In the 1950s and 1960s, decolonization and patronage from competing Cold War powers created opportunities for new alliances among people across the colonial and postcolonial world. The turn of the millennium saw public commemorations of the fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries of post-colonial independence in Asia and Africa, but also of the official gatherings that brought together representatives from new and aspiring nations, such as the 1955 Afro-Asia conference in Bandung, Indonesia.
While major diplomatic initiatives such as the Bandung conference have gained scholarly attention in recent years, there is little study of the way in which non-state actors throughout the Global South interacted and conversed with each other – not in the key sites of international diplomacy, but through journeys, private initiatives, personal communication, and underground or lesser-known conferences and gatherings.
This was not just an era of diplomacy among new political elites, but also a period of intensive social and cultural interaction among non-state actors in the postcolonial world. Across Asia and Africa, intellectuals, activists, and revolutionaries conversed across national, linguistic and ideological borders. Artists, poets, and performers experimented with new ideas and techniques for intellectual and cultural expression to create new visions of the nation. They engaged critically with communist, socialist and democratic ideas in circulation, constantly reformulated their political loyalties, and built up networks of intellectual and radical sociability.
Rather than view this era through the lens of international diplomacy or particular nation-states, the ‘Afro-Asian Networks’ research collaboration explores transnational networks of affinity at the non-state level, through the lived experiences of activist, artistic, and intellectual communities participating in a widening world of global connections. By bringing together scholars working on a number of different regions, the project breaks out of traditional national and regional frameworks to look at exchanges across Asia and Africa. This collaboration will provide the necessary framework to ask the following questions: How did Asian and African activists make use of transnational networks? What effects did soft power initiatives by the US, Soviet Union, and former colonisers have on these networks? What role did mentalities of internationalism and cross-cultural exchange have on the formation of civil society in the decolonising Global South? Which particular issues were able to mobilise communities across borders and, conversely, what were the limits of transnational exchange in this period?