Project Website: Deathscapes (2016-19)

Deathscapes: Mapping Race and Violence in Settler States

Project Team: Professor Marianne Franklin (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK), Professor Jonathan X. Inda (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA), Professor Suvendrini Perera (Curtin University, Australia), and Professor Joseph Pugliese (Macquarie University, Australia)

Project Manager: Dr Dean Chan

Project Overview

Understood within the framework of the settler colonialism, the states of Australia, Canada and the US are revealed as themselves agents of trafficking rather than helpless bystanders or enlightened enforcers of international law. Kwakwaka’wakw scholar Sarah Hunt invokes this logic when she asks, “If human trafficking is about forced movement, exploitation, and the misuse of power in controlling the bodies of marginalised people, who has control over the movement, labour and bodies of Indigenous girls and women in Canada?” The settler state’s “misuse of power in controlling the bodies of marginalised people” at the same time offers a framework for understanding the Australian government’s contemporary practices of forcibly moving refugee and asylum seeker children and families to offshore island prisons.

Attending to strategies of sovereign territoriality thus makes it possible to connect forms of violence directed against refugees and Indigenous groups in new ways, for example by tracking interrelations of historical and current practices of displacement and enforced mass movement, of transportation and deportation. Even as the project marks the historical differences that distinguish practices of displacement and enforced mass movement, it also traces the lines of connection that interlink these same practices.


[T]he iconographies of the Middle Passage find their return in today’s desperate and brutalizing voyages from African coasts. The separation of children from their parents in residential schools in Canada and missions in Australia find their echoes in the current US policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border; in the context of the latter, African American scholar Jelani Cobb reminded us in 2017 that “the separation of families has deep roots in the American past” and the separation and sale of children “was such a common feature of slavery”.

The relationality and connectivity between and across these histories and practices are key to the design of the Deathscapes website. The site documents selected case studies of where deaths and violations happen, as well as providing the social and critical tools to examine how these deaths are understood and responded to.

As a resource that is both archival and analytical, and for use by multiple publics, the website is aimed at addressing a challenge often faced by researchers studying shared circuits of knowledge and modes of governance: the difficulty of accessing information about state violence through a central resource. The transnational focus and methodology adopted by the Deathscapes project invites website visitors to identify key continuities that inscribe racialized deathscapes across diverse locations, and to connect the differential dimensions that might appear to be confined to an individual nation-state, beyond and across the individual stories.

For further reading, see:

Dean Chan, Suvendrini Perera and Joseph Pugliese, “‘Same story, different soil’: The Deathscapes project gets underway”, openDemocracy (2018, 4 November).

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Edited Journal Special Issue: Reimagining Australia (Coolabah, 2018)

Reimagining Australia, Special Double Issue, Coolabah, 24 & 25, 2018 

Guest Editors: Baden Offord, Thor Kerr, Rob Garbutt, Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes, Elfie Shiosaki, Misty Farquhar and Dean Chan

This special double issue of Coolabah was developed from selected presentations at Reimagining Australia: Encounter, Recognition, Responsibility, the International Australian Studies Association (InASA) Conference 2016, hosted by the Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University, and held in Fremantle, Western Australia, on 7-9 December. This double issue addresses the urgent need for Australia to be reimagined as inclusive, conscious of its landscape and contexts, locale, history, myths and memory, amnesia, politics, cultures and futures; reimagined via intense conversations and inter-epistemic dialogue; reimagined through different ways of knowing, belonging and doing.

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Book Chapter: Asian Popular Culture (Lexington Books, 2013)

This published essay is an examination of how history, geography and policy collude to produce the differing contexts and taste cultures of East Asian digital gaming. The book chapter was in press for a considerable time. Although the analysis does not refer to contemporaneous developments in 2013 like Nintendo Wii U and 3DS, as well as the ascendency of casual gaming via mobile and tablet devices, I stand by my central argument that “Japanese and South Korean game cultures have developed distinctively localized expressions and national traits that have evolved collaboratively and symbiotically within and across national borders.” 



Locating Play:

The Situated Localities of Online and Handheld Gaming in East Asia

The production, circulation, and consumption of new digital media technologies in East Asia are differentiated by nation-specific cultural nuances. Gaming provides a case in point. South Korea and Japan are key regional hubs for the development of electronic gaming, yet these two locales proffer distinctively different paradigms for gaming culture. As Larissa Hjorth points out, there is a clear bifurcation of techno-cultural development: Japan pioneered the keitai (mobile) information technology industry and home gaming consoles such as PlayStation 2 (PS2), while South Korea (henceforth Korea) possesses the highest broadband rates in the world and has become a pioneering hub for multiplayer online games and attendant industries such as e-sports (electronic sports based on competitive networked gaming). Accordingly, this chapter focuses on two case studies based on these paradigmatic forms of gaming in the region: the rise of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and the phenomenon of the PC bang (PC room) in Korea; and the social and techno-cultural constituencies of Japanese portable gaming on handheld consoles (specifically, Nintendo DS and Sony PSP). At stake here is the twinned agenda of analyzing the differential aspects of regional gaming cultures and using gaming cultures to map the political, social, and cultural dis/connections within East Asia.

