Call for Papers, Literary Writing, and Artwork

Southeast Asia: Oceans, Seas, and Straits

Editors: Joanne Leow, Nazry Bahrawi and Y-Dang Troeung

In our contemporary moment, the Oceanic has emerged as a critical framework that challenges national and land-based notions of literary and cultural studies. Postcolonial and Indigenous scholars such as Paul Gilroy, Kamau Brathwaite, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Engseng Ho, Lisa Lowe, Meg Samuelson, Viet Nguyen, Janet Hoskins, and Alice Te Punga Somerville (among many others) have brought attention to specific sites like the Atlantic, Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean. We envision a collection of shorter critical chapters and written and visual creative work that seeks to consider Southeast Asia as one specific site for productive analysis. The sea is also history here, to borrow from Derek Walcott, and Southeast Asian seas have seen the transport of indentured labour, migrants, and refugees. They are the source of livelihood for so many but also subject to historical and contemporary, colonial and (post)colonial land reclamation and maritime disputes.

Indeed, surrounded by oceans, seas and straits, with its multiple histories of maritime empires and nations, Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian diasporic texts offer new and complex aesthetics and poetics of water bodies, water worlds, and cultures. A burgeoning field of study, scholarship in this field has primarily been articulated by way of recent cultural imaginaries like the Nanyang and the more nascent Indian Ocean world.

With the former, some definitive works include Writing the South Seas (2015) by Brian Bernards and Rethinking Chineseness (2013) by E.K. Tan. With the latter, works include Islam, Translated (2011) by Ronit Ricci and Graves of Tarim (2006) by Engseng Ho. Other cognate work has been done by Yến Lê Espiritu on the significance of the oceanic trajectories of Vietnamese refugees through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific to the United States.

We welcome artistic, literary, and critical works that bring together scholars, writers, and artists from a range of fields and areas for an interdisciplinary and creative conversation about Southeast Asia and the Oceanic. We seek a geographical spread of works that will consider the region’s multiple languages, regions, and nations. Major themes that we hope will be addressed by proposed contributions include: the maritime histories of Empire and Imperialism in Southeast Asia, including ongoing forms of Settler Colonialism; refugee trajectories and histories; ecological and human/nonhuman connections; and the possibility of the Oceanic in Southeast Asia as a new form of transnational and transborder commons.

This edited collection seeks to add Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian diasporic perspectives to the transnational contexts and conversations on the Oceanic. The book will be preceded by an online resource that will allow for excerpts or alternate, more informal iterations of scholarly, artistic and creative work to be disseminated to a wider audience.
Some questions that may be considered:

Empire/Imperialism/Settler Colonialism
– What relation does the oceanic have to the region’s multiple imperial and postcolonial histories and counterhistories?
– What could other geographical imaginaries like the Nusantara, Indo-Pacific, Sijori and Greater China contribute to this study?

Critical Refugee Studies
– What inter-Asian forms of thinking are necessitated by the oceanic when thinking through refugee narratives and trajectories from and through Southeast Asia?
– What are the relations between Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian diasporic refugee writing with the persistent motifs of the ship, the water, and the voyage?
– What oceanic routes/roots can be traced in legacies of forced migration and ongoing sites of militarization?

– How do the transboundary haze, the rising sea-levels, and ever-changing shorelines, coasts, and islands of Southeast Asia give us new ways of thinking through the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and Plantationocene?
– What older histories/narratives of oceanic knowledge have been suppressed in the wake of colonialism in the region?

– What parallels and divergences might other critical assemblages like the Transatlantic, Mediterranean, and the Transpacific offer?
– How have water bodies shaped Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian diasporic aesthetics?
– What new questions or lines of inquiry does the Southeast Asian context bring to questions of oceanic cultural imaginaries?
– How might the oceanic as a critical and cultural framework lead to new ways of thinking of a shared commons?

Please submit a short biographical note with a brief abstract, pitch, or excerpt of an artwork or literary writing by Sept 30, 2020 to

If accepted, contributors will be asked to submit one of the following by 31 January 2021:
• essays of 3,000-5,000 words (including Notes and Works Cited) in Word or RTF, and in Chicago-style (17th edition) format; or
• up to 3 poems, a short story or flash fiction (not exceeding 3,000 words), or other hybrid/creative form (not exceeding 3,000 words); or
• visual artwork or work of photography with an accompanying artist statement (not exceeding 1,000 words)

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