AAS Member Spotlight: Kathleen M. Adams

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Dr. Kathleen Adams, Professor of Anthropology and Faculty Affiliate Asian Studies Program, Loyola University Chicago

Cultural Anthropology; Indonesia/Insular Southeast Asia

How long have you been a member of AAS?

Since the late 1980s.

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I joined AAS as a graduate student to gain a better sense of the broader field of Asian Studies, to learn about new research in Southeast Asia, to present my own research, to become better acquainted with scholars working on similar topics elsewhere in Asia, and to peruse the book displays as I prepared to teach my own courses on Southeast Asia. For all these reasons, I recommend AAS to colleagues.

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

I became involved in Asian Studies via a chance meeting with an Indonesian family on a train when I was an undergraduate studying in France. We shared an old-fashioned train compartment for a six hour journey and shared conversation and food. When the family learned of my interest in art and anthropology, they told me that I should go to Indonesia to study those topics. I watched, mesmerized, as they proceeded to pull beautiful batik sarongs out of their suitcases and to show me postcard images of the spectacular architectural structures in their ancestral village. Their mini-display of Indonesian arts prompted me to take an undergraduate seminar on Island Southeast Asia in my senior year. We read works by Geertz, Cunningham, and listened to guest lectures by Schlegel and Rosaldo. I was hooked, and went on to graduate school to focus on art and identity politics in Indonesia.

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

The most rewarding experiences of working in Asian Studies has been the opportunity to forge lifetime friendships and share ongoing intellectual conversations with Indonesian friends and families I have known since the mid-1980s. A close second to this has been the opportunity to watch my own students cultivate their interests in and knowledge of Southeast Asia.

Tell us about your current or past research.

My current research focuses on the intersecting themes of tourism, heritage, arts, identity and the internet in Indonesia. One project addresses the marketing of Indonesian heritage arts in an era of touristic unpredictability. I am especially interested in analyzing the narrative dimension of ethnic arts marketing on the Net. I have also been research and writing about the novel uses of Facebook for transnational Indonesian (Toraja) communities. One recent publication addresses the ways in which Toraja Facebook groups promote alternative ancestral house-based sensibilities about the family to far-flung migrant kin and their offspring. I am also currently exploring how Facebook serves as an avenue for amplifying particular identities and notions of heritage, as well as for promoting return-to-the-ancestral-village heritage tourism.

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

Take every opportunity you can to spend time immersed in this part of the world, mentally and physically. Read Asian newspapers and be a regular shelf-browser in the Asian Studies section of your library. Take classes in Asian languages, literature, cultures, and politics at your university. Write research papers in other classes that intersect with themes related to your interests in Asia. There are a variety of fellowships for language learning offered by the US government as well as by Asian governments and other foundations. With an undergraduate track record of classes and research papers on the part of Asia that most interests you, you will enhance your chances of eventually being awarded a fellowship for a summer language study program such as SEASSI or for language study in Asia. For many of us working in Southeast Asia, Southeast Asian Summer Studies Institutes offered our first exposure to a wide range of Southeast Asia scholars and planted the seeds for lifelong collaborations. Our language classmates in these early classes became our professional cohort, our panel and book collaborators, and our supportive friends who offer candid, thoughtful advice on our writing, projects, grant proposals and career steps.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

Few know that I started out torn between the desire to become a potter and a museum anthropologist. After a year of art history and pottery classes at the University of Poitiers and Poitier’s l’Ecole des Beaux Arts, I decided I was better suited for anthropology than a career as a potter. These days my hands spend more time in clay-laden garden soil than in pottery clay, but whenever in Indonesia I am always on the lookout for potters and pottery studios. My other not-so-secret passion is for academic novels. I am still waiting for the quintessential Southeast Asia academic novel to be published!


"The most rewarding experiences of working in Asian Studies has been the opportunity to forge lifetime friendships and share ongoing intellectual conversations with Indonesian friends and families I have known since the mid-1980s."

— Kathleen Adams