In April 2019, the AAS officers composed a survey regarding the AAS-in-Asia conferences as a way to measure member attitudes toward the continuation of these meetings. The survey was sent on April 24 via email blast to all AAS members who have opted in to member communications (6,001 recipients), with a reminder message on May 1. By the time the survey ended on May 6, 517 AAS members had completed it. All responses were anonymous.
Overall, the survey results indicate that AAS members favor continuing the AAS-in-Asia conferences, but with some caveats and suggestions for how the association might handle the meetings differently in the future.
Strikingly, 70 percent (367) of the survey respondents indicated that they had never attended an AAS-in-Asia conference. When asked why not, 335 people filled in a free-response answer; of those replies, an even more striking 175 (52 percent) indicated that the cost of attending the conference and/or lack of institutional financial support had been barriers to their attendance. This is an important data point for the association to have, and something that the AAS Board of Directors and Secretariat will consider carefully as conference plans are made in the future.
While most survey respondents lacked direct contact with an AAS-in-Asia conference, a sound majority of them indicated that they think the AAS should continue holding the meetings: nearly 81 percent answered affirmatively when asked whether or not, despite potential political problems in some conference locations, AAS-in-Asia should continue (Figure 1).
In the comment section below that question, many respondents took the opportunity to express concern with how the association handled the 2018 AAS-in-Asia conference in New Delhi. The AAS leadership recognizes the importance of transparency and communication with its membership and, as expressed by the four officers during the AAS-in-Asia town hall held in Denver, has learned important lessons from the Delhi conference.
Many other respondents commented how much they appreciate the opportunity to attend an AAS conference closer to home (for those based in Asia) and to develop new connections with colleagues whom they might not otherwise meet. AAS-in-Asia, one respondent wrote, “should serve as a platform for building transnational and transregional research connections within the field of Asian Studies.” This is, indeed, the goal of the gatherings.
However, the state of academic freedom in host countries was an issue about which many respondents also expressed strong concern. A majority (57 percent) supported a proposal that the AAS issue a summary of the academic climate in host countries in advance of each conference. This has already been done for Thailand ahead of next week’s AAS-in-Asia meeting, and the AAS leadership will continue to compose such posts in the future.
The Board of Directors has discussed several times whether or not AAS-in-Asia should continue on an annual basis and currently favors moving to a biennial conference after the planned 2020 meeting in Hong Kong. A majority (Figure 2) of survey respondents shares this line of thinking, with a small number proposing that it be held every third year.
Finally, survey respondents were invited to suggest potential future locations for AAS-in-Asia meetings. Recommendations covered sites across Asia and beyond (plus a few requests for an AAS-in-Asia cruise), and the AAS leadership will follow up on as many ideas as possible. Finding a local partner is the first step in organizing each conference; the association appreciates support from the membership in facilitating the necessary connections with institutions in Asia.
Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to complete the survey and write extensive, thoughtful comments—your input is important as the AAS Board of Directors looks ahead.
Read next: AAS President Prasenjit Duara discusses these survey results and the future of AAS-in-Asia in his President’s Column at #AsiaNow.