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Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory

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Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory

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The Anxieties of Mobility

Migration and Tourism in the Indonesian Borderlands

by Johan A. Lindquist

Since the late 1960s the Indonesian island of Batam has been transformed from a sleepy fishing village to a booming frontier town, where foreign investment, mostly from neighboring Singapore, converges with inexpensive land and labor. Indonesian female migrants dominate the island’s economic landscape both as factory workers and as prostitutes servicing working class tourists from Singapore. Indonesians also move across the border in search of work in Malaysia and Singapore as plantation and construction workers or maids. Export processing zones such as Batam are both celebrated and vilified in contemporary debates on economic globalization. The Anxieties of Mobility moves beyond these dichotomies to explore the experiences of migrants and tourists who pass through Batam. Johan Lindquist’s extensive fieldwork allows him to portray globalization in terms of relationships that bind individuals together over long distances rather than as a series of impersonal economic transactions. He offers a unique ethnographic perspective, drawing together the worlds of factory workers and prostitutes, migrants and tourists, and creating a compelling account of everyday life in a borderland characterized by dramatic capitalist expansion. The book uses three Indonesian concepts (merantau, malu, liar) to shed light on the mobility of migrants and tourists on Batam. The first refers to a person’s relationship with home while in the process of migration. The second signifies the shame or embarrassment felt when one is between accepted roles and emotional states. The third, liar, literally means "wild" and is used to identify those who are out of place, notably squatters, couples in premarital cohabitation, and prostitutes without pimps. These sometimes overlapping concepts allow the book to move across geographical and metaphorical boundaries and between various economies.

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Art as Politics

Kathleen M. Adams

Art as Politics explores the intersection of art, identity politics, and tourism in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Based on long-term ethnographic research from the 1980s to the present, the book offers a nuanced portrayal of the Sa’dan Toraja, a predominantly Christian minority group in the world’s most populous Muslim country. Celebrated in anthropological and tourism literatures for their spectacular traditional houses, sculpted effigies of the dead, and pageantry-filled funeral rituals, the Toraja have entered an era of accelerated engagement with the global economy marked by on-going struggles over identity, religion, and social relations. In her engaging account, Kathleen Adams chronicles how various Toraja individuals and groups have drawn upon artistically-embellished "traditional" objects—as well as monumental displays, museums, UNESCO ideas about "word heritage," and the World Wide Web—to shore up or realign aspects of a cultural heritage perceived to be under threat. She also considers how outsiders—be they tourists, art collectors, members of rival ethnic groups, or government officials—have appropriated and reframed Toraja art objects for their own purposes. Her account illustrates how art can serve as a catalyst in identity politics, especially in the context of tourism and social upheaval. Ultimately, this insightful work prompts readers to rethink persistent and pernicious popular assumptions—that tourism invariably brings a loss of agency to local communities or that tourist art is a compromised form of expression. Art as Politics promises to be a favorite with students and scholars of anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, ethnic relations, art, and Asian studies.

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The Binding Tie

Chinese Intergenerational Relations in Modern Singapore

Kristina Göransson

Since gaining independence in 1965, Singapore has become the most trade-intensive economy in the world and the richest country in Southeast Asia. This transformation has been accompanied by the emergence of a deep generational divide. More complex than simple disparities of education or changes in income and consumption patterns, this growing gulf encompasses language, religion, and social memory. The Binding Tie explores how expectations and obligations between generations are being challenged, reworked, and reaffirmed in the face of far-reaching societal change. The family remains a pivotal feature of Singaporean society and the primary unit of support. The author focuses on the middle generation, caught between elderly parents who grew up speaking dialect and their own children who speak English and Mandarin. In analyzing the forces that bind these generations together, she deploys the idea of an intergenerational "contract," which serves as a metaphor for customary obligations and expectations. She convincingly examines the many different levels at which the contract operates within Singaporean families and offers striking examples of the meaningful ways in which intergenerational support and transactions are performed, resisted, and renegotiated. Her rich material, drawn from ethnographic fieldwork among middle-class Chinese, provides insights into the complex interplay of fragmenting and integrating forces. The Binding Tie makes a critical contribution to the study of intergenerational relations in modern, rapidly changing societies and conveys a vivid and nuanced picture of the challenges Singaporean families face in today’s hypermodern world. It will be of interest to researchers and students in a range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, Asian studies, demography, development studies, and family studies.

