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Session 5: Incomplete Transitions: Democratization and the Press in Southeast Asia

Organizer: Mary McCoy, Northwestern University

Chair: Arnold Zeitlin, The Freedom Forum, Hong Kong

Discussants: Lin Neumann, Southeast Asian Press Alliance; Albert Gunther, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Keywords: press freedom, democratization, authoritarianism, Southeast Asia.

In contemporary Southeast Asia, the press remains both an index of and a driving force for democratization. The economic crisis that has gripped the region for the past three years, sending currencies crashing and reversing previous patterns of economic growth, has become an impetus for reform and has served to legitimate demands for greater political and economic transparency. This pressure for opening has perhaps been most visible in Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines; but is evident, in varying degrees, across the whole region.

By bringing senior journalists together with social scientists, this panel will examine the press as a key factor in this regional trend, exploring its role in the consolidation of central elements of democratic change, legal reform, regulatory transparency, and political openness. But rather than focus solely on evidence of growing press freedom in the countries the papers address, this panel seeks to move away from the conventional assumption of a lineal, or teleological, progress towards freedom and democracy, highlighting instead the atavisms, often hidden, that are blocking further democratization and institutionalization of freedom of expression.

The papers of this panel were selected to represent a range of countries at different stages of democratization. In his review of the Malaysian press, the least open among the region’s nominally democratic nations, Dan Slater will examine Malaysia’s move from a repressive-responsive state to a more purely repressive state. Focusing on a case bearing surprising parallels, Mary McCoy’s paper on the Philippines explores structural problems that are weakening the country’s much stronger system of press protections—the discretionary power of the executive over regulatory mechanisms and the country’s ongoing dependence on extra-institutional channels for influencing the political process. Her paper will then include a comparative discussion of similar phenomena in Indonesia. Similarly, in his study of the laws of lese majesty in Thailand, David Streckfuss examines the juxtaposition of the region’s most open press and an elaborate system of speech controls that has produced a succession of court cases and a media culture of self-censorship.

Pressed Into Service: Authoritarianism and the Malaysian Media

Daniel A. Slater, Emory University

Although Malaysia is yet to undergo a democratic regime change, important shifts are afoot within Malaysia’s ruling regime. This paper will examine three particularly important developments in contemporary Malaysian politics, and present the argument that the pro-government Malaysian media is intimately and fundamentally connected to all three phenomena.

The first noticeable shift has been the increasing personalization of governmental authority in the hands of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Throughout the 1990s, Mahathir has taken advantage of a sycophantic and increasingly electronic mass media to present himself as the very embodiment of the Malaysian state and nation. This has undermined the effectiveness and popularity of United Malay National Organization’s (UMNO’s) political machine, and shifted the Malaysian state towards a personalized type of semi-authoritarian ‘bossism.’ The dramatic collapse of support for UMNO among its Malay political base should be seen against the backdrop of this growing personalization of power, which would not have been possible without the complicity of the pro-government media.

A second, more recent shift is inextricably connected to the first. As Malay support for UMNO has dwindled, the Malaysian media have played an integral role in the Barisan Nasional (BN’s) effort to attract Chinese voters through persistent scare tactics linking recent violence in Indonesia with the threat of similar instability should ‘reformasi’ take hold in Malaysia. Malaysia’s press has thereby helped to re-racialize national politics, with disturbing long-term implications for the nation’s delicate ethnic balance.

Finally, the Mahathir regime’s recent crackdown on independent media, especially the Partai Islam Se-Malaysia’s (PAS’) newspaper, Harakah, can be seen as a bellwether in the BN’s growing authoritarian character. By continuing to tighten its strangulation of alternative media even after comfortably winning the 1999 elections, the BN is abandoning its longstanding ‘repressive-responsive’ approach to rule in favor of a more nakedly repressive strategy of regime maintenance. This shift places Malaysia in dramatic contrast to many of its neighbors, and highlights the need to examine the politics of the Malaysian media in a comparative context.

Lese Majesty and Press Freedom in Thailand

David Streckfuss, University of Wisconsin, Madison

In this study of the laws of lese majesty in Thailand, this paper will view the question of democratization through the prism of national security and the microscope of the legal system. Through examination of Thai speech control laws and their complex legal language, the paper will analyze the character of the country’s major national security laws and prosecutions of violators since the 1920s. Instead of subordinating these case histories to a conventional chronology demarcated by royal reign, this essay will weave them into a narrative whose plot is linked by the cases themselves, leading the audience into political-legal maze of a spiritually infused hegemonic monarchy and its laws of lese majesty.

The paper plans to place these and relevant anecdotes from the history of the Thai press within a theoretical frame and a thematic siting in Thai history. Beyond the particulars of censorship (lese majesty, defamation, and press controls), the paper explores the emergence of a public sphere in a modernizing state. Within this theoretical positioning, the introduction will address the literature on, in order of generality, press freedom, democratization, and the public sphere.

In terms of Thai historical themes, the paper will explore the contradictory cycles of freedom of expression during the past century; the chilling effect that these rigid controls, found within the laws of national security and lese majesty, have had on the development of Thai democracy; and, briefly, some pointed historical comparisons with Malaysia, Japan, and Nepal. More particularly, the paper will show, through a close examination of several selected prosecutions, how recent controversies over press freedom have had a longer-term gestation within the Thai legal system that remains largely unaddressed and uncorrected despite several decades of democratic reform.

Vestiges of Authoritarian Rule: The Philippine and Indonesian Press

Mary McCoy, Northwestern University

Although the Philippine press has long enjoyed a reputation for aggressive, relatively unchecked reporting, contemporary reality has grown more complex. After the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the Philippines adopted a new constitution that guaranteed freedom of the press along with other civil liberties suspended during the prior fourteen years of martial law.

Over the next thirteen years and two subsequent regimes, the post-Marcos press withstood numerous challenges to its newly-recovered freedom, including a high-profile libel suit President Corazon Aquino lodged against the Philippine Star in response to an unflattering comment in an opinion column. The paper eventually won the suit on appeal, and the courts have, in nearly every case since, ruled in favor of the press, reinforcing this institution’s constitutional protections. By the time President Joseph Estrada took office in 1998, the press’s position and rights seemed secure. Within a year of his tenure, however, the administration and its entourage engaged in a series of deft maneuvers that forced the closure of the country’s oldest paper and placed strong financial pressure on Manila’s largest daily to moderate its coverage.

These events shifted the arena for resolution of disputes between the Executive and the media from the courts to extra-institutional channels, throwing into question the press’s newly-recovered position as a fourth estate capable of checking executive power. Thus, despite a nominal restoration of democracy, the Philippines is faced with vestiges of authoritarianism—in this case the Executive’s discretionary power over regulatory mechanisms—that restrain press freedom, making the country seem more typical and less exceptional within the regional context.

This paper examines the effect of one of these atavistic elements on the ongoing struggle to institutionalize press freedom in the Philippines. The paper then discusses these issues in the context of the country’s continued dependence on extra-legal/extra-institutional channels for effecting political change, and concludes with a comparative discussion of striking parallels in Indonesia.


Session 6: Vietnam and the State in the 1950s: Arguments, Visions, Implementations

Organizer: Shawn F. McHale, George Washington University

Chair: Helen R. Chauncey, University of Victoria

Discussants: Helen R. Chauncey, University of Victoria; William S. Turley, Southern Illinois University

Keywords: land reform, state, Vietnam, Marxism, dissent.

Vietnam from 1945 to 1965 has been the object of insufficient academic study and the period from the transition from colonial rule (1954) to massive American intervention (1965) has fared the worst. In one sense, then, the aim of this panel is modest: to fill a gap in the scholarship by examining the intellectual, political, and economic history of the 1950s. In another sense, however, the panel is more ambitious. Going beyond Cold War or revolutionary nationalist approaches, an international panel of scholars will explore how Vietnamese conceptualized, argued over, and implemented the DRV state.

Shawn McHale (George Washington University) examines the fascinating trajectory of the Marxist "dissident" Tran Duc Thao, punished in 1958 for speaking out against state abuse of power. His paper looks at the contested nature of state rule and the evolution of self-criticism as a tool to construct a national community and punish dissent. Tran Thi Lien (Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, France) focuses on Nguyen Manh Ha, a Catholic who served in Ho Chi Minh’s first cabinet. Was Ha’s vision of a unified Vietnamese state that could transcend Cold War ideological confrontations utopian? Martin Grossheim (University of Lund, Sweden) gives a bottom-up perspective on state-village relations during the land reform (1953–1957). Despite its problems, land reform proved to be a decisive step in the development of post-1945 state-village relations and in the creation of a centralized administrative system.

Marxism, Dissent, and the State: Implications of Tran Duc Thao, 1945–1958

Shawn F. McHale, George Washington University

This paper uses the example of Tran Duc Thao, an erudite Marxist punished for his "dissidence" in 1958, to explore issues in state formation, the nature of the national community, and the state’s use of self-criticism to enforce new boundaries of this community.

Tran Duc Thao, now mostly forgotten in Vietnam, is well-known in Western philosophy for his work on phenomenology and Marxism. After returning to Vietnam, he became an important public intellectual and head of the Faculty of History at the new national university. He antagonized the communist party, however, when he criticized the state for its abuse of power and called for more democracy. By 1958, he was forced to undergo public self-criticism as he and over one hundred others were accused of involvement in a conspiracy against the revolution.

Thao’s trajectory shows, ironically, that the definition of national community, and the parameters of politics, were still up for negotiation in the mid-1950s: many Vietnamese, not just state agents, thought they had a role to play in this process. But Thao’s fate also points to the reassertion of autocratic rule by 1958, the weakness of the public realm, and the continued power of conspiracy thinking. Thao’s eventual fate has limited parallels to developments in the Soviet Union and China: the democratic promise of the revolution, so cherished by many activists, was pushed aside as self-criticism was used (abused) to make "suspects" implicate themselves in "hidden conspiracies" undermining the revolution.

"First Comes the Land Reform Team, then Heaven": State-Village Relations during the Land Reform in the DRV (1953–1957)

Martin Grossheim, University of Lund, Sweden

Drawing on local sources in Bac Ninh province, this paper focuses on the development of state-village relations during the land reform campaign in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). I argue that though the transformation of land property relations was the main aim of the land reform, it should also be seen as a new and decisive step in the development of state-village relations after 1945.

After the French failed to implement far-reaching administrative reforms in the North Vietnamese countryside, the DRV smashed old administrative institutions (like councils of notables) at the village level in 1945. But since the Viet Minh followed a moderate united-front policy during the war against the French, the state could only partly curb the power of the old village elite. This changed at the beginning of the 1950s, when the Hanoi leadership shifted to a "class against class" strategy to consolidate mass support and carry out radical land reform. The land reform campaign, by mobilizing poorer villagers and undermining the remnants of old hierarchical structures in the villages, helped government and party cadres gained insights into village property relations.

The DRV’s land reform was a forceful intervention of the central government in village life. It aimed to integrate the villages further into a centralized administrative system and prepare for an even more radical step: to transform rural society through the collectivization of agriculture.

Nguyen Manh Ha: A Voice for a Reunified Vietnam

Thi Liên Trân, Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris

This paper focuses on Nguyen Manh Ha, whose political position had been forgotten in the spiral of the Cold War. Indeed, from 1954, he was the first ardent but isolated supporter of a peaceful reunification of Vietnam by setting up a neutralist solution in South Vietnam. This idea would be taken up again in the sixties by de Gaulle.

Nguyen Manh Ha staked out an original political position. After brilliant studies in France, he became a civil servant of the colonial administration. He was also a committed Catholic (he founded the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne in Vietnam), infusing his deep attachment for the Roman Catholic Church with his social conscience. Wanting to take part in the nationalist movement, he accepted Vo Nguyen Giap’s proposition to participate in the National Union Government in summer 1945 as a Secretary of the Treasury. Later, he was expelled from Vietnam by General de Lattre because of his relations with Viet Minh leaders. Ardent advocate of organizing elections and of a peaceful reunification of the country, he opposed his fellow Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem from 1954 onwards.

Nguyen Manh Ha tried to imagine a unified Vietnamese state which would transcend the logic of ideological confrontation. Given the Cold War, was his vision of a neutral Vietnam utopian? Did it realistically understand the strength of Communist Party and its leaders? These questions will be at the heart of my presentation.


Session 26: Taking Democracy Seriously: The Role of Political Parties in Southeast Asia

Organizer and Chair: Allen Hicken, University of California, San Diego

Discussant: Donald K. Emmerson, Stanford University

This panel brings together an exciting and diverse group of young scholars working on issues of democracy and governance in Southeast Asia. All four share an interest in uncovering the effects of different configurations of democracy on such things as policy making, democratic stability and democratic consolidation. More specifically, all four share a focus on the role political parties play in the developing democracies of Southeast Asia.

Mr. Kuhonta’s paper focuses on the social welfare effects of Thailand’s different political regimes. He argues that attempts of democratic regimes to provide social welfare policies have been hampered by the institutional weakness of political parties and the state’s excessive focus on growth. Ms. Kasuya’s paper addresses the question of why the stable two-party system that existed from 1946–1972 in the Philippines has not reemerged since the return to democracy in 1986. She focuses on key changes in presidential elections between the two time periods and argues that these changes have had an impact on the party system in the Philippines. Mr. Hicken’s paper compares the interaction of political parties and political structures in Thailand and the Philippines. He argues that this interaction shapes the incentives and capabilities of policy makers in both countries in predictable ways. Finally, Ms. Niles’ paper tackles Indonesia’s evolving party democracy. Noting that in the 1999 elections several 1955 parties re-emerged she considers whether differences between these longstanding parties and the dozens of new parties have any discernible effects on policy outcomes in Indonesia.

Democracy and Social Welfare in Thailand

Erik Kuhonta, Princeton University

In this paper I analyze the relationship between political regimes and social welfare. I will assess whether democracy creates better conditions for social welfare by comparing different periods in Thailand’s history. I compare the various authoritarian-military regimes with the democratic periods and look at the quality of the policy output during the different regimes. In particular, I examine a few significant policies targeted towards the poor and the working-class to examine the conditions under which these policies were initiated and implemented. I will show that under democratic regimes, policies geared to the powerless have gained greater momentum.

While there is a contrast between authoritarian and democratic regimes in the initiation and implementation of social welfare policies, it is not clear that democracy provides an optimal arena for meeting the interests of the poor. This is because democracy in Thailand and in many developing countries more generally, lacks institutional depth through which the interests of the poor can be articulated and channeled into arenas of bureaucratic and parliamentary power. What is lacking in Thailand is coherence among political parties and in particular, any institutional force that serves the needs of the poor. Furthermore, the state’s primary concern with economic growth limits the channels through which social reform can ensue. Thus, while democracy may provide greater space for political change relative to authoritarian regimes, it does not necessarily create a sustainable framework for social reform due to the institutional weakness of political parties and the state’s excessive focus on growth.

Presidential Connection: Parties and Party Systems in the Philippines

Yuko Kasuya, University of California, San Diego

The conventional theory about Philippine political parties stipulates the "upward linkage" model; local political groups (factions) amalgamate into national parties. However, this framework does not explain the change in the nature of party competition after the 1986 re-democratization in a satisfactory manner. Why did the stable two-party competition since the 1946 independence until the 1972 democratic breakdown change into a fluid multi-party competition after 1986 to the present? This paper attempts to provide an alternative explanation to this question. The argument is constructed in two steps. First, the paper will show that congressional candidates attempt to be nominated by the party of a viable presidential candidate, most preferably by the incumbent president’s party because of the various benefits the president can provide during and after the election. Secondly, while the number of viable presidential candidates was almost always two during the pre-martial law elections, it increased to more than three in elections after 1986. Thus, those who enter the congressional race come to have a greater number of choices in terms of party nomination. This as a consequence increased the number of parties competing at the congressional elections after the regime change. The paper will also discuss the reasons for the increased number of presidential candidates, such as the collapse of established party labels during the Marcos authoritarian period and the shortened presidential term limit. Data source includes the statistical analysis of election results and interviews with legislators and party officials.

Party Systems, Political Institutions and Policy: Policy Making in Thailand and the Philippines

Allen Hicken, University of California, San Diego

The question of this paper is how party systems and political institutions interact to affect the making of public policy in Thailand and the Philippines. I argue that the interaction of political institutions and the party system shapes the incentives and capacity of political actors/policymakers to produce certain kinds of public policies in Thailand and the Philippines.

I begin by classifying the party systems of Thailand and the Philippines in terms of two key elements: the number of parties and whether a party system is structured or unstructured. I define a structured party system as one that contains parties that are minimally disciplined and cohesive (no factionalization), and that have national constituencies. I argue these two elements (the number of parties and party system structure) influence the number of actors in the policymaking process and their preferences over policy.

Finally, I consider the larger institutional context within which policymaking takes place and argue that among multiple actor, unstructured party systems, presidential systems may out-perform parliamentary systems in terms of their ability to provide certain types of policies. To provide support for my argument I examine history and politics of privatization efforts in Thailand and the Philippines.

