World Social Science Forum 2018

The 2018 World Social Science Forum was held from the 25 – 28 September in Fukuoka, Kyushu. The fourth in a series of regular meetings convened by the International Social Science Council, the Forum was organized by Kyushu University and sought examine questions of “Security and Equality for Sustainable Futures”. Kyushu University Border Studies was fortunate enough to be involved in a number of sessions, and was sponsored in its endeavours through a Progress 100 grant awarded to Professor Akihiro Iwashita by Kyushu University, which enabled us to host a series of events which celebrated the commemoration of the completion of Kyushu University’s new Ito Campus. Both Professor Akihiro Iwashita and myself would like to extend our gratitude to Kyushu University for their generous support, which made our participation in this and other events possible.


The first day of the conference concluded in a Reception attended by the Crown Prince of Japan, whose attendance impressed upon visitor’s the importance of this event and the prestige granted to Kyushu University for winning the opportunity to host it. The first panel in which Kyushu University Border Studies was involved was one on the frontline of questions of security and sustainability in the contemporary world. “Arctic Geopolitics and Climate Change” brought many of the issues central to the conference into sharp focus, offering an examination of the course of Arctic Policy from a series of national perspectives. Minsu Kim, from the Korea Maritime Institute in Pusan, Korea, spoke on the “Development of Korea’s Arctic Policy: the role as a ‘Responsible Arctic Partner’” and traced out the emergence of the Arctic as a focus of policy in the Republic of Korea. Tony Tai-Ting Liu, of the University of Tokyo, Japan, spoke on an “Arctic Policy with Chinese Characteristics: The Polar Silk Road Initiative and Its Geopolitical Implications”, which offered a controversial perspective on power dynamics in the Arctic region. Xu Liu, of the Renmin University of China, similarly examined the questions raised by “The Ice Silk Road Initiative and Its implication for the Arctic Governance”, which are indeed central to the region’s transformation in recent years.

Fujio Ohnishi, of the Arctic Research Center at Hokkaido University, Japan, examined the “Development of Japan’s Arctic Policy: The Third Basic Plan for Ocean Policy”, bringing Japan’s engagement with the region up to date by focussing on the emergence of this new policy document in May this year. The final speaker, Minori Takahashi, from the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University looked at the “The emergence of Cold-War-like power relations in the post-Cold War era and their influence on sub-state actors in the Arctic: Thule Air Base as the study case”, shifting the audience’s attention back from the Arctic as presented in think-tanks and policy-shops of Asian states to its existence as a place, remote from, and frequently hostile to, the designs and practices of states existing at great remove from its borders. The panel’s discussant, Martin van der Velde, from Radboud University in the Netherlands, offered a tremendous number of points for further discussion, many of which were picked up by the presenters in their responses. The panel was co-chaired by Hyunjoo Naomi Chi of Hokkaido University and Akihiro Iwashita of Kyushu University, and the participants were fortunate to be able to continue the discussion long into the evening.

The third day saw Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman and Hyunjoo Naomi Chi in action as part of the Ito Commemoration team. The afternoon session, OP6-01 The Politics of Inclusion: Towards a Secure and Sustainable Future, featured Mirza Rahman’s paper on “Infrastructure Development in Northeast India: Examining Inequality and Exclusion in the Development Promise of Progress and Prosperity”, in which he examined some of the issues surrounding the problem of investing in regions, rather than merely constructing concrete corridors through them. A number of the themes introduced here will be later developed in his talk at Ito Campus on October 10. Naomi Chi was part of a Topical Session on T06 Case studies in Migration and Integration, which for practical reasons would ultimately be merged with another session, T07 Sexual Crimes and Violence Against Women and Men, that was impractically scheduled to occur in the same room at the same time. Ultimately, there was enough overlap between each of the papers to make this clash of sessions into a worthwhile exercise. Case studies examining the return of Indonesian nurses from working in Japan, the sexual violence committed against female politicians in Uganda, and the politics of desire experienced by widowed Muslims in India served to ground the topicality of the session in a series of very human stories, which made for a satisfying panel. The day concluded with a banquet, providing the perfect opportunity for participants at the conference to relax with one another in a more social setting.

The final day kicked off in the morning with the main event associated with the Progress100 grant, which was a special session that examined “Border Studies Today: Theoretical Development and Its Role in the Contemporary World”, chaired by Professor Akihiro Iwashita of Kyushu University, and moderated and commented on by both Edward Boyle and Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman. This Roundtable sought to offer a more global perspective, via both the speaker’s backgrounds and the scope of their discussion. The session began with a brief outline of its aims from Edward Boyle, before each of the contributor’s was invited to contribute for about ten minutes, before the discussion was opened up to the floor. The first speaker, Martin van der Velde, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, spoke regarding the development of “European Borders Studies in the past decades”, and sought to trace out a key distinction in the way it was possible to study borders in Europe as opposed to elsewhere in the world. Drawing upon a tripartite typology of methods and approaches, he emphasized how Europe’s commitment to reducing the significance of borders, through a border regions framework that seeks to both increase mobility over the boundary while ameliorating imbalances on either side of it, is fundamentally different to how borders exist in other parts of the world. The second speaker, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, George Mason University, USA, spoke passionately on “Borders in the Americas in the Era of Trump: Walls and Closed Borders”, and brought home the effectiveness of Trump’s policy towards the southern border, as Mexico itself is forced to transform into the United States’ border wall, as a condition for remaining in NAFTA, and thus once again recasting the relationship between the two nations. The role of the border here, indeed, suggested the truth of the comparison that Martin van der Velde had drawn.

The third speaker, Serghei Golunov, now at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russia and a Professor at Kyushu University until March of this year, ambitiously sought to bridge the “Theory-Practice Gap in Contemporary Border Studies” by highlighting some of the reasons for the mutual distrust of academics and policy-makers towards each other’s fields of expertise. The talk highlighted how it would be useful for a more intense dialogue between the two traditions to take place. This perspective was also built upon by Akihiro Iwashita in his look at how we are heading “Back to the Future: A world of “fortresses”?”, in which a cyclical pattern of border transition, constantly shifting from ‘open’ to ‘closed’, is deployed in order to make a case for the potential universalization for the discipline. A unique feature of border studies is its multidisciplinarity and ability to go beyond regionalism, and these strengths were reflected in the panel as a whole, which was mentioned by both commentators in their remarks on the session. Questions from the floor focussed on the question of the universal applicability of the study of borders, as well as an engagement with the balance between data and emotion in how we understand borders in the contemporary world. In so doing, they emphasized the central contribution that could be made towards resolving global issues through the study of borders, edges, and liminal spaces.

The contribution of the Ito Commemoration team to the Forum concluded in an afternoon session, OP1-04 Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific, chaired by Yoichiro Sato, in which Edward Boyle spoke on the question of “Envisioning Island Spaces: Integral territory and national fragments”. An intensely debated session returned the border discussion from the abstracted space of the academia to the policy domain, and highlighted the challenges to the borders of the international system posed by the expansion of China, in particular. It provided a fitting conclusion to an intense engagement of borders with questions of security and sustainability, as the various participants split up and heading off to further engagements in Kanazawa and Tokyo.