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The Asian side of the world

Jean-François Sabouret

Foreword: Réseau Asie (Asia Network), a network of the future

Maurice Aymard

Texte intégral

1September 2005

2Réseau Asie, founded and created under the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (MSH) in June 2001, is now more than four years old. It will hold its second congress at the end of September 2005. This will be a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the initial ambitions of its founders, to evaluate how far it has come and the progress to be made, to clearly assess the difficulties encountered and to reflect on potential, possible or desirable directions in which the Network should take.

3This small group was created in 2001 by Jean-François Sabouret, who brought together Jean-Luc Domenach, Alain Peyraube, and, from the MSH, Jean-Claude Thivolle, Gilles Tarabout, Jean-Luc Racine and myself, starting with a simple mission statement of setting out goals for the Network to attain.

4Its statement highlighted the importance, quality and seniority of French (and, mainly, French-speaking) research on Asia on its dispersion and division. On the one hand, we have numerous researchers, research centres and specialised institutions established in France and Asia, old and very high-level scientific traditions, journals and book collections that are internationally reputed. On the other hand, we have an institutional dispersion and a division between the specialists of different countries or Asian regions. This has clouded the visibility of research, limited the transversal, global or comparative approaches, and also restricted the possibilities of exchange and cooperation between well-known specialists of cultures, religions, languages, societies and political systems, and the non-specialists including lawyers, economists, social scientists, political scientists or historians on Asia. These group of people felt the need to include a continent in their system of reference, which they clearly knew would dominate the first half of the 21st century, and perhaps beyond, due to its economic and demographic weight.

5The goals, which they were aiming for were a result of this statement. It was important to bring together the researchers interested in Asia in a network, making a list as exhaustive as possible, and creating conditions for working together. The purpose of which had to explore new directions of research in a non-competitive attitude that existing institutions in their current practices had not yet been able to do, and to, of course, participate in this with and for the researchers themselves.

6The first stage was centred on creating an online directory of all French and French-speaking researchers (around 1,500 people).

7The second stage was to organise a congress every two years that would consist of workshops based on the proposals received and which would be open to all, particulary, to young researchers.

8The third stage included organising or assisting in the organisation of transversal meetings on common issues, in partnership with other institutions, bringing together scholars working on different Asian countries, or specialists and non-specialists of Asia.

9The fourth stage opened this French-speaking Network to the world, promoting partnerships with similar networks that already exist or that will be set up in neighbouring European countries. Through its historical experience, Europe benefits from a long and rich tradition of Asian studies, which allow it to gather, capitalise and transform this experience in order to face the demands and challenges of the 21st century.

10Finally, th fifth stage consisted of developing the international mobility of scholars, by inviting not only well-known specialists from Asia working in their own countries or in foreign universities, but also, young doctorate and post-doctorate candidates from Asian universities for long (academic) stays in France.

11These five objectives were partially reached, but there is still much left for us to do. The creation of a directory is already well underway. It includes the references of more than 1,300 scholars and it will be directly accessible on the website. The Network’s second congress, two years after the first congress, in September 2003, will be held from 28th to 30th September 2005 at the Centre of International Conferences, and for its final session, in the large EHESS amphitheatre, 105 Boulevard Raspail. It will be open to all and the programme can be consulted on the Network’s website:

12Initial contact was made with Casa Asia in Barcelona and its Director, Ambassador Ion de la Riva and with Professor Carlo G. Cereti of the University of Rome. A wider network is envisaged bringing together scholars from other European countries. The Hermes programme that was launched in 2005, under the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs whose management was entrusted to the MSH, and with the help of the Ministry of Research and CNRS, they will invite fourteen post-doctorates from China, India and Indonesia in autumn 2005, for a period of six months. They will be welcomed into a French research team, be they specialists or non-specialists of Asia. There still remains the task of coming up with initiatives to achieve the third stage: this will be one of the objectives of the next congress.

13Much has already been achieved, given the means that the Network had to begin with, but there is still much to do, considering the size of the task. That which was accomplished was only possible with the close collaboration of the three main forces. From the very beginning, this ambitious project enjoyed the complicity and support of the Network with which it joined forces and enabled the project to proceed. The institutional support of the Ministry of National Education, the Ministry of Research and the Ministry of External Affairs has made it possible to have the staff and the financial means to carry out the work. Finally, it is thanks to Jean-François Sabouret’s relentless dedication, constant enthusiasm and organisation of a small team that the Network has come this far.

14The work of the Réseau Asie meets a growing need. From the beginning, it was welcomed and supported by the MSH whose mission is to provide a framework for such projects, which in order to succeed, require the scientific independence of researchers and total neutrality of the institution that they choose as a framework for their collective work. This means that the Réseau Asie could even one day branch off from the MSH if other institutions prove to be capable of taking over in the same attitude, without necessarily wanting to claim ownership of it.

15The Réseau Asie is everyone’s network and should remain that way. It needs the support of one and all to succeed.

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