The Role of Political Parties in Building Effective Institutions: Indonesia in 1955 and 1999

Kimberly Niles, University of Colorado, Boulder

In many new democracies, voters must choose from a dizzying array of parties, the majority of which have no strong roots in society or ties to earlier periods of democratic rule. An abundance of parties associated with prominent individuals rather than party platforms can result in extreme fluidity and fragmentation of the party system, as well as impede the process of democratic consolidation. In comparative perspective, Indonesia’s current array of parties is fairly unique. Although dozens of brand new parties competed in the 1999 election, several 1955 parties re-emerged with close to their earlier levels of support (after having been forcibly consolidated first by Sukarno and then by Suharto). Do differences between new and longstanding parties have any discernible effects on policy outcomes in Indonesia? Is this re-emergence of earlier (non-Golkar) parties a troubling signal of the enduring power of elites? Or is it more likely to lead to a party system that is able to avoid the extreme fragmentation characteristic of many of today’s new democracies, as well as Indonesia in 1955? In particular, why haven’t Indonesian politicians been able to reduce ethnic conflict? Relatively how important are the total number of parties, the enduring nature of a few key parties, or the coalition incentives built into the (indirect) presidential selection process? Despite a prior failure, could federalism provide a solution to current ethnic conflicts in Indonesia by allowing the development of regional parties, but maintaining a "reasonable" number of parties with long-standing societal ties at the national level?


Session 27: Competing Knowledges in Post-Revolutionary Indochina

Organizer: Barley Norton, SOAS, University of London

Chair and Discussant: Charles F. Keyes, University of Washington

Keywords: epistemology, Indochina, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, social practice.

This panel seeks to address one central question: how have the dramatic cultural upheavals of the past fifty years affected the epistemological assumptions employed in social life in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam? While these three nations have gone through the similar experiences of warfare, revolution, and the recent reintegration into the international community, they have also experienced the introduction into social life of new definitions of what constitutes legitimate knowledge and in what ways one can legitimately know the world. Research has shown, however, that despite the introduction of these new definitions, they have not enjoyed universal acceptance and instead have had to contend with other concepts and definitions. This panel seeks to address how these multiple and competing definitions of knowing and legitimate knowledge interact with each other, and how they inform social practice. The papers presented will address a range of related themes, such as the nature of conflicting epistemologies (e.g., how does one know a national border? Can one know the world through ecstatic trance or only through empirical methods?), the institutions or social actors that have been responsible for the propagation of different knowledges (e.g., political parties, spirit medium groups, or international NGOs), and the way in which these divergent assumptions have guided particular forms of social action (e.g., the construction of official histories and individual biographies, or the formulation of development policies). The panel promises to provide a unique comparative perspective on the ways in which similar historical processes have affected the sociocultural worlds of these three nations.

Mediumship Versus the State: Conflicting Epistemologies in Vietnam

Barley Norton, SOAS, University of London

This paper will examine the conflicting epistemological assumptions regarding mediumship in post-revolutionary Vietnam. The anti-superstition campaign, implemented by the Vietnamese Communist Party, argues that for knowledge to be ‘legitimate’ it must be scientific (i.e. must employ empirical methods), and it ridicules the notion that intangible forces, such as spirits, can affect ‘reality.’ In contrast, mediumship rituals are based on the premise that spirits engage with, and affect, people’s everyday lives. When possessed, mediums transmit the ‘knowledge’ of the spirits in order to ensure prosperity, good health and happiness for their disciples.

The vigorous implementation of the anti-superstition campaign severely restricted mediums’ practices from the 1960s to the ‘80s. In the doi moi era, however, the authorities have been increasingly tolerant of mediumship. The contrasting knowledges of mediums and the state remain, in many respects, rigidly opposed, but during the 1990s there have been various attempts to reconcile ‘spiritual’ ways of knowing the world with the interests of the state. The paper will outline the ways in which mediumship is being appropriated by, and to a certain extent, legitimated through nationalist discourse. It will include discussion of how nationalist discourse depicts mediumship as a ‘folk culture activity’ which contributes to the construction of national identity, and how it downplays ‘non-empirical’ aspects of mediumship, such as invoking the spirits for the purposes of curing illness. The paper will also seek to show how some of the epistemological assumptions of the anti-superstition campaign have influenced mediums’ ritual practices and their conception of spiritual agency.

Buddha Power and State Power in Cambodia

William Collins, University of California, Berkeley

For the past decade, the social, economic, and political development of Cambodia has been a major goal of the international community. A wide variety of actors, ranging from foreign governments, international non-governmental organizations, and Cambodian governmental and non-governmental organizations, have played roles in the process. This paper’s objective is to examine the manner in which these different actors define and employ knowledge of Cambodian society and culture, and the way in which these diverse knowledges inform the creation and implementation of development policies, particularly the planned establishment of elected Commune Councils that will play a critical role in furthering rural development. As will be shown, many international actors in the development process employ a model of rural Cambodian society that pays insufficient attention to rural residents’ own knowledge and understandings of their society and culture, and also inadequately recognizes the importance of local Buddhist institutions. This same knowledge is also appropriated by Cambodian government officials at the national and local level as it is useful for supporting their own political objectives while limiting the role of other local actors. However, when faced with the issue of generating popular support for their policies and implementing them at the local level, the advocates of development policies must often engage these different systems of knowledge and the actors that endorse them. As will be argued, the creation of successful development policies for Cambodia requires a reconsideration of what the development community regards as legitimate knowledge of Cambodian society and culture.

"We Were Younger Then, And It Was Different": Vietnamese Factory Women Reconsider Their Past

Mila Rosenthal, London School of Economics

Factories in northern Vietnam constituted one of the most significant locations for the implementation of revolutionary policies. Not only did employees work together, they also lived together in collective factory living quarters, creating a tightly-controlled environment for socialization into revolutionary values and social roles. This paper will examine how the recent liberalization of Vietnamese social and economic life has affected the female workers of the state-owned Eighth of March Textile Factory in Hanoi, specifically how they construct and appropriate knowledges of their past, and how they employ these knowledges to adapt to their changing social world and understand their role as women in it. As workers in a state-owned enterprise, the workers have an intimate acquaintance with official ideology and are encouraged to forget the evidence of their own lived experiences and accept the Vietnamese Communist Party’s interpretation of the past; yet, at the same time, they must also contend with their own versions of remembered and recalled experience. This disjuncture becomes especially powerful with regard to how to appropriately respond to such contemporary concerns as status competition, consumer desire, class aspiration, and gender role expectations. By examining the factory’s official history, women’s own versions of their history in the factory, and the recent social changes in the factory’s collective living quarters, this paper will show the ways in which these women have negotiated their responses to these knowledges and histories, and how these diverse ways of knowing continue to inform their moral and social lives.

Creating Knowledge of the Border: The Meanings of the Mekong River Friendship Bridge in Laos

Takeko Iinuma, Cornell University

The 1994 opening of the Mekong River Friendship Bridge between Laos and Thailand marked the beginning of a new era in Lao history. After years of international isolation and socialist economic policies, the bridge provided a clear statement of the country’s new economic policies and its desire for greater integration with its neighbors. Drawing on a survey and interviews conducted in 1999 with households in the border-area communities, government authorities, and the private sector, this paper seeks to examine the epistemological consequences of this infrastructural project in Laotian life, particularly the manner in which the bridge as a material artifact has played a role in creating knowledge of the border between Laos and Thailand. As will be shown, the bridge, which is regarded by the state as a vital asset for the development of trade and industry, has been seen by many non-state actors as a constraining factor on their ability to ensure their own security and maximize their limited opportunities to sustain their livelihoods. As a result, a large gap has emerged with respect to state and local perceptions and attitudes about the bridge and the border, a gap which has the potential to actually limit opportunities for socio-economic development. As will be discussed in conclusion, contrary to the widely held view that the world is becoming more borderless and the role of the state less significant, the Friendship Bridge has provided an important context for the Lao state to extend and reorganize its territory of influence.


Session 48: Contesting Islamic Political Visions in Post-Soeharto Indonesia

Organizer and Chair: Ronald Lukens-Bull, University of North Florida

This panel looks at multiple Islamic political visions found in the Indonesian Islamic "community." Although Indonesia has a majority Islamic population and the current president is a Muslim cleric, there is staggering variation in how Islamic symbols and theories are used to construct visions for an Indonesian polity. The papers look at a variety of Islamic communities: traditionalists, modernists, fundamentalists and examines how each uses Islamic concepts to construct their political vision of Indonesia. Further, within each community there is contention of over how to shape a 21st-century Indonesian polity. The paper on Islamism examines the emergence of a party dedicated to peacefully and democratically establishing Islamic law as the solution for Indonesia’s multiple crises. Not all groups are committed to peaceful political processes. The paper on jihad examines the emergence of a movement calling for holy war against Christians in Maluku. By examining the reactions of other Muslims, this paper explores the growing divisions amongst Indonesian Muslims. The third paper explores how traditionalist theories of leadership shape national discourse about the current presidency. It also examines how these theories are being shaped by discourses of democratization. Finally, whereas the majority of papers are focused on Java, the final paper examines similar processes in South Sulawesi where both Islamic notions of politics and a desire to counter the Javanese hegemony shape political visions.

Indonesian Jihad: Yogyakarta Muslim Responses to the Call for Holy War

Robert William Hefner, Boston University

Long regarded as a stronghold of moderate Islam, the city of Yogyakarta in south-central Java was startled in late 1999 by the rise of a heretofore little-known Islamist group demanding religious warfare (jihad) in Maluku against Christians involved in recent clashes with Muslims. The Yogya Muslim community was all the more surprised when this same group threatened to carry out violence against Christians in Java if it were not allowed to send warriors to the troubled eastern Indonesian province. Based on fieldwork conducted in 1999 and 2000, this paper examines the reactions of Yogyakartan Muslims to the proponents of jihad. The varied nature of those reactions provides insight into basic lines of cleavage in the Indonesian Muslim community as a whole. It also illuminates the deep divisions among Muslims on issues critical to Indonesia’s future: including attitudes toward the military, the idea of national citizenship, and the continuing relevance of the project of Indonesian nationhood itself.

Islamism in Contemporary Indonesian Politics: The Shari’ah Utopianism of Partai Keadilan

Mark Woodward, Arizona State University

Islamism is a complex, global phenomena that developed as a response to the Iranian Revolution and the Afghan war. Islamism has many faces and diverse strategies ranging from armed struggle to commitment to a democratic political process. What Islamist share the vision of a utopian future in which the establishment of Islamic Law (Shari’ah) as the basis of the nation state will lead to the emergence of just, prosperous and pious societies. In many Muslim societies student organizations and campus mosques have figured significantly in Islamist movements.

In post New Order Indonesia Islamism has emerged as a significant social and political force. Islamist organizations range from militant jihad campaigns advocating armed struggle against Christian and other non-Muslim communities to Sufi political parties (Partai Cinta Damai—Peace and Love Party) to those advocating the gradual and peaceful establishment of Islamic law. This paper concerns the Shari’ah Utopianism of Partai Keadilan—The Justice Party. It is based on the analysis of pamphlets and campaign materials produced during the period leading up to the 1999 elections and interviews conducted in Yogyakarta and Jakarta. Partai Keadilan is a campus mosque based party. Supporters are primarily students in technical and scientific fields. Most are extremely pious and idealistic, but have little formal training in Islamic theology or law. The party’s basic position is that the establishment of Islamic law is the key to resolving all of Indonesia’s social, political and economic problems. It is committed to a peaceful, democratic political process and to "leading by example." Party leaders explain that the party’s commitment to democracy and to development and social welfare projects, will lead the majority of Indonesians to understand the advantages of a society based on Shari’ah.

Kyai, President, or Wali: Contesting Islamic Notions of Leadership

Ronald Lukens-Bull, University of North Florida

During Indonesia’s first 53 years of Independence, a handful of traditional Javanese theories of leadership and their accompanying symbolic set were important in legitimizing the regimes. The current president is the most democratically elected leader of Indonesia. He is also a kyai, a traditional Islamic leader who is part jurist, part mystic, and all educator. Today, there is cynicism towards previous uses of traditional models of leadership in the presidency and a strong desire to move towards an open, transparent, and non-corrupt government. In this context this paper explores the interaction of two models of leadership which means in the person of Abdurrahman Wahid: kyai and president. A particular interest are how the models are contested; have different groups understand these two concepts and how they may or may not combine fruitfully. This paper will look at the concept of kyai from the point of view of the traditionalist Islamic community and look at the variation found within. There are dimensions of "kyai" leadership model which are incompatible with democratizing—the idea that a kyai is a little king of his pesantren and his followers. The process of democratization has also started to change ideas about kyai leadership including demands for fiscal accountability. Theoretically, this paper will speak to shifting notions of leadership in times of political, economic, and social crisis.

Political Affiliation and Religious Commitment in South Sulawesi

Thomas P. Gibson, University of Rochester

Twice this century a beam of light has risen from the grave of Ara’s Islamic Saint, Bakka’ Tera’: once at the downfall of the Japanese Empire in 1946 and once at the downfall of Sukarno in 1965. Local informants explained to me this was a divine signal of the downfall of enemies of religion. No such light marked the downfall of Suharto in 1999. South Sulawesi was one of the few Indonesian provinces to cast a majority vote for Habibie, Suharto’s chosen successor, in the 1999 elections. Although explainable in part as a vote for a ‘favorite son’ who was not from the hegemonic Javanese center, I found that well-educated villagers in South Sulawesi were also attracted by his modernist Islamic credentials, scientific training and forceful personality. These were necessary for the continued stability and development of the nation. They viewed the successful candidate, Abdul Rahman Wahid, as deficient in all three areas: as lacking in both religious and scientific knowledge; as soft on successionists in Irian Jaya, Aceh and Kalimantan; and as soft on Communists. Many of my informants had been armed militants during the Darul Islam rebellion of 1952–1965 and remained apprehensive about a resurgence of the ‘atheistic’ Partai Kommunis Indonesia. This paper will explore the relevance of more than a century of political and religious struggles in South Sulawesi to contesting Islamic visions of politics in Post-Soeharto Indonesia.


Session 49: Competing Realities in Post-Revolutionary Indochina

Organizer and Chair: Shaun K. Malarney, International Christian University, Tokyo

Discussant: Richard P. Madsen, University of California, San Diego

Keywords: Indochina, ontology, post-revolutionary change.

This panel seeks to address one central question: how have the dramatic cultural upheavals of the past fifty years affected the ontological assumptions employed in social life in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam? While these three nations have gone through the similar experiences of warfare, revolution, and the recent reintegration into the international community, they have also experienced the introduction into social life of new definitions of what does or does not exist, and what has effective causal force in human life. Research has shown, however, that despite the introduction of these new definitions, they have not enjoyed universal acceptance and instead have had to contend with other concepts and definitions. This panel seeks to address how these multiple and competing definitions interact with each other, and how they inform social practice. The papers presented will address a range of related themes, such as the nature of the conflicting definitions (e.g., do spirits exist or not? Can an aborted fetus influence the lives of the living?), the institutions or social actors that have been responsible for the propagation of different definitions (e.g., rural residents, Communist parties, or diasporic refugee intellectuals), and the way in which these divergent assumptions have guided particular forms of social action (e.g., the formation of government policies, the conduct of commemorative rites, or debates on the nature of authority). The panel promises to provide a unique comparative perspective on the ways in which similar historical processes have affected the socio-cultural worlds of these three nations.

Do Spirits of the Dead Exist? Divergent Ontologies of the Dead in Northern Vietnam

Shaun K. Malarney, International Christian University, Tokyo

This paper’s purpose is to examine the diverse ontological assumptions regarding the dead that exist in contemporary Vietnamese society. The dead are an important part of Vietnamese social life. The socialist state regularly invokes them, whether in the form of official histories that glorify ancient heroes who set an example for the contemporary nation to follow, or official commemorative rites that celebrate those who gave their lives for country and revolution. Everyday Vietnamese people are also engaged with them, whether in the family ancestral altars that maintain a space for the dead in people’s homes, or the family ancestral rites in which the living contact the dead and care for them. This paper seeks to show that despite this shared focus, these different contexts employ divergent ontologies of the dead. The atheistic Vietnamese state, while mobilizing the dead as an important component for legitimizing their regime, employs an ontology that grants the dead no existence beyond the sum of their actions while alive. Many Vietnamese people, however, employ an ontology in which the dead continue to live as spirits, and these spirits have the ability to influence human life. The diverse conceptions, as will be shown, necessitate different forms of social interaction with the dead, and also place limits on the consequences the dead can have in human life. As will be argued, living social agents continue to engage the dead; but what they engage varies with the actors and social context.

Abortion Conventionalized, Abortion Ritualized: Competing Perceptions of Fetal Life in Contemporary Vietnam

Tine Gammeltoft, University of Copenhagen

In Vietnam today, induced abortion is a highly prevalent and apparently non-controversial solution to unwanted pregnancies. Particularly among unmarried youth, abortion rates are high and seem to be increasing. Although some have commented that young people "go for abortions like they go to buy chewing gum," induced abortion is for many socially stressful and morally problematic. This paper will examine one method through which youth attempt to resolve the emotional and moral dilemmas that abortion engenders, ritual practice. As will be shown, many women have begun to perform a variety of rituals for their aborted fetuses, such as prayers, burning of incense, and spirit medium sessions. While these rituals help provide relief from immediate personal troubles, they also reveal the conflicting ontological and epistemological assumptions regarding the fetus that exist in Vietnamese social life. From the socially and politically dominant "scientific" perspective, a first trimester fetus belongs to the domain of nature, being nothing but a morally neutral collection of blood and cells. Yet from the "spiritual" perspective which has considerable strength in the life-worlds of youth, a fetus at any stage of gestation belongs to the cultural domain and is considered as a human being worthy of moral recognition. Within this tense and politicized field where differing modes of knowledge compete over the social and moral limits to human life, rituals provide a way for young women to reconcile conflicting ontologles of human life, cope with profound tensions and dilemmas, and re-unite contradictory epistemologies of human life and personhood.

