Performative Publics and Global Modernities in Asia

Barcelona, 3-4 November, 2014. Organised by The Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture in the School of Media and Communication at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Melbourne, Australia and the Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute of Cultural Anthropology, University of Leiden, Netherlands.

Global flows of culture are so deeply embedded that local or national environments may now be imagined as having a global span. The imagination has become an organized field of social practices, and a form of negotiation between sites of agency and globally defined fields of possibility, as Appadurai famously pointed out. An expanded field of the imaginary is a key component of the global order (Appadurai, 1996). Questions still arise, however, about how the imagination of life with a global span is made possible at the level of everyday social practices. Performance and performativity offer a fertile field in which to think about the ways in which individual or collective identity and agency are constructed, recognised and reproduced in expanded fields of possibility. Urban spaces and media can become the locations of new publics – stages on which subjects can create and perform transformed identities. Performative interventions in Asia can generate a re-imagining of local publics, both spatially grounded and mediatised, and help to renegotiate the connection between the local and the global. This symposium will investigate the role of the imaginative and aesthetic dimension in the diffusion of global modernity through performative practices.

Conveners are Associate Professor Chris Hudson, Co-director, Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture, and Associate Professor Bart Barendregt, Director of Studies, Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden.
Abstracts can be found here.
I will present the following paper:
Sanitized Modernities: Love and Romance in Chinese CinemasModernity is often negotiated in the field of gender and sexuality. In my paper, I aim to explore the performances of the modern gendered self in three movies from “Greater China”: Love Is Not Blind (China, 2011), You Are the Apple of My Eye (Taiwan 2011), and Love in a Puff (Hong Kong 2010). My aim here is not to reflect upon differences between these three localities, but rather, to trace their correspondences, ultimately to demonstrate how in all three movies we can observe what I would call a sanitized modernity. In such representations, if not celebrations, of modernity, cities are remarkably, impeccably clean: the Confucian gaze of the parents seems nearly absent, relationships are troubled but will in the end, often with the help of a gay man, come to a cleansed fruition…

Bruno Latour proclaims that we have never been modern, but it may be more accurate to think that modernity will never be us. It appears more like a ghost that trails perpetually forward; at times we can even breathe it, at other moments we almost lose its sight. And we move in different directions, at different speeds – contingent on time and space. To call some of these trajectories “alternative” modernities is imperative but inadequate, given the absence of one hegemonic version of modernity in the world we are living. A more pertinent question, for me, is what form these alternatives are taking, and during the processes what gets validated, and what not. Investigating this particular case of China, I ask: How are these sanitized modernities articulated in contemporary Chinese cinemas through the prism of youth, in all their entanglements with gender and sexuality, love and romance? Would these offer possible modes of critique vis-à-vis heteronormative representations, or are they merely reifying those? Do they offer other possibilities to perform modernity in a century that is all too often hailed as the “Asian century”? Through a close analysis of the three movies I hope to find answers to these questions.