Development Beyond Economic Growth: Societal Challenges in Contemporary Asia (Working Group “Global Asia”)

The emergence of Asia as one of the most dynamic and expanding economies in the world has been a defining feature of the latter part of the 20thcentury and of the beginning of the 21st. This process has promoted, on the one hand, radical changes in global power relations and, on the other hand, an equally radical reduction in global poverty. At the same time, the emergence of Asia as an economic force to be reckoned with has also brought about immense societal challenges across and beyond Asia. These challenges include, but are not limited to, new threats to human security as well as more visible political and social inequalities. The Working Group on Global Asia aims at exploring these issues.

To explore these societal challenges and their implications for the Asian region at large, we are organizing the following three panels:

1) Human security in Asia

Large parts of Asia have become more peaceful over the course of the last few decades. This is often attributed to globalization and interdependence, to a priority shift among political leaders towards economic growth, and to the increased trade between countries in the region. Looking at the region more closely, however, we also see tendencies that seem to threaten human security. Domestic peace is sometimes upheld by repression of opposition. At the same time, the emergence of forms of religious and political radicalism, both within and across states, impinges upon the coexistence between different communities. It represents a factor of disruption for domestic political institution and for regional geopolitics. Whether or not you lead a secure life in today’s Asia still depends on where you are and who you are. Human security implies the protection of fundamental freedoms and the prevention of critical threats. These include economic, political, health, environment-related threats to people’s security.

Within this broad topic we are inviting contributions that specifically address, among others, the following themes:

  • The East Asian Peace: Peace for whom? At what cost?
  • Cross-border tensionsand radicalism in South Asia: What are the emerging and historical forms of political and religious radicalism in South Asia? What instances of resistance to radicalism have been produced? What is their influence on diasporic communities beyond South Asian borders?

2. Social and political inequalities in Asia

The rise of Asia has also brought about – as in most of the world – rising income inequalities. Crucially, in a continent with an extremely high degree of diversity, income and wealth inequalities reinforce and build upon social and cultural inequalities – along gender or ethnic lines, for example. This constitutes, in the medium term, a serious threat to the stability of many Asian countries and an equally serious developmental challenge.

How are Asian countries responding to this challenge and with what results? To what extent is electoral integrity protected and respected in the region? Are development policies contributing to rewriting power relations on which inequalities are built, or are they rather reinforcing them? How are Asia’s civil societies responding to rising economic and social inequalities?

Within this broad topic we are inviting contributions that specifically address, among others, the following themes:

  • Electoral integrity in Asia
  • The non-economic impact of development policies and state employment programmes (such as the NREGA in India)
  • The role of social movements in addressing social and political inequalities

3. Development Challenges in Myanmar

We would like to devote specific attention to an Asian country that is facing enormous contemporary challenges for development: Myanmar. The topics above can all be explored in the context of this country. Although Myanmar is not involved in international armed conflicts, there is an ongoing internal armed conflict between different ethnic groups. Peace-building is rendered more difficult because women are not invited to peace talks, and not all ethnic groups have signed the peace agreement. Myanmar is also a country which has a long history of state repression, and this legacy needs to be dealt with following the democratic elections in 2015 that brought a new regime to power. As a result of the political liberalization in Myanmar, the influx of donor funds and the presence of aid organizations have multiplied. We would therefore also relate these challenges to practical development issues of external expertise and local involvement, coordination between organizations and the need for capacity-building.

We invite all kinds of papers that tackle the development challenges facing contemporary Myanmar, including, but not limited to:

  • The inclusiveness of peace-building processes in Myanmar
  • The quality of the 2015 election and the subsequent political challenges
  • The role of civil society and social movements in Myanmar
  • Practical development challenges for aid organizations and donors


Elisabetta Basile, Elin Bjarnegård, Christine Lutringer and Diego Maiorano