Full picture of the Rim

The Asia-Pacific Profile - Economic Dynamism in the Asia-Pacific - Culture and Society in the Asia-Pacific - Governance in the Asia-Pacific
November 27, 1998

These four volumes (and Asia-Pacific in the New World Order by Anthony McGrew and Christopher Brook, not reviewed here) are textbooks for the Open University's Pacific studies course. Each is able to stand on its own merits, although students using the whole set are aided by cross-referencing. The large format makes for attractive page layouts, with ample room for graphs and diagrams, but it results in rather heavy, bulky volumes. All are illustrated (in black and white), and the quality of reproduction is generally extremely high. The choice of pictures is mainly imaginative, except for the people-pushers stuffing Japanese commuters on to packed trains - a cliched image of "bizarre Asia".

What is meant by "the Asia-Pacific" varies among contributors and the logic of particular topics. Sometimes it is limited to Pacific Asia (East and Southeast Asia); sometimes it includes Oceania, Australasia, Pacific Latin America and/or North America. While the geographical focus of the authors can usually be justified, the great variation between appropriate regions of study for chapters looking at, say, economic governance or religion poses the question of how useful and coherent the Asia-Pacific concept is. Lucie Cheng and Marian Katz, writing on diaspora communities in the Culture and Society volume cite Arif Dirlik's What is in a Rim? (Westview, 1993), but I would welcome more encouragement for students to interrogate the concept.

The Asia-Pacific Profile is a reference work bringing together historical and current maps of everything from anti-colonial rebellions to present-day trade flows; a country-by-country digest giving economic, social and demographic data and documentation for all the countries covered anywhere in the series (including the Russian Far East); this includes the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Association of South East Asian Nations declarations, and documents on the founding of the United Nations, the US-Japanese Security Treaty, the Tonkin Gulf resolution, and the treaty of Waitangi. The statistical information will need regular updating, but given the difficulty of assembling anything approaching the range and quality of the data presented here, this is a good-value addition to any library.

Governance in the Asia-Pacific covers East Asian communism, Southeast Asian state-building, politics and governance in the Japanese and "Anglo" states (North America and Australasia), elite governance, social movements, economic governance, East Asian welfare, environmental politics, the "strong state" and democratisation. I am not convinced of the relevance of the Anglo chapter. Social science and humanities students hardly need a section here on the New Deal when the chapter on East Asian welfare does such a good job of sketching the debates on whether there is an East Asian welfare model and western political and welfare agendas that it hardly seems necessary.

Culture and Society in the Asia-Pacific covers topics such as modernisation, population, ethnicity and language; religion; education; women's movements; Pacific images; and the culture of politics. Anthony van Fossen offers a specific angle on race, ethnicity and language by looking at the effects of labour markets and organisation on the prevalence of discrimination. This is interesting, but other chapters, such as those on religion and on women's movements, are couched much more as wide-ranging introductions to a topic. The best of the contributions introduce students to relevant theoretical debates, but there is a lack of consistency in the level and degree of sophistication of chapters.

Economic Dynamism in the Asia-Pacific covers trade, investment and migration; sources and consequences of growth; financial systems; "economic miracles" and labour markets; the role of the state in economic development; economic integration; multinational corporations; technological innovation and technology transfer; winners and losers in the Asia-Pacific; environment, traditional production and population; regional economic management; and the future of the region's economies. Although most contributions must have been completed relatively early in the year, they manage to take intelligent account of the region's current financial crisis, which will give the volume an edge over more dated competitors. It makes particularly good use of diagrammatic representations. The inclusion of the whole Pacific Rim is probably more justified in this volume than in any of the others, and I think the range and quality of the material makes it a superior offering to any of the competition in the business studies/economics area.

History students may still find they prefer Colin Mackerras's Eastern Asia (Longman, 1995), Milton Osborne's Southeast Asia (Allen and Unwin, 1995) or David Steinberg's In Search of Southeast Asia (University of Hawaii Press, 1987) as handier single-volume introductions that stay on one side of the Pacific, but they, as well as politics students, will find use for the Governance volume. Students of cultural studies, sociology, social anthropology or geography courses will benefit from Culture and Society , which is superior to similar volumes in its range and coverage. Tutors may prefer to order copies for their short-loan collections and direct students to specific chapters rather than use them as course books.

Overall, the brevity of some of the lists of recommended further reading in these volumes reveals the dearth of usable material on Asia available to students. These volumes will be welcomed by anyone teaching on the region in a social-science or humanities discipline.

Jackie Sheehan is lecturer in international history, Keele University.

The Asia-Pacific Profile

Editor - Bernard Eccleston, Michael Dawson and Deborah McNamara
ISBN - 0 415 179 9 and 17280 2
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £65.00 and £20.99
Pages - 383

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