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Cambodge

The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860–1945

by Penny Edwards

This strikingly original study of Cambodian nationalism brings to life eight turbulent decades of cultural change and sheds new light on the colonial ancestry of Pol Pot’s murderous dystopia. Penny Edwards recreates the intellectual milieux and cultural traffic linking Europe and empire, interweaving analysis of key movements and ideas in the French Protectorate of Cambodge with contemporary developments in the Métropole. From the naturalist Henri Mouhot’s expedition to Angkor in 1860 to the nationalist Son Ngoc Thanh’s short-lived premiership in 1945, this history of ideas tracks the talented Cambodian and French men and women who shaped the contours of the modern Khmer nation. Their visions and ambitions played out within a shifting landscape of Angkorean temples, Parisian museums, Khmer printing presses, world’s fairs, Buddhist monasteries, and Cambodian youth hostels. This is cross-cultural history at its best. With its fresh take on the dynamics of colonialism and nationalism, Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation will become essential reading for scholars of history, politics, and society in Southeast Asia. Edwards’ nuanced analysis of Buddhism and her consideration of Angkor’s emergence as a national monument will be of particular interest to students of Asian and European religion, museology, heritage studies, and art history. As a highly readable guide to Cambodia’s recent past, it will also appeal to specialists in modern French history, cultural studies, and colonialism, as well as readers with a general interest in Cambodia.

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Cult, Culture, and Authority

Princess Lieu Hanh in Vietnamese History

by Olga Dror

Princess Liễu Hạnh, often called the Mother of the Vietnamese people by her followers, is one of the most prominent goddesses in Vietnamese popular religion. First emerging some four centuries ago as a local sect appealing to women, the princess’ cult has since transcended its geographical and gender boundaries and remains vibrant today. Who was this revered deity? Was she a virtuous woman or a prostitute? Why did people begin worshiping her and why have they continued? Cult, Culture, and Authority traces Liễu Hạnh’s cult from its ostensible appearance in the sixteenth century to its present-day prominence in North Vietnam and considers it from a broad range of perspectives, as religion and literature and in the context of politics and society. Over time, Liễu Hạnh’s personality and cult became the subject of numerous literary accounts, and these historical texts are a major source for this book. Author Olga Dror explores the authorship and historical context of each text considered, treating her subject in an interdisciplinary way. Her interest lies in how these accounts reflect the various political agendas of successive generations of intellectuals and officials. The same cult was called into service for a variety of ideological ends: feminism, nationalism, Buddhism, or Daoism.

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Embodied Nation

Sport, Masculinity, and the Making of Modern Laos

Simon Creak

Viewing the country’s extraordinary transitions—from French colonialism to royalist nationalism to revolutionary socialism to the modern development state—through the lens of physical culture, Simon Creak’s incisive narrative illuminates a nation that has no reputation in sport and is typically viewed, even from within, as a country of cheerful but lazy people. Creak argues that sport and related physical practices—including physical education, gymnastics, and military training—have shaped a national consciousness.

Combining cultural and intellectual history, Creak draws on a creative array of Lao and French sources from previously unexplored archives, newspapers, and magazines, and from ethnographic writing, war photography, and cartoons. More than an “imagined community” or “geobody,” he shows that Laos was also a “body at work,” making substantive theoretical contributions not only to Southeast Asian studies and history, but to the study of the physical culture, nationalism, masculinity, and modernity in all modern societies.

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Forest of Struggle

Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia

Eve Monique Zucker

“With an ethnographer’s acumen, Zucker shows us how the members of a community in post-conflict Cambodia have sought to rebuild their lives, a process involving complicated issues of trust, social memory, and moral order. Forest of Struggle is a must-read for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of social suffering and the remaking of social worlds after prolonged conflict and genocide.” —Alexander Hinton, Rutgers University

“This book raises far-reaching questions of larger interest to the study of Cambodia and to anthropology in general. It is a very timely book, full of ideas and relevant to any society in the aftermath of profound upheaval.” —John Marston, El Colegio de Mexico

In a village community in the highlands of Cambodia’s Southwest, people struggle to rebuild their lives after nearly thirty years of war and genocide. Recovery is a tenuous process as villagers attempt to shape a future while contending with the terrible rupture of the Pol Pot era. Forest of Struggle tracks the fragile progress of restoring the bonds of community in O’Thmaa and its environs, the site of a Khmer Rouge base and battlefield for nearly three decades between 1970 and 1998.

