Taking part in the 4th East Asian Conference on Slavic and Eurasian Studies
On September 4 and 5 an international conference entitled "The 4th East Asian Conference on Slavic and Eurasian Studies" on the theme of "The Image of the Region in Eurasian Studies" was held at the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies (MAKAIAS) in Kolkata, state of West Bengal, Republic of India. I participated in the conference as one of the presenters.
A total of 12 panels were organized and more than 40 presenters from different fields took part in the conference. In terms of the scale, this was not such a large conference (in fact, one may even say that it was small), but I think that exactly because of that we had the opportunity to sit back and give each presentation our full attention. Furthermore, the fact that a lot of scholars with different backgrounds, coming from countries such as India, China, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Russia, Tajikistan or Great Britain, could gather together is proof that the conference was not confined to only particular countries or regions, but was, literally, very open. However, one technical issue was that since English and Russian had been adopted as the official languages of the conference and several presentations were made in Russian without interpretation, those who do not understand Russian felt a bit uneasy (in fact, I did not know until the opening day of the conference, or more accurately, until the first word was spoken by a presenter in Russian, that the conference had two official languages).
The conference was composed in the following way: panels 1 to 5 were held on the first day, and the remaining panels on the second. As can be clearly seen from the conference title and theme, many of the participating scholars were experts on Central and East Europe and the Eurasia region, and a majority of the panels were based on that premise. Since my area of expertise is contemporary politics in Northern Europe, the North Atlantic and the maritime region around the North Pole (mainly, Denmark and Greenland), I was a little concerned about how well I would be able to understand research on the above regions. But thanks to the fact that the conference program and presentation handouts were distributed in advance, I was able to participate in the panel discussions better than I had imagined. Among the presentations, there were those that were based on ambitious theories and wording intended to challenge the so called "common sense" thinking in academia, so I was able to learn a lot in terms of what to pay attention to and how to develop a novel argument.
On the other hand, there were several things that I found troubling. First, I shall address the question of time management involving the presenters, discussants and comments from the floor. Then I shall proceed to the problem of the lack of a research framework. Regarding the first issue , time management means the ability to control one's statements in accordance with the prescribed time and conduct a debate while keeping in mind the framework of the presenter's research. However, instances could be seen when time management utterly collapsed, especially during the question and answer sessions involving some of the presenters and the floor audience. Even after having allowed for the national mentality (?), ethnic penchant (?) and the personal propensity of the speaker (?) for argumentativeness, I still found it somewhat tiring to listen to 10 to15-minute-long comments during the Q and A session. It is possible that the time management problem has origins in the lack of a research framework, which I shall take up next. Since I did not participate in all the panels, I cannot put them all in the same basket, and also, it would be incorrect to make sweeping remarks while ignoring the specific rules for each discipline. Nonetheless, I have to say that during the conference I encountered several presentations in which the research framework (the organizing tool) was not set out (or indicated). By this I refer to those presentations which did not indicate "how, while referring to the already established thinking, a phenomenon that cannot be analyzed within such an established framework, should be approached" (Tatsumi Okabe). I had the impression that in such presentations it was not at all clear why this or that problem was being discussed. As a consequence, it was difficult to achieve an orderly understanding of what and under what conditions the presenter was thinking, and what point he was trying to make. This was one of the factors that made the main points of the argument unclear and caused arguments to continue without any imposed limit (and, therefore, become very long).
Finally, I would like to briefly touch on the panel in which I participated and on the content of my presentation. I took part in panel 8: "Northern, Central and Eastern Europe: Macro-regional and Comparative Approaches." This panel consisted of a chairperson, a discussant and four presenters, with the presenters other than me being experts on central and Eastern Europe. There were hardly any thematic or methodological connections between the presenters, so one could not deny the feeling that the panel was something of a medley. This, I thought, was the weakness of a panel formed after papers were received, instead of first deciding on the panel topic and then sending out a call for papers. However, despite that, each presenter received keen insights from the chairperson based on the papers submitted before the conference, and thanks to the appropriate summary of the main points of the presentations by the discussant; we had a smooth Q and A session. Therefore, if we assume that the panel achieved some success (or at least, that it did not end in failure), then, that is thanks to these two persons.
As the last presenter in the panel, under the title "The EU Regulatory Empire and Whale Protection Regulation," I argued about whaling and whale protection involving the European union (EU), the EU member state Denmark and the Danish autonomous region of Greenland; an area that enjoys the right to Aboriginal/Indigenous Subsistence Whaling (A/ISW) recognized by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The focus of my argument was on the EU's "normative power" which has been pointed out in previous research by Ian Manners and others as one of the forms of the EU's influence on areas outside of its borders. In presenting my argument, since the key aspect of the conference theme was "the image of the region," I was careful to stay in line with the theme in terms of the contents, and, because I was making a presentation on a case study about Northern Europe in India, I strived to steer clear of minor issues and argue within a broad context as much as possible. In my presentation I attempted to shed light on the EU's governing influence by taking up the case in which the EU member states, acting as a "one/single block," refused Greenland's A/ISW-based request regarding the catch quota of humpback whales at the IWC annual meeting held after the EU formulated its whale protection standards at an earlier meeting of its environment ministers in June 2008 (while, at the same time, indicating that it would not oppose to A/ISW). In doing so, I chose to invoke the notion of "regulatory empire" (proposed by Kazuto Suzuki) as a conceptual tool for explaining the EU's influence. To put it clearly, the term "regulatory empire" here denotes an agent who, like the EU, exercises influence on external (and, consequently, internal) political communities without physical coercion by forming norms that contain "universal values" while using the capacity of its economic market as leverage.
So, what insights can we gain by looking at whaling and whale protection involving the EU from through the conceptual prism of regulatory empire? As shown by the EU standards regarding whale protection, which include no opposition to A/ISW, we notice the EU's stance as a governing body that is to strengthen its commitment to whale protection within its borders and throughout the world by, in a sense, moderately exercising its influence as a governing body while still recognizing the principle of self-determination. However, in this presentation I did not endeavor only to argue about whales and whale protection, but also wanted to compare the EU with India where the economic growth is remarkable, while taking into account economic and political globalization. Therefore, whilst emphasizing that the EU's influence is not gained through the use of power, it also cannot be fully explained by the argument that focuses on the functionality of the international order and states that the regulated side agrees to follow the imposed norms out of its own interest, during my presentation I strived to apply the above insights to the Indian context. This attempt may not have been completely successful, but I believe that to a certain extent, I managed to present my views clearly.
Furthermore, during the Q and A that followed my presentation, I was asked about whether there was any positive benefit in examining the whaling and whale protection issue from a political standpoint. There were suggestions from the floor participants that the problem might be addressed better as a cultural issue between Denmark and Greenland. To this question, I answered by explaining the purpose (scope and confines) of my presentation, i.e., that the main object of interest in my presentation was EU and that the focus was on how EU politicalize such problems that may relate to a cultural aspect.
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