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  • POSITIONS, Special Issue; “New Formations, New Questions: Asian American Studies
  • Kamala Visweswaran
POSITIONS, Special Issue; “New Formations, New Questions: Asian American Studies.” Edited by Elaine Kim and Lisa Lowe. Durham: Duke University, 1997.

The journal Positions was founded in 1993 with the objective of providing “a new forum of debate for all concerned with the social, intellectual, and political events unfolding in East Asia and within the Asian diaspora.” Its mission statement identified intensifying global flows of labor and capital in the late 20th century as central concerns, and asked its readers to reflect on how these transformations might recast priorities in scholarship, teaching, and criticism. It is therefore in keeping with the intellectual tradition already established by the journal, that a special edition on “New Formations, New Questions: Asian American Studies” explores emerging relationships between Asian and Asian American studies. [End Page 308]

Positions, over the last few years, has published groundbreaking articles on questions of colonialism and modernity in East Asia, and explored the distinct perspectives post-structuralist and postcolonial theory might bring to area studies. This issue of the journal asks what ethnic studies might bring to area studies, and conversely establishes the importance of linking ethnic studies to critical area studies, or more particularly, of linking the contradictory, but mutually constitutive relations between Asians and Asian Americans.

Guest editors Elaine Kim and Lisa Lowe make it clear that such a relationship must account for “the long history of dissymmetry between the fields...the differences in their institutional locations, and the large gaps between the subjects and knowledges posited by each field” (viii). Yet they also establish the necessity of forging such a relationship. They remind us that Asian Americans are formed simultaneously within U.S. national and global frameworks. The return of (Filipino, Vietnamese, and Korean) immigrants to the imperial center means that their racialization under terms of the U.S nation-state can’t be understood without understanding histories of colonialism and capitalist development in Asia. Such an approach disrupts the master narrative of becoming a national citizen for Asian American subjects, and productively recasts the relationship of Asian American studies with American studies.

This special issue of Positions is, therefore, a timely and important collection of essays that significantly contributes to, and expands upon national discussions about the shape of Asian American studies east of California, reflected in other edited collections over the last decade: Gary Okihiro’s Reflections on Shattered Windows: Promises and Prospects for Asian American Studies (1988), Shirley Hune’s (1990) Asian Americans; Comparative and Global Perspectives, and Robert Lee and Lihbin Shao’s (1994) Building Blocks for Asian American Studies: Proceedings of the 1992 East Of California Asian American Studies Conference. Thus, Kim and Lowe tie the emergence of theoretical “new formations” in Asian American studies to “new immigrations”— by which is meant not only the inclusion of more recent post-1965 immigrant groups such as Koreans, Indians, and Vietnamese, but the multiple, back and forth migrations of such groups resulting from U.S imperial and economic policies.

They identify and enumerate four major pressures (ix) that shape the questions to be posed as part of these new formations:

  1. 1. the ‘post-Fordist’ restructuring of global capitalism that employs ‘mixed production’ and ‘flexible accumulation’ and permits the exploitations of Asian workers both in Asia and the United States; [End Page 309]

  2. 2. the changed demography of the Asian American population as a result of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which increased and diversified Filipino, Korean, Southeast Asian, and South Asian communities in the United States;

  3. 3. the colonial and neocolonial role of the United States in the Asian states from which these new Asian American communities emigrate; and

  4. 4. the failure of citizenship and civil rights to guarantee equality of opportunity and resources to poor, racialized and gendered communities in the United States.

Editors Kim and Lowe have done an excellent job of laying out the parameters of this new relationship by including articles that address the politics and dynamics of the new immigration. Essays by Peter Kiang and Anuradha Advani reaffirm the field’s historic focus on community studies by examining relationships between community groups...

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pp. 308-311
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