Mahidol University International College, Thailand, and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, are jointly organising a conference with the theme, “Defining Harmony in Southeast Asia: Competing discourses, challenges and interpretations”. It will be held in Bangkok from 29 November – 1 December 2007. Abstracts are due on 31 June 2007.

The conference announcement “invites scholars from various disciplines to contribute to our understanding of harmony as a contested discourse, constructed and negotiated in the Southeast Asian region”.

The full announcement is certainly worth a read if you hope to gain some insight into the framework that shapes the conference agenda. They want to know “how can state harmony, a seemingly internal condition, be maintained in the face of neo-liberalism, regionalisation and globalization movements”.

According to the organisers, “Thailand celebrated in 2006 the 60th anniversary of H.M. King Rama IX ascendance to the throne, which in the Thai context represents and symbolizes harmony for the kingdom in the globalizing, changing world”.

One has to wonder just how deep the analysis of “contested discourse” will be when the host’s “Thai context” is given this predictable royal gloss. Are there questions about Thailand’s harmony (and “dis-harmony”) that are already off the agenda? Is that whole point of “harmony” discourse and its study? Or, to cut to the chase, can a “symbol of harmony” be the subject of critical academic enquiry at this kind of conference?

The announcement’s stated approach will not surprise New Mandala readers who have followed the debate about the International Conference of Thai Studies that will be held in Bangkok in December. Of course, your thoughts and ideas about this Mahidol conference are very welcome here. Any New Mandala readers who do submit abstracts are also welcome to post them if you feel they deserve a wider audience.