Forum Fall Semester 2012 - 13
September 7, 2012 - Thongchai Winichakul (Professor, Department of History, UW-Madison)
Christian Missions, Comparative Religions, and Buddhist Superiority in Siam, 1850s-1950s
The formulation of Buddhist superiority in Siam was achieved through 1) debates/reactions against the attacks on Buddhism by Christian, especially Catholic, missions, and 2) the developing discourse (eventually a formal study) of comparative religions. The photo (on the flyer) is the cover of a highly infamous and controversial book in Siam by a Catholic archbishop of Siam. First written in the late 1840s, it became the prototype of the vicious slander/criticism on Buddhism. There were 4-5 rounds of attacks across 100+ years.
September 14, 2012 - Elizabeth Drexler (Associate Professor of Anthropology, Michigan State University)
Fatal Knowledges: The Legacies of Collaboration and Betrayal in East Timor
Violence in East Timor, which was occupied by Indonesia between 1975 and 1999, has been examined and narrated by a range of tribunals and commissions, but its legacies continue to challenge legal accountability, the legitimacy of post-conflict institutions, the writing of public histories, and the rebuilding of the social fabric in both Indonesia and independent Timor Leste. Analysis of surreal short fiction by Indonesian author Seno Gumira Ajidarma suggests how particular kinds of knowledge, even when acknowledged, may haunt post conflict landscapes becoming fatal to individuals, institutions and social trust in the aftermath of transitional justice processes.
September 21, 2012 - John Amos Marston (Professor, Center for Asian and African Studies, Colegio de Mexico)
The Construction of a New Relic Stupa in Cambodia
This talk describes the massive celebrations which took place in Cambodia in 1957, the year 2500 in the Buddhist calendar, considered the half-way point in the current Buddhist era. The occasion included the bringing of Buddha relics from Sri Lanka to be installed in a new stupa in front of the Phnom Penh railway station. The talk will discuss how the celebrations relate to prophecy and, at the same time, to emerging national identity soon after French colonialism ended in Cambodia.
September 28, 2012 - Robert Hefner (Professor of Anthropology, Boston University)
Whatever Happened to Civil Islam? Democracy and Violence in Contemporary Indonesia
In the mid-to-late 1990s Indonesia witnessed one of the largest and most intellectually sophisticated movements for democratic reform ever seen in the Muslim-majority world. Yet since the early 2000s, this Southeast Asian country has been plagued by social violence, the most recent form of which has involved attacks on religious minorities and non-conformist Muslims. Reflecting on the promise and pitfalls of Indonesian democratization over the past 15 years, this paper asks, What happened to Indonesia's civic-pluralist Islamic tradition? And why has democratization in Indonesia continued to be afflicted by violence in the name of religion?
October 5, 2012 - Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung (Associate Professor, Political Science Department, University of Massachusetts)
Coping with Daily Life in Myanmar [Burma]: Strategies and Implications
This talk will examine various widespread and regularized adaptive strategies adopted by individuals, households, and communities in Myanmar, and will demonstrate that not all locally initiated strategies for daily survival and for addressing individual and collective needs lead to the promotion of trust, autonomy, collective welfare, or democratic culture. Most of these efforts are responses by individuals, households, communities, and organizations to manage, evade, or take advantage of constraints and opportunities that are often specific to local areas and may have long-term detrimental effects on society, polity, and the economy. This research highlights the utility of applying interdisciplinary and holistic lenses to assess political implications, and recommends context-specific policies that are more sensitive to the needs of targeted populations.
October 12, 2012 - Susan Russell (Professor of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University)
Civil Society and the Conflicts of Peacebuilding in Northern Mindanao
Despite cheery pronouncements put forward for the media, the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are essentially stalled since the collapse of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in August 2008. This talk compares the different goals and strategies of 'cultural empowerment' among Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples' grassroots peacebuilding efforts in northern Mindanao. These efforts by NGOs and peoples' organizations have revived ancient practices of establishing ritualized peace pacts and kinship ties between communities in conflict.
October 19, 2012 - Michael Herzfeld (Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University)
A Miniature Polity: Heritage and the Search for Social Justice in a Bangkok Community
The Pom Mahakan community (Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok) has now been fighting for two decades against a constant threat of collective eviction. They have exhausted their legal resources but the authorities have hesitated to move decisively against them, in part because of internal divisions within the bureaucratic structures of state and municipality; moreover, they have reworked official heritage discourse to advance their cause. In this talk, I suggest that both local and international concepts of social justice would be best served by a resolution that recognizes the broad land-sharing plan advocated by the residents.
October 26, 2012 - Florentino Rodao (Professor of Asian History, Complutense University of Madrid)
Francoists Against Franco: An Alternative History of the Spanish Civil War As Fought in the Philippines
The Spanish Civil War of the 1930s reverberated strongly within the Philippine Commonwealth, which was a transitional regime on a ten-year path to independence from U.S. colonial rule. Not only did Manila's powerful Spanish community suffer a marked loss of political influence (due in part to the new fascist party, the Falange, which challenged the old oligarchy's power), but Hispanism as a cultural option for a future Philippine Republic lost legitimacy--in part because Manila's Spanish mestizos embraced Franco's fascism and its allies in the right-wing of the Catholic church. The impact of the Spanish War in the Philippines, then, is a case study that allows us to better understand, first, the role of the Spanish global diaspora in supporting Franco's revolt against the Spanish Republic and second, the overwhelming influence of Washington in the Philippines after independence, since Hispanism lost its previous role as a potent cultural counterweight to the Americans and their 'Anglo-Saxon' culture.
