AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 644

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Session 644: Globalization, Nationhood and Citizenship in Southeast Asia

Organizer: Shirley (Hsiao-Li) Sun, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Chair: Norman Vasu, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Discussant: Alan Chong, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore

This panel seeks to bring together strong theoretical, empirical and methodological works on the related topics of state, nation, identity and citizenship in Southeast Asia [SEA] in the 21 century. The central question this session raises is “what is the relationship between globalization, nationhood and citizenship?” As such, the panel will deal with how globalization (broadly defined) has impacted upon the relationship between social groups and individuals with their respective Southeast Asian governments. Has globalization challenged the identificational container of the nation-state in SEA or has it strengthened it? Moreover, against the backdrop of globalization, what is the future of citizenship in the region?

Why Not Like That? Pronatalist Policies and Citizens’ Responses
Shirley (Hsiao-Li) Sun, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Drawing on data collected from 165 in-depth interviews with individuals and 39 focus group discussions in 2007 and 2008 in Singapore, I found that among other things, citizens actively questioned the effectiveness of policies by comparing them with policies perceived to be in operation in other national contexts. For instance, France and Canada were highlighted as countries that provided generous cash benefits to larger families. China and Denmark were mentioned to suggest that Singapore’s then three-month maternity leave was too short by comparison; Germany and the United Kingdom were used as examples to argue that employers in Singapore were not as respectful of employees’ requests for parental leave. Interviewees also characterized the Australian government as pro-family in providing monthly allowances and sustained education and health subsidies, and in facilitating reduced work hours. Such responses became more serious and intense during focus group discussions when interviewees talked about instances of migration to other countries among family and friends, as well as their own intention to migrate, for reasons related to lack of supportive state policies in Singapore. This paper thus highlights the importance of state policies ‘on paper’ and the context in which such policies are viewed by citizens. Citizens are not passive recipients of top-down policies. Instead, they are active agents who weigh up policies by drawing upon their globally connected awareness and perceptions of exemplary policies in other nation-states. In short, globalization equips citizens with knowledge that enhances their capacity for imagining the nation. Weighing up all the evidence, this study opens up the possibility that under certain conditions, state authority is weakened but, paradoxically, nationhood may be strengthened.

Border Wars: The Ongoing Temple Dispute Between Thailand and Cambodia
Helaine Silverman, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

I trace the long history of border wars, diplomatic wrangling and ongoing tension that has occurred between Thailand and Cambodia concerning Preah Vihear, a beautiful Khmer temple located on the unresolved border between the two countries. The struggle is noteworthy for its transethnic character, the deep and imbricated history of the players, and the fight¹s intersection with dramatic contemporary politics in both countries. The review takes us back in time to the formation of Thailand¹s foundational empires and through the colonial and postcolonial period of the region. My discussion is informed by Thai discourses of nationalism and ethnicity and observations about Cambodia¹s recovery from its traumatic Khmer Rouge past and contemporary project of national identity construction around Angkor, one of the most spectacular World Heritage Sites on UNESCO¹s list. As an Angkorian center, Preah Vihear is part of that ancient Khmer cultural/archaeological heritage. But Thailand has repeatedly offered an alternative historical reconstruction that places the origins of Khmer civilization in its national territory and national imaginary, notwithstanding the minority status of Khmer people in the overwhelmingly ethnically Thai nation. I argue that the ongoing dispute between the two countries implicates existential challenges to ancient and contemporary political legitimacy. I emphasize the significant role iconic sites can play in the construction of national identity. I offer critical perspectives on the competitive intersections of UNESCO¹s concept of world heritage, international tourism, and economic development in the context of globalization. I interrogate UNESCO¹s policy concerning contested nominations to the World Heritage List and conclude with a recommendation for future treatment of similar cases.

Nations, Civilizations and Intercultural Contact – A Communicational Perspective
Alan Chong, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore

Community is derived from the foundational view of communication being directed for some purpose. An individual joins community because he or she has consciously scripted his or her life into it through the reasoning of the desire for fulfilling particular needs. Armed with diverse clarifications about community, and political community, derived from thinkers as varied as Ferdinand Tonnies and Michael Walzer, one can thus commence discussions about representing nationalism as an ideology, civilizations and the prospects of intercultural contact. The focus in this paper is limited to discussion of the communicational dimensions of political community. This will mean that there will not be extensive micro-analysis of the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of building community. Notably, the source of producing community, the channelling of its spirit and the incorporation of the audience will be analysed. It will be concluded that how xenophobic nationalism becomes depends upon the ‘hardness’ of its ideational devices. Moreover, one cannot abandon the construction of nationalism because it is part of modernization. Finally, civilizational contact should be seen as inclusion rather than exclusion.

Bangkok Citizens, Domestic Laborers, and International Migrants: Examining the Contested Constructions on Migration, Rootedness, and Autochthony in Thailand
Gregory Gullette, Santa Clara University, USA

Thailand has routinely relied upon deregulation, foreign investment, and cooperative interstate labor agreements under the assumption that such open policies will create extensive Southeast Asian development and improve life within Thailand. Yet, the country is plagued by uneven development, growing divisions between rural areas and urban centers, and increasing fixations by formal agencies and informal groups on identifying populations considered illegal or nonautochthonous within Thai/Bangkok landscapes. Based on fieldwork conducted among diverse migrant groups in Bangkok, I explore how migrant communities recreate culture and rootedness in a city where, at times, people actively seek to cleanse Bangkok’s unwanted elements, including migrants. Here specifically I focus on diverse performances of power within the state, and the manner in which internal sovereignty is expressed against citizens and non-citizens alike, which finds support at particular historical moments and from particular citizens that claim true autochthony or a privileged ability to become rooted (tang rok raak) in Bangkok’s cultural spaces. Therefore, how one is framed as “out of place” in Bangkok is variously constructed and often classed, ethnicized, and nationalized in nature. Drawing on research in space and belonging, I argue that Thailand’s borders -- the political barriers between states and the metaphoric boundaries variously constructed within the nation-state -- are both transgressed and intensified as the country seeks to mediate the anxieties produced when global capitalism and labor flexibility require looser restrictions, yet segments of the population simultaneously demand the spectacle and performance of power against those viewed as foreign or undesirable.

Cultural Citizens and Singapore
Norman Vasu, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

This paper examines the Singaporean political system and the central puzzle here surrounds the reasons for Singapore’s ability to remain closed and illiberal politically while having an open globalized economy. How does Singapore remain in the world but not of the world? Building on Chua Beng Huat’s conception of politics in Singapore as one of political culturalism, this paper seeks to explain the Singaporean model of development and it will be argued that the system cannot go on indefinitely. By being plugged into the world economically, the closed system may have to become more open and liberal.