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Aihwa Ong
Aihwa Ong, Graduate Center, October 2016.jpg
Ong in 2016
Born (1950-02-01) February 1, 1950 (age 74)
Education Barnard College (B.A.) Columbia University (Ph.D.)
Occupation Professor of Anthropology
Known for Anthropologist, Professor & Author
Notable work
Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia; Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty; Buddha is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America; Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality; Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems
Scientific career
Institutions University of California, Berkeley
Thesis Women and Industry: Malay Peasants in Coastal Selangor, 1975-80 (1982)
Doctoral advisor Joan Vincent, Myron Cohen, Robert F. Murphy
Aihwa Ong
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 王愛華
Hanyu Pinyin Wáng Àihuá
Jyutping Wong4 Oi3 Waa4
Hokkien POJ Ông Ài-hôa
Tâi-lô Ông Ài-huâ

Aihwa Ong (simplified Chinese: 王爱华; traditional Chinese: 王愛華; pinyin: Wáng Àihuá; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Ông Ài-hôa; born February 1, 1950) is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, a member of the Science Council of the International Panel on Social Progress, and a former recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship for the study of sovereignty and citizenship. She is well known for her interdisciplinary approach in investigations of globalization, modernity, and citizenship from Southeast Asia and China to the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Her notions of 'flexible citizenship', 'graduated sovereignty,' and 'global assemblages' have widely impacted conceptions of the global in modernity across the social sciences and humanities. She is specifically interested in the connection and links between an array of social sciences such as; sociocultural anthropology, urban studies, and science and technology studies, as well as medicine and the arts.

Life and career

Ong was born in Penang, Malaysia to a Straits Chinese family in 1950. She received her B.A. in anthropology (1974) from Barnard College and earned her Ph.D. (1982) in anthropology from Columbia University. She was a visiting lecturer at Hampshire College (1982–84) before joining the Department of Anthropology at the University of California Berkeley (1984 – present). She was the Chair of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Berkeley (1999–2001), Visiting Professor at City University of Hong Kong (2001), Visiting Professor at Yonsei University (2010), and a senior researcher at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore (2010).

Ong was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for the study of sovereignty and citizenship (2001-2003) and has been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation and the Sloan Foundation for the Social Science Research Council. She received the Cultural Studies Book Award for Flexible Citizenship (1999) from the Association for Asian American Studies as well as a prize from the American Ethnological Society. In addition, she received honorable mention for Buddha is Hiding (2003) from the Society for Urban, National, and Transnational Anthropology.

In 2007, Ong was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos. She was the Chair of the US National Committee for Pacific Science Association from 2009-2011, and was named Robert H. Lowie Distinguished Chair in Anthropology in 2015. She continues to teach, publish, and lecture internationally.

Academic work

Aihwa Ong's work deals with particular entanglements of politics, technology, ethics and affects in rapidly changing situations on the Asia Pacific rim. Ong approaches research from vantage points outside or athwart the United States. This angle of inquiry unsettles and troubles stabilized viewpoints and units of analysis in the social sciences, such as gender, class, citizenship, cities, sovereignty and the nation-state.

As an anthropologist, Ong employs ethnographic observation and analytical concept-work to investigate diverse subjective and institutional effects of the global on emerging situations for ways of being human today. From the novel freedoms and accompanying restrictions experienced by Malaysian female workers in multinational factories to the accumulative strategies of Asian entrepreneurs in relocating family and capital overseas; from the disciplining of Cambodian refugees towards an embrace of American values to the neoliberal reasoning and graduated modes of governing at work; from the transformation of cities to the rise of contemporary art in Asia; Ong's work tracks the interplay of global forces and everyday practices as they crystallize into myriad and uneven contexts for human living and belonging in modernity.

Her current work focuses on regimes of governing, technology, and culture that shape new meanings and practices of the human in an emerging global region. Her field research shifts between Singapore and China in order to track emerging global hubs for biotechnical experiments with genomic science in contemporary East Asia.

Work Overview

Buddha Is Hiding (2003)

This book speaks about the Cambodian refugees in America and their experience and adventure with American citizenship. It explains how the Cambodian refugees earn their American citizenship by working their way up through society the hard way. Ong also concentrates on the activity behind American institutions and how it affects the minority citizens in the society, in terms of health care, law, welfare, etc.

Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (2005)

This book argues that emerging global milieus are reinforced through the intersecting of global and local systems. Ong argues that different systems that emerge as a result of capitalism, technology, and science proliferate Asia.

Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (2006)

This book explores the application of uneven neoliberal strategies by Asian states as a mode of thinking and practicing governing for optimal outcomes. In particular, Ong uses the example of the development of free trade zones to attract capital flows, describing it as a method of "graduated sovereignty".

Mutations in Citizenship (2006)

This book shows us how the mutations in citizenship are continuously moving, flowing and changing according to markets, technologies, societies and the population of the society. Ong starts by identifying the elements of citizenship such as citizen’s rights and laws etc. These citizens' rights are becoming incoherent from each other and being reformed to the criteria of neoliberalism and human rights. She also shows us that the “assemblage” are being taken over by political mobilizations of diverse groups instead of national terrain. In Europe, the amount of migrant flows and unregulated markets are what challenges liberal citizenship. But in Asia, foreigners who establish businesses or become entrepreneurs in the Asian region have the rights and the benefits of a citizen, so this shows us the contradiction and unfair problem between Europe and Asia.

Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate (2010)

This book shows us a glimpse of the emerging biosciences landscape in Asia. Ong provided a collection of case studies on biotech topics including genetically modified foods, clinical trials, blood collection, stem cell research etc. These are studies conducted all over Asia in countries such as Singapore, China and India.

Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments with the Art of Being Global (2011)

This book challenges mainstream narratives of a "global city" and highlights various roles, aspirations, and speculations of developing nation-states.

Fungible Life: Experiment in the Asian City Of Life (2016)

In this book, Ong speaks about the world of bioscience research and explains how Asian biosciences and cosmopolitan sciences go hand in hand and are connected in a tropical climate having the threat of many diseases. She presents examples of biomedical centers in Asia, such as Singapore and China and explains how they map genetic variants, disease risks, biomarkers, etc. Singapore is a diverse country with citizens having an array of many nationalities. Singapore’s diverse population makes a good example for ethnic stratified databases that represent the populations in Asia. Allowing public access to genomic science in Asia, researchers and scientists will be able to study and discover the relationships between people, objects and spaces, these researches will eventually make a big impact and evolution in the scientific field and put Asia on the map for these discoveries.

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