Do People Still Dream of Kings? Discourses of Monarchy in Laos

Grant Evans, University of Hong Kong

Twenty-five years ago, revolutionaries in Laos accomplished one of their greatest revolutionary goals, the overthrow of the Lao monarchy. In the years that followed, they augmented this achievement with the appropriation of royal properties, a prohibition against the set of rituals members of the royal family had performed to publicly restate their power, and a propaganda campaign designed to delegitimize the royalty and the justifications for monarchic rule. Recent research, however, has shown that traces of a discourse surrounding the monarchy still exist in Laos. This paper’s objective is to analyze the nature of this discourse and explain how and why it has continued to exist. At a micro-level, it will discuss everyday practices, such as linguistic forms or unsanctioned ritual practices, that assert the monarchy’s continued existence. At a macro-level, it will examine the impact of the Thailand and its monarchy in conceptualizing the Lao nation, and also the role of intellectuals and others in the Lao diaspora in perpetuating ideas regarding the monarchy’s existence. In conclusion, this paper will address the question of whether, despite the absence of an overt institutional structure to support it, the monarchy can still be said to exist in Lao social life.

(Re-)Constituting Hierarchy and Authority in Contemporary Cambodia

Lindsay French, Rhode Island School of Art and Design

Two primary objectives of the Khmer Rouge revolution in Cambodia were the destruction of all previous forms of social hierarchy and their replacement with a two-tiered system of revolutionary correctness. In reality, this system was never fully implemented as force and its strategic deployment became the dominant factor for constituting authority in Cambodian life. This paper’s objective is to examine how, in the wake of the Khmer Rouge and the regimes that followed, hierarchy and authority are being renegotiated and reconstituted in Cambodian life, specifically with regard to the re-emergent role of experience as a marker for social status. The paper builds on the premise that hierarchy and authority have historically involved the existence and possession of different socially-recognized objects or attributes, whether wealth, education, age, piety, or control over force, and that the possession or absence of these socio-cultural objects have been vital for assertions of hierarchy and authority. Through an analysis of social practice in family and village contexts, it then examines the different ways in which experience is employed in contemporary constructions of hierarchy and authority, but in doing so seeks to disentangle the multiple elements, such as age, membership in particular social organizations, participation in particular social activities or movements, or the acquisition of certain knowledges, that are socially-recognized as constitutive of experience in particular contexts. As will be shown, debates over the defining characteristics of experience reveal the enduring legacy of the revolution and the preexisting cultural patterns with which it had to contend.


Session 69: The Royal Aura: Signifying Power in Southeast Asia

Organizer and Chair: Pattaratorn Chirapravati, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

Discussant: Henry Ginsburg, The British Library

Exploring the dynamics of power in pre-modern Southeast Asia is a course charted by our record of the creations commissioned, assembled, and appropriated as part of establishing authority. The paucity of other evidence has left the monumental architecture and sculpture, and the inscriptions associated with these and less permanent creations, to bear the weight of historical inquiry. As the history of Southeast Asia moved into the modern era, texts associated with the representation of rule—written, photographic, and performed—can be read in terms of their varied efforts to generate a seamless and coherent image of royalty.

Using both modern and pre-modern materials, participants in this panel will discuss four creative forms as the media for the communication or even the generation of power.

The interpretation of epigraphical data is the focus of Prapod Assavaviruhalkarn’s paper. He evaluates the interpretation of this material as political versus religious in nature, arguing for a grounding of interpretation in the study of larger societal issues.

John Listopad’s paper explores the visual evidence and political context of the mural paintings commissioned by King Mongkut at Siam’s Wat Somanat, paintings which confronted those who wished to ordain at this monastery for social or political reasons with the most basic tenets of Buddhism in a very graphic way.

Roxana Brown studies the political implications of Khmer bas-reliefs in a rethinking of the long-debated questions of the Khmer devaraja cult. In contrast to prevailing beliefs, the visual evidence of an actual 12th-century Angkorian king does not show him in any way as a divine being. Instead he is shown as one element in an interdependent power structure.

With the introduction of mechanical technology in Southeast Asia new forms of expression and communication offer means for the construction of a royal image. Caverlee Cary examines the photographic mode in nineteenth-century Siam in terms of both domestic nation-building and external diplomatic initiatives.

The practice of royal persuasion in mainland Southeast Asia has been periodically reinvented. With each medium of expression comes a different constellation of possibilities and limitations. Objects were presented for interpretation in the eras of their creation or royal appropriation. Today we view these representations in the context of the twenty-first century. In this panel participants engage in the interpretation of power in the double perspective of contemporary vision and the perilous exercise of imagining the past. Through these expressive forms we seek, as did their conjurers, the art of the possible.

Imprecation and Blessing: An Interpretation of Epigraphical Data

Prapod Assavavirulhakarn, Chulalongkorn University

Epigraphical data found in Southeast Asia, to the disappointment of historians, are mostly ‘religious’ in nature. They are usually records of meritorious deeds and lists of donations. In some of these ‘dedicatory’ inscriptions we find imprecation or blessing, sometimes both, normally at the end of an inscription. These are curses to the persons who vandalize the sanctuaries and blessing for those who help preserve them. The punishment of going to hell is cited sometimes side by side with the law of the realm and of course the reward of going to heaven.

It has been proposed that imprecations are for political purpose only and have nothing to do with religion. They are to be considered as a means to control and thus facilitate the centralized power of the king. But if we look carefully the concept of ‘cursing’ here bases itself firmly on religious thought and is closely related to cosmological structure. Detailed study of these imprecations and blessings might reveal religious behavior as well as social and political structure and legal application of a given society of Southeast Asia. This phenomenon shows that in Southeast Asia religion cannot be studied separately from other phenomena in the society.

God Kings of Angkor

Roxana M. Brown, University of California, Los Angeles

In any consideration of the Angkorian period of Cambodia the concept of devaraja or god king invariably arises. The literature on this subject is extensive but it has not yet included an analysis of one important piece of visual evidence: the portrayal of Suryavarman II as king and mortal on the bas-reliefs of the 12th-century Angkor Wat temple. He is shown twice in a single long mural carved on the walls of the southern gallery. The relief includes a host of actual historical figures from Suryavarman’s time, twenty-one of them named in small inscriptions on the mural itself.

Suryavarman and two of his military chieftains are each shown twice. The mural is thus divided into two scenes. The first shows Suryavarman seated in audience in the open air of a forested mountaintop. The second shows him as a member in a long procession of notables, each on elephant back and accompanied by their personal retinues.

Instead of showing Suryavarman as divine, even though the small inscriptions identify him by his posthumous title Vishnuloka, the relief graphically reveals the elements of an interdependent power structure. Suryavarman himself is not shown any larger than the other mortals of the relief. He is not shown being anointed by heavenly flying devas, nor does he sport a halo or any other divine headgear. He rides an earthly rather than mythical mount. In sum, the relief clearly shows the king as a leader, but one can easily argue that he is depicted as first among relatively equal military chiefs rather than as a divine being from whom, alone, all power emanates.

The Mural Paintings of Wat Somanat Vihan in Bangkok

John Listopad, Stanford University

This was the funerary temple for Queen Somanat, the chief queen of King Mongkut. She died a tragic and lingering death soon after their marriage at the time of his accession to the throne. This had a profound impact on the scholar king. He decided to dedicate a temple to her memory, using a portion of her vast fortune. There are two dramatically different themes depicted, depending on the audience they were intended for. The paintings in the Vihan, the public area of the monastery, depict scenes from the Inao, a popular drama in which the young queen would have participated or viewed with other women in the palace. In the Bot, the hall for activities that concerned the monastic order, the lower walls depicted the life of the Buddha, the funeral ceremonies for Queen Somanat, and the asubha khammathana, the meditations on the different manners in which a corpse can decay. Above, on the side wall were depicted the dhutanga ascetic practices and the daily cycle of monastic life. The asubha khammathana are a very unusual subject for Thai Mural Painting.

The reason for their choice lies with the political circumstances of the reign of King Mongkut. As the abbot of Wat Somanat, he chose a close friend from the Dhammayut order who was a great meditation teacher and who had resided in forest monasteries. As Wat Bowonivet was closed to general ordinations as it had been the King’s monastery, young men of standing who wished to ordain in the Dhammayut order for social reasons went to Wat Somanat. Overwhelmed with a host of young men wishing to ordain at his monastery for social or political reasons, the abbot stressed rigorous monastic practice. This paper explores the visual evidence and cultural context of the Wat Somanat mural paintings, paintings which confronted those who wished to ordain at the monastery for political or social reasons with the most basic tenets of Buddhism in a very graphic way during their ordination ceremony.

Mechanical Mediation and the Royal Subject

Caverlee Cary, University of California, Berkeley

Photographs, even the most casually snapped, can constitute rich sources of information. The more that is known of the historical context, the greater the potential for the photograph to be not only illustrative but revealing. Photographs as mechanical creations speak of states of technology and sophistication in the understanding and manipulation of persuasive possibilities. As images, their contents speak on many levels: as compositions within a frame, as composites of objects which may be of significance in their own right, of attitudes to the human body and the relationships among people and between people and environment.

There is nothing casual about the creation of the two photographs under consideration in this presentation. We know much more about the circumstances than many photographs chance has preserved from the nineteenth century. Both are revealing about their times and subjects in ways presumably intended and unintended. The reading of an image in terms of the dynamics visual, social, and political, suggests the potential for the reading of the large volume of less well documented images.

In these two cases the practitioners of politics engaged in a new rhetoric. Siam’s two latter nineteenth-century monarchs, King Mongkut and his son and successor King Chulalongkorn, were both interested in the newly-imported medium of photography, as they were in other forms of imported technology. Both were also concerned with constructions of themselves as royal subjects in the eyes of their audiences, local and global. In these two photographs we see two very different forms of engagement with the new medium: one created in the service of external diplomacy, the other probably for primarily internal consumption. Ultimately the two vastly different images suggest the rendering of the royal image as self-constructed subject in the context of their very different times and usage.

Ethics and Politics in the Art of Thai Boxing

Peter Vail, Miyazaki International College, Japan

Thai Boxing is by far the most popular martial art in Thailand. It has become, in its rationalized, competitive form, the national sport of Thailand, enjoying broad viewership and supporting a large gambling economy. Muay Thai is conducted almost exclusively as prizefighting, and it involves the participation of many children, especially in the countryside. Because of its popularity and embeddedness in Thai life, Muay Thai has become an important arena of politics. This paper will examine two dimensions of the politicization of Thai boxing, first, how Thai boxing matches are used as public forums by various politicians especially in rural areas; second, what political considerations inform recent attempts to legislate the practice of Thai boxing, especially amongst children practitioners. The paper concludes by arguing that the political struggle penetrating Muay Thai is an important facet of class disparity and cultural debate in Thai society.


Session 70: Contramodernities in Southeast Asian Literature, Drama, and Film

Organizer and Chair: Julie Shackford-Bradley, University of California, Berkeley

Discussant: Michael H. Bodden, University of Victoria

Keywords: Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Southeast Asia, modernity, literature, drama, film.

In the study of Southeast Asian arts and culture, scholars have been confined by a language that divides cultural production into the categories of the "modern" and the "traditional." Even as "tradition" has been revealed as a construct of colonialism, or more broadly—and complexly—as a construct of the discourse of modernity, the term continues to be used as a catch-all phrase for the pre-, non-, as well as the contra-modern.

In our discussion of Southeast Asian literature and film of the last category—the contra-modern—we both acknowledge these linguistic constraints and attempt to redefine the terms of cultural critique in order to address what Homi Bhabha has described as that which "translates. . . the social imaginary" of modernity but is at the same time "discontinuous or in contention" with it.

As we will show, in each example scrutinized, the artists consciously dip into a reservoir of images and symbols associated with "tradition," but with various motivations. These images and symbologies are not employed with the purpose of rejecting modernity, but rather, understanding it in its variety of guises—the hyperrational; the foreign; Modernist Islam; Capitalism; Globalization—and critiquing it in terms of its limitations in artistic expression and in articulating and addressing social and political problems. In our papers we question the relationship between the artist(s) and the audience(s) to examine whether "tradition" is deployed in a romanticizing or ironic/deconstructive mode, and what political ends are served in either choice.

Revisiting and Reusing The Malay Annals and The Hikayat Hang Tuah

Soak Koon Wong, Universiti Sains Malaysia

The symbols and archetypes of classical Malay texts continue to acquire new resonances in the hands of contemporary Malay writers. Using The Malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu) and Hikayat Hang Tuah as a starting point, this paper examines the ways four writers (two men and two women) refigure various "traditional" issues, for example, the concept of "daulat" or divine authority; the definitions of levels of governance, e.g. in family, community, and state; bonding between men and women and same-sex interrelationships and the role of subjects. The two sets of texts are:

(a) the woman dramatist, Rahmah Bujang’s Princess Hang Li-Po (Puteri Hang Li-Po) which is read against Muhammad Hj. Salleh’s portrayal of women, etc. in Poems From The Malay Annals (Sajak-sajak Sejarah Melayu).

(b) Dinsman’s play, Jebat, may yield illuminating comparative insights read with the woman writer, Fatimah Busu’s Al-isra.

The fact that most, if not all, major contemporary Malay literary works are published by the Malay Academy of Letters (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka) which is a state-run body gives rise to the assumption that these works cannot be deconstructive or critical and must be simply conformist. And yet, it is precisely because of this ostensible conformity (they need not be homogeneous or completely non-interrogative) that it is challenging to read them anew and even, against the grain. In looking at these four works, I analyze how the writers reinforce, expand, diminish, and interrogate the symbols, tropes, metaphors of the classical texts. In doing so they complicate the anterior and posterior temporality of "tradition" and "modernity."

Wise Spirits and the Limits of Modernity in Suwarsih Djojopuspito’s Siluman Karangkobar

Julie Shackford-Bradley, University of California, Berkeley

Suwarsih Djojopuspito’s 1963 novella Siluman Karangkobar (The Wise Spirits of Karangkobar), presents the author’s utopian vision of a female-centered spirit realm that resonates with the imagery of the agrarian-based cosmology of Java, and the author’s vision of Hindu and Islamic socialist/feminine principles. This text, which was last amidst the political turmoil of the mid-1960s introduces many of the issues that would come to occupy Magical Realists and postcolonial feminist writers in their critique of modernity and search for meaning in anti-modern discourses of orature, mysticism, and roots.

In the paper I argue that the author uses the "Russian doll" structure of the text—in which the narrator’s journey into a primordial, mystical interior is told through a series of embedded narratives—to articulate the problematic place of the modern, urban intellectual in Indonesia. I then show how Suwarsih’s reification of a localized mysticism in a work of modern literature makes us conscious of the ways in which Indonesian intellectuals, in their efforts to construct themselves as modern, created an Other in the form of the superstitious/traditional rakjat (masses), and how this Other underwent various forms of silencing and erasure in canonical modern texts. As the author taps into a reservoir of images and discourses associated with pre-modern "tradition" and infuses these images/discourses with a radical political vision, she illustrates the impotence of the modern, hyper-rational discourses of modern socialism in addressing immediate social problems. Suwarsih’s alternative mystical/feminist solution involves a fundamental transformation in worldview through a ritualistic opening of the senses.

De/Constructing Modernity: The Deployment of Tradition in Contemporary Southeast Asian Fiction and ASEAN’s "Realizing Rama"

Teri Shaffer Yamada, California State University, Long Beach

This paper will foreground the contrapuntal deployment of traditional Indic epic literary themes/protagonists (Ramayana and Mahabharata) in contemporary fiction by Southeast Asian writers (predominantly Indonesian and Thai) and by ASEAN. I suggest that many writers deploy traditional themes in modern fiction with a deconstructionist intent. The traditional and the modern are frequently intermeshed. When recognized elements of the traditional and modern are juxtaposed, it serves as an unexpected contradiction, a shock to the reader’s consciousness, bringing into view how much society has or has not changed. This technique is used as political satire in Yudhistira ANM Massardi’s "Interview with Rahwana," as social satire in Nay Win Myint’s "Thadun" and Win Pe’s "Clean, Clear Water," and as gender-role critique in Sri Dao Ruang’s "Sita Puts Out the Fire," Satyagraha Hoerip’s "After the Village Cleaning," and Mary Loh’s "Sex Size and Ginseng."

This deconstructionist technique is contrasted with the "constructionist" use of tradition by ASEAN. From December 1999 through spring 2000, the ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information sponsored a "modernized" performance of the Ramayana, retitled "Realizing Rama" throughout most of Southeast Asia, beginning with its debut in Vietnam. This two-hour performance with the demon seductress Surphanaka costumed in a "dress similar to Madonna’s Material Girl" was deployed to help "unite artists" throughout the region while "re-introducing this classic piece of literature to young audiences in the region." This "constructionist" deployment of modernized tradition is an ideological deployment used to create a pan-ASEAN cultural identity. This attempt to construct a modern identity using tradition is socially relevant to the economic interests of ASEAN in an age of increasing internal migration caused by economic displacements due to modernization, and the resulting ethnic conflicts they create.

