• Humanities Across Borders Conversation Series

Why do we need stories of place-based belonging?

22 November 2023

In this HAB online conversation session of the Academic Ontologies series, the HAB and IIAS Fellowship programmes brought in Zahra Hussain, Isha Ting, and Hawng Tsai to share their experience with local communities in precarious contexts in Pakistan, Hong Kong, and Myanmar respectively.

To watch the video recording of this conversation session, click here.

Academic Ontologies is an online conversation series initiated for students and early career scholars, by the Humanities Across Borders (HAB) and Fellowship programmes of IIAS. Moderated by Academic Director of HAB Aarti Kawlra and IIAS Fellowship Coordinator Laura Erber, our point of departure is the close association between English language and academic excellence[1] and the colonial language politics that informs and shapes textual production, performance, transmission, and reception, within hegemonic academic publics.

In this second session, we once again take up storytelling to reiterate its potential as a way of thinking, being, and building a participatory narrative research archive. We ask the questions "Why do we need stories of place-based belonging? " in the context of visible and less visible mass human displacements, communal violence, and uncertain futures across the globe. Is there sanctuary in knowledge about a place? In what ways is place-making meaningful, for whom and why?

Inspired by Bell Hooks' book on Belonging: A Culture of Place (2009), this conversation is grounded in storytelling as a method and practice of place-based belonging, to spotlight individual and collective experience (and it's narration) in diverse modes and contexts.


Zahra Hussain

Zahra Hussain is an architect and cultural geographer who works with mountain communities in Northern Pakistan. She leads the Laajverd Visiting School program; an interdisciplinary and cross-curricular intensive using creative methods of engagement and knowledge production with local communities. As a visiting fellow at the IIAS, she is working on her monograph ‘Heritage Cosmopolitics; belonging in fragile futures’ that explores worldling practices in the current climate crisis by using cosmopolitics as a framework for investigating the Hindi Kush Himalaya mountain region.

Image (Center): Illustration "Dancing waves; narrating Gwadar’s lively sea"
Credit: Zahra Hussain

Chun Chun (Isha) Ting

Research fellow at IIAS, previously Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Ting received her PhD from the University of Chicago, she is currently working on her manuscript on the social movements and artistic activism in post-handover Hong Kong. Focusing on how urban space is represented culturally and contested politically in contemporary Hong Kong, her project aims to examine the urban condition that nurtures identity and citizenship, and explore the changing contour of the Hong Kong people's political subjectivities. Ting also writes more generally on contemporary Sinophone literature and cinema, especially migrant workers’ literature and culture in contemporary China.

Image (Right): Rooftop screening of a neighborhood demolition in Hong Kong organized by local youth activists
Credit: Isha Ting

Hawng Tsai

Ms. Hawng Tsai (Ah Sai) is a teacher educator, an education policy advocate, and , Mother Tongue Based Multilingual (MTB-MLE) and contextualized local curriculum development consultant working with various grassroot community-based education organizations; ethnic marginalized education, migrant education, indigenous education, education in emergencies and conflicts, and refugee education in Burma/Myanmar and Thailand for almost two decades. Ms. Hawng Tsai currently serves as a director of Thinking Classroom Foundation. She is also a network coordinator of The Peace and Justice Network; it focuses on promoting peace and justice through and in education. She serves as a secretary of Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking International Consortium (RWCT-IC) and a coalition member of Global Gender Transformative Education Coalition led by United Nation Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI).

Image (Left): Young children reading about Myanmar's rice fields during a school visit
Credit: Hawng Tsai

[1] Piller, I., 2019. On the conditions of authority in academic publics. Journal of Sociolinguistics23(5), pp.521-528.


13:30 - 15:00


Online (over Zoom)
2311GJ Leiden


Joaquin Lapuz