heritage has become the object of intellectual reclamation by academics, activists and associations. Institutional and non-institutional social actors across Asia, Africa and the Middle East are increasingly involved in debating the legitimacy as well as the need to “safeguard” formal and informal expressions of heritage.

The cluster focuses on the politics of cultural heritage as it addresses the variety of definitions associated with heritage and their implications for social agency. In particular, it questions the notion of heritage evolved from a European concept associated only with monumental architecture and high culture. To counteract this concept, we offer to incorporate a broader diversity of cultural understanding, forms and values. This covers the contested distinctions of 'tangible' and 'intangible' heritages and the importance of cultural heritage in defining one's identity or identities vis-à-vis others.

Heritage includes the process by which heritage is produced. It explores the social impact of heritage themes such as diaspora, ethnicity, and nationalism. We analyse cultural memory practices used by contemporary elites as a tool for boosting ethno-nationalism. Aside from rehabilitating influential historical figures as national heroes, cultural memory practices also have a place in transmitting beliefs, values, and collective acts of cultural remembering. How can these practices and local historical contingencies provide a better understanding of the search for national narratives and identities in postcolonial states?

Another trend studied by the cluster is the promotion of popular religious traditions and folklore as the 'authentic' expression of the indigenous cultural essence to define modern societies. As a counterbalance to these discourses incorporated into state heritage practices, the cluster stresses the transformative nature of cultural heritage as derived from individuals and communities who attach meaningful memories to and identify feelings towards the physical traces of their past. 

The cluster recognises that in addition to governments and institutions, a more extensive set of informal stakeholders are involved in the heritage field, with local communities playing a special role in defining and preserving their own heritage.

Cultural heritage, especially its materialisation in objects, buildings, and sites, has become a magnet for tourists worldwide. The cluster explores heritage conservation in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East and urban revitalisation practices through cultural heritage preservation.

Flagship initiativeDual Degree in Critical Heritage Studies of Asia and Europe