Press news

Launching the political future of China
from Press News, posted 04/19/2011 - 11:31

Academic book launches come in all shapes and sizes but four types are common: the public launch often held in a bookshop; the conference launch often squeezed desperately into a coffee or lunch break and forced to compete with conference-goers’ desire to network and generally make a noise; the after-work launch often laced with wine and barely disguised collegial rivalries; and the formal scholarly launch, often couched in the form of a seminar.

The recent launching of Mikael Mattlin’s new book, Politicized Society: The Long Shadow of Taiwan’s One-Party Legacy (recently published by NIAS Press), was just such a formal scholarly launch. Held at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) in Helsinki, the seminar addressed the “Transformation of a one-party system: What the Taiwan case tells about the political future of China”. Here, Dr Mattlin, a research fellow at FIIA, gave a presentation based on his book. This was followed by another presentation by the discussant, Dr Lauri Paltemaa, research fellow at the East-Asia Research Centre at the University of Turku. After the presentations, the audience participated in a discussion moderated by Dr Matti Nojonen of FIIA. Some 35 people attended the seminar.

The seminar examined what similarities and lessons the protracted political transformation of Taiwan could offer when considering different scenarios for Mainland China’s political future. Taiwan’s transition away from one-party rule beginning in 1987 and the societal and institutional changes that followed can be seen as a testing laboratory for what might be ahead in Mainland China if the Chinese Communist Party gradually relaxes its monopolistic hold on power, Dr Mattlin argued.

Dr Paltemaa was especially pleased about the solid groundwork for the book, and the fact that it explored a less researched area of Taiwan’s transition, namely what happens when the political transition formally has been completed. According to Dr Paltemaa, the initial push for transforming a political system is usually prompted by a crisis; in Taiwan it was the foreign policy crisis after the United States changed the course of its China policy towards the People’s Republic. If the leaders of Mainland China some day come to the conclusion that they have to loosen up one-party politics, Dr Paltemaa agreed that they were most likely to follow Taiwan’s path.

Of course, the book is new and review copies are only now being sent out. But down track it will be interesting to see how the book is received – and how much that events on the ground in China match the Taiwanese experience.


No book prize this time
from Press News, posted 04/14/2011 - 22:13

 The huge AAS-ICAS conference in Honolulu is over and the city’s balmy warmth just a fading memory. This was not a year that NIAS Press walked off with one of the book prizes but our old colleague Stein Tønnesson did win the ICAS prize (and we are talking with him seriously about his next project. Time will tell).

Otherwise, it was a busy and successful week in Honolulu with many sessions to sit in on and my own presentation (on coping with rejection) delivered to a gratifyingly large audience. More important perhaps were the potential new authors to court and old authors to catch up with. In total maybe two hours of author interviews were filmed. Expect to see these online in the near future.

Then of course there was a reception, a joint “Hawai‘i” affair involving all the publishers like NIAS exhibiting at the conference and distributed in the Americas by our friends at the University of Hawai‘i Press. Books were shoved aside and an enormous sticky, rich chocolate cake plonked on our stand.

It took forever to eat, thankfully not by me.


High on the reading list
from Press News, posted 03/16/2011 - 11:39

We like to boast that NIAS Press books are available everywhere. They are also found in many places - for instance, Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia was recently spotted at the top of Mount Titlis in Switzerland.



‘Asian Cities’ off to print
from Press News, posted 03/11/2011 - 00:35

 The giant ICAS/AAS conference in Honolulu is approaching fast. One of the new NIAS titles we want to exhibit there is Malcolm McKinnon’s Asian Cities

This is a title where we are splitting the print run, the hardback edition being digitally printed in the UK, the paperback by a traditional offset printer somewhere in Asia.But now things are happening. The hardback went off to the printer late last week and the printer’s proofs for it arrived yesterday.

Thankfully, these proofs looked superb and with great relief I gave the go-ahead for printing. Printed copies will arrive at our UK warehouse within a fortnight, and at our US warehouse soon after.

