AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 107

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Session 107: Intimacies of Cultural/Area Studies (1) - Sponsored by the Southeast Asia Council

Organizer: Ubonrat Siriyuvasak , Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

Chair: Nancy J. Smith-Hefner, Boston University, USA

Discussant: Zaharom Nain, University of Nottingham, Malaysia

Panel Abstract: The panel focuses on the question whether cultural studies can make a distinct contribution to Southeast Asian studies. This core question will be discussed against the broader context of the growing intimacies between area and cultural studies. This panel will be organized to complement another panel, focussing on the reverse question whether Southeast Asian studies can make a distinct contribution to cultural studies. The broader issue for both panels is whether there is anything (methodological, historical, or material) that deeply connects cultural and areas studies in post Cold War era beyond the casual practice of doing cultural studies on a region for a largely Anglophonic audience residing on the other side of the globe. The overall number of full-time employed faculty members and enrolled students in educational programs specifically designated as Southeast Asian studies has reportedly declined over the past two decades across institutions that used to be the major players in Southeast Asian studies, and located outside Southeast Asia. While a return of the old area studies seems neither possible nor desirable, two related developments are worth investigating. The first is a slow but steady growth of regionally-based area studies involving collaborations of scholars, activists, and cultural workers in Southeast Asia. Secondly, there has been a strong interest in cultural studies among those whose work is associated with area studies on and in the region. Each of these developments is complex. The merit of their relationships is open to debate.

Cultural Studies in Muslim Southeast Asia: Class, Consumption, and Piety Among Contemporary Javanese Youth
Nancy J. Smith-Hefner, Boston University, USA

Cultural studies has made pioneering contributions to the study of youth, religious, culture, and consumption around the world. Muslim Southeast Asia is a particularly rich field for these applications of cultural studies, inasmuch as large portions of the Muslim population has simultaneously experienced religious resurgence, consumption revolutions, and a growing middle class. In this presentation, I examine the intersection of class, consumption, and Islamic resurgence among Muslim youth in the south-central Javanese city of Yogyakarta. The German sociologist Solvay Gerke (2000) has suggested that in the late 1990s, the Indonesian emerging middle class was identifiable by its commodified lifestyle and leisure habits that included shopping, sports, and watching Western movies. Adopting a Bourdieuian framework, she argues for an approach that considers class and consumptive habitus as constitutive of the new middle class. Drawing on and going beyond Gerke’s suggestions, I examine the lifestyles and leisure habits of educated Javanese youth in the city of Yogyakarta. The consumption practices associated with shopping malls and youth-oriented Islamic publications reveal a more religiously contested menu of options for individual choice than previously available to young people. Muslim self-help literature promotes the fashioning cosmopolitan selves while simultaneously warning young people of the dangers of moral laxity and unbridled consumption putatively associated with the West. The example illustrates the importance of integrating religious discourses and performativity into the study of middle class consumption and piety.

Cloth, Status, and Identity in the Philippines
Mina Roces, University of New South Wales, Australia

This paper will explore the links between cloth, status and identity in the social history of elites by using a case study of the Philippines from the late Spanish colonial period to the present. The manufacture of _piña_ or the soft diaphanous fabric made from pineapple fibre was highly labor intensive since it took a weaver in the 19th century one day to weave half an inch (and today one meter a day) making the cloth extremely expensive. Held up as the epitome of luxury and as an example of the refinement of a colonial elite, it became crucial to the self-representation of that particular class who first began to identify themselves as “Filipino”. What does a focus on _piña_ cloth/fashion contribute to the history of the Philippines? The history of piña as cultural marker for the _ilustrado_ elite and its cultural identity contributes to an understanding of the fraught and highly contested nature of who the Filipino is as well as who is the Filipino elite class. The semiotics of dress highlights the importance of cultural studies approaches in the analysis of identity while Southeast Asia is a rich site (and pineapple fiber is unique to the Philippines) in the largely Eurocentric field of dress/cloth history. Because _piña_ becomes identified as Filipiniana, _piña_ as souvenir highlights the convergences between the consumption practices of both foreigners and Filipinos.

Neighbor Studies: Towards a Post-Orientalist Southeast Asian Studies
Yukti Mukdawijitra, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

This paper proposes “neighbor studies” which offer alternative approaches to Southeast Asia. How Southeast Asia has long been researched may perhaps be branded as “Orientalism.” Nonetheless, dominant works offering post-colonial Southeast Asian studies tend to produce a “reversed Orientalism” constructing the “oriental.” Drawn from my anthropological research and cultural studies in Vietnam and Thailand, instead of Orientalism or its reversal, my reflections on neighbor studies seek to enhance both Southeast Asian studies and cultural studies in the age of Post-Orientalism. A major characteristic of neighbor studies is that, for example, Southeast Asians researching their neighbors are both “native” (insider) and “foreign” (outsider) to their own area, due to their academic, socio-political, and cultural backgrounds. Intimate cultural similarities and differences embodied in Southeast Asians provide not only more approximate but also better sensitive accounts on the area. Neighbor studies tend to answer regional questions, rather than the global academic questions. In this regard, although international theories and concepts, such as structuralism, feminism, Marxism and post-structuralism remains resourceful, issues and orientations addressed by Southeast Asians tend to emphasize locally served problems. It is thus important to problematize how neighbor studies are localizing Southeast Asian studies. Furthermore, in terms of power relation, Southeast Asians are both the colonizer and the colonized of the area; therefore the position taken by neighbor studies are not necessarily purely objective. Subjective position always plays significant role on how Southeast Asians represent themselves both from the subaltern or the dominant standpoints.

Does Popular Culture Matter to the Southeast Asian Region? Southeast Asia as Seen from the Perspective of Popular Culture
Nissim Kadosh Otmazgin, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

This paper looks at how the "region" of Southeast Asia is seen from the perspective of popular culture and how this may enrich the way we get to think and conceptualize "regions". Specifically, it seeks to invert the usual direction of analysis in the social sciences. Rather than asking how social theories about regionalism and region-making may illuminate various aspects within Southeast Asia, it seek to explore how the study of popular culture may enrich social theory and more specifically concepts centered on the notion of "region" and “regions”. The paper itself focuses on the multidirectional confluences and “waves” of popular culture which have swept Southeast Asia over the last two decades, analyzing the creation of regional popular culture markets and their social and political underpinnings. The paper then critically examines the conventional way in which “regions” are being defined and emphasize the need for a more methodologically pluralistic approach open to consider new socially and culturally embedded practices and densities which may effect regional formation. Finally, the paper will open a series of questions that derive from the relations between popular culture and the “region”, for example, what kind of theoretical insight do we gain by using the “region” as a framework of analysis? And what is the place of geographical assumptions about physical and cultural contiguity in such conceptualization?