The case studies play out social geographer Doreen Massey’s focus on how “locality” must always be understood in terms of the spatial and temporal organization of social relations. She reminds us that a place’s specificity––as well as the associated sense of its contemporaneity––must be understood as a complex interweaving of historical and present-day social relations. At the same time, she is careful to avoid romanticizing and essentializing an insular politics of locality. Place distinctiveness is crucially posited as coterminous with place-interdependence. She argues that the “specificity of place” derives from “the fact that each place is the focus of a distinct mixture of wider and more local social relations” that equally engages with “the accumulated history of a place, with that history itself imagined as the product of layer upon layer of different sets of linkages, both local and to the wider world.” Massey’s theoretical formulations provide important cues for negotiating the situated localities of East Asian gaming. These game cultures may have developed distinctively localized expressions and national characteristics; yet, at the same time, they have evolved collaboratively and symbiotically within and across national boundaries. This chapter thereby aims to use the two chosen case studies to obtain situated knowledge of these generative tensions, patterns, and inter-relationships.

Geography and history offer a twinned contextual entry point. Japan and Korea are geographically proximate countries that share a long history of contact and conflict. In modern times, the Korean Peninsula was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945. Under Japanese colonial rule, much local culture, including the use of the Korean language, was systematically suppressed and outlawed. When Korea gained its independence in 1945, strong anti-Japanese sentiments remained. A clear sign of this was the banning of Japanese cultural imports, including movies, music, and books, into Korea after 1945. Even though Japan-Korea diplomatic relations became normalized in 1965, the sanctioned pop cultural boundary continued to remain mostly intact. Nevertheless, this boundary had become increasingly porous by the late twentieth century mainly due to illegal trade and the proliferation of the internet. In recognition of this, and in light of the changing socio-economic relations between Korea and Japan in the 1990s, the official post-war ban was subsequently lifted. The importation of Japanese pop culture into Korea was liberalized in stages since October 1998. With effect from January 2004, almost all restrictions on Japanese films, games and television programs had been removed. At any rate, the ban, which was enforced for over fifty years, has had a profound impact on the development of present-day Korean popular culture, perhaps most strikingly in the case of online gaming. Between 1978 and 1999, console games produced and popularized by Japanese companies such as Nintendo and Sony were not imported into Korea. This absence nonetheless had a generative effect. As a consequence of the dearth of console gaming in the Korean mass market, an alternative local PC gaming culture developed by the 1990s, effectively paving the way for PC-based online gaming to flourish locally at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Such points of connection and difference animate the discussion to follow in this chapter. Key developments in the continually evolving cartography of Japanese portable gaming and Korean online gaming are highlighted in order to facilitate a preliminary comparative mapping of the evolution and vernacular of these gaming cultures. The discussion of the Japanese context focuses on handheld gaming (as the main subset of portable gaming) and references Nintendo’s role in the development of handheld gaming consoles such as Game Boy and Nintendo DS (NDS), as well as Sony’s entry into the handheld gaming market with the PlayStation Portable (PSP). The dominant tropes and trends in Japanese handheld gaming are outlined via an analysis of the Tetris and Pokémon Game Boy games as well as the Monster Hunter PSP games. The discussion of the Korean context mainly focuses on the domestic acculturation of PC-based multiplayer online gaming with reference to post-1998 government policy, the rise of the PC bang as a site for gaming, and the significance of games such as StarCraft and Lineage in the local gaming imaginary. The case study discussions in this chapter highlight the machinations of localized gaming cultures and, at the same time, underscore how they continually intersect with other localities and play practices, thereby drawing attention to what Massey calls “the joint existence of uniqueness and interdependence.”


Dean Chan. “Locating Play: The Situated Localities of Online and Handheld Gaming in East Asia”. Asian Popular Culture: New, Hybrid, and Alternate Media (pp. 17-34). Ed. John A. Lent and Lorna Fitzsimmons. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013.

For further information and purchasing details, please visit the Lexington Books website:

Exhibition Catalogue Essay: Made in China, Australia

In 2012, I was invited to contribute an essay to the catalogue of Made in China, Australia, an exhibition curated by my friend, Greg Leong, who is himself a brilliant and highly respected visual and performance artist. This landmark survey of two generations of Chinese Australian art opened at the Salamanca Arts Centre in Hobart on 5 August 2012 and toured nationally in 2013. Writing this catalogue essay was a special privilege and, given the emphasis on the centrality of place, identity and history in this exhibition, I wanted to contribute a piece that likewise opened with an evocation of the locations and locatedness of Chinese Australian visuality.