All Things Bawdy and Sexual: The Recuperation of Adat in Contemporary Malay Films

Gaik Cheng Koo, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver

This paper examines a trend to recuperate adat (Malay custom) by representing the bawdy and sexual in Malay films from the 1990s. Recuperating adat is largely a response from progressive Malays to a resurgent Islam that is at times considered to be repressive of female sexuality, as manifested by the majority of Muslim women who now wear the tudung (head covering). Resurgent Islamic attempts to purify Muslim Malay culture of its Hindu and animistic elements has seen the banning of public cultural performances like the mak yong and wayang kulit (shadow puppetry). In retaliation, New Wave Malay filmmakers feature traditional dances and rituals that may contain magic, traditional healing, and the supernatural in their works. Moreover adat is embodied in the figure of the sexualized woman whose sexuality is symbolized by her wearing only a sarung tied around her midriff (the act of berkemban). It is Malay male filmmakers rather than their female counterparts who seem to unproblematically adopt this trope to evoke an earthiness and raw sensuality that is rooted in the imagery of the kampung (village), suggesting a kind of Malay essentialist femininity before the advent of urban modernity and dakwah activism (Islamic proselytization). In reclaiming an essential Malayness/ethnicity that is cathected onto the body of the gendered Other while simultaneously resisting a homogeneous global modernity and fundamentalist Islam, an elision or sleight-of-hand of another kind occurs for privileging ethnicity in this case means sacrificing gender politics.


Session 90: Village Modern: Transforming Tradition in Rural Northern Vietnam

Organizer and Chair: Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Harvard University

Discussants: John Kleinen, University of Amsterdam; Neil L. Jamieson, George Mason University

Keywords: Vietnam, village, ritual, tradition, community.

Since the Doi Mai reforms were launched in the 1980s, Vietnam has gradually been transformed from a socialist, centrally planned economy to a market-driven one. In the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam, the new economy has profoundly transformed once remote villages that were largely engaged in subsistence agriculture. The transition from subsistence to commoditized economy has been accompanied by the resurgence of village traditions that had previously been discouraged as backward, superstitious, or wasteful. Until now, scholarly analysis of this phenomenon has concentrated primarily on issues of continuity and change, authenticity and re-invention, and changing relations between the socialist state and rural society. While village traditions are indeed being re-invented even as they are revived, they also, the three papers in the panel suggest, play an important transformative role of their own. Neither a rejection of current policies nor of the socialist past, the revival of tradition in rural northern Vietnam constitutes an imaginative and creative response by villagers to the new opportunities and uncertainties of the market economy. It is an attempt to negotiate new identities for themselves in a process that involves not only the different components of the village community but also outsiders (including foreign visitors), local cadres, scholars, and various levels of the state. As such, it is an effort to control both the past and the future.

"Village Affairs": The Making of Communal Identity Through the Revivification of Rituals in a Northern Vietnamese Village

Chi Huyen Truong, University of Toronto

This paper explores the ritual revivification process in Dong Vang village (Ha Tay) since the decollectivization and commoditization of agriculture. I will focus on the ways in which various groups with different and cross-cutting interests based on age, gender, and socio-economic status participate in Dong Vang’s annual festival as well as the year-round preparation for this event. I examine how village identity is formed through everyday negotiation over contributions of materials, time and labor as well as debates over the very meaning of participation in the festival within households, lineages, and at village-wide meetings. Competition to donate funds and labor for the renovation of religious buildings and the intensification of village rituals is not limited to a few elites from competing lineages. Instead, it represents a shared, albeit multivocal, set of interests for all members of the community. By extravagantly reviving their ritual traditions, Dong Vang villagers do not simply pursue symbolic distinctions, either at the level of the individual, household, lineage, or of the village-as-a-whole; more importantly, they seek to respond collectively to the uneven implementation of economic and political policies by the local authorities resulting from continuous tensions among the nine villages that make up Hoang Long commune.

Praying for Profit: The Cult of the Lady of the Treasury

Hong Ly Le, Institute of Popular Culture, Hanoi

In the wake of the Doi Moi reforms, the cult of the Lady of the Treasury in Co Me village (Bac Ninh) experienced an explosive growth, going from a purely local cult to a national one. Mirroring the larger transition of the Vietnamese economy from subsistence to market, the goddess was transformed from being the guardian of a granary to the keeper of a symbolic bank, making "loans" and collecting "interest." The paper looks at three groups affected by the cult’s new popularity: the mostly female urban petty traders who are her devotees, the villagers whose lives and interpersonal relationships have been transformed by the expansion and commoditization of the cult, and the local authorities who welcome the new prosperity but must also deal with a profoundly altered social, political, and economic landscape. Co Me village thus serves as a microcosm for Vietnamese society as it abandons the ethos of wartime austerity in favor of consumerism and profit-seeking. I argue that, far from being a vestige of superstitious traditions, for both devotees and villagers, the cult of the Lady of the Treasury represents an attempt to maximize profits, exploit new opportunities and negotiate the risks involved in the modern market economy.

Manure and Modernity: Villagers and Ethnographers in Dong Ky Village

Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Harvard University

In 1996, the villagers of Dong Ky (Bac Ninh) discovered that a book published by the Institute of Popular Culture in Hanoi depicted their village god as a one-time manure collector. The villagers indignantly complained to the highest echelons of the State and forced the Institute to produce new ethnographic materials that better reflected their own understanding of their current religious practices and ancient traditions. This paper locates the roots of the conflict between villagers and scholars in their clashing representational agendas. In their quest to document "authentic" Vietnamese traditions, urban ethnographers are also exoticizing customs rooted in a vanishing agrarian-based subsistence economy. From the perspective of villagers, however, the revival of these customs is a sign of the new prosperity which is rapidly transforming village life. As the new market economy and better means of communications give them unprecedented access to outsiders’ images of them, villagers have become self-conscious about their "backward traditions" and now have the means, financial and political, to control the production of these images. This self-consciousness, reflecting their desire to appear modern, leads them into a dialogic process of re-invention which is bringing their notions of proper ritual behavior closer to those of the State. For both scholars and villagers, the recording of tradition thus acts as a catalyst for both restoration and change.


Session 91: Individual Papers: Strategies of Opposition in Southeast Asia

Organizer: Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Chair: Katherine Bowie, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Reinventing Adat: Peasant, State, and Timber Industry in Indonesia: A Case Study from East Kalimantan

Mariko Urano, Georgetown University

This paper explores the role that indigenous cultural symbols play in facilitating or obstructing peasant collective action in agrarian societies. I will present the results of fifteen months field work that I conducted in Sungai Manis, a village in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. In this village, the peasants attempted to defend their control of land against logging activities by the timber industry to which the state gave concessions. The Basic Agrarian Law of 1960 has recognized their rights for community land ownership, but the legal security for their land holdings has become less effective as many of the population had effectively abandoned community ownership of land in favor of private land ownership. However, the peasants invoked traditional land owning laws and customs—adat—to defend their interests, and thus in effect reinvented tradition.

While instrumentalist or rational choice theory would suggest that this strategy was dictated by the calculation that such symbols provided the most effective and low-cost prism through which to organize collective action, my research suggests that this strategy was in no small measure dictated by the state and its dominant ideology, as manifest in the Basic Agrarian Law, which upholds adat. This reinventing of adat proved partly successful as a weapon against the timber industry. However, in adopting it, the peasants in effect admitted the State’s priority over the land rights, and thus remained vulnerable to state appropriation. This paradoxical dynamic suggests that state power plays a central role in defining the strategies and goals that peasants employ. The choice of symbols, and their relative effectiveness, has more to do with institutional or state power, as structuralists would argue.

The Politics of Representation: The Assembly of the Poor and the Use of Media Space to Challenge the Hegemonic Developmental Discourse in Thailand

Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, National University of Singapore

A growing civil society and dissident activism in Thailand are perhaps impossible in that the media is essentially an ideological system whereby consensus among the general public is produced toward the interests of the powers-that-be and big businesses. In this paper, I attempt to show a more complex picture of the manufacture of consent. I argue that media is a ‘public space of representation,’ in which elites, social groups and journalists play crucial roles in the production of public discourses. I examine the case of the "Assembly of the Poor" (AOP)—the most influential and farmer-based grassroots movement in Thailand in the late 1990s—to show that both the powerful and the powerless are enthusiastically involved in contests over notions of development. Media becomes a political site where the state attempts to manufacture consent, whereas the marginalized to make dissent. Also, the particular nature of the media industry that goes beyond the logic of profit-making facilitates the role of the media as a site for the production of meanings. Since media discourse is by no means constructed in a vacuum, I locate my analyses of the struggle over the media representation of the AOP within the larger political, economic, social and cultural contexts of contemporary Thai society. This paper will highlight how media representations of the AOP are shaped by the cultural politics of democratization in Thailand involving grassroots movement, media and the state.

Singapore’s ‘Middle Realm’: The Nanyang Shang Bao and the Jinan Incident of 1928

David L. Kenley, Marshall University

Recently, a few scholars have reopened the discussion of "civil society" in Asia (see note 1). While they often disagree as to its definition, most believe such a "civil society" possesses a high degree of autonomy from the state, regardless of whether or not it seeks to usurp the state. Instead it occupies a "middle realm," situated somewhere between the ruler and the ruled (see note 2). This definition is certainly applicable to Singapore’s colonial-era newspaper, the Nanyang Shang Bao. As a Chinese-language newspaper, the Nanyang Shang Bao was an important medium for the large Chinese immigrant community, often challenging the official pronouncements of the British ruling elite. At the same time, the Nanyang Shang Bao offered alternative viewpoints from those published in the English-language Straits Times. This autonomy is especially evident in the paper’s coverage of the 1928 Jinan Incident. By investigating the contents of the Nanyang Shang Bao during the crucial summer months of 1928, it is possible to understand this "middle realm" and the important role it played in British-occupied Singapore.

1. See, for example, Baogang He, The Democratic Implications of Civil Society in China (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991) or Gordon White, Jude Howell, and Shang Xiaoyuan, In Search of Civil Society: Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

2. Joan Judge uses the term "middle realm" in this context as it applies to Shanghai’s early twentieth-century newspaper, Shibao. See Joan Judge, Print and Politics: Shibao and the Culture of Reform in Late Qing China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996).

Heritage as a Human Right: A New Style and Language of Civil and Community Activism in Penang, Malaysia

Judith Nagata, York University, Toronto

The intricate associations between political and economic elites at both national and local levels in Malaysia have exposed land and housing to unrestrained market forces, and made the development of once protected community lands the center of conflict. The existence of once-thriving "urban villages," including religiously endowed lands and rent-controlled working class residential areas, especially in Penang, is now severely threatened, but has succeeded in generating some novel and ingenious strategies of resistance. Some movements have managed to create support across traditional ethnic and religious lines in the form of spontaneous NGOs which contemplate appeals to the United Nations and to international charters of rights and freedoms and from other agencies offshore. More parochially, the residents of religious (Muslim waqf, church and temple) lands, whose tenancies are under threat from their own politically and commercially connected religious elites, are beginning to take refuge under the banner of "Heritage," and drawing on overseas links far reinforcement. Ethnic enclaves are likewise redefining themselves as "heritage communities," thus expanding and reframing what was once a middle class intellectual preoccupation with architecture and material culture to an arena for powerful grass-roots advocacy, civil action, and reform.


Session 111: Songs at the Edge of the Forest: Narrative and Problems of Meaning in the Work of David Chandler

Organizer: Anne R. Hansen, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Chair: May Ebihara, City University of New York

Discussant: David P. Chandler, Georgetown University

Keywords: Cambodia, Chandler, narrative, moral order.

This panel seeks to honor David Chandler’s contributions to the study of Cambodian history and culture, marking the occasion of his recent retirement from Monash University, and to critically engage in reflection on themes raised in his most original and lyrical article, "Songs at the Edge of the Forest." The article analyzes tensions and incongruities in overlapping conceptions of moral order in 19th-century Cambodia, raising significant substantive and methodological issues concerning narrative, morality, suffering, and problems of meaning.

Characteristic of the scholarly approach evident in his recent work on Tuol Sleng as well, Chandler chooses, in this article, to tackle large questions about "...the gaps that open between what ought to happen in the world, what often happens, and the "normal," examining the constructions of order expressed in three narrative texts. Methodologically, his use of folk stories as historical source offers a fruitful approach for thinking about moral order, as well as for addressing the dearth of resources for understanding Cambodia. His metaphorical focus on the shifting identities in the twilight space that serves as the border between forest and settlement in the narratives is in some ways evocative of Cambodia itself and of Khmer studies, small and peripheral in certain respects, but raising profound questions of meaning.

The papers in this panel are woven around the three themes articulated in Chandler’s article: the use of narratives to understand problems of suffering and moral order; the relationship between ideals and praxis; the ambiguities and tensions of borders between historical periods, countries, ideologies, forms of discourse, and people.

Between a Song and a Priy: Tracking Cambodia’s History through its Forest

Penny Edwards, Australian National University

"[Angkor’s] ruins," wrote Louis Delaporte in 1872, are "invaded and enveloped by a powerful vegetation." This juxtaposition of ancient monument and jungle mayhem was the antithesis of la douce France (sweet France). "A ruined monastery in . . . a German forest . . . moves more deeply," wrote co-explorer Louis de Carné. The French Protectorate (1863–1954) leveled this disjuncture between European woodland and Angkorean wilderness by landscaping the temple complex to cohere with French notions of monumental space and thus maximize its appeal to European tourists.

These notions of landscape management jarred with Khmer cosmology. A preserve of yeak (demons), the priy (forest) was an unregulated but deeply spiritual place. Trees offered more than shade: they were the repositories of ancestral spirits. Angkor Park allowed a tangible measure of control over Cambodia’s environment which was unachievable in the country’s mass tracts of bushland. Road and rail projects cleaved these zones, but forests continued to function in the colonial imaginary as both a metonym of a "wild East" and a sign of the inaccessible zones of Cambodian culture and society. By contrast, the neatly manicured gardens of Phnom Penh conjured up a colonial utopia in miniature: a realm where the very fiber of colonial territory yielded to a European aesthetic.

From the clearing of Angkor to the forest warfare of Khmer Rouge guerillas; from the "K–5" deforestation campaign of the 1980s to the eco-vandalism of the 1990s, this paper will explore evolutions in the conceptual and actual domain of priy as a lens on modern Cambodian history.

Ways of the World: Harm and Suffering in Khmer Ethical Narratives

Anne R. Hansen, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

This paper examines Khmer responses to the problems of harm and suffering in Buddhist ethical narratives composed by the celebrated writer Ukna Suttantaprija Ind. Theorizing narrative as a Buddhist form of ethical thinking, this paper responds to the questions of meaning and moral order examined in Chandler’s article from a Khmer religious perspective at the beginning of the twentieth century. This period of social and political upheaval provoked Buddhist intellectual engagement with questions of what the natures of persons and the world really are.

Characters in Ind’s narratives live in a world determined by the consequences of their desires, thoughts, fantasies, words, and actions. Constantly shifting, these acts of mind, speech and body provide a precarious scaffolding for samsaric existence. A problem for many of the characters, however, is that they fail to recognize that the "structure" of their world is a process of causation, with one event or idea or reaction leading to the generation or cessation of another. Unable to see this chain of arising at work in themselves and the world, they perpetuate thoughts, speech and bodily acts that cause suffering and harm to themselves and others. The cultivation of the perception necessary for recognizing the reality of the world, its causal nature, its slipperiness or transience and the fragility of human beings within it, is understood in the stories and their commentary (drawing on Pali sources) as dhammannuta, the "recognition of truth," a way of seeing the world as it really is and living accordingly.

Constructing Narratives of Order: Religious Building and Moral Chaos

John Marston, Colegio de Mexico

In "Songs at the Edge of the Forest," David Chandler examines a verse chronicle composed in 1856 to commemorate the completion of a provincial wat. The poem celebrates the building of the wat and the restoration of order by the king, a contrast to the war and moral chaos also described.

The period since 1979, and particularly since 1989, has been a time of religious building in Cambodia, both figuratively and literally. Thousands of wats have been returned to active use after the socialist periods; building, always an important field of merit in Theravada Buddhism, has recently been particularly central to Cambodian religious consciousness. There have been at least four cases of monumental building projects around which cults have developed. These cults, drawing on traditional prophecies, have drawn on the belief that completion of the building project would coincide with the coming of peace.

My paper will focus on a series of bas-reliefs in a building connected to one of these projects. The building is one of four temple-monuments on the grounds of Wat Sovannathommareach in Kandal province. The bas-reliefs depict the process of raising funds and constructing the building itself, a process much like that of the construction of a traditional wat. By means of the bas-relief, the building celebrates its own process of construction. The paper will examine this visual narrative and explore the question of how Cambodian discursive systems, in the terms of Chandler’s article, contrast religious construction with memories of moral chaos.

The Buddh Damnay and the Meaning of Suffering

Judy Ledgerwood, Northern Illinois University

The Buddh Damnay are a group of 19th-century Buddhist prophetic texts that tell of a series of events that will occur at the end of a kalpa, a Buddhist cycle of time, in connection to the degeneration of the Buddhist Dhamma and the eventual destruction and rebirth of the cosmos. These texts are being used by contemporary Khmer to interpret collective suffering: the experiences of brutality and hardship they have endured over the last thirty years, the massive death and destruction of war, Khmer Rouge oppression that resulted in the death of nearly a quarter of the population, and the subsequent civil war throughout the 1980s and 90s.

This paper explores contemporary uses of the Buddh Damnay texts to answer the same questions of meaning, incomprehensibility and order raised in David Chandler’s "Songs at the Edge of the Forest" in relation to political events in Cambodia in the recent past. The unthinkable becomes a comprehensible narrative if the events are understood as part of the wider more encompassing sequence of events described in the texts.

