The world of academic conferences is, I imagine, an esoteric one. Though they are incubators of new ideas, relatively few people ever attend them. They don’t have nearly the cultural reach of something like, say, a sporting event. So even though I’m a student at an elite university, this past weekend was kind of like a foray into an arena for me (academics tend to be competitive in conversation). I was fortunate enough to dip my toe into the water by presenting a paper at the New York Conference on Asian Studies.
First of all, my parents were both presenting papers at the same conference (my mom on John Service, my dad on China-Nigeria relations), which made it a bit of a different experience from what I imagine the norm to be. At least I always had my mom and dad to talk to at dinner and in between panel presentations–the rest of the conference, from what I could see, involved a lot of awkward milling swarms of academics. (I’m joking, sort of. I imagine that if you didn’t know anyone the whole thing would’ve been painfully awkward at first. But I did get to meet a lot of great and very interesting people, especially in my panel).
I was part of a panel on Asian film and culture in Hollywood and Chinese cinema, so the other three presentations in my panel were pretty varied and covered cross-dressing, adaptations of ancient Chinese tales, the modern postfeminist narrative in contemporary Chinese cinema, and 1930s/40s intersections between Hollywood and the East (me). The great thing about this conference was that it was comprised of such a wide range of disciplines–there were political scientists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, humanities professors. In other words, it was a huge mishmash of nerds in the best possible way, which made for some really illuminating discussions.
I sat in on a few other panels to hear the scholars present their work. Topics included anthropological case studies of nouveau-riche Chinese businessmen’s “mistress”-keeping culture in Chengdu, North Korea-China diplomatic relations (given by a professor who came all the way from South Korea!), the phenomenon of intra-party elections in China, and others.
All in all, the best thing about the conference was feeling a part of this gathering of minds, which produced the most incredible scholarly energy (occasional awkwardness notwithstanding) and also gave me a feel for the shape of the current interests of each field. Can’t wait for the next one!