Anthropologist Eve Zucker’s ethnographic fieldwork (2001–2003, 2010) uncovers the experiences of the people of O’Thmaa in the early days of the revolution, when some villagers turned on each other with lethal results. She examines memories of violence and considers the means by which relatedness and moral order are re-established, comparing O’Thmaa with villages in a neighboring commune that suffered similar but not identical trauma. Zucker argues that those differing experiences shape present ways of healing and making the future. Events had a devastating effect on the social and moral order at the time and continue to impair the remaking of sociality and civil society today, impacting villagers’ responses to changes in recent years.

More positively, Zucker persuasively illustrates how Cambodians employ indigenous means to reconcile their painful memories of loss and devastation. This point is noteworthy given current debates on recovery surrounding the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Forest of Struggle offers a compelling case study that is relevant to anyone interested in post-conflict recovery, social memory, the anthropology of morality and violence, and Cambodia studies.

Eve Zucker is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Forging Islamic Power and Place

The Legacy of Shaykh Daud bin ‘Abd Allah al-Fatani in Mecca and Southeast Asia

Francis R. Bradley

Forging Islamic Power and Place/ charts the nineteenth-century rise of a vast network of Islamic scholars stretching across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean to Arabia. Following the political and military collapse of the tiny Sultanate of Patani in what is now southern Thailand and northern Malaysia, a displaced community of scholars led by Shaykh Dā'ūd bin 'Abd Allāh al-Faānī regrouped in Mecca. In the years that followed, al-Faānī composed more than forty works that came to form the basis for a new, text-based type of Islamic practice. Via a network of scholars, students, and scribes, al-Faānī 's writings made their way back to Southeast Asia, becoming the core texts of emerging pondok (Islamic schools) throughout the region. Islamic scholars thus came to be the primary power brokers in the construction of a new moral community, setting forth an intellectual wave that spurred cultural identity, literacy, and a religious practice that grew ever more central to daily life. In Forging Islamic Power and Place Francis Bradley analyzes the important role of this vibrant Patani knowledge network in the formation of Islamic institutions of learning in Southeast Asia. He makes use of an impressive range of sources, including official colonial documents, traveler accounts, missionary writings, and above all a trove of handwritten manuscripts in Malay and Arabic, what remains of one of the most fertile zones of knowledge production anywhere in the Islamic world at the time. Writing against prevailing notions of Southeast Asia as the passive recipient of the Islamic traditions of the Middle East, Bradley shows how a politically marginalized community engineered its own cultural renaissance via the moral virility of the Islamic scholarly tradition and the power of the written word. He highlights how, in an age of rising colonial power, these knowledge producers moved largely unnoticed and unhindered between Southeast Asia and the Middle East carrying out sweeping cultural and religious change. His focus on Thailand's so-called "deep south," which has been marginalized in scholarly studies until recent times, helps lay the groundwork for a new generation of scholarship on the region and furthers our understanding of the present-day crisis in southern Thailand. The study of Islam in Southeast Asia has been most often relegated to the realm of religious studies, and historians have considered the development of the nation as the single-most important historiographical problem in the region. By focusing on the role of human agency and the logistics of knowledge transmission, this book transforms our understanding of the long and complex history of the flow of religious knowledge between the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

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Ghosts of the New City

Spirits, Urbanity, and the Ruins of Progress in Chiang Mai

Andrew Alan Johnson

Chiang Mai (literally, “new city”) suffered badly in the 1997 Asian financial crisis as the Northern Thai real estate bubble collapsed along with the Thai baht, crushing dreams of a renaissance of Northern prosperity. Years later, the ruins of the excesses of the 1990s still stain the skyline. Hopes for rebirth and fears of decline have their roots in Thai conceptions of progress, which draw from Buddhist and animist ideas of power and sacrality. Cities, Johnson argues, were centers where the charismatic power of kings and animist spirits were grounded; these entities assured progress by imbuing the space with sacred power that would avert disaster. Andrew Alan Johnson traces such magico-religious conceptions of potency and space from historical records through present-day popular religious practice and draws parallels between these and secular attempts at urban revitalization. For many Chiang Mai residents, new developments harbor the seeds of the crash, which manifest themselves in anxious stories of ghosts and criminals who conceal themselves behind the city’s progressive veneer. In Ghosts of the New City, Johnson shows how the trauma of the crash, brought back vividly by the political crisis of 2006, haunts efforts to remake the city.

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How to Behave

Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia, 1860–1930

by Anne Ruth Hansen

This ambitious cross-disciplinary study of Buddhist modernism in colonial Cambodia breaks new ground in understanding the history and development of religion and colonialism in Southeast Asia.

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