Power and Strategies of Social and Political Order

Power and Strategies of Social and Political Order – Research Excellence Platform of the Oriental Institute

The research excellence platform Power and Strategies of Social and Political Order was established at the Oriental Institute in 2015.

The aim of the platform is to support junior researchers starting new projects at the beginning of their academic careers. Simultaneously it enables senior researchers to begin new projects and establish new research teams cooperating across national and international institutions and fields. In all cases, the platform aims to foster research excellence and to provide new perspectives by applying transregional and transdisciplinary theories and methodologies.

The thematic framework of the research follows a broad conception of power as the heteronomous reduction or expansion of individual, collective, or institutional autonomy which can be effected through military, economic, ideological, and political means. Projects conducted as part of the Power and Strategies of Social and Political Order platform address a range of questions pertinent to the study of various Asian and Middle Eastern societies from the ancient past to the present, investigating systems and structures that inform power in visible and invisible ways. Analysing top-down state governance and the bottom-up responses, as well as related grassroots and horizontal dynamics, through compliance and conformity, creative adaptation and resistance, the individual projects contribute to an improved historical, sociological, cultural, and anthropological understanding of the emergence, stability, and transformation of political and social structures. The platform is focused on interdisciplinary collaboration to help foster new ideas and approaches to challenges that affect our lives, such as political  processes, economy or environment, gender and sexuality, language and knowledge, inter-ethnic relations, etc. The research draws on primary sources such as archival documents, government statements, cultural production, or ethnographic data, and provides an in-depth look at the power phenomenon from various perspectives.

Through regular seminar series and workshops, the platform Power and Strategies of Social and Political Order offers space to present and discuss ongoing research, enhance cooperation, and enlarge study networks. A regular summer school program offering insight into rare languages of Asia and the Middle East, which targets both undergraduate and graduate students, helps to situate the Oriental Institute within an international network of study programs.



Ongoing projects

Manifesting Benevolence: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in Sadanobu’s Garden 

Nobuko Toyosawa

This project aims to reappraise one of the most important political leaders in Japanese history, Matsudaira Sadanobu (1758–1829), who served as the chief senior councilor to the eleventh and longest-serving shogun Tokugawa Ienari (1773–1841, r. 1787–1837). By putting the garden in dialogue with Sadanobu’s political discourse, the goal of the project is to examine late eighteenth-century Japan as a nation entering an expanding and global modernity comprising the rise of the natural sciences, the pursuit of picturesque beauty and aesthetic experiences, and the subsequent awakening of the Modern Subject.   

In the past decade, Japanese-language scholarship has generated new trends that alter the portrait of Sadanobu from that of a zealous Neo-Confucian senior councilor pursuing overly strict and frugal policies to that of a refined man of culture. Examining such new developments, this project hopes to contribute to the broader discussion on the great peace of the Tokugawa era and the mechanisms of performativity of that peace. 


Fascist Left and Right: Romantacizing Manchukuo through Politicized Writing

Nobuko Toyosawa

The project analyzes the activities of Japanese writers in Manchuria (zaiman 在満) in the 1930s and 1940s, who dedicated themselves in the development of a Manchurian literature (Manshū bungaku 満洲文学) as a unifying force to realize ethnic harmony. While opposing the official attempts to “Japanize” Manchurian literature, they presented not only the works of zaiman Japanese writers but also ethnic writers’ literary pieces in translated anthology of Manchurian literature. In short, they envisioned to produce an autonomous literature rooted in the distinct local soil and communal life of Manchuria.

By examining the context and the debate about the essence of Manchurian literature since

the 1930s, through which these authors established themselves as robust Manchurian writers, the article highlights the publication of the comprehensive cultural magazine of the country, Geibun藝文 (Arts and Culture, 1942–1943), in January 1942 as the culmination of their efforts. Illustrating the way historical forces of imperialism came to coopt these writers’ initial vision of egalitarian utopia when the war deepened, the article demonstrates how imperialism intersected with culture through a textual analysis of a short story published in the last issue of Geibun.

Co-funding by Strategie AV 21


Sense(s) of belonging and aspirational identities on WeChat

Giulia Cabras

​​Studies in linguistic anthropology and new media have demonstrated that technology-mediated communication embodies public discourse and popular trends and constitutes a way to build sociality.  In particular, for young generations, the Internet is a space for identity formation (Buckingham 2008). Research on the Chinese Internet has shown that ethnic minorities use social networks as a way to express ethnic culture and show their particular interests and concerns (Light 2015; Dak Lhagyal 2019).

This research employs material gathered from WeChat, a small-group-oriented app used for one-to-one text, voice, and video chat (and very popular in China). The analysis focuses on the content, linguistic and visual choices of written posts, images, and videos related to different topics, such as lifestyles, religion, relation to the hometown, posted by Hui and Tibetans living in Qinghai.

The research shows that the users employ different languages and visual elements portraying their ethnicity and culture to express a sense(s) of belonging and aspirational identities which are not always possible in their material everyday life, and cross boundaries that exist in their offline social life. 


China’s Ethnic Policy in Xinjiang (East Turkestan)

Ondřej Klimeš

This project investigates the ethnic policies of the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang (East Turkestan). It focuses on the processes of top-down governance of an authoritarian party-state, particularly in the spheres of political system adaptation, ideational governance, propaganda and media, and cultural production, dealing directly with the case of the Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim nationality living in northwest China. It also seeks to understand the correlation between ethnic identity building and cultural security, both from the top-down and bottom-up perspectives, in contemporary China. It addresses China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs in diaspora, as well as the Chinese Communist Party’s Xinjiang-themed propaganda and united front work abroad. The project works with sources in Uyghur and Chinese, particularly textual sources and ethnographic data from fieldwork in Turkey, Central Asia, and Europe.


