Then we were ten


10by10-1My biggest thrill when we first started the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) was having close conversations with people who were similarly interested in the intersections of Asian diaspora, racialisation, politics, society, and culture.

This was a rare thing for a PhD student who spent most of her time wandering the halls of a very good, very White English Department.

The close conversations I mention above were not about potential research and publication projects. They were for venting, co-ranting, creating, and dreaming of transformed or new ways of being Asian in Australia. It was about the constant challenge of finding and making space for ourselves in a nation that is very good at dismissing and denigrating groups that don’t align neatly with its dominant discourses. This holds for our various relationships and roles on an individual, everyday basis; it also holds for the positioning of racial minorities in Australia more generally.

These close conversations, ten years later, are still my biggest thrill. And now I have them with colleagues with whom I’ve shifted through exciting phases of life change and career progression over the last decade or so. The ability to move through my political and intellectual life with fellow travellers who get why we continue on these often rocky, steep roads keeps my heart whole.

I don’t often talk about my heart because I’m busy being an academic much of the time. We’re not meant to be driven by emotion or to take partisan views in our work. But, I would ask, where do people think the drive to change the world comes from? Many people are drawn to research and critical intellectual life because they want to see change and be a part of that change if possible. This kind of drive doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It comes from having a heart, feeling the need to challenge the status quo, and to keep doing it in the face of marginalisation, resistance, or active disavowal.

My professional and political life have been invaluably stimulated and nourished by the generous, smart, savvy, and determined colleagues and friends in the AASRN, near and far. Managing a network that aims to be inclusive of academic, creative, and community voices can be a huge ask, especially when the network has operated for most of its life without a budget. I’ve written about how the AASRN works primarily as a digital network of scholars, creative practitioners, and community workers, and how this engenders a range of outcomes (Lupton, Mewburn, and Thomson, forthcoming 2017).

Happy snap from the AASRN's 4th conference: AAI 4 conference (11 Nov 2011): L to R - Chris Lee (U of British Columbia, Canada), Christine Kim (Simon Fraser U, Canada), Adrian Lee (then UniMelb) and Dean Chan (then U of Wollongong).
Happy snap from the AASRN’s 4th conference: AAI 4 conference (11 Nov 2011): L to R – Chris Lee (U of British Columbia, Canada), Christine Kim (Simon Fraser U, Canada), Adrian Lee (then UniMelb) and Dean Chan (then U of Wollongong). Photo by Tseen Khoo.

It has been ten years for AASRN as a formal network, and about sixteen years since we started coalescing as a critical scholarly group. I’m the first to admit that I’ve often thought of stepping back from it all. But here I still am, in many ways more driven than ever to ensure that Asian Australian voices become part of larger public conversations about Australian society.

Creating platforms, opportunities, and – most importantly – momentum for diverse Asian Australian critical thinkers has been, and will remain, one of AASRN’s key foci.

In soliciting personal reflections from various members for this special ’10 x 10′ special section of Peril, I wanted to achieve several objectives.

The first was to demonstrate the geographical influence of diasporic Asian studies, sometimes across unexpected areas and through scholars’ highly varied career trajectories and disciplinary perspectives. To this end, ’10 x 10′ has contributions from academic members in the US (Anita Mannur), Denmark (Lars Jensen), Canada (Chris Lee), and Spain (Catalina Ribas Segura). It also includes an insightful personal tribute to the influence of the late Professor Don Nakanishi on Asian Australian Studies by Jen Tsen Kwok.

Mayu Kanamori sharing a moment with William Yang at the 2nd AASRN conference in 2007. Photo courtesy of Mayu Kanamori - all rights reserved.
Mayu Kanamori sharing a moment with William Yang at the 2nd AASRN conference in 2007. Photo courtesy of Mayu Kanamori – all rights reserved –

The second was to give space to AASRN members who came from different  creative and community perspectives, and who experience Asian Australian Studies in contrasting ways. They are often collaborators who recognise the value of research into our common areas of interest, and who also challenge scholars to remain connected and relevant to their varied communities. Annette Shun Wah and Mayu Kanamori are both long-time allies and advocates in the AASRN, and it is a privilege to include them in this special section. Their inspiring and indefatigable work has enabled many politically astute initiatives in Asian Australian creative fields.

My third objective was to hear from Asian Australian Studies scholars who are in different places in their scholarly careers, to include their perspectives on what kind of work a research network might do and where it sits in their view of being an academic. I’m very pleased that we’re able to include the voices of Audrey Yue (recently appointed Director of the Research Unit in Public Cultures, University of Melbourne), Indigo Willing (Sociology scholar and founder of the Asian Australian Film Forum Network), and Roanna Gonsalves (writer/academic and founding collective member of Southern Crossings).

One of the very best things about the ’10 x 10′ project has been the fact that it’s here in Peril, an excellent source of Asian Australian creative intellectual talent and a stimulating archive of the breadth of sociocultural issues relevant to Asian Australian communities. I was a founding editorial advisor here, and the AASRN has continued to have an enduring, mutually admiring relationship with the magazine, its subsequent editors, and many of its contributors. It’s a decade-long love-in. Long may it continue!

Author: Tseen Khoo

Tseen Khoo is a Peril founding editorial advisor, and is the founding convenor of the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN: Her academic work focuses on diasporic Asian cultures and communities, and she is currently working as a lecturer in research education and development. Tseen is very much on Twitter ( and blogs at The Banana Lounge (

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