AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 223

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Session 223: Natural Resource Management and State Territorialization in Southeast Asia

Organizer: Cari A. Coe, Independent Researcher, USA

Discussants: Takeshi Ito, Sophia University, Japan; Cari A. Coe, Independent Researcher, USA

This panel explores the tension between development policy discourses on “good governance” in natural resource management and Southeast Asian states’ efforts to assert political control over contested territory. The goal of the panel is to evaluate the extent to which contemporary development policies of decentralizing state power and natural resource management, promoted by the World Bank, IMF, and ADB foster “empowerment, security and social inclusion” within local communities. Does the implementation of private property rights empower resource users or bind them to state structures of control and extraction? Does the creation of agricultural markets enhance the economic power of resource users as the markets develop, or does it push them aside? Does an independent civil society emerge through decentralized natural resource management or are these policies just another version of state corporatism? How is the “last enclosure” of state territorialization reorganizing nature and society in Southeast Asia over the last two centuries? The papers on this panel explore these questions of state-society relations in a variety of Southeast Asian contexts, but the implications extend beyond Southeast Asia to the larger question of whether empowerment can be manufactured or whether it is simply another way to serve state interests of territorial control.

New Rules, Same Results: The Impact of Decentralization on Local Communities in North Maluku, Eastern Indonesia
Christopher R. Duncan, Rutgers University, USA

Proponents of decentralization in Indonesia claimed that it would empower local communities that had long been exploited or ignored by the national elite in Jakarta. They argued that as communities took part in local politics, regional governments would become more accountable to their constituents. This paper argues that decentralization has not resulted in the empowerment of local communities or provided them with more security over their land or control over their natural resources. Rather it has empowered local elite who now focus on maximizing their wealth through the extraction of natural resources with little concern for sustainability, or for the concerns of local communities. Regional governments are essentially continuing the same patterns of expropriation and exploitation as their Jakarta-based predecessors. Communities are still arbitrarily resettled as part of larger government objectives to exploit their land either through transmigration, forestry, plantation expansion or mining projects. Furthermore, regional governments continue the pattern of previous regimes by denying or ignoring the existence of local forms of land tenure that conflict with extractive industries. Thus the empowerment promised by decentralization has simply shifted the agents of territorialization and domination from the center to the regions. This paper explores these processes by looking at the impact of decentralization polices on natural resource management and local communities in the province of North Maluku in eastern Indonesia.

Property Rights or Responsibilities? A Study of the Value of Property Rights to Farming Households in Northern Vietnam
Cari A. Coe, Independent Researcher, USA

What does the allocation of formal land use rights really mean to land users? Property rights theory argues that giving land users legal title to their land fosters economic productivity through increased tenure security, access to credit and an efficient allocation of resources. At the same time, land titling systems and cadastral maps serve the interests of the state, allowing it to monitor land use and tax production. Thus, for land users, receiving formal property rights brings with it both potential benefits and obligations. Property rights legislation is being implemented throughout the developing world, encouraged by aid donors. Yet little is understood about how land users view the land titles that they are allocated- do they see having title to their land as beneficial or burdensome, or some combination therein? How does this affect household compliance with land use laws? This paper uses survey data from households living on the periphery of Tam Dao national park in Vietnam to examine how farming households conceptualize the costs and benefits of having title (a “Red Book”) to their land. I argue that households generally feel that having title to their land is beneficial in that it increases their tenure security and their access to credit, but is burdensome in terms of the fees and paperwork that ensue once they receive title. This complicates the state’s ability to effectively monitor land use, as the burdens of fees and formal paperwork push many farmers to conduct land transactions through informal, non-sanctioned means.

Making Knowledge and Territory: Ecological Knowledge Productions on the Nu-Salween River
Vanessa Lamb, York University, Canada

Decision-makers and resource managers have sought to portray ecological knowledge and expertise as an apolitical tool that can assist in making the best decisions about development and contested claims to environmental resources. Yet, knowledge about ecological or natural resources is also about access, power and control over those resources. By examining the case of impending hydroelectric developments on the Nu-Salween River – Southeast Asia’s longest free-flowing river – this paper aims to contribute an ethnographically-informed understanding of the intersecting issues of nature-society relationships and the ways that (territorial) claims to the river are made or have emerged, and in doing so highlight the contribution of knowledge production to these processes. At the Nu-Salween, local ecological knowledge has been promoted as one way that local residents can create a counter-discourse to and even serve to ‘democratize’ the scientific ways of knowing that normally dominate the development process. In this paper, I think critically about how such knowledge is incorporated and transformed in decision-making processes and environmental governance. To do so, I present some of the unintended consequences of one local knowledge initiative undertaken by communities in Thailand and Burma living along on the Nu-Salween River, where environmental impact assessments have included information from local initiatives.

Between Bureaucratization and Territorialization: The Role of Peasants in State Formation in Java
Takeshi Ito, Sophia University, Japan

Multi-disciplinary approaches to state formation are renewing scholarly interests in the state. In the Weberian tradition, scholars seek the state’s legitimacy to rule in rationality, and carefully examine centralization (as embodied in the bureaucratic state) as the central marker of state formation. In the Foucaudian tradition, scholars find state power as decentralized and based on a set of institutional arrangements which enable the state to exercise power through particular knowledge about population (governmentality). The purpose of this paper is not to determine the superiority of one approach to another but to bring in an agrarian studies perspective in state formation. This suggests that analytical focus be placed on the active role of the peasantry in state formation. This paper based on the historical trajectory of state formation in Java shows that the creation of a peasantry class constitutes integral part of state formation by the precolonial and colonial states. While the state has integrated peasants into state spaces, and made them work for agricultural surpluses, peasants should not be seen as merely the subject of centralization and terriorialization. This paper demonstrates this by highlighting various tactics of evading the services for the state amid state formation in the Priangan highlands of West Java. Furthermore, it examines the application of the state-peasant dialectic model in public policy and practice of development and some implications for the current model of development.