The paper draws from first person narrative accounts of the Khmer Rouge period published in English, as well as on interviews in Cambodia conducted this year.


Session 112: Global Forces and Social Change in Southeast Asia

Organizer, Chair, and Discussant: Rachel M. Safman, Cornell University

Keywords: Southeast Asia, globalization, social change.

Southeast Asia, historically a crossroads of civilizations, has in recent years been pummeled by forces originating outside of the region. Political and economic change elsewhere in Asia and in other parts of the world combined with pressures exerted by international and multinational bodies such as the World Bank and World Health Organization are all impacting both the pace and direction of social change in many Southeast Asian nations. In this panel, we examine the changes going on in areas such as health policy, social service provision, migration, and labor organization in light of the pervasive, if often poorly understood, forces of "globalization." Looking internally within specific countries and cross-nationally throughout the region, we seek to understand how changes which manifest locally are, in fact, reflective of broader transnational processes and influences. We also examine how local individuals and institutions both contribute and respond to these changes.

The Development and Persistence of Illegal Labor Migration from Thailand

Teresa Sobieszczyk, University of Michigan

The social, cultural, economic, and legal realities of various countries interact in the global arena, and these interactions motivate international labor migration as well as the regulatory systems that aim to control it. Using Thailand as a case study, this paper attempts to tease out some of these interactions to understand the emergence and expansion of illegal international labor migration. It proposes several reasons why illegal international labor migration from Thailand developed and has persisted, including demand for illegal workers among potential overseas employers, demand among potential migrants for lucrative positions abroad (whether legal or not), poverty among some potential migrants, a flexible notion of the rule of law in Thailand, past and on-going problems with the legal recruitment and migration system in Thailand, the expansion of illegal recruitment institutions, and community factors such as social networks and social norms.

The Globalization of Public Health Policy in Southeast Asia

Jeremy Shiffman, Syracuse University

The influence of supranational and overseas organizations such as the World Bank, the World Health Organization and USAID on the public health policies of developing countries, including those of many Southeast Asian nations, has become so large that it no longer makes sense to speak of these policies as exclusively or even primarily domestically determined. Rather, health policy-making in these settings is now effectively globalized, and best understood as deriving from an interaction of transnational and national influences. While many practitioners recognize these transnational forces, scholars have been slow to theorize the causes of globalization of health policy-making, its mechanisms, and its significance.

In this paper I use primary empirical research of the health policy-making process in several Southeast Asian nations to explain why health policy-making has become globalized and what this means for policy studies. Specifically, I examine efforts to attack malaria, polio and tuberculosis in the region and lay out the multiple transnational influences that have shaped the development of these initiatives. I pay particular attention to the development of Southeast-wide networks of medical officials, the influence of policy ideas emerging from supranational organizations, and the role of external funding.

Challenges to NGOs’ Domination of the Indonesian Labor Movement: Implications for Labor Representation in the "Era of Globalization"

Michele Ford, University of Wollongong, Australia

This paper examines structural and discursive changes to the representation of labor after the fall of Indonesia’s President Suharto in 1998 and the implications of the Indonesian case for the way in which labor representation is understood in the ‘era of globalization.’ The first part of the paper examines how NGOs came to be seen as the ‘voice’ of labor in late New Order Indonesia. In the second, the impact of changes to structures of labor control during the Habibie interregnum are discussed. External and internal discursive challenges to NGOs’ dominance of the labor movement are then examined. The paper concludes with an assessment of the possibilities for the future of NGOs’ role in labor representation in Indonesia and comments on the insights the Indonesian case provides for our understanding of labor representation in the ‘era of globalization.’

Working the Middle Ground: NGOs as Mediators of the National Response to AIDS in Northern Thailand

Vincent Del Casino, California State University, Long Beach; Rachel M. Safman, Cornell University

In recent years the proliferation of NGOs in Thailand has been taken as a harbinger of a new more participatory and open "civil society" created by the relaxation of government control over certain aspects of social and political life. Yet there has been little critical examination of the autonomy of these NGOs and how they position themselves and are positioned relative to the state and the larger society. In this paper we examine the proliferation of NGOs in response to the AIDS epidemic in Thailand, looking at how the organizations’ growth and development is emblematic of larger trends in Thai policy and governance.

Through an examination of the changing activities and mandate of one particular NGO called AIDS Organization, we will examine how NGOs have positioned themselves as "mediators and facilitators" of care programs for people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As a meso-level organization situated in between the state apparatus and various target groups, AIDS Organization works as an intermediary between providers and clients, the state-sector and local community organizations, and the international funding community and their outreach sites. Their deliberate attempts to maintain a distance, between themselves and these various interests as they work to reorganize health care in ways that transform the local social, political and economic power structures demonstrate their conscious desire to maintain real autonomy from the Thai state and the global economy, but their actions nevertheless also render them at times unwitting vehicles for state penetration into local society.


Session 133: Land Conflicts and the Religious Polarization of Indonesian Regional Violence (Sponsored by the Indonesian Studies Committee)

Organizer: Lorraine V. Aragon, East Carolina University

Chair: Eugene Ammarell, Ohio University

Discussant: Imam Prasodjo, University of Indonesia

Keywords: Indonesia, violence, religion, ethnicity, land.

The outbursts of regional violence precipitated by Indonesia’s financial and political crisis of 1998 only increased following President Suharto’s resignation, as formerly "quiet" regions began to experience communal conflicts and neighborhood destruction. These events, which often begin as personal disputes or limited physical attacks, have escalated into bloody feuds and taken on distinctly religious overtones in areas such as Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Maluku. In some cases, Christian or Muslim attacks in one province are publicly justified on the basis of recent Muslim or Christian attacks in neighboring or even distant provinces. Many foreign and local observers conclude that there has been interference by malicious provocateurs who aim to cause chaos that will justify the aggressive military suppression of certain populations. Nevertheless, many questions remain. Why are communal resentments so readily provoked, and why have these neighborhoods become religiously polarized? Panel participants will address the dynamics of recent ethnic conflicts in Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Maluku. Our theme of religious polarization is aimed at two goals. First we will examine the history and circumstances of religious resentments in particular areas of the archipelago. Second, we aim to move beyond this blinding divide to examine the economic, political, and cultural issues that beset particular neighboring communities who "happen to be either Muslim or Christian." Often the initial problems concern territorial precedence and political manipulation more than religious practices, yet religious ideology empowers vengeance in the ensuing feuds.

Conflict Over Land and the Dynamics of Violence in South Sumatra

Elizabeth F. Collins, Ohio University

This paper focuses on the interaction among activist NGOs, such as LBH-Palembang and WALHI, movements of workers and farmers in conflict with multinational corporations with operations in South Sumatra, and local government officials. Four cases of conflict over land are considered along with one case in which there was no conflict between villagers and a palm oil company which was given permits to establish a plantation on land they claimed. The cases are: (1) conflict between small holders in Kabupaten Muara Enim and PT Musi Hutan Persada, which controls almost 300,000 hectares of forest land in South Sumatra; (2) conflict between five villages in Muara Enim and PT Tanjung Enim Lestari Pulp and Paper, a corporation created to build the largest pulp and paper factory in Southeast Asia; (3) conflict between small holders in Kabupaten Muara Enim and PT Cipta Futura, which owns palm oil plantations and rubber estates in South Sumatra; (4) conflict between villagers in Kecamatan Muntok in Bangka and the palm oil company, PT Gunung Sawit Lestari Indah; and (5) the relationship between villagers of Kedondong in Kecamatan Jebus in Bangka and PT. Leidong West and the villagers of Terentang in Kecamatan Kelapa in Bangka and PT Bukit Perak Lestari, both owned by Sinar Mas. These cases allow us to examine the dynamics of violence in such conflicts and the role of activist NGOs and government officials in pressuring for and facilitating non-violent resolution of conflict.

Placing Claims to Land: The Grounds of Religious and Ethnic Conflict at Lake Lindu, Central Sulawesi

Gregory Acciaioli, University of Western Australia

Within the last couple of year ethnic tension between indigenous Lindu farmers and migrant Bugis fisherfolk and farmers at the Lindu plain in Central Sulawesi has risen, resulting in a number of open confrontations. Although local views, aired privately in homes and publicly in churches and mosques, often compare this situation to the recent conflict between Christians and Muslims in Ambon and elsewhere in Indonesia, the bases of this tension stem not from religious grounds, but from differing conceptions of entitlement to land. Indigenous Lindu notions of land ownership revolve around narratives centered on knowledge of (often secret) names of localities that encode precedence-oriented histories of occupation and use. Migrant Bugis claims derive from their understanding of ‘national land’ (tanah negara) and their legalisation of tenure through ‘compensation of loss’ (ganti rugi) payments to local Lindu people and sometimes their obtainment of government-issued certificates of ownership. This situation at Lindu is not unique, reflecting long-standing divergences between place-oriented, adat-rooted conceptual systems of highlanders and nonplace-based, legalistic orientations of mobile groups that have historically based their migratory occupation of new land on the legal non-recognition of customary claims to land not under permanent cultivation by a succession of governments, colonial and independent. The fact that the former highland groups have often become Christian due to patterns of missionization and the latter mobile groups have tended to be Islamic has lent the confrontations between such groups a religious cast. Similar considerations are adduced to argue for the primarily nonreligious grounds of comparable recent confrontations elsewhere in Indonesia.

Religious Tensions and the Flood of Blood in Central Sulawesi

Lorraine V. Aragon, East Carolina University

Muslim versus Christian incidents of violence in Central Sulawesi date back to the post World War II period (1950-1965) when the Dutch had been overthrown but the Indonesian Republic was not accepted by rebel groups in Muslim South Sulawesi and Christian North Sulawesi. These bands infiltrated Central Sulawesi, pulling villagers into religiously polarized conflicts until the Republican Army quelled the unrest. President Suharto’s military regime reestablished secure conditions and, with a few exceptions, violence did not occur between Central Sulawesi’s mostly Muslim coastal inhabitants and the mostly Protestant highlanders, who were missionized during the colonial period. Yet, ethnic and religious tensions brewed during the New Order, despite official restrictions on pronouncements of ethnic or religious dissent. New Order programs resulted in migrations and transmigration that created new competition for land resources, the use of Christian mission funds for economic development aid—angering Muslim groups, and Christian perceptions of discrimination perpetrated by Muslim government officials. Even before the end of Suharto’s presidency, small incidents of ethnically and religiously polarized conflict occurred around the provincial capital of Palu. Violence then increased after Presidents Habibie and Wahid took office. Between 1998 and 2000, religiously polarized fighting escalated in Poso, the city nearest where the first Dutch Reformed missionaries introduced Christianity to the province in the late 1800s. This paper will discuss background to the recent bloody conflicts and address why local personal disputes have exploded into vengeful "religious wars."

The Suharto Legacy and Religious Violence in Maluku

Jacques Bertrand, University of Toronto

Muslims and Christians in Maluku have been pitted in violent conflict since January 1999. More than 2,500 people were killed in a series of clashes that have erupted over the course of 18 months. Previously seen as a quiet province, Maluku has turned into one of the worst conflict areas in Indonesia. Why has this violence occurred?

This paper argues that the main source of conflict in Maluku can be traced to insecurities created by policies of the Suharto government. These policies include: three decades of depoliticization and political control that prevented various groups from addressing grievances through institutional means; religious policies designed to increase religiosity while containing the political expression of religion; encouragement of spontaneous migration; and most important, the gradual shift in support for Islamic groups with a corresponding reduction of the influence of Christians in the government. Although these policies had effects throughout the archipelago, they created a particularly explosive environment in Maluku. The paper argues against explanations based on intrinsic hatred between religious communities or dogmatic differences between Christianity and Islam. It also responds to socio-economic explanations of the conflict.

After presenting the main argument, the paper examines the brief history of relations between Christians and Muslims in Maluku. It describes some key structural elements in Maluku that have made it particularly prone to tensions between Muslims and Christians. It then examines the emergence of tensions in the mid-1990s, which eventually led to explosive violence in January 1999 and thereafter.


Session 134: Writing and Narrating Socialist Personhoods: State Tropes, Autobiography, and the Rhetoric of Self-Presentation in Vietnam

Organizer and Chair: Narquis Barak, Harvard University

Discussant: Mary M. Steedly, Harvard University

Since the 1920s, socialist revolutionaries and the Vietnamese state have used life history narratives to construct and promote visions of socialist personhood. Combining history and anthropology, this panel explores how state models and other frameworks for presenting life history have shaped the biographical narratives of various social groups in Vietnam. The papers address three central issues: What forms have influenced written and oral biographies in 20th-century Vietnam? How have these models determined what events, situations, and experiences are noteworthy in an individual life? How are these details deployed strategically in the rhetoric of self-presentation?

Philippe Peycam explores 1920s revolutionary biographies as a narrative form combining traditional life history with communist theories of self-development. Kim Ninh examines conflicting self-presentations in a celebrated writer’s memoirs; a literary genre often viewed as an alternative to state-sanctioned history. Ann Marie Leshkowich explores how a state-imposed system of biographical production both constrains and enables contemporary Saigonese marketwomen’s self-presentations. Narquis Barak explores how multiply-authored biographical narratives that do not abide by state models allow for the possibility of self-agency and recovery among peasants affected by madness.

Although focused on Vietnam, both the panel’s exploration of the relationship between individual narratives and state discourses about personhood and its combination of historical and anthropological perspectives are intended to spark inter-area discussion of the social, political, and experiential processes shaping the construction of life histories. To promote this dialogue, discussant Mary Steedly will offer insights from her extensive research in narrative experience, revolution, and the state in Indonesia.

Individual Stories and Social Commitment: The Case of Vietnamese Intellectuals in 1920s Saigon

Philippe Peycam, Center for Khmer Studies, Cambodia

My proposed paper derives from my study of the emergence of a Vietnamese ‘public sphere’ in colonial Saigon in the decade preceding the foundation of the Communist Party. This revolution of Vietnamese political culture was the product of a small group of Western-educated Vietnamese ‘intellectuals’ who used Vietnamese and French language newspapers to establish themselves as anti-colonial representatives of the ‘native’ population.

In this paper, I argue for the importance of prosopography—the attempt to expand individual ‘itineraries’ or ‘profiles’ into brief biographies—as a method for the historian examining a socially and politically defined group of people. Prosopography not only reveals the complexity and plurality of the individual’s experience and choices, but also helps to identify broad historical patterns, such as the links within, and tensions between, generations of intellectuals.

Discussions of biography and self are even more pertinent for understanding the ways in which intensive reflection on their own social role as individuals and their responsibility towards the wider community fueled intellectuals’ efforts to seize the political initiative. This tension at the level of the individual was particularly acute among the younger generation of urban Western-educated Vietnamese, who felt torn between Western norms of individualist behavior and a deeply felt sense of responsibility towards the majority of their ‘compatriots.’ For this reason, the reconstruction of individual stories in the writing of Vietnamese history must take into account awareness of social belonging and responsibility (often associated by Western scholars with the Confucian notion of ‘dependency’).

Conflicting Self-Presentations in the Memoirs of To Hoai

Kim Ninh, The Asia Foundation

In 1992 the writer To Hoai, one of the most respected writers in Vietnam who has achieved some measure of literary prominence before 1945, created a literary sensation with his memoir Cat Bui Chan Ai (Dust upon Whose Feet). To Hoai’s memoir provides a wealth of details about the intellectual community and offers glimpses into the tumultuous intellectual environment of the 1950s. After so many years in which the official line defines history in socialist Vietnam, To Hoai’s memoir, and the genre of memoir/autobiography in general, has become for many Vietnamese both at home and abroad a way to challenge state-sanctioned narratives. In other words, it presents the possibility of an alternative location for the truth.

To Hoai’s second memoir Chieu Chieu (Evening) was published in 1999, and the official guideline to the media was to ignore the book’s existence. Such a reaction further established To Hoai’s reputation as the voice of truth being undermined by an oppressive state. A close examination of Chieu Chieu, however, raises difficult questions about To Hoai’s own presentations of events in which he took part and his larger portrait of life under socialism. Using his two memoirs, this paper explores the shifting selves that make up his narratives and the conflicting political and personal motives that animate them. To take better advantage of the more relaxed intellectual environment in Vietnam today and understand the continuing tension between the communal self and the individual self, a much more critical reading of these works is essential.

State Tropes and Personal Tales: Telling and Writing Female Traders’ Lives in Vietnam

Ann Marie Leshkowich, Harvard University

In 1997, a Ho Chi Minh City boutique owner gave me a notebook in which she had written her life story. The narrative was organized into sections corresponding to key periods in the author’s life. At the end of her story, she signed her name, wrote the date, and affixed her photo. Clearly organized around some model of what a written life history should comprise, this last page seemed intended as a seal of authenticity.

Using the boutique owner’s life story as a starting point, this paper explores the narrative forms which contemporary Vietnamese marketwomen utilize in constructing written and oral accounts of their lives. Chief among these is a state-imposed system of autobiographical production which since 1975 has required most urban Southerners to submit accounts of their lives to local party cells. Submitted to officials for perusal, state-mandated biographies clearly constrain the form and content of personal histories. In other contexts, however, these same narrative frameworks can provide models for legitimate, authoritative, and compelling accounts of personal experience. The market traders examined in this paper have used the dominant narrative tropes enshrined in state-sponsored biographies in ways which both confirm them and subtly demonstrate how the authors’ lives have departed from government-sanctioned blueprints. This exploration of an official system of biographical production situates contemporary women’s life stories within the social, cultural, and economic currents of post-war Vietnam and highlights the political and personal implications of living, thinking about, and talking about one’s life.

