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Dr. Jason Eng Hun Lee

B.A. (Leeds), M.A. (Leeds), Ph.D. (HKU)

Lecturer, Department of English Language and Literature

Funding:

  • HKBU Faculty Research Grant (FRG), Category I. 
    Funding Secured: HKD 47, 000.

Introduction

  • This short-term project aimed to develop new theoretical models on cosmopolitan studies based on findings from important archival research on the discourse of benign colonialism and informal empire at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) records at the UK National Archives in London. These findings were consolidated into an original, summative theoretical journal article, forming the theoretical basis for a much longer monograph on critical cosmopolitanism in the twenty-first century.

Abstract

  • This project develops the sub-field of ‘critical cosmopolitan’ theory by tracking the legacy of British late colonial policy and its subsequent impact on twenty-first century writers’ global imaginations. Historically, the progressive agenda of many cosmopolitan projects have followed what Walter Mignolo (2000) called ‘global designs’, those top-down directives that have created and ordered the world-system under the respective frames of coloniality, modernity and neoliberal capital. I argue that a dialectical reading of historical events viz-a-viz the cosmopolitan imagination plays an important role in helping readers understand the temporal shifts that have marked the transition from an early modern capitalist world-system to the current neoliberal world order. Moving from the historical basis of my study, I conclude that the world-historical frame set up in selected twenty-first century novels reflect both this problematic dialectical nature of cosmopolitanism today, whilst at the same time, signaling a commitment to more historically-inflected modes of global-local writing.

Methodology

  • This project places the theoretical discussion of critical cosmopolitanism within the wider context of a world-historical imagination by mapping the historical trajectory of Britain’s late colonial period onto the contemporary period. Using the funds provided by this grant to access materials presently unavailable to me, I conducted on-site archival research on the colonial policies in the British Empire using the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Records at the UK National Archives. Having gathered these findings into an original research article, I tested my hypothesis that the Pax Britannica and its promotion of European Enlightenment ideals, principles of free trade, positive non-intervention, and the beginnings of informal empire, reflects both a civilizing mission and a cosmopolitan project that has not yet been properly accounted for in contemporary scholarship.

Interdisciplinary expertise

  • The long term overarching goal of this project involved updating and revising the theoretical field of cosmopolitanism in line with recent developments that have contributed to a twenty-first century literature - namely the neoliberal, ecocritical and posthuman ‘turns’ of recent decades. These developments not only invite ways of re-imagining communitarian politics beyond the nation-state imaginary, utilizing, for example, world-systems and world-ecology analytical approaches which have become popular in recent years, but also create clear pathways for further interdisciplinary discussion across the humanities and social sciences.

    For example, during a three-week stay in London in June 2018, I visited the UK National Archives and sourced a number of Foreign Office documents related to informal or free trade imperialism in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea trade, particularly between the period 1858-1881, i.e. from the effective dissolution of the East India Company, through to the duration of the Overbeck Commission and subsequent charter for the British North Borneo Company. Extrapolating from these findings, I was able to make a number of theoretical updates using world-systems models which referenced the long nineteenth century through sociologists and economic historians like Immanuel Wallerstein, Fernand Braudel, Giovanni Arrighi, and Eric Hobsbawn.