[TimorLesteStudies] On Academia and Timor-Leste

Jenny Jennifer.Drysdale at anu.edu.au
Sat Jun 7 12:29:26 EST 2008

I respond to Charlie's post 'Are not Timor-Leste writers writing?' 
and add some other points about academics working in Timor-Leste that 
list members may not be aware of. I concur with Charlie that we 
should all encourage people to post their publications to this list, 
Timorese or otherwise. As the Guidelines indicate, as long as 
research information circulated follows the usual academic 
conventions (such as acknowledging sources, presenting reasoned 
argument and adhering to research ethics) it will be posted. Thus, 
information that has been published (and can therefore be cited) is 

There have been several postings of work by Timorese writers to this 
list. I recall a recent publication by Lisa Palmer and Demetriou de 
Carvalho, as well as reports by Josh Trinidade, and others. You can 
visit the archives at 
http://mailman.anu.edu.au/pipermail/easttimorstudies/. There are a 
few Timorese academics but like many of us they do not always get the 
time or have the liberty to publish.

Over the years I have heard foreigners working in Timor-Leste 
complain about academics who appear to visit briefly and then publish 
their thoughts. Cogitating and publishing are what academics do, and 
the pursuit of knowledge and academic debate is equally as valid as a 
practitioner's role. In my experience most academics, particularly 
PhD students, spend considerable amounts of time in Timor-Leste. You 
may not see them or meet them, but they are there. Often, they don't 
spend time in Dili but spend months in the districts. What they 
publish may not reference Timorese writing, but the 'voices' of 
Timorese are more evident in the research data, because they are 
constantly engaging, observing and talking to local East Timorese 
(read anything by Nuno Oliveira, Andrew McWilliam, Angie Bexley, Bu 
Wilson, etc).

Of those academics who spend little time in Timor-Leste and publish, 
I believe there are fewer. In some cases, they need not spend a lot 
of time there, it depends what they are working on. Some academics 
engage in comparative studies, or topics such as Australian foreign 
policy which require less input from local Timorese to be meaningful. 
I have heard most respected and knowledgeable academics speak on 
Timor-Leste with little local knowledge (e.g. Hugh White and John 
Braithwaite). They acknowledge they are not Timor-Leste specialists 
but still bring great insight to the problem they are discussing.

Of greater concern to me are foreigners working in the Government of 
Timor-Leste who believe they have the right to prevent academics 
pursuing research agendas in Timor-Leste, and act as gate-keepers in 
the so-called best interests of the East Timorese.

The Timor-Leste Studies Association was created to connect people 
doing research on Timor-Leste and to share information. A list of 
researchers and their fields appear on our website 
(www.etstudies-aust.org). I am constantly contacted for advice from 
early career researchers who are embarking on their first visit to 
Timor-Leste. Everyone starts somewhere, and they should be encouraged.

If anyone has concerns or queries about a publication including its 
legitimacy, I encourage you to provide constructive feedback to the 
author, who in most cases provides an email address or can generally 
be found using google. Better still, why not publish a response? 
Practitioners are often hard pressed to have the time to reflect, let 
along write, so I would also encourage them to make contact with an 
academic and work together on a paper.

I look forward to more discussion on this issue, and particularly 
would like to hear from Timorese academics. The TLSA will be holding 
an AGM at the Asian Studies Association of Australia's conference in 
Melbourne on 2 July - anyone is welcome to attend and I will 
circulate details to the list shortly.


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Visiting Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society
Moderator, Timor-Leste Studies Association List www.etstudies-aust.org
Mobile 0407 230 772
Email Jennifer.Drysdale at anu.edu.au
Personal Website http://cres.anu.edu.au/~jenster

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