"Remaking One’s Life" (Lam Lai Cuoc Doi): Biographical Construction as a Means of Survival in Rural Vietnam

Narquis Barak, Harvard University

When I first met Tan, he had lost his lover, his career, his dignity, and his sense of humanity. Diagnosed with "schizophrenia" by state psychiatrists, he had spent most of his 20s on neuroleptics. In response to the perceived failure of the state’s "scientific cure" for his illness, over the course of a year, he and his family constructed an alternate account of his "madness" that centered around a biographical narrative which drew on traditional models of illness, religious theories of suffering, opera and literary narratives that enabled him to "remake his life." By the end of the year Tan was working, had a wife, and was expecting a baby, achievements that had been assumed nearly impossible only a year before.

This paper explores the lives of peasants for whom the construction of a biographical narrative is a necessary means of surviving the experience of mental illness. It demonstrates how the imposition of meaning to an individual’s life, the act of narrating the self so that there is a possibility for self-agency, is an intersubjective process, multiply-authored in village society. Locally constructed narratives are contrasted with state secular constructions of illness, which the paper argues, tend to diminish self-agency. It suggests that the marshalling of symbolic resources by villagers to mediate the experience of madness has been possible only since the early 1980s, when major agrarian transformations led to the return of pre-Socialist forms of local agency and the burgeoning of religious and other "non-scientific" visions of suffering and selfhood.


Session 153: Comparative Colonial Jurisprudence in Southeast Asia

Organizer: Tamara Loos, Cornell University

Chair and Discussant: Peter Zinoman, University of California, Berkeley

Keywords: colonialism, jurisprudence, law, history, Southeast Asia, gender.

New scholarly approaches regarding colonial discourse and critical legal theory allow us to ask different questions about law and colonialism in Southeast Asia. For example, to what extent did European legal experts working in Southeast Asia recategorize Southeast Asian laws according to preconceived European legal categories and what long-term effects did this have on jurisprudence in Southeast Asia? How was power within Southeast Asian society reconfigured through the translation of enlightenment legal concepts and classifications? In addition to considering these questions, the panel investigates legal classifications in comparison with other colonized and non-colonized countries in Southeast Asia. For instance, it queries the extent to which "family" law, adat, personal law, and religious law—four categories that were often less intensely revised by colonial legal reformers—were renegotiated through the colonial encounter. And to what extent did perceptions of these categories as relatively unchanged, compared to massive legal reform in other areas of law, allow them to become an overdetermined site of national authenticity in the postcolonial era?

Panelists consider these questions in the contexts of 19th- and 20th-century Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Siam. By examining specific court cases involving inheritance, polygyny, royal estates, and other contentious issues, these papers address questions about law as a site of power conflicts vis-à-vis colonizers as well as within Southeast Asian societies. In the papers, court cases and colonial-era jurisprudence open like windows onto larger questions about the imposition of European colonial jurisprudence in radically different Southeast Asian legal contexts.

Mixing and Matching: Legal Transplantation in Southeast Asia

Andrew J. Harding, SOAS, University of London

This paper examines the theories of legal transplantation in the light of the legal history of maritime Southeast Asian countries, and asks if transplanting colonial European legal systems in their Southeast Asian colonies has been "successful." Success in this context refers to the permanent embedding of these systems of law as the general law. The paper considers a wide spectrum of types of law, including adat or customary law, personal law, and colonial law, and is historically comparative. Geographical emphasis will be on Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, while theoretical focus considers the conflicts between colonial and local (i.e. indigenous or other kinds of received) law as well as the issues raised by personal law. The paper attempts to find a way of answering or rephrasing the questions posed by legal transplantation in light of Southeast Asian experiences.

The Post-Colonial Loss of Royal Malay Land Rights

Keng-Fong Pang, Independent Scholar

This paper traces broadly the issue of land rights of Sultan Hussain Shah and his descendant: from 1819, when the Sultan negotiated with Stamford Raffles of the East India Company, to 1999, when the state-disputed royal land claim appears to have been legally disposed of by the postcolonial state of Singapore. The main focus would be the shift from colonial to postcolonial legal interpretations of the estate called "Sultan Hussain Estate" that was created in 1904 as a special estate to settle a private family dispute. Pertaining to a sizeable area of prime city land that includes the last remaining public markers of the presence of Malay royal family (the Sultan Mosque and a mansion named "Kampung Glam Palace"), the postcolonial government of Singapore has finally negotiated in 1999 the resettlement of the royal family households and that of the descendants of the former royal retainers out of the royal compound. These families had lived tax-free in the royal compound even after Singapore became an independent nation in 1965.

The Sultan Hussain Estate was administered by the colonial government as a special "crown land" to benefit the registered beneficiaries. However, even as Singapore’s state treasury continued to administer the estate, postcolonial Singapore regarded all Crown Land as State Land, including the Sultan Hussain Estate. This paper traces the state’s interpretations of this estate of historical significance through publicly available sources as well as private papers and correspondence from various members of the Singapore royal family in the past fifteen years.

Descent of the Nation: Policing the Family in Siam

Tamara Loos, Cornell University

Drawing on critical studies of jurisprudence, colonial discourse, and translation, the paper examines the process by which the category of family law was constructed in 19th- and 20th-century Siam. Siam’s juridical system was transformed as a result of tense negotiations regarding the future status of Siam as a sovereign kingdom. Foreign and Siamese legal experts firmly maintained that while reforms were necessary in the areas of penal and civil law, no change was necessary in family law. In the mindset of "progressive" foreign legal experts in Siam, the institution of the family was considered reflective of national, cultural character. Consequently, while foreign legal experts required the imposition of new penal and civil laws on Siam, they simultaneously felt they could not change codes related to family issues. However, the reformulation of legal categories as penal, familial, or civil alone indicated a radical reconceptualization of law in terms of classifications that were not indigenous to Siam’s jurisprudence. The paper investigates this process of renegotiating legal categories and the "protected" stance of so-called family law as an arena of law that should be left alone by foreign legal experts. As a result, family law in Siam became an over-determined site of national authenticity. It was seen as unchanged in a world where Western colonialism had changed all else. This perception persists despite the radical transformation of the legal construction of family, marriage, and sexuality in Thai law. My paper traces these developments and reveals their implications for individuals in Siam through an examination of court cases adjudicated between the late 1890s and early 1930s.


Session 154: Wealth and Poverty in Vietnam: Local Dynamics, Governmental Policies, and Global Linkages (Sponsored by the Vietnam Studies Group)

Organizer and Chair: Hy Van Luong, University of Toronto

Discussant: Charles Hirschman, University of Washington

The impact of global market forces on household wealth and poverty at the local and national levels has long constituted a major issue in the study of socio-economic development. In the Vietnamese context, the World Bank emphasizes: (a) the overall positive impact of global linkages and a structural shift towards a market system on investments, enhanced competitiveness, job creation, and poverty reduction; as well as (b) the government’s role in this structural shift and in providing a social safety net. The Vietnamese government and the World Bank have conducted two large-scale surveys on living standards in Vietnam in 1992–93 and 1997–98, respectively with 4,800 and 6,000 households. The Vietnamese government also conducted a similar annual survey with 45,000 households in the 1994–97 period.

This panel re-examines the dynamics of household wealth and poverty through in-depth research in a small number of communities in northern and southern Vietnam. It highlights the significance of socioculturally and historically embedded community and household dynamics in the socio-economic differentiation process within the same community, among different communities within and across regions, and along the urban-rural divide. It brings together the work of scholars in sociology, anthropology, and economics who share a methodological sensitivity to the complexity of local dynamics, whether manifested in the form of remittances, household developmental cycles, or the local refraction of state policies. The panel also offers comparative insights for scholars working on wealth and poverty in China and other parts of Asia.

Collective Culture: The Dynamics of Differentiation in Black Thai villages

Thomas Sikor, Vietnam National University, Hanoi

This paper examines the dynamics of differentiation among households in Black Thai villages of northern Vietnam. It argues that the distribution of wealth among households did not change despite decollectivization, market expansion and technological change. Household wealth followed the family cycle in the 1990s, as it had done under collective agriculture. This finding is based upon twelve months of field research in three Black Thai villages, including interviews with sixty-five households.

The family cycle continued to differentiate households because of the ways in which local institutions shaped control over land and the use of production surplus. The institutions significantly differed from state policy, as villagers resisted its implementation. Villagers’ resistance received support from local state authorities, who attempted to accommodate the demands of both the state and villagers. The shared ethnic identity and promotional system of the local authorities strengthened the ties between villagers and local cadres. In addition, local state authorities enjoyed significant autonomy from the central government because of the recent integration into the Vietnamese state.

The radical changes in large-scale political economic structures thus did not lead to permanent differences among households. This contradicts the consensus in the literature that such changes tend to generate or solidify permanent differences among households. The influence of local institutions was strong enough to transform the effects of large-scale forces, instead of being transformed by them.

Bringing the Farm Back in: The Rural Development Debate and Overseas Remittances in Vietnam’s Mekong Rice Bowl

Steven Graw, Cornell University

Recent empirical research in developing nations challenges the conventional wisdom that industrial development reduces poverty. In countries like Vietnam with somewhat equitable income distribution, agricultural growth is the potent remedy to rural and urban poverty. Vietnam’s prolonged rapid rise in average personal income, despite retrenchment of foreign direct investment, punctuates the importance of household labor opportunities due to overseas remittances: How do remittances affect production, consumption and investment? What are the effects on family labor and education/training? Is differentiation, especially through land acquisition, taking place within the village? And do remittances inordinately privilege women’s or men’s access to and competition for household resources?

Findings to date show that prevalent expenditures of remittances (e.g. housing, farm inputs, debt alleviation) feed the non-farm and service sectors, as the rural development advocates argue. Differentiation is also taking place, but reflects the unequal local development of land, credit, and consumables markets. Women’s welfare and power may benefit, but often at the price of contributing additional labor to new household investment ventures.

Wealth and Poverty in Vietnam: A Sociological Perspective

Tuong Lai, Institute of Social Sciences, Ho Chi Minh City

Focusing on household wealth and poverty in Vietnam in the 1990s, this paper suggests that a full understanding of household wealth and poverty in Vietnam requires not only an analysis of economic and institutional frameworks. It also requires an understanding of the historical transformation of local worldview and practices from the subsistence-oriented peasant production era, to the command economy and war-time system, and finally to the present reform period.

This paper draws upon: (a) my 1993–95 study of social stratification in a number of Vietnamese communities; (b) the follow-up study in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city; (c) the socio-economic survey in the northern Highlands; (d) the World-Bank-sponsored panel study in 1992–93 and 1997–98; as well as (e) the data released monthly and annually by the General Statistical Office of Vietnam.

Poverty, Household Structure, and Demography: An Analysis of Their Sociocultural Dimensions in Ho Chi Minh City

Hy Van Luong, University of Toronto

In Vietnam, economic growth and governmental social policies have been strongly emphasized as the main components of the solution to poverty reduction. Drawing upon a 1998 survey and household interviews in Ho Chi Minh city, I suggest that the return on human capital, and more generally, the socio-economic differentiation and mobility processes, also have important and frequently overlooked sociocultural dimensions.

On the level of households, wealth and poverty are not simply a function of economic opportunities and government policies. They also involve socioculturally mediated intra- and inter-household income transfers, household formation and development, as well as a household’s construction and utilization of its social capital. On the individual level, the data from Ho Chi Minh city suggest that education and training have a strong correlation with income and socio-economic mobility only for men. The lack of correlation between education and training and women’s incomes are rooted partly in: (a) the socioculturally constructed role for women in the child-rearing process and their resulting career and job discontinuity; and (b) a socioculturally embedded gravitation of many women towards trading careers, which yield higher incomes for women than most other jobs and which do not require any formal education and training. Human capital investments also have socioculturally mediated differential returns at the individual level.


Session 174: Buddhism in Burma and Beyond: New Studies, New Perspectives

Organizer and Chair: F. K. Lehman, University of Illinois

Discussants: Frank E. Reynolds, University of Chicago

Keywords: Buddhism, Burma, politics, religion.

It is some time since the AAS meetings have had a session dealing with Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Significant new research has been done the last few years in the field, however, much of it in and with reference to Burma. This work has produced questions and results that bear critically upon understanding Theravada Buddhism in neighboring countries and in Sri Lanka, and too little of the general literature on this religious and cultural system in other Theravada countries makes serious reference to Burma materials—even though Spiro’s monumental Buddhism and Society, is about Burma. It is therefore time to air this new material and to have a discussion of it from a comparative perspective.

We therefore present a panel (sponsored by the Burma Studies Group of the Southeast Asia Council) at which several of the most prominent recent scholars of the subject in Burma present some of their most striking conclusions and suggestions, with a discussion by possibly the leading scholar of Theravada Buddhism beyond Burma, in the History of Religions (F. E. Reynolds).

The presenters represent mainly anthropology and history; and their analytical perspectives are sufficiently new and potentially controversial to evoke serious discussion and comment from scholars concerned with the subject beyond Burma. We include a second discussant even though we have five presenters because the comparative discussion is essential and fits the Association’s emphasis on ‘cross-border’ relevance.

Burma’s Age of Buddhist Enlightenment: The Mass Lay Meditation Movement and the Formation of Society as the State

Ingrid Jordt, Harvard University

This paper examines and interprets a new historical phenomenon on the Burmese religious, political, and sociological landscape. The mass lay meditation movement, so called, claims the adherence of several million followers. At the Mahasi Thathana Yeiktha alone, the largest vipassana (insight) meditation center in Burma, a million people are said to have attained enlightenment or one of the nyanzin (systematic insights) leading to enlightenment.

In the advent of the lay meditation movement we can discern a pattern whereby views about enlightenment—where it happens, to whom it may happen and on what sort of mass scale—as well as structural arrangements for its pursuit have changed. I argue that this has not meant that the laity have "monasticized" their practices, or that the Sangha has become laicized. Rather, new arrangements have formed between Sangha and laity with repercussions for the internal organization of the Sangha, property devolution, and the proliferation and importance of lay Buddhist voluntary associations and donation cliques. Vipassana has become one of the primary sources and practices for purification of the Sangha, laity, society, political authority and even the texts.

The implications for the discourse of political legitimacy of an "enlightened society" and the civic production of a moral social order are discussed in relation to and in light of Burmese Buddhist assertions about the sources and conditions of potency and power as these constitute self-evident phenomenological realities based on Buddhist principles of moral purification and causality.

Thathana Than-shin: Ideal Representations and Historical Accounts of Sasana Purification in Burmese Thathanawin Literature

Patrick Pranke, University of Michigan

In Burma, as elsewhere in the Theravada world, the history of the Buddha’s religion or Sasana is viewed as progressing through a series of installations, declines, and restorations of the Buddhist Samgha. The episodic rise and fall in the fortunes of the orthodox Samgha, and its restoration to purity through royal acts of ‘Thathana than-shin’ or Sasana purification, represent the main subject matter around which all Burmese thathanawin or Buddhist ecclesiastical chronicles are written. While not equally the main concern of Burmese royal chronicles or yazawin, Sasana purification nevertheless represents an important theme in the narration of Burmese dynastic history, illustrative of the ideals of righteous kingship and proper Samgha-state relations.

In this essay, we shall examine the accounts of three well-known instances of Sasana purifications in Burmese history as presented in Burmese thathanwin and related historical sources; namely, King Anawrahta’s suppression of the Ari monks of Pagan in the eleventh century; King Dhammazedi’s 1476–79 purification of the Mon Samgha; and King Bodawpaya’s Thudhamma reformation begun in 1782. These three accounts will be examined and compared in terms of their conformity with certain classical models of Sasana purification, such as exemplified by the acts of Dhammasoka or Parakkamabahu I, and for the legal arguments each employs to justify the imposition of particular monastic reforms. Finally, the three accounts will be assessed regarding their probable historicity and the specific role they play as episodes within a wider framework of Burmese Buddhist historical narrative.

Burmese Buddhist Conceptualisations of "Good" Government and "Harmonious" Development: On the Relevance of Mangala Sutta and byama-so tayà (Social Meditation) for the Process of Reconciliation

Gustaaf Hourman, SOAS, University of London

Burmese Buddhist rhetoric about good government, from the times of the independent monarch right up until today, repeatedly makes reference to the Mangala Sutta and tobya-ma so tayà as the ideal path for political action and economic development. This was affirmed by King Mindon, the last monarch but one. It was referenced by Thahkin Kodawhmaing and by Aung San in their conceptions of indigenous socialist, as opposed to colonial capitalist government. It was repeatedly referred to by U Nu as underlying democratic socialism, proclaimed by Ne Win as the ideal form of Burmese socialism, and has been asserted under the SLORC-SPDC as an ideal form of ‘military disciplined democracy’ government. It is placed central to political leadership by NLD leaders.

I shall explore why these ideals of good government have persisted under greatly divergent political systems. I explore the limits of these ideas in a multi-ethnic environment and the disjunction between discourse and practice by Burma’s leaders of the past. I view these as playing a crucial role: (a) to alleviate fear of giving up power on the part of the army during the transition towards a multi-party democracy; and (b) in the translation of any formal polity towards the Buddhist population of Burma. Any new political system proposed will have to be translated into terms that make sense to each and every one of the ethnic groups, and will have to take into account the greatly differing aspirations of what makes a good government.