Be warned, however. Printing the paperback will take much longer, no copies available in Europe until late May. That said, if the print quality is anywhere as good as that which I saw today for the hardback, then the wait will be well worth it.


Pluses and minuses
from Press News, posted 03/07/2011 - 18:19

 Last week I wrote of the frisson of receiving a new book review in the post: shall our morning coffee be sweetened with praise or will the vented spleen of an irritated reviewer make the coffee undrinkable? Today’s coffee was less sweet but it was far from undrinkable.

Writing in the last year’s volume (no. 98) of the Journal of the Siam Society, Patrick Jory dishes out praise and a little criticism of Johan Fischer’s Proper Islamic Consumption:

Of the thousands of scholarly articles and books and academic seminars that have been devoted to the study of Islam in Southeast Asia in recent years, attention has focused mostly on issues concerning religious revivalism, politics, education, history, law, gender, morality, finance and economics, and of course, extremism and terrorism. It is surprising, therefore, that much less attention has been given to the activity that most Southeast Asian Muslims, like their counterparts in other religions, spend an ever-increasing amount of their time doing today: shopping and consuming. It is this activity that is the subject of Johan Fischer’s original study of Islam and consumerism in Malaysia. …

The focus of Fischer’s study is a number of Malay middle-class families living in the suburbs of Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. The anthropology of suburbia in Southeast Asia lags far behind the anthropology of village society, so Fischer’s attention to suburban life in Malaysia is another novel and welcome feature of the book. …

This book intends to make a theoretical contribution to the scholarly literature on consumption in Asia. Some readers will be distracted by the liberal use of theoretical jargon that derives from the outer reaches of cultural studies. A more readable book could indeed have been written shorn of these theoretical excesses. Yet if the reader is willing to plough through occasional paragraphs of admittedly challenging jargon it will be well worth the effort required to gain the many original and important insights that Fischer makes into consumption and religion in Malaysia.

Thanks, Patrick, that is good food for thought. I am almost tempted to add a quip about how properly Islamic it is.


Nice feedback
from Press News, posted 03/01/2011 - 09:37

The arrival of new reviews of NIAS books is an everyday thing, though this doesn’t mean they are boring. There is always the frisson: shall our morning coffee be sweetened with praise or will the vented spleen of an irritated reviewer make the coffee undrinkable?

Every so often, however, we receive a personal communication from someone happy about one of our books. Today was one such day. Responding to Gender Politics in Asia, Dr Anindita Datta of the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, writes:

The book has been of immense relevance to me in my teaching and research. Gender politics in Asia has gone beyond the question of women’s participation in politics to probe deeply the manner in which Asian women subtly and yet quite effectively manoeuvre their way in male dominated societies. What is interesting and of significance is the way the essays bring out the use of traditional gender roles to grant agency in the political sphere. This is a theme I have been pursuing in my ongoing research too and find my points vindicated by the essays in the book. What was immediately appealing to me is the way the essays in the book foreground the diverse cultural contexts within which women negotiate. The editors resist the temptation to find and highlight Asian patterns choosing wisely instead to present the great variety of contexts within which women have been able to effectively strategise and influence power.

A recently added post graduate course that I have introduced in my department touches upon the question of indigenous feminisms, while another M.Phil course on Gender and Development I introduced about five years ago, includes the question of women’s participation in politics. I find the book especially relevant to these sections of the courses and also in my overall project of visibilising Asian feminisms. I heartily recommend the book to everybody researching gender questions in Asia and complement the editors for their insightful handling of the theme.

Well, of course we knew all of this. But it helps to be reminded every so often.


Yet another review of ‘Proper Islamic Consumption’
from Press News, posted 02/22/2011 - 18:14

 Johan Fischer’s Proper Islamic Consumption has attracted an impressive number of book reviews. Here is the latest (very positive) assessment of this innovative study.

