In the third round of dialogue between experts in the field of Taiwan studies, the Secretary-General of the European Association of Taiwan Studies proposes yet more alternatives to ensure the viability and future growth of this specialized corner of academia.
In their respective articles published on Oct. 24 and Nov. 6 in Taiwan Sentinel, Dafydd Fell and Gunter Schubert share their experiences of building up Taiwan studies in Europe. They also discuss the challenges of developing Taiwan studies outside Taiwan and offer their advice on how to further secure the “Golden Age” of the field.
Fell compares 20 or so Taiwan studies programs/centers in North America and Europe. He points out that the common pitfalls they have encountered are: (1) short-term funding from Taiwan; and (2) limited market for Taiwan studies degrees. Hence Fell believes that the key ingredients for continued success will be securing long-term funding, moving toward self-sufficiency, and ensuring that the quality of Taiwan courses is higher than that of courses which cover larger countries or whole regions. He also mentions that American universities have been more successful than their European counterparts in obtaining large private donations to establish endowed chair positions. In other words, Fell implies that private funding may be a potential avenue to be explored by European Taiwan studies institutions in the future.
Missed the first two rounds?
While Fell focuses on fixing problems for existing Taiwan studies programs/centers across the Atlantic, Schubert goes one step further by attempting to remedy the fundamental structural weakness to solidify the field abroad, namely faculty institutionalization. “Taiwan scholars,” Schubert writes, “have not been recruited as Taiwan scholars by their respective university departments, and in many cases they have not been recruited as regular faculty at all.”
Schubert’s suggestions are threefold: (1) he calls for the commitment of European university authorities to invest in faculty positions so that the study of Taiwan becomes an integral part of the education universities offer; (2) he calls for the European Association of Taiwan Studies (EATS) to trigger a public debate on further institutionalizing Taiwan studies; and (3) he calls for a new approach to third-party funding of Taiwan studies by learning from the Korean Foundation model.
I generally agree with both authors’ positions, but we should remember that there are more varied institutions and dimensions than Western universities within Taiwan studies. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to comment on situations outside Europe. However, since both Fell and Schubert refer to EATS and the forthcoming International Journal of Taiwan Studies (IJTS), I wish to make a more specific response from the perspectives of EATS and IJTS and embrace a vision of diversity and champion innovative strategies for the long-term growth of the field.
First, how to create and institutionalize Taiwan studies faculty positions in European and North American universities? As Fell and Schubert have both admitted, it is not easy at all. In the inaugural issue of IJTS, to be published in March 2018, the journal will run two forums to offer food for thought. Schubert leads one of the forum discussions by advocating closer interactions between the Taiwan studies field and the China studies field while maintaining each other’s academic autonomy. According to Schubert, this will make Taiwan a much better “sell” to Chinese departments, deans of faculty and university presidents in Europe and help firmly entrench the study of Taiwan in Western universities. Another forum debate, this one led by Shih Shu-mei of UCLA, argues for a new method — “relational comparison” — for Taiwan studies. By situating Taiwan beyond the traditional area studies model and into multiple interdisciplinary fields, Shih explains how the conceptual frameworks can be constructed and how this could help break the ghettoization of Taiwan studies to rediscover its place in an interconnected world. She believes this approach has far-reaching implications for what it means to do Taiwan studies in Western academia, not only in terms of research content but also the potential for securing academic positions.
IJTS has invited several discussants from different disciplinary and geographical backgrounds to comment on the two forum statements in order to provide readers with a slightly wider range of views. While the benefits of both strategies for developing Taiwan studies are subject to debate, it is noteworthy that the two proposals are not mutually exclusive but may work separately, in parallel, or in tandem. Thus, it becomes clear that there are more options than one may initially imagine for the field’s further expansion, provided that we consider Taiwan studies not as a narrowly defined “study” of “Taiwan as such,” but instead the by focusing on the relevance of Taiwan, and hence the relevance of Taiwan studies to broader intellectual and historical questions, as Chiu Kuei-fen of National Chung Hsing University argues. This robust discussion testifies to the promising potential of the field.
Second, how could EATS contribute to the institutionalization of Taiwan studies? Since its establishment in London in 2004, EATS has been devoted to the promotion of Taiwan studies and research in Europe. The Association was (and some may argue that it still is) a loose collection of individuals until it registered in Germany as a public and non-profit organization in 2010 with a written Constitution and a management structure to facilitate its operations. A series of conscious efforts to institutionalize EATS have taken place since 2012. Even though the process is still ongoing, after several years of systematic evolution and consolidation, a more institutionalized EATS finally enables a smoother transition of institutional knowledge and practices when the composition of elected Board members changes every two years, as stipulated by its Constitution.
Moreover, institutionalization has made the management of the Association more efficient and enhanced the capacity of the EATS Board to (1) improve its organization of annual conferences in Europe, which remains the single most important function of the Association; (2) play a bigger role in nurturing the younger generations of Taiwan scholars by organizing MA panels, providing Library Research Grants, and hosting an annual Young Scholar Award competition; (3) offer members better access to archival resources based on past EATS conventions and subsequent publications as a result of these conferences; (4) strengthen communications between EATS and the global Taiwan studies community by setting up a more effective website, Facebook page, and mailing lists, as well as publishing/disseminating a newsletter twice a year; (5) forge deeper interactions with Taiwan studies organizations all over the world where feasible; and (6) encourage quality research publications by organizing book launches at EATS annual conferences, promoting edited volumes and/or special issues of journals as a result of EATS conferences whenever possible, and actively supporting the launch of IJTS.
In addition to the Taiwan “big five” … ideally other complementary funding streams should be explored, such as private and corporate donations, match funding from universities, and international research grants from a whole host of international funding agencies.
I am uncertain whether or not EATS should — and if so, how to — act as a political agent to trigger public debate on institutionalizing Taiwan studies in university faculties, as Schubert suggested. EATS has its constitutional and structural constraints, and its own challenges for future sustainability charts a different kind of institutionalization path from that of universities. I envisage that the future of EATS lies in its membership. If EATS wishes to become a financially self-reliant organization one day, it needs to continue growing its membership steadily so that ultimately the annual membership fees are sufficient to sustain all its functions and activities. In this way, EATS will serve Taiwan studies well by serving its members well. Meanwhile, I also believe in further cooperation between EATS, the North American Taiwan Studies Association (NATSA), the Japanese Association of Taiwan Studies (JATS), and the World Congress of Taiwan Studies (WCTS). After all, solidifying and institutionalizing Taiwan studies as a field must be a joint global effort.
Finally, regarding funding for Taiwan studies, my knowledge of the South Korean model is too insufficient to evaluate its appropriateness. More detailed analysis would definitely be appreciated. Nevertheless, in addition to the Taiwan “big five” mentioned by Fell and Schubert — the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education and Culture, the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation of International Scholarly Exchange, and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy — ideally other complementary funding streams should be explored, such as private and corporate donations, match funding from universities, and international research grants from a whole host of international funding agencies.
In my capacity as Secretary-General of EATS since 2012, my colleagues at the EATS Board and I have worked tirelessly to realize many of our plans for EATS as stated above. As I will be stepping down from my position in 2018, if there is any regret for unfinished business, it is that we have not yet been able to facilitate joint research collaboration between EATS members and relevant institutions to bid for large-scale international research funding. I hope this is what EATS will strive to achieve during its next phase of development. In our pursuit to establish Taiwan studies as a sustainable and diverse field, we must learn to build mutually supportive international communities along the way.