Calendar Reform in 19th-Century Burma: King Bodawpaya and the Role of Maitreya in Burmese Kingship

Maitrii Aung-Thwin, University of Michigan

This paper addresses the role of Maitreya Buddha in Burmese kingship. Specifically, it examines the unusual case of King Bodawpaya (1782–1819), who allegedly proclaimed that he was Maitreya. The paucity of chronicle evidence regarding this episode has left its historicity uncertain, forcing some scholars to discount the event as myth or to reserve definitive conclusions. This study will introduce new data based on an examination of Bodawpaya’s calendar reform program, a kingdom-wide initiative that gathered specialists to reconstruct the calendar in order to demonstrate that the prophesied 5,000 years since the Buddha’s teachings had elapsed. Bodawpaya’s attempt to create ritual time exemplifies the continuing importance of Maitreya to Burmese kingship and to Burmese Buddhism in general. Although Bodawpaya’s actions implies that the age of Maitreya had arrived, a reading of the Burmese sources indicate that he did not claim to be the fifth Buddha of our kalpa.

Representations of Moral Authority and the Modern Burmese State

Juliane Schober, Arizona State University

The paper appraises the place of moral authority in public contexts in contemporary Burma. Public demonstration of moral authority by kings, rulers, and politicians has long been a significant aspect of political power in Theravada Buddhist countries such as Burma. This paper identifies dominant modes of representing of moral authority in the public domain that have been adopted by successive government, beginning with the colonialization of Burma and leading up the present. It evaluates the place of public religion in the context of an emerging, modern pluralism and new civil forms in Burma. The paper concludes with comparisons of the place of moral authority in other Theravada countries, such as Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Dominant forms of religion and moral authority in the public domain can influence and shape modes of resistance by political contenders and opponents. As pivotal as moral authority has been to effective governance in Burma, religious practice in general and the abrogation of moral authority in particular have also served as sites for political contestation.

The promotion of rapid economic development in urban centers over the past decade has also entailed some selective secularization and rationalization of life ways among members of the elite in Burma. At the same time, new religious centers and modes of religious practice continue to emerge and the religious domain—rather than secular society—remains a significant site for both contesting dominant political forms, while harboring a potential for mediation.


Session 175: Individual Papers: Women and Labor in Transitional Economics in Southeast Asia

Organizer: Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Chair: Susan D. Russell, Northern Illinois University

Satanic Mills or Silicon Islands? Labor and the Politics of Semiconductors in the Philippines

Steven McKay, University of Wisconsin, Madison

This paper focuses on the confluence of company strategy and local politics in regulating labor in the resurgent Philippine electronics industry. To better re-coup and protect investments, foreign firms are introducing new work practices to foster higher worker commitment to job and company, opening a potential avenue for worker empowerment. But these policies, designed in industrialized countries, are being transplanted into a different social milieu; one with more decentralized and open political conflict, higher unemployment and deeper inequality.

Rather than converging on "one best way" of organizing work, firm practices differ radically, depending on the balance of power and network ties of workers, firms and local state officials. Worker leverage in the socially constructed labor market plays a key role in how firms chose to cultivate commitment; by either paying more and providing better conditions or by strategically manipulating wider, non-economic inequalities. Through targeted recruiting, shopfloor discipline, and surveillance both inside and outside the factory, companies may achieve low cost, "coerced commitment" by allying with locally powerful groups to regulate a particularly vulnerable segment of the workforce; young, inexperienced rural women.

Drawing on ethnographic participant observation on the shopfloor and in the community with managers, workers, parents and local officials, I examine how new work practices are socially organized and struggled over. Probing workers’ subjective experiences, identities and aspirations, I also address how and why workers may resist or consent to their own "exploitation." I suggest that the study of foreign investment and new work practices must take greater account of social embeddedness and how they affect—and reflect—existing inequality.

Women Entrepreneurs in Vietnam’s Transitional Economy

Pamela Chieu Nguyen, University of Colorado, Boulder

The policy of economic restructuring, Doi Moi, has undeniably brought about tremendous changes in Vietnam on both a macro and a micro level. The steady flow of mass media and Western consumer products makes its way into the everyday lives of the average Vietnamese individual via small, localized businesses. In Vietnam, women comprise a majority of small business owners and thus act as vehicles and agents of globalization. But how have the new economic policies affected women’s personal experience and their daily lives? In order to approach these issues this paper focuses on Vietnamese gender ideology and how it defines "women’s work." This paper will illustrate how capitalism and economic policies function within traditional gender hierarchies to not only define but also reinforce women’s work. In light of the debates surrounding women and development in Third World nations, this paper examines the impact of economic development on women entrepreneurs in Vietnam. Drawing on ethnographic field research among women entrepreneurs, this paper explores how Vietnamese women are reconceptualizing themselves and are being reconceptualized by Vietnamese society as a result of the economic transition. It will examine the interplay of social, political, and economic aspects of Vietnamese society, along with women’s personal experience.

Do Iban Women Really Need Men? Subsistence Agriculture and Labor Migration in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

Reed L. Wadley, International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden

Scholars have long observed that in Borneo, Iban women are more heavily involved in farm work than men, and that men are often absent on wage-labor journeys for months or years at a time. Yet, none have made any detailed studies looking at the effect of men’s absences on women’s ability to farm the all-important rice crop for their families. This paper presents an analysis of this among the Iban of West Kalimantan, Indonesia prior to the economic crisis of the late 1990s. In this area, Iban subsistence revolves around the cultivation of rice in hill, floodplain, and swamp swiddens. Cash cropping, especially of rubber, supplements farming. However, the lack of good prices and local markets for cash crops results in frequent wage-labor migration by men. Among these Iban men, it is largely international, to jobs across the border in Malaysia and Brunei. Chronic male absence negatively affects the home community in a number of ways, including increased workloads on women in farming and domestic activities. However, as this study shows, women are more involved in agriculture regardless of the presence of men, and the absence of men does not negatively affect a household’s ability to produce sufficient rice for itself. In addition to discussing the factors that account for this situation, I present comparative notes from recent field research under conditions of the Indonesian economic crisis. I also reflect on the implications of this case for the study of "gender equality" in Southeast Asia.

Community Economic Development in Ifugao, Philippines: Women, Microfinance, and the Cultural Politics of Social Change

B. Lynne Milgram, York University, Toronto

In the 1990s, microfinance has become the leading development strategy used to promote income-generating projects for the "poor." Views differ, however, on microfinance’s capacity to alleviate poverty and empower women, particularly. While some advocates claim that access to credit provides a stimulus to self-employed entrepreneurial activities by increasing income, others are more skeptical. The latter argue instead that microfinance fails to reach the poorest, has little effect on income and addresses the symptom rather than the social cause of poverty.

This paper engages these ongoing debates by analyzing a new (mid-1997) government-NGO-supported microfinance program in Ifugao northern Philippines. I analyze the program’s impact on women’s engagement in buying and selling crafts. I question the extent to which microfinance initiatives enable or constrain recipients in meeting their subsistence needs and enhancing their upward economic mobility, and how it affects household gender relationships. I argue that by not considering the differences among women (age and class) that existed before project implementation microfinance often promotes the entrepreneurial activities of women already established in business while marginalizing producers.

I suggest that the extent to which microfinance projects can empower its members depends on how the program is able to enfold broader socioeconomic services beyond that of credit.


Session 194: Political Faultlines in Southeast Asia: Pre-Modernist Atavisms in Post-Colonial Nation-States

Organizer and Chair: Vivienne Wee, City University of Hong Kong

Discussant: Kevin Hewison, City University of Hong Kong

Keywords: separatist movements, Indonesia, Burma, Southern Philippines, anthropology, political science.

Political faultlines emerge where pre-colonial constructions clash with post-colonial nation-states. These faultlines emerge not through a mechanistic process of history, but through the interaction of contending ‘realities’ brought into conflict by state formation, conquest, resistance, and resource competition.

When modernist materialism fails to deliver on its promise, not only do post-modernist relativisms appear (whether or not expressed as ‘democracy’), pre-modernist atavisms also come to the fore. While both are critiques of the national status quo, premodernist atavisms present alternative states of political, cultural, and moral existence that challenge the veneer of legitimacy posited on materialist economic development.

We use the term ‘atavism’ (not ‘primordialism’) to emphasize that these are not preexisting loyalties that are unthinkingly transmitted. Rather, they are present acts of reaching back to the past to draw upon ideational and moral resources. Atavisms are constructions of the past-in-the-present and are not necessarily historical. These usages of the past for present purposes reconstruct the present in terms of the constructed past. This panel compares atavistic movements in Southeast Asia—for example, among Riau and Aceh separatists in Indonesia, Karens in Burma, and Muslims in the Southern Philippines. Their backward-yearning atavism implies the illegitimacy of the post-colonial nation-state within which such movements are lodged.

This inter-disciplinary panel will have an Internet pre-posting of the papers in progress, with links to related sites and an online discussion. The development of the papers with online inputs will be explicitly presented during the panel, with follow-up discussions to continue on the web.

Political Faultlines in Indonesia: Atavistic Movements in Riau, Aceh, and Beyond

Vivienne Wee, City University of Hong Kong

Ethno-historical constructions carry layers of meaning. They can be simultaneously: indigenous interpretations of the documented past; mythical expressions of symbolic meaning; statements of political intent; charters for political action.

Ethno-historical constructions become politically potent when they are used as legitimating ideologies for the control of contested resources and territories, especially vis-à-vis the claims of the nation-state. This situation is now exacerbated by globalization with resource competition becoming a matter of contestation between indigenous communities and transnational corporations.

In Indonesia, ethno-historically based ideologies have become the inspiration for atavistic movements that seek to restore a pre-modernist political order such as a sultanate or an Islamic state. This paper examines atavistic movements emerging in Riau, Aceh, and elsewhere in Indonesia. It traces the socio-cultural foundations of these movements in the articulations of everyday life-interpersonal interactions, genealogies, narratives, myths, material representations, sacred sites, rituals, social institutions, and so on. Running through these everyday articulations is the theme of political marginalization and indigenous response, a theme that is constructed as a collective experience ‘felt’ by those inside the circle of enchantment. This creates a constituency of insiders loyal to the atavistic vision but detached and even cynical about the nation-state (and possibly the globalizing world-order).

Responses by the nation-state range from suppression to tolerance to negotiation. The question is: to what extent does this range of responses adequately address an experience of marginalization that is not merely felt but mythologized and institutionalized as an atavistic separatist movement?

From Muslim Filipino to Philippine Muslim: One Man’s Embrace of the Bangsamoro

Thomas M. McKenna, University of Alabama, Birmingham

If nations—and especially nations-in-waiting—are primarily works of collective imagination, it is worthwhile to examine how individual imaginations come to embrace the idea of a particular nation. This paper presents the narrated life of Sultan Muhammad Adil, a Philippine Muslim notable. Now seventy-five years old, Sultan Adil has lived an extraordinary life: he was fostered as a child by an American colonial administrator, fought the Japanese as a guerrilla fighter, went on to a career in the Philippine military and later left the army and took an active role in the leadership of the Muslim armed separatist rebellion that began in 1972. Sultan Adil’s telling of his passage from American colonial ward to Philippine Muslim (Bangsamoro) nationalist offers a fascinating example of the fashioning of a complex historical consciousness in support of a Muslim nationalist identity adopted only after a career in military service to the Philippine Republic. The paper examines the frustrations and contradictions that led him to repudiate his Filipino identity and embrace the Bangsamoro cause. His new national identity, however, is itself not without frustrations and contradictions.

Philippine Muslim nationalism appeals to two distinct but related imagined pasts; the traditional territorial past of the pre-colonial southern Philippines and the newly-emphasized moral past of the Sunna—the sacred traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions in the earliest days of Islam. Problems arise when the imagined moral past, embodied in the present by a sharp increase in the influence of Middle East-educated Islamic clerics and their calls for the purification of local Islamic practice, comes into direct conflict with the authority of the traditional aristocracy and locally-cherished cultural practices.

Ethnic Conflict in Burma: Karen Ethno-Nationalism, Flight and Secular Modernization in Refugee Camps in Thailand

Ananda Rajah, National University of Singapore

The Karens number approximately 2.2 million in Burma. An active intransigent Karen ethno-nationalist-separatist movement emerged after the Second World War, drawing as much upon modern political notions—such as the nation-state, democracy and self-determination—as it did on conjectural histories of Karen ‘tribes’ by colonial administrators and Christian missionaries. Karen ethno-nationalist appropriations of these naive ethnological accounts reflect a pre-modernist atavism in their attempt to create ‘nation-ness’ for a wholly modern project—the establishment of a post-colonial nation-state or at least political autonomy within a federal system.

Unsuccessful in its political aspirations, the Karen movement’s confrontation with the Burmese military regime continues. In the last twelve years, the military regime has intensified its offensives against ethnic insurgent forces, forcing ceasefire agreements on many of them. But the Karen movement refuses a ceasefire, thus becoming the target of re-intensified counter-insurgency operations (labeled the ‘Four Cuts’).

Many Karens have fled Burma, including large numbers of civilian, non-combatant, subsistence farmers who could be termed ‘tribal’ in the strict anthropological sense. Among the approximately 120,000 Karen refugees currently in Thai refugee camps, Karen ‘nation-ness’ is being recreated anew with the further production of Karen ethno-histories. But the articulation of a political ‘nation-ness’ based on pre-modernist atavism is now weak, for many realize that they may never return to their ‘homeland’ in Burma. Instead, they are increasingly engaged in quite different forms of secular modernization-not the post-colonial nation-state sought by the early nationalists, but the formation of NGOs, schools and the generation of entirely new, anguished discourses on human rights, environmental conservation and fears that the ‘culture’ of the ‘Karen nation’ will be lost because of displacement from their ‘homeland.’

Why Might Constructed Nationalist and Ethnic Ideologies Come into Confrontation with Each Other?

David Brown, Murdoch University, Perth

When confrontation occurs between ethnic minorities and existing states, it is manifested in the clash between the nationalist vision employed to construct the nation-state, and the ‘atavistic’ nationalist ideologies of the separatist ethnic minorities. These clashes are intractable in that potentially negotiable rivalries of interest and power are transformed into ideological confrontations structured on the basis of mutual incomprehension. The problem then is to know whether we should regard such nationalist ideologies—the power of their myths and visions—as the fundamental cause of the political conflict, or as the consequence.

The aim of this paper is to explore this issue in the context of the politics of democratization in Southeast Asia, so as to raise issues arising from discussions of ethnic minority movements in Indonesia, Philippines, Burma, and elsewhere, where democratization has continued to prove problematical.

Democratization is characterized, here, as the shift from state-imposed collectivist visions of national identity, to civil-society articulated liberal visions of national identity. This involves the shift of civic nationalism towards a vision of individual citizen rights; the shift of ethno-cultural nationalism towards a vision of the rights of a tolerant majority; and the shift of multicultural nationalism towards a vision of the rights to ethnic minority integrity. The question then is how these disparate visions of the nation might sometimes be intertwined to promote the unity of the democratic nation; and why they might sometimes come into confrontation, so as to promote separatist conflict. This is not explained by the intrinsic power or appeal of the various nationalist myths, so much as by the factors that inhibit civic nationalism from acting as the buffer in their relationship.


Session 195: Individual Papers: Domesticating Global Ideas in Colonial and Contemporary Southeast Asia

Organizer and Chair: Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin, Madison

The "Dike Debate" in Late Imperial and French Colonial Vietnam

S. Andrew Smith, Australian National University

In 1968 the geographer Karl Pelzer wrote that "a steady raising of the river beds" and the need to build ever-higher dikes are two of the consequences of "complete flood protection . . . which have beset the Vietnamese in the Red River Delta from the first days that they began to ‘tame the deltaic plains’ many centuries ago" (Pelzer 1968, 275) [see note 1].

Pelzer is correct in his description of the negative outcomes of "complete" flood protection in the Red River Delta, but misses the mark with his allusion to a centuries-old project in Vietnam to "tame" the wild course of the Red River. In reality, a "complete set of dikes," which can be witnessed today throughout the Red River delta, is the outcome of a debate which began with the Nguyen dynasty in the early 19th century and was only fully resolved under the French colonial regime.

The issue was a simple one: to continue building dikes or to remove them all together. This paper examines the process by which the imperial regime carried out the "dike debate" and the circumstances within which the French colonial administration determined to move forward with the construction of a large-scale dike system in the Red River Delta. It concludes that in contrast to Wittfogel’s theory of the parochial "hydraulic state" it was a modernizing ethos shared by the imperial Nguyen and French colonial governments that led the way to serious efforts at regulating the natural, yet unpredictable flood patterns of the Red River and its tributaries.

1. Pelzer, Karl. "Man’s role in changing the landscape of Southeast Asia." Journal of Asian Studies. 27: 269279.

The Professor and the President: Wesley Fishel and Ngo Dinh Diem, 1950–1963

Edward Miller, Harvard University

In this paper, I propose to illuminate American relations with South Vietnam in the 1950s by examining the friendship of American political scientist Wesley Fishel and South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. The two men met during Diem’s exile abroad in the early 1950s; when Diem returned to Vietnam in 1954, he brought Fishel along as his advisor. From 1954 to 1959, Fishel was one of Diem’s key confidants, and perhaps the most important American in Vietnam. However, the two men subsequently became estranged, as each lost confidence in the other’s ability to grasp South Vietnamese political realities.

