Accelerating globalization has ironically intensified regional connections and interdependencies as much in relation to capital, people and culture as to shared regional resources or ‘commons’ – water, air, microbes, security risks, etc. This talk seeks to address how the recent emergence of regionalism in the world can be turned into a way of addressing the challenge of sustainability rather than contributing to the creation of an unsustainable planet. Moreover, it also urges that area studies rethink its paradigm by reflecting upon history and society from the present imperatives of regional connections. This cannot be at the expense of national or local processes; but Duara believes that we can better understand these processes by viewing them from the perspective of regional and global commons.
Historically the region known as Asia had no strict boundaries; but it was densely interconnected by networks of trade and religion. As such the ‘network region’ was and is once again very different from a more holistic or integrative understanding of regions in the world. These informal networks had profound implications on the relationship between culture and society across the region. Today, there is an emerging consensus that continuing our pursuit of existing modes of production, consumption and the political economic arrangements underpinning them will endanger planetary sustainability sooner than we realize. Duara seeks to demonstrate how the intersecting networks of political, cultural and civil society organizations across these societies—particularly around ASEAN – can provide an alternate framework to rethink the future of the historical region from the perspective of sustainable modernity.