‘Fischer’s ethnography is a valuable contribution to the growing literature on middle-class identity formation and the Islamic revival in Southeast Asia. The social insights and clear presentation in Proper Islamic Consumption make this a fitting addition to a graduate or undergraduate course on class and religion in postcolonial Southeast Asia.’ (Claire-Marie Hefner, Emory University, in American Anthropologist, Vol. 113, No. 1, March 2011)

Did I hear the words ‘course adoption’? Every bit helps!



First review received of ‘Submitting to God’
from Press News, posted 02/21/2011 - 12:45

Every NIAS book published is sent to a generous number of academic journals for review (usually about 20). To improve the chances of having the book reviewed, we like to ask first. The result is that we have a better than average ‘hit rate’ for books reviewed.

The problem is, however, that not all journals tell us when they review our books. A case in point is this review of Sylva Frisk’s Submitting to God, which was published in Contemporary Islam late last year but only noticed by us today. Sadly for us, the review also only mentions the US edition of the book (always a problem when one sells co-editions to other publishers).

The reviewer, David Banks, is rather impressed by the study:

“Sylva Frisk’s Submitting to God is an important contribution to the understanding of grassroots women’s Islamic activities in Malaysia. … I strongly recom­mend [it] to readers seeking a humane approach to Islam in Malaysia, a text that is not filled with negative images and addresses real spiritual as well as other social issues.”

There is much, much more in this vein. Go here to read the full review.


Merry Christmas
from Press News, posted 12/23/2010 - 12:29

 I write this early in the morning of December 23rd with snow steadily falling. My immediate future is thus reasonably clear: shovelling snow before breakfast then venturing out into possible transport chaos for a last day of work at the Press this year. At least we are promised a white Christmas, which is a bit of a treat for someone raised where Christmas signalled the start of summer.


The longer term future is less clear, essentially due to the big M word – money.
In financial terms, 2010 has been a mixed year. Last year we prided ourselves on increasing sales in a grim global economic climate where some presses suffered severe drops in income. We were probably a bit too smug because for us the hammer dropped early this year. At one point at its worst, in like-for-like sales we were down massively and only saved somewhat by the slump in value of the euro, which meant that all of our sales income in pounds, dollars and baht was commensurately higher. Later in the year, sales picked up and indeed November was our best month ever for European sales, about four times higher than normal.
We shall thus probably end our financial and calendar year a bit bruised and battered but otherwise in a reasonable condition.
Not by chance, perhaps, our financial low point followed a period when European air transport was paralysed by the volcanic ash cloud swirling down from Iceland. This left me stranded in New Zealand for a while but no doubt it did me some good to have an enforced stay in a very local society whose immediate concern was that the grape harvest should be successful (and the world glut in Sauvignon Blanc wine disappear).
Unfortunately, as is now happening in many countries, in Denmark the initial strategy to spend one’s way out of the economic crisis has given way to a new strategy of public service cuts. These are not as savage as those being implemented in Britain but the cuts in university funding here are worrisome. At one point, it was mooted that an income loss equivalent to 600 jobs was in prospect at Copenhagen University alone.
NIAS has not been immune here and its own deficit has meant that staff savings have had to be made. As a small department of the institute and already lean in its operations, the Press has been especially affected; the retirement and non-replacement of senior editor Leena Höskuldsson is a major blow. Further departures and changes are foreshadowed next year. In all, from 2011, NIAS Press will be operating with much fewer staff based at the institute. If we are to continue publishing at our current level, this will mean that more work must be undertaken externally and funded by new income. It is another matter just how realistic a prospect this is.
Doom and gloom are incompatible with publishing, however. Our business may be cursed by the over-abundance of new products (as opposed to the McDonald’s model in which the same products are produced and sold, day in, day out). But there is a silver lining here; editors especially always have an alluring new title to enthuse about – and to dream impossible dreams of fame and fortune.
And it can happen; there are good reasons why we should be incurable optimists – some new titles are successful.
So it has been for NIAS Press this year. No new title has bombed (which is a relief) but a few titles have done very well and some have surprised me by selling much better than expected. So much so that in the last two months I have been busy shuffling stock around the globe and ordering reprints. This has got almost ridiculous. Indeed, yesterday, I sent four reprint jobs off to the printer.
It is unwise to mention some titles and omit others. However, I can hardly discuss 2010 without mentioning two new titles, not just because they sold well but also because they caused us a lot of angst.
First up has to be Robert Cribb’s Digital Atlas of Indonesian History. This was our first venture into genuinely electronic publishing: not the PDF of a printed book but an interactive, online, bells-and-whistles exploration of Indonesian history combining maps, images and text. The problem with path-breaking works, however, is the jungle in the way. Technically, the atlas was a massive job for a small press to undertake – but this we managed. The agony for us in 2010, however, was to successfully complete a brilliant intellectual work but discover that the packaging material was not up to scratch; copies of the atlas arrived at our warehouses with up to a quarter of the copies in an unsaleable condition (mainly due to cracks in the DVD case). Fixing this problem with a more durable (and elegant) solution took time and it was not until late October that copies of the atlas were available to its impatient but appreciative users in Europe and the Americas.
Our book on the Thai monarchy (Saying the Unsayable, edited by Søren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager) was another headache – not for any technical reasons this time but because of the intensely political nature of the subject. I shall refrain from going into details here and merely observe that for a while now the roller-coaster has been heading one way – upwards – at great speed.
There have been other noteworthy achievements this year, not least completion of digitisation of almost all of the NIAS Press list. Digitising the first three decades of the institute’s publication programme is proving much more troublesome, however – not least tracking down authors, obtaining their blessing for a digital revival of their long-out-of-print works and actually scanning these old publications. I am dubious about the return on investments in time and money here but this is something that we (like most presses) have committed ourselves to doing. Whether or not it is only Google who ultimately benefits is another matter.
On that sombre note I ventured out into the storm. Perhaps that is a good image to remember 2010 by. And 2011? We have much planned for next year but appropriate here is that, in March–April, we shall be exhibiting our latest titles at the massive AAS–ICAS meeting in Honolulu. As such, I hope to remember 2011 as sunlight and sandals, more fun than snow drifts.
However good or bad our year has gone, the good bits would not have been possible without your contribution – be you author, colleague, partner, customer, whatever. That is perhaps as it should be. Ours is a fragile world of delicate interconnections. I love my job for its everyday intellectual stimulation but what makes it especially worthwhile it working with many nice people. Please include yourself in that list.
I don’t believe in the politically correct ‘Happy Holidays’ nor it is appropriate in this weather. Instead, let us bid you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Gerald Jackson
Editor in Chief, NIAS Press


‘Saying the Unsayable’ reviewed in the ‘Bangkok Post’
from Press News, posted 12/13/2010 - 11:36

For some time now there has been a certain amount of froth generated in the blogosphere about a new NIAS book, Saying the Unsayable, edited by Søren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager. What has excited certain commentators is that the volume scrutinizes the image of the modern Thai monarchy as protector of the nation, guardian of tradition and the institution to bring modernity and progress to the Thai people. Even the vexed issue of Thailand’s controversial lése majesté laws is examined in detail.


That said, this is a carefully written book, as is apparent in the first review of the volume to be published – a thoughtful piece by Chris Baker, appearing in today’s edition of the Bangkok Post. An excerpt from this is found on our website but the full review is available here.


Press news

  • Apr. 9 2019



    The Jade Bracelet


    by Mega Vristian


    That year winter in Hong Kong was longer than usual. I had to wear several layers of warm clothing. There was no heater in the apartment where I worked, perhaps because my employer wanted to save on the electricity. The weather should have been warmer, now that Chinese New Year was approaching.

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