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The Silk Road: Crafting global futures, global pasts

Kyoto, Japan
Organisation: The International Institute for Asian Studies
The Silk Road has emerged as one of the key geocultural and geostrategic concepts of the 21st century. Built around narratives of maritime and overland trade and exchange connecting Asia with Africa and Europe, Silk Road discourses are rewriting histories, remapping futures. In the age of Belt and Road, they now operate as platforms for international trade, diplomacy, infrastructure development and statecraft.
The ascendancy of the Silk Road in international affairs means it is also fast gaining currency across academic disciplines, migrating outwards from Archaeology, Asian Studies and History into International Relations, Political Geography, Religious Studies, Public Health and Urban Studies, to name a few. Such developments raise important questions about how to interrogate and locate the Silk Roads, conceptually and empirically.
In China’s worldview the Silk Roads serve as both ‘shared heritage’ and ‘shared destiny’. So what does the idea of ‘reviving’ them for the 21st century tell us about global futures? How are we to read the Health Silk Road as a platform for COVID-19 medical cooperation across Asia and beyond? What’s really at stake in the Digital Silk Roads? And is the push for Silk Road narratives finally putting Asia at the centre of global history?
In exploring such themes, this panel takes the Silk Road as a topic of critical investigation. It addresses the urgent need to take Silk Road discourses seriously, interrogating the work they do crafting both pasts and futures around certain themes, ideologies and structural relations.