Followers of this blog might be interested in attending the conference on ‘Reframing the South China Sea: Towards a Mediterranean Understanding of Culture and Resources’, which will be held at the University of Brunei 11-13 November. I’ll be delivering the keynote lecture there, in which I’ll explore what’s gained and lost when we use a set of understandings gathered from the Mediterranean to make sense of the world’s other inland seas. Attendees at the recent Royal Geographical Society meeting in London (as well as anyone who has seen the page proofs for the forthcoming Water Worlds volume) know that this is a question that I’ve explored previously with reference to the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean. Of course my interest in the question emerges not just from my specific research on the Mediterranean and the travel of this particular metaphor but also from my more general interest in the the implications of ocean-basin regionalism.
The conference itself will consider a range of perspectives from around the region, and the organisers (at the University’s Institute of Asian Studies) appear to be making a concerted effort to build bridges between the historic work on the region as a pre-modern world-system (as one finds, for instance, in studies of the Sri Vijaya Empire and trading systems that predate intense European presence in the region) and the equally prevalent, but usually quite distinct, work on the region’s contemporary geostrategic importance and resource potential. I wholeheartedly agree with the organisers that these two perspectives cannot be considered in isolation from each other, and a central point of my keynote will likely be that the trope of Mediterraneanism offers potential for making these connections, but it also comes with its own dangers.
On a personal note, I’m excited about going to Brunei, a country that I’ve never been to before (or, I confess, ever thought much about!). I’m looking forward to a seminar that I’ll be giving at the end of this month at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Geography. At the NUS seminar I’ll have a chance to try out some ideas regarding the application of Mediterraneanism to the South China Sea, ideas that I’ll then be able to develop further in the Brunei talk.