Looking for ‘China, Australia’:

The Transnational Dimensions of Diaspora

Chinatowns in western nations are symbols of the sites and histories of transnational Chinese mobility and migration. Sydney’s Chinatown is a symbolic marker of the presence of the long-established Chinese Australian community in New South Wales. Today, it remains a vibrant inner city locale, not least of all for present-day sojourners in the form of international students from the People’s Republic of China (henceforth China). Many of them live in the high-rise apartments within and fringing the compact but densely populated Chinatown precinct. Many others come to frequent the local restaurants, food courts, grocery stores and hair salons, as well as the increasing clusters of Korean, Thai and Japanese eateries and businesses proliferating on the peripheries of the precinct. Walking around this neighbourhood, I cannot help but feel that Sydney’s Chinatown is now as much a symbol of Chinese settlement, community and heritage, as it is simultaneously an evolving symbol of contemporary Chinese transnationalism and an expanding symbol of Asian cosmopolitanism, mobility and migration.

In August 2011, I moved into Sydney’s Chinatown precinct, relocating from Perth where I had resided for over twenty years. Even though I had visited Sydney many times before in previous years, this has not been an affectively seamless relocation—effectively highlighting how the migrant settler and the transient sojourner do not necessarily share the same type and range of experiences. In this case, my own sense of dislocation was immediate, not least of all by dint of having to acculturate to the ethno-cultural customs and cadences of my new environment.


Moving into an over-priced high-rise rental apartment, which seems to be the norm in this area, I noticed that the signage on the garbage room door was in three languages: English, Chinese and Korean. I had not seen anything like this in all my years of living in rented flats in Perth. For me, this signage is an apt signifier of the practical reality and evolving social demography of this particular part of Sydney, as well as the pragmatics of simultaneously catering to and learning to live with (East) Asian capital in Australia.

The rise of China in particular as a global and economic superpower in the past decade potentially also raises new questions of identification, alignment and positioning for diasporic Chinese groups in the west. The current situation requires overseas Chinese communities to negotiate the ascendancy of China at symbolic, familial, and professional levels, as well as to relate to the new influx of Chinese immigrants and temporary residents in the form of international students and professional workers. In Sydney, for example, the Chinese are now the third largest immigrant group, according to the 2011 Census. These new arrivals, both permanent and temporary residents alike, are already rapidly transforming urban, social and economic spaces such as those sketched out in my opening vignettes.


Given the complex backdrop of this contemporary moment, Made in China, Australia is much more than just a survey of the evolution and diversity of Chinese Australian visual art. The exhibition enters into dialogue with the history and contemporaneity of Chinese transnationalism by drawing attention to how it has evolved within one particular context of diasporic settlement. Just as the post-Tiananmen period ushered in a new phase in Chinese Australian art via the arrival of artists from China such as Guan Wei, Ah Xian and Liu Xiao Xian who immigrated to Australia after 1989, Made in China, Australia anticipates the putative impact of this particular contemporary moment of Chinese transnationalism, including the significant emigration out of China, on Chinese Australian visual culture. As a recent immigrant who has arrived in Australia during the current economic ascendancy of China, Shuxia Chen’s elegiac images of globalised alienation within domestic spaces hint at possible new horizons of visual inquiry in Chinese Australian art practice.


Spanning works made in and about the liminal space of ‘China, Australia’ within the past three decades, the main strength of this exhibition lies in how it offers a groundbreaking cross-generational survey of Chinese Australian art. John Young, Lindy Lee, William Yang and Tony Ayres are among the most renowned and successful artists from the earlier generation of Chinese Australian artists who rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s and who are all still active practitioners today. These artists have each contributed multiple works from across their careers that highlight the shared commonalities as well as salient differences within this generational grouping. Greg Leong identifies and distinguishes the comparatively different artistic agendas and prerogatives among the new generation of Chinese Australian artists comprising the likes of Aaron Seeto, Owen Leong and Shuxia Chen, as well as the new modes of diasporic visual rhetoric explored in their work, but likewise astutely acknowledges the plurality within this latter grouping.

Equally fascinating to me are the new lines of visual and cultural inquiry that are being concurrently explored across the different generations of artists. Zhou Xiaoping and Jason Wing bring important issues about Aboriginality and Aboriginal history into the context of Chinese Australia via Zhou’s longstanding collaborations with Aboriginal artists and communities, and Wing’s exploration of the histories and legacies of mixed Aboriginal and Chinese identity. Their works in this exhibition are instrumental in extending the frames of intercultural ethics and engagement in Chinese Australian discourse.


Dean Chan. “Looking for ‘China, Australia’: The Transnational Dimensions of Diaspora.” Made in China, Australia (pp. 7-9). Hobart: Salamanca Arts Centre, 2012.

For a copy of the exhibition catalogue, please contact the Salamanca Arts Centre: