Dear members of the East Asian Social Policy Research Network:

I hope this letter finds you well after the exhilarating two-day event from the 14th to the 15th of September, 2023. First and foremost, I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude for your commitment and determination in travelling all the way to Sydney to attend the 19th annual conference. There were 109 participants from Asia, Europe, America, and Australia. I once again thank the two co-hosting universities, West Sydney University and Lingnan University and the conference organisation team and thank each one of you for your invaluable contributions.

It is great to run the first face-to-face conference in what seems like an eternity. We fully recognise the myriad challenges you confronted, from reshuffling teaching schedules at the start of the term to navigating the intensified administrative hurdles for international travel, particularly in this time of soaring inflation. We are aware that these complexities pose significant barriers for many, especially our emerging scholars. Yet, the successful completion of this event, against all odds, stands as a testament to the enduring resilience of academia in social policy. This achievement highlights our shared commitment to surmounting political, bureaucratic, and natural obstacles in the pursuit of social welfare and development. It further emphasises our unwavering determination to move beyond parochial thinking in shaping the future of social policy. Indeed, the horizon for enhancing humanity knows no bounds.

The exchange of ideas during the conference was truly enriching. This year, we had three keynote speeches by distinguished speakers. Professor Chang Kyung-Sup from Seoul National University critically addressed the issue of’ transformative risks’ in developmental societies and their implications for the dynamics of welfare state development in the region. Associate Professor Elizabeth Hill’s keynote dealt with the effects of the COVID pandemic on workers’ attitudes, especially as they relate to the pressing issues of gender equality at home and work in East Asian countries and beyond. The keynote delivered by Professor Naim Kapucu on network governance in urban areas pointed to new areas of social policy research in relation to disaster responses.

This year, we had the book launch session by Professor Sophia Seung-Yoon Lee for her book Varieties of Precarity: Melting Labour and the Failure to Protect Workers in the Korean Welfare State (Policy Press), which sheds light on workers falling out of institutional protection by the Korean welfare state. We are truly proud to celebrate the work of a long-time participant of EASP, who is pioneering important discussions in the field.

From the paper sessions, it was fascinating to observe the increasing significance of topics such as the challenges of precarity and how welfare states are adapting to these changes. The challenges posed by the diversity resulting from immigration, the changing nature of citizenship, the dire need to address ageing societies, and the evolving perspectives on welfare systems, social equality, and inclusion further illustrated the dynamic interplay of society and economy in the region. Such discussions not only reflect the responsive nature of our welfare state but also highlight the tenacity of our academic community in keeping pace with, and often pre-empting, these societal shifts.

It was inspiring to observe the burgeoning research on international and regional comparative studies during our sessions. This trend underscores the importance of cross-border learning and collaboration, highlighting the rich tapestry of experiences and insights from various corners of our region. The interdisciplinary collaborations witnessed throughout the event also signify a broader, more holistic approach to understanding and addressing social challenges, ensuring we benefit from the varied perspectives each discipline brings.

Additionally, the diverse methodologies employed, both time-honoured and newly introduced, truly showcased the innovative spirit of our field. Such a range not only enriches our academic discussions but also brings a unique human touch to our research, ensuring that our studies remain both grounded and relatable. These methodologies remind us that while we continue to push the boundaries of knowledge and discovery, we must always prioritise the human aspect, understanding and empathising with the very communities we aim to serve.

From the feedback received post-event, it’s heartening to note the dual impact of our conference. Not only has it significantly bolstered the visibility and reputation of EASP in Australia, but it has also sparked a burgeoning interest among East Asian scholars in Australian social policy. This mutual interest paves the way for more enriching collaborations, shared learnings, and a deeper understanding of both regional and international approaches to social welfare. I am optimistic about the vibrant, collaborative future this promises for all involved.

Your dedication, insights, and collaborative spirit have made this conference a memorable one. May we continue to collaborate, innovate, and shape the future of social policy in the East Asian region and beyond. We look forward to seeing you at the 20th EASP Annual Conference, which is about to take place in Japan in 2024.

Yours Faithfully,

Bingqin Li, chief organiser for the 19th EASP conference &

Young Jun Choi, chair of the EASP board

The 19th EASP conference report