發文作者:Albert Tzeng | 2009/05/12

Framing Sociology in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore: Geopolitics, State and Its Practitioners

Posted here is a new version of my dissertation abstract revised during my field study in Singapore. The original title was ‘Negotiaing the Western Sociology in East Asia and the Challenges of Academic Globalisation: Sociologists in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. I coined the new title to avoid the over-emphasis on the West-East dictomy and the problematic geographical unit ‘East Asia.’ The three catchwords in the subtitle is deliberately chosen to present a balanced set of perspectives in the three levels of analysis. The only concern is that the new title may suggest more historical depth than what I could deliver.

Framing Sociology in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore: Geopolitics, State and Its Practitioners

Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore are three demographically Chinese-dominated later-developed East Asian societies where higher education was first ‘implanted’ under colonial rule and subsequently developed as part of the national development project toward the Western modernity. Sociology, under this historical pattern of development, was imported from the Euro-Anglo world and applied by a group of largely Western-trained scholars. Such a pathway presents two dilemmas for the local sociologists, namely the epistemological dilemma on negotiating Western paradigms in seeking local relevance (e.g. Alatas’ proposal for ‘alternative discourses’ in Asia, or Taiwan’s ‘indigenization movement’ in the 1980s), and the strategic dilemma between conforming to the Euro-Anglo agenda for better ‘integration with international academia,’ or developing their own agenda for greater ‘academic autonomy’ in responding to domestic social issues. Both dilemmas have long existed, but seemly sharpened in some recent shifts in the higher education system often discussed associated with the discourse of ‘academic globalization.’

This study aim at addressing sets of questions at three levels of analysis:

– First at the individual-collective level, how were the two dilemmas responded by the local practitioners, as shown in the past trajectories of sociology developments in the three places? What attitudes they hold now? Are they feeling being constrained or directed to one way or another, and, if so, what is the mechanism?

– Second at the national-institutional level, what roles the state played in framing such trajectories as it excreted the various policies designed for goals ranging from (de)national identity-building, modernization, social control, to the enhancement of ‘global competitiveness’? How were these projects translated into measures adopted in higher education institutions, including their policies of evaluation and auditing, recruitment and promotion, and resources allocation?

– And at last in a broader international-historical level, how were the observed patterns to be associated with certain geopolitical factors like the colonial legacies, the (stressed/ suppressed) Chinese tradition, the cold-war alignment, the migration and knowledge flows, and the transformation of domestic political system (e.g. the democratization in Taiwan)?

Methods of data-collection attempted include a review (including some content analysis whereas possible) of the literature produced locally and the government or university archival documents available to me, systematic interviews with sociologists, and participatory observation in some academic events in the three places. I also had talked to a number of academic administrators, postgraduate students and publisher in a non-systematic way as a source of some supplementary insights.

Based on a comparative multi-level analysis of the three cases, this study further aims to advance our understanding of the sociology of knowledge in the semi-peripheral sphere in the framework I called the world system of knowledge flow. This concept, appropriated from Wallerstein’s analysis of the historical expansion of capitalism, was proposed to account for the historical expansion of the modern knowledge production/ trading/consumption system and the geographical distribution of knowledge capital and knowledge flows. Whereas Wallerstein was trying to develop an interdisciplinary approach to unveil the exploitation between the ideal-typical ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ regions in the global scale, this proposed conceptual framework embodies a concern of the reproduction and the exploitative effects of the historical inequality between the core and peripheries in knowledge production and deliveries.

If we bring this perspective into the research tradition of sociology of knowledge, science studies and social epistemology, it is obvious that most of our prior knowledge were derived from empirical studies carried out in the ‘core’, a.k.a. Euro-Anglo world. Less is known about the peripheral or semi-peripheral region, especially with regards to how a place’s relative role within this ‘world system of knowledge flow’ influences the idea arising, the patterns of academic activities taking place, and the traits of knowledge produced, in that particular locale. It is believed that the present study of the sociology in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore can make three significant cases in completing this knowledge map.

At last, but not the least, by studying the framing factors of the sociology in the three cases, I am also aiming to provide a solid empirical basis on which our further discussions of the possibility of sociology in the contemporary era, or even attempts to shape it, could be securely anchored.

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