Writing Fiction in Contemporary Cairo: Gender, Class, and State Bureaucracy

Giedre Sabaseviciute

The project explores literary imagination and practices in connection with gender and social class in contemporary Cairo. More specifically, it focuses on how the privatization of cultural sector in Egypt from the 1990s, and the disengagement of the welfare state from culture transformed the socio-economic category of writers. While since the 1960s literary life in Egypt has been organized by the expansive cultural bureaucracy, the spread of private publishing, foreign cultural diplomacy, and the access to the Internet since the 2000s have created new reading and writing communities. Coming from families with little inherited symbolic capital, these new writers initiate themselves to literary writing online, share popular literary tastes, and are often denounced by critics as having caused the degradation of literary taste. Combining biographical interviews, ethnography in literary clubs, and the prosopography of literary careers, this project explores how literature has changed its social location during the period of the last fifty years. It includes the study of literary careers, material afterlives of cultural infrastructure in Egypt, and shifting literary practices and imagination in connection with gender and social class.

Funded by GAČR 2023–2025. 


"Functionalism" of Settlements and Reintroduction of Communal Pastoralism in Tibetan Areas of China

Jarmila Ptáčková

The numerous settlements constructed in the rural areas of China’s West and in particular in the pastoral areas of the High plateau were serving as a solution for various issues, such as ecological deterioration of the grasslands, poverty alleviation or control of rural population consisting mainly of ethnic minorities. The settlements are also promoted for their role in the general modernization of western China as they are being claimed to rise the general living standard of the pastoralists and move these people towards a comfort way of life of urban population. The modernisation of people through forced resettlement did not bring the awaited results. Instead these large areas of new houses contributed significantly to an overal urbanisation of the grassland area and eased the shift towards centralisation of pastoralism uder the supervision of the state.


Power seminar series

2 June 2023: James Millward (Georgetown University) - The Evolution of PRC Ethnicity Policy: from Top-down Pluralism to Assimilative Sino-Centrism

21 June 2023: Aysima Mirsultan (Staatsbibliothek Berlin); Eric Schluessel (George Washington University) - Workshop on Xinjiang Turkic-Language Manuscripts

25 September 2023: Max Oidtmann (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich) -"Guided by Common Deities:"The Qing Adjudication of the Feud between the Rma Lho Mongols and the Mdo ba Tibetans, 1862-1882


Summer school (coorganised with the Charles University, Faculty of Arts)

19–23 June 2023: Summer School of Chaghatay

Lecturer: Eric Schluessel (George Washington University)

19–23 June 2023: Summer School of Sogdian

Lecturer: L’ubomír Novák (Charles University)


Power conference

24–25 November 2023: International Uyghur Studies Conference 2023. China’s Colonialism and the Uyghur Region in the Twentieth Century (coorganised with Université de Genéve and European Uyghur Institute)


Concluded projects

Niki Alsford: Representations of Power among the Resistance Movements during the Taiwan War of 1895.

Publications: Alsford, N. 2017. Transitions to Modernity in Taiwan: The Spirit of 1895 and the Cession of Formosa to Japan. London: Routledge.

Malika Bahovadinova: Convergence and congruence of post-Soviet and neoliberal modes of governance and citizens’ reactive practices.

Publications: Bahovadinova, M. 2020. In the Shade of the Chinar. Dushanbe’s Affective Spatialities. Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 1–17.

Táňa Dluhošová: Relevance of power in the literary scene and power relationship among respective agents investigating language and ideology in the early postwar literature of Taiwan.

Věra Exnerová: Cultural security and representations of power in Uzbekistan. Muslim buildings in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Ferghana Valley.

Publications: Exnerová, V. 2016. Radical Islam from Below: The Mujaddidiya and Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the Ferghana Valley. Jones Luong, Pauline (ed.), Islam, Society and Politics in Central Asia. University of Pittsburgh Press.

Thomas Loy: Modernity and Modernism in Persophone Literary History

Tomáš Petrů: Rise of social vigilantism in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines in context of the dynamics of power and politics in Southeast Asia.

Jarmila Ptáčková: Socialist new Countryside. Urbanisation policies and their impact on the enthic minorities in China.

Rule and Authority on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier. Local Tibetan Rulers and Chinese-Administered Guards during the Ming and Qing Period.

Daniel Sou: Function of administrative communication in early Chinese empire.

Publications: Sou, D. S. Crossing Borders: Control of Geographical Mobility in Early China

Clément Steuer: Hierarchization of political issues in context of the citizenship and civil state in Egypt.

Publications:  Steuer, C. 2018. L’Egypte après les Élections Présidentielles. Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique.

Hana Třísková: Phonetics and phonology of Modern Standard Chinese (Mandarin).

Sam Tynen: Gender, Sexuality and Ethnic Politics: LGBT Identity in Kyrgyzstan.

Oliver Weingarten: Exhortation to social and ethical conformity; justification of social and ethical norms; representation of courage and cowardice; self-harm, self-sacrifice, and suicide; representations and justifications of violence in ancient China.



Any researcher of the OI is eligible to submit a proposal. The proposals are submitted at the end of each calendar year for the next calendar year according to the requirements in the respective call for proposals, which correspond to the framework of Power and Strategies of Social and Political Order. Preference is given to new research themes and projects which have no other external source of finance.

When reapplying, preference is given to applicants who provide the outcome of the research project they proposed in the previous application period.


What is up? 

Call for submissions for activities for the research excellence platform Power and Strategies of Social and Political Order for 2024: 

Members of the OI are welcome to send in their submissions for research projects, power seminar series and power summer school to be conducted in 2024. Please send you submissions to by December 15, 2023.