In contrast to some other histories of US-South Vietnam relations, my interpretation of the Diem-Fishel relationship will place more emphasis on ideas and less on personalities. Diem and Fishel were drawn together by their shared interest in matters such as decolonization, democratization, and modernization. But similar interests did not always imply similar views, and the two men eventually found that that their opinions on these issues diverged at least as often as they ran in parallel. Such differences of opinion were not rooted in the idiosyncrasies of each man’s personality so much as they reflected different intellectual approaches. The Diem-Fishel relationship thus provides a way to examine the interaction and tension between Vietnamese and American ideas about political and social development.

This paper is based on research in both Vietnamese and American sources, including Diem and Fishel’s personal correspondence as well as various US and South Vietnamese government documents and publications.

Translating the Untranslatable: Sundanese Illuminations of Scriptural Arabic in West Java, Indonesia

Benjamin G. Zimmer, University of Chicago

Like many other Islamic populations in Asia and elsewhere, Sundanese Muslims in West Java, Indonesia generally hold that the holy language of the Qur’an can only receive interpretations in their vernacular language, never translations, as only Arabic can fully express the revealed word of God. But rather than precluding the possibility of comprehensibility across an inviolable linguistic divide, the doctrine of Qur’anic untranslatability raises new questions for scholars of Islamic discourse in non-Arab lands. First, to what extent does the localization and interpretation of Arabic allow the language of the Qur’an to become "domesticated," and to what extent does it remain distant? Second, how have local interpretive methods of metalinguistic "glossing" been employed to explicate Qur’anic Arabic word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase, or verse-by-verse? And how has this exegetic power been socially distributed in local hierarchies at different historical junctures and in different cultural milieux? In this paper I reflect on these questions as they relate to the Sundanese-speaking population of western Java, the second largest ethnic group in the world’s largest majority-Muslim nation. I argue that Sundanese interpretations of scriptural Arabic, whether by full translations of the Qur’an or by explication of individual lexical items, manage to domesticate the sublime strangeness of Arabic according to culturally specific strategies of localization. Such strategies have been deployed in an effort to harness scriptural authority by bringing Arabic "into" Sundanese and Sundanese ‘into’ Arabic, thereby creating interilluminations across linguistic boundaries.

The Role of Local and Transnational Political Narratives in Shaping Political and Normative Change in Malaysia and Singapore

Surain Subramaniam, University of South Carolina

This paper presents the summary findings from a four-month comparative study in Malaysia and Singapore on the role of local and transnational political narratives in shaping contemporary trends in political and normative change. This paper argues that contemporary local political narratives play a critical role in the formation of political identities in Malaysia and Singapore by first constructing, and later reinforcing the normative values that shape the political processes, institutions, and practices in both these societies. In this sense, local political narratives also play a significant role in the development of the political cultures here. Far from being static, there is evidence to suggest that these political narratives have been undergoing dynamic change in this past decade, largely in response to both international and domestic political pressures for liberal democratic change. Rather than capitulating to these pressures, these local narratives are resisting liberal democratic values by introducing such notions as "good governance," which in this context acts as a counter-narrative to the transnational narratives of "liberal democratic governance." This paper will provide insights into the actors and processes involved in this struggle between competing narratives, explain how the peoples in both these countries are reacting to these competing narratives and why they are reacting as they are. By doing so, this paper explains how narratives operate in political and social spaces, particularly in shaping (democratic) political identities, normative values, and political cultures in societies. These insights will contribute to our overall understanding of the dynamics of political and normative change in Malaysia and Singapore in particular and in Southeast Asia in general.

Islamization in Malaysia: Negotiating the Race for Political Legitimacy

Patricia Martinez, University of Malaya

The aftermath the tenth general elections of November 1999 in Malaysia are defined most by an intensified Islamization, because the party which describes itself as Islamic (PAS or Parti Islam SeMalaysia) gained unprecedented support from Muslim Malays, the constituency it competes for with UMNO, the other Malay political party in the ruling coalition.

Together with moral, political, and religious objectives, both PAS and UMNO have always wielded Islam for political legitimacy, but never with as much fervor as in the past months. Regardless of which political party is in power, all the states of Malaysia have enacted, amended and implemented laws which ensure that Islam is not only accorded greater primacy, but is also used to discipline Muslims.

This paper analyzes what has been described as the race to Islamize. Both political parties invoke the same legitimating premises in Islam—for example, the "umma," "deviance" and "respect for Islam"—but define them differently albeit with the same objective of political expedience.

The paper traces how this newest phase of Islamization in Malaysia is negotiated by Muslim Malays, especially women, whether by appropriation, resistance, or compliance.

The Erasure of "Race": The Case of Thai Studies

Jan R. Weisman, University of Washington

Western scholarship on Thailand has historically held that Thai views of human diversity are based in "ethnic" or "national" rather than "racial" constructs. "Race," in its absence from scholarly consideration, is presumed to be less salient, or even of no significance at all, in the Thai case. Arguing that a concept of "race" is indeed evident in Thai discourse and practice, I examine some possible reasons for the lack of scholarly attention to this topic. First, I contend that the polysemy of the Thai term chaat—which can refer to race, national origin, ethnicity, or citizenship—has obscured the salience of "race" in Thai society for an earlier generation of scholars. Second, I identify a failure among these scholars to note that, for the vast majority of their group, the various denotations of chaat have converged in their own persons—thus making chaat, including its racial element, a transparent factor in their interactions with and observations of Thais. Finally, I argue that the transparency of race experienced by these scholars has been reinforced by their perhaps subconscious desires and attempts to avoid engagement with a topic which, in their home societies, is often anxiety-producing. I provide examples of ways in which attention to Thai racial consciousness may contribute to a greater understanding of historical and contemporary Thailand, and argue for greater self-reflexivity regarding one’s own racialized position as a means through which scholars may gain greater understanding of the global reach and impact of this concept.


Session 208: Spirited Politics: Public Life and Religion in Contemporary Southeast Asia

Organizer: Thamora Fishel, Cornell University

Chair: Andrew Willford, Cornell University

Discussant: Kenneth M. George, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Keywords: religion, politics, Southeast Asia.

In contemporary Southeast Asia, religious ideologies and organizations exert considerable influence over politics, both national and local. Religious values often implicitly or explicitly shape the general goals of state policy, the broad contours of public debate, and the electoral strategies of party politics. Southeast Asian states and regimes frequently take a direct interest in religious affairs, seeking to control religious ideas, institutions and movements, as well as to gain moral legitimacy. At the same time, religious groups may demand state patronage, or in some cases actively participate in party politics or public debates. This panel explores the political ramifications of religious behavior, ideology, and institutions within Southeast Asia. Focusing on case studies drawn from research on Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia, each of the papers examines the religious dimensions of politics, whether at the level of state policy, governmental patronage, or electoral politics. Some of the questions that the papers engage include: To what degree are religious moralities, practices, and institutions mobilized in the service of political ends, and are these ends dominated by state or non-state interests? How is the very character and content of religious institutions and ideologies shaped by state policy, law and patronage, and what conflicts emerge between state and non-state actors over conflicting visions of the properly religious and the virtuously moral? Do religious ideologies and movements, long recognized as a key idiom for opposition to state authority, retain their subversive potential within the current moment of intensified political contestation in Southeast Asia?

Relocating Reciprocity: Politics and the Transformation of Thai Funerals

Thamora Fishel, Cornell University

The intersection of religion and politics in Thailand has generally been studied as a question of either political legitimation or of state control of religious institutions. The issue of whether everyday religious practice has political repercussions has been left largely unexamined, particularly in relation to local electoral politics. During my research on provincial politics, although I planned to examine how Buddhist practice articulated with politics, I did not expect that my most frequent visits to temples would be to attend funerals in the company of politicians on the campaign trail. This paper seeks to explain why campaigning at funerals is an accepted—even expected—part of the Thai political scene. I explore the underlying logic of reciprocity in order to show why funerals are such a focal point of both religious practice and politics at this point in time. The history of changing funerary practices reflects the broader context of economic growth, democratization, and the decentralization of political, and to some extent, religious authority. In this vein I also examine the spatial transformations in the staging of funeral rites as a way of historically situating the political campaigning that now takes place during these increasingly temple-based rites. My analysis of merit-making and patronage relations draws upon indigenous Thai concepts of morality and reciprocity to show how the "public" dimensions of funerals have such salience for politicians who operate at the interstices of state power and local patronage networks.

Buddhist Monks and Their Political Role in Burmese Society

Yin Hlaing Kyaw, Cornell University

Throughout modern Burmese history, Buddhist monks have been regarded as crucial political actors. In the colonial period, monks were involved in politics both as leaders of millenarian-style anti-British rebellions and as activists who brought new revolutionary ideas into Burmese society. These anti-British monks justified their involvement in non-religious activities on the grounds that Buddhism would never flourish as long as the country was ruled by non-Buddhist foreign heathens. Since independence, despite having rid the country of non-Buddhist rulers, monks have continued to play an active political role as both proponents and opponents of the government. Although all three post-independence regimes have promoted Buddhism by renovating pagodas and temples, conferring special awards, opening sasana (religious) universities, and providing for the needs of prominent monks, only certain segments of the monastic community have been pro-government. The existing scholarship examines the influence of monks on the parliamentary government of the 1950s and the subsequent suppression of activist monks by the socialist and current military governments; but none has paid sufficient attention to why Burmese monks continue to be visible political actors. I address this question by analyzing the role of monks as community leaders and showing how the economic status of their dajaka (patrons or supporters) has political reverberations. I argue that in both the colonial and post-colonial periods, monks who were fed and supported by the poor were more likely to emerge as government opponents, while monks who had rich people and senior government officials as their dajaka tended to become government proponents.

The Sixth Religion?: Confucianism and the Negotiation of Indonesian-Chinese Identity under the Pancasila State

Andrew Abalahin, Cornell University

The Indonesian state prides itself on the diversity of religious and ethnic communities comprising the Indonesian national community. However, there are limits to the diversity the Pancasila state will tolerate and celebrate. This paper examines the attempt by some Indonesian-Chinese to have their "ethnic religion," a spiritualized version of Confucian philosophy, recognized by the state as one of the agama, or "major religions," deemed compatible with Abrahamic monotheism. Not all Indonesian-Chinese support this endeavor, in fact their conflicting stances on this issue reveal different political orientations and allegiances. Those promoting state recognition of Confucianism are counted among the "integrationists," who strive to integrate the Indonesian-Chinese community into the Indonesian nation as one of its constituent, but distinct, ethnic groups. "Assimilationists," in contrast, resist these efforts, as they struggle to minimize Indonesian-Chinese cultural distinctiveness in order to facilitate the acceptance of individual Indonesian-Chinese as Indonesian. The career of Indonesian Confucianism’s bid for legitimacy has directly followed the rise and fall of its political patrons. While Sukarno’s Old Order regime recognized it as one of the agama, Suharto’s New Order regime adamantly refused to do so. In the post-Suharto era, the status of Confucianism, as with so many other things, is again in flux, and, in its eventual fate lies some indication of the future of Chinese-Indonesians as an ethnic community.

The Modernist Vision from Below: Malaysian Hinduism and the "Way of Prayers"

Andrew Willford, Cornell University

The official ideology of the Malaysian state emphasizes a need for scientific advancement, "Asian values," and at its center, a decidedly modernist interpretation of Islam. But Islam has also inspired ideologies of resistance to the Malaysian state. In response to the growth of Islamic movements critical of the government, the state has promoted its own Islamization agenda aimed at moralizing economic and social policies. One consequence of this moralizing Islamic discourse has been a reification of ethnic and religious boundaries through their bureaucratic codification and materialization in political representation. This, in turn, has also produced an ethnic ‘field’ in which everyday interactions are mediated by spatial distinctions premised upon ethnic categories and stereotypes. Within this field, Tamil Hindus have been placed at the political and cultural margins of the state-driven model of the nation. In this paper, I examine the evolution and vicissitudes of Tamil Hinduism within the politically-driven field of religious ideology and ethnic representation in Malaysia. In particular, I describe how a growing stigma attached to Hinduism within state discourses and everyday stereotypes is increasingly resisted by Tamil Hindus through participation in public rituals and in Hindu reform organizations, albeit manifested in distinct class-based forms and not without ambivalence. I conclude with the case study of a Tamil spirit medium, who, through her complex negations and affirmations of Tamil Hindu identity, I argue, challenges us to rethink the binary assumptions that are pervasive in theories of hegemony and resistance in relation to the subject-constituting powers of state ideology.


Session 209: Political Change in the Philippines: Explaining the Causes and Consequences of Decentralization

Organizer and Chair: Gary Hawes, Ford Foundation, Philippines

Discussant: Joel Rocamora, Institute for Popular Democracy, Philippines

Keywords: decentralization, Philippines, democratization.

Decentralizing reforms in the Philippines are the most significant political change since the restoration of democracy in 1986. The change is most notable in terms of relations between the national government and local governments, but the reforms are also having an impact on citizens’ attitudes about their rights and responsibilities, on the survival strategies of dominant political families, and on the way political and policy decisions are made. In short, Philippine politics is changing, and this panel will seek to explain why.

The panel brings together a variety of approaches, each of which contributes to a broader understanding of the on-going process of change. Paul Hutchcroft contributes historical, comparative research, while Julio Teehankee’s work is based on extensive individual field interviews with members of Filipino elite political families. Francisco Magno will report on the results of a large team of researchers working in the Philippines as part of a multi-country comparative study of civil society, while Gary Hawes will draw on his involvement in a range of grass roots projects that are changing the balance of power between citizens and elected officials.

With the panel’s focus on contemporary changes, and documented case studies, it will be possible to establish the significance of the Philippines’ decentralizing reforms. This significance can be measured not just in the quality of the country’s democracy, but also in the implication the panel’s findings will have for the dominant theoretical model of Philippine politics.

The Political Economy of Decentralization in the Philippines and Thailand

Paul Hutchcroft, University of Wisconsin, Madison

The 1991 Local Government Code in the Philippines has led to major changes in how resources are channeled from the center to localities; indeed, this program of decentralization is perhaps the most ambitious such initiative undertaken anywhere in the world. In Thailand, by contrast, there has been considerable opposition to much less ambitious moves toward decentralization in the 1990s. This paper explains continuing differences in the character of the two countries’ efforts to reshape political and administrative ties between the center and localities. I will begin by examining historical legacies, contrasting the highly decentralized character of the modern Philippine state as shaped in the early American era with the centralized prefectoral structures established during roughly the same period in Thailand (ensuring the longstanding dominance of the Ministry of Interior in both provincial and local administration). The qualitatively different character of historical ties between metropolitan and provincial elites in the two countries, I will show, helps us to understand more clearly the highly contrasting character of current debates over decentralization initiatives. Contemporary international trends in favor of decentralization are felt in both countries, but find particularly fertile ground in the Philippines (where local autonomy has been a commonly proclaimed goal in political discourse for over a century). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this ideological predisposition combined with a number of other important factors to encourage the passage of the Local Government Code. In Thailand, the historical dominance of Bangkok elites has provided far less scope for discussion of local autonomy. In addition, newly emergent provincial elites have seemingly not promoted decentralization to the same degree as their Philippine counterparts—perhaps because it is more attractive to take over ministries in historically dominant Bangkok than to promote the autonomy of historically weak units of local and provincial administration.

Civil Society and Local Power Arrangements

Francisco Magno, De La Salle University, Manila

This paper examines the impact of civil society encounters with public officials on the quality of local governance and democracy. Focusing on selected Philippine cities and municipalities, it ascertains whether such engagements have led to the cultivation of trust across the public-private divide. It also considers how such interactions have brought about changes in ideas, beliefs and awareness between civil society associations and local government units. The study probes the issue of whether civil society participation has led to more effective, responsible, participatory, transparent, and accountable systems of local governance. Finally, it inquires into how such factors as regime types, organizational capacities, anti-reform pressures, social capital reserves, donor assistance levels, and political economy transitions affect the character of civil society-government relations and local power arrangements.

Generation Shift and Local Elite Reproduction

Julio Teehanke, De La Salle University, Manila

The study is an exposition on the methods used by traditional, new, and emerging socioeconomic elites to maintain their dominance in congressional politics in the Philippines. It stresses the internal structure of the oligarchy and the mechanisms or strategies of their resilience in achieving, exercising, and keeping power. It is argued that like social status or economic resources, political offices are turned into assets that could be passed on to the next of kin. Political power is bequeathed to the heirs of dominant politicians. Nevertheless, the young or neophyte politician should also pass through the intervening process of elections. The scions of political clans are observed to be cultivating the support of civil society organizations. The impact of these developments on current Philippine political reality raises interesting insights on the prospects of democratic consolidation and the dynamism of local governance in the Philippines. The exposure and involvement of active young legislators to civil society activities is creating social capital that could very well be tapped to sustain the advocacy for social reform.

Building Local Democracies in the Philippines: The Impact of Decentralization on Democratization

Gary Hawes, Ford Foundation

The passage of the Local Government Code of 1991 opened significant new opportunities for citizen participation in local governance. These opportunities go far beyond the mandatory participation of non-governmental organizations in local bodies such as the development council or the local health board. In many municipalities and cities, citizens now play an active role in determining development priorities, allocating the budget, and in broader patterns of oversight in the implementation of local projects. This paper will document several of these examples; but more importantly, the paper will analyze the causal factors that have led to greater citizen participation in the 1990s, and will explore the implications these changes have for our understanding of local politics in the Philippines. The paper will argue that the old model of patron-client ties that has dominated thinking about local politics for the last forty years is of declining utility and there is a pressing need to understand the ways in which decentralization has changed the context for political participation.