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Globalization, the city and civil society in Pacific Asia : [book review] Kusno, Abidin Jun 30, 2010

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Electronic Book Review: Asia General GLOBALIZATION, THE CITY AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN PACIFIC ASIA. Edited by Mike Douglass, K.C. Ho and Giok Ling Ooi. London and New York: Routledge, 2008. xvii, 293 pp. (Tables, figures, maps.) US$150.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-39789-6. In the past two decades, following the “spatial turn” in the social sciences and the humanities, there have been various attempts to show, often in interdisciplinary fashion, how power and space are mutually constitutive. Several important studies have pointed out the powerful forces of the nation–state, the capitalists and behind them the global economy in the shaping of the city. There have also been studies on how members of civil society register their presence in urban spaces via cultures and how they work for and against the interests of the political economy of the city. In the field of Asian studies, the question of space has long been associated with power and authority (under the mandate of tradition and nation–state as well as forces of colonialism and capitalism, among others) leaving the perennial question of whether urban space in Asia could ever be liberated from power and authority. Can there be a democratic space in Asia? What is democratic space for countries in Asia anyway? Globalization, the City and Civil Society in Pacific Asia takes up the challenge of responding to these questions by ways of looking at the role of physical (and virtual) urban space. The book makes a clear statement that to understand the formation of civil society in Asia is to understand the concomitant production of its urban space. No doubt, the book is a timely contribution, especially within the context of what we have recognized, problematically perhaps, as the post-authoritarian Asia. The assumption and the possibility of having a physical space in Asia which could constitute a variety of Habermasian “public sphere” is both intriguing and exciting. The continuing debates on what constitutes and counts as democratic Asia, what form of civil society it takes and what kind of governance it provokes, all return to us with physical space in mind. The key and most engaging question is how liberating the urban space has been in Asia as most of the countries in this region have embraced various kinds of capitalist mode of market economy and the strategy (and legacy) of development based on state authoritarianism. Understandably, almost all the authors in the book refrain themselves from using the term “public space” noting that this term connotes the power of government. Instead, a new vocabulary is used as a theoretical framework that is the “civic space,” referring to a relatively autonomous sphere, a kind of (imagined and real) democratic space critical to both the intervention of the state and economic interests. Civic space is the space of the people, or should we say particular social groups, namely members of the middle class who are seen as capable of forming a critical consciousness in opposition to the colonization of the city by the authoritarian state and the abuse of capitalist economy. What the space and the people have done to each other   23  Pacific Affairs: Volume 83, No. 2 – June 2010 and how successful they are in forming a democratic space are the main stories of the book. The introduction and the chapters collected in this book are an important read. Mike Douglas, K.C. Ho and Giok Ling Ooi, as editors of the book have written theoretically challenging pieces which present an articulate framework for the subsequent empirically rich essays by scholars from various disciplines. Through examples and case studies ranging from the streets of urban China and the peri-urban villages to the Malaysian mosque and pavement in Hanoi and to the “demopolis” of Jakarta, the authors challenge state and society relations by rendering them unstable and creative. The engagement with civic space as the embodiment of the democratic process in Asia means centring attention on the politics of space. It also means addressing the issues of reception, an aspect that has often been overlooked by works on urban studies. The authors identify and qualify spaces that play the role of a civic space, assessing their historical constructions and their potentials for the future. They do not always agree with the general framework provided by the editors (who themselves do not occupy a single position on the issue). Some authors show the evidence of the working civic space in their case studies by showing the insurgency of people claiming rights to the city; others question the assumption of the civic space by showing how it is continuously subjected to (authoritative) regulation at both the national and the local level. The coherency of the theme and the diversity of the cases which include detailed studies of civic spaces of China, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam allow a dialogue that leaves us with a shared political direction or at least moments of political possibility and alternative ways of imagining the production of space in Asia. It is in this spirit that the book is a must read for those working on urbanism in Asia, even though we have to accept the irony that the condition of possibility for the emergence of civic space in Asia is to acknowledge the merit of globalization, in all senses of the word. The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada  Abidin Kusno  UNDERSTANDING EAST ASIA’S ECONOMIC “MIRACLES.” By Zhiqun Zhu. Ann Arbor (MI): Association for Asian Studies, 2009. xviii, 77 pp. (Tables, B&W photos.) US$10.00, paper. ISBN 978-0924304-545. This is the third volume in the Association for Asian Studies’ Key Issues in Asian Studies series, aimed at providing teaching materials for teachers and students at undergraduate institutions and high schools. It packs a great deal of information and analysis into a small package, arguing for the importance of the topic on its own merits, as well as for understanding important issues in East Asia, and for developing countries more broadly.   24  


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