November 2, 2012 - Charnvit Kasetsiri (Visiting Professor, Cornell University)
Cambodia-Thailand Relations: The Questions of the Preah Vihear Temple and a Clash of Two Nationalisms
This talk will briefly explore conflicts between Thailand and Cambodia, clashes between their brands of nationalism, and the question of war and peace. Citing the example of the July 2008 registration by UNESCO of the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site belonging to Cambodia, Prof. Charnvit argues that history has been distorted for Thailand’s domestic politics. The second proposal to set up an ASEAN Eco-Cultural Trans-Boundary World Heritage site was designed to foster close cooperation and collaboration at the Temple site, with the administration done by ASEAN.
November 9, 2012 - Ian Lowman, American Council of Learned Societies (New Faculty Fellow, Languages and Cultures of Asia, UW-Madison)
Sanskrit and Ethnicity in Angkorian Cambodia
Historians of early South and Southeast Asia have tended to treat the region’s Sanskrit political culture as incompatible with the politics of ethnicity. Where universal kingship was the only ideal and loyalties of patron-client, sect, and family were the only political reality, there was no room for ethnicity, or what Sheldon Pollock calls “the political salience of fictive kin group sentiment.” Angkorian Cambodia (9th-14th centuries CE)—one of the most recognizable beneficiaries of Sanskrit culture and one of the few that never developed a vernacular literary tradition—has been held up as the standard of the universalist and ethnic-blind state. Through a close reading of the Sanskrit and Old Khmer inscriptions, this talk will address the advantages and limitations of the universalist model when trying to understand the political identity of early Cambodia/Kambujadeśa: “the land of the descendants of Kambu.”
November 16, 2012 - Izak Lattu (Fulbright doctoral student Interdisciplinary Studies of Religion, Graduate Theological Union, University of California-Berkeley)
Kapata: The Role of Folksong in Malukan Indigenous Peacebuilding Process
This lecture will examine the embodiment of social memory in folksong that bridges Christian and Muslim communities in Maluku, Indonesia. Drawing on concepts developed by memory studies, the talk will explore the narrative of Malukan folksong as a mnemonic device which works to create common place, topos, for social solidarity in Maluku. Malukans have shared communal narratives known through the idea of Nunusaku, the invisible mountain (Bartels, 1977) from which the original Malukans are believed to have come. These narratives continue to serve as a site for a collective memory, which plays an enormous role in preserving Maluku’s communal narrative and transmitting it from one generation to the next. The way the narrative remains in the heart of society is through the singing of kapata, or folksongs, that serve as a mnemonic of unity. Through kapata, Malukans articulate themselves as members of a single community with the spirit of the ancestors and with God. Hence, kapata covers the twofold world of the Malukans: the visible and invisible.
The cultural narrative of peace has currently come to dominate the discourse on Christian-Muslim relationships in Maluku. From 1999 to 2002, Malukans experienced violent outbreaks of conflict between Christians and Muslims. These conflicts were resolved by recollecting the communal consciousness through renewing the memory of Nunusaku as a point of common origin. Despite the differences between Christians and Muslims, it is this narrative that has helped to reunite the people.
The story of common origin and the way in which it is narrated appeals to deep inner feelings (rasa). Remembrance comes from rasa in the folksongs as the vehicle of local narrative toward peacebuilding in Maluku. So, the songs lead memory to Nunusaku as the common place, a topos of togetherness, which creates the common rasa to reinforce a strong community feeling. In short, if the identity of a community is in fact imagined, then oral collective memory founded on rasa is the spirit of Malukan identity. It is here that the engagement between Christian and Muslim finds solid ground.
November 22, 2012 - No Friday Forum, Thanksgiving
November 30, 2012 - Neal Keating (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, SUNY College at Brockport)
Indigeneity in Asia: The case of the Kuy peoples in northern Cambodia
Indigeneity is an emergent form of transnational human rights-driven collective human identity that in the last three decades has gone global. It first emerged in the course of settler-state colonization, particularly in the Anglo-colonizations of Canada and New Zealand, finding public expression during the 1920s when Iroquois and Maori activists attempted to engage with the League of Nations with requests for recognition of their peoples as sovereign states, and for the League to intervene on their collective behalf against what they saw as unjust aggressor alien states. While these particular attempts were unsuccessful, they nevertheless mark the emergence of Indigeneity discourse, which took hold not only within the subject populations of the discourse, but also within the North Atlantic imaginations of what Shiv Visvanathan dubs “the other colonialists;” those who viewed the terrains of colonized peoples not as sites for domination and control of the other, but as possibilities for liberation and a “theatre of alternative knowledge,” and places to try out sociological experiments that had failed in the West, such as pluricultural states based on human rights. Indigeneity discourse remained largely dormant for the next 50 years, only to regain transnational traction in the 1970s, again led by peoples within settler states. Then in the 1980s and 1990s it began to travel to postcolonial Africa and Asia, and it has continued to move around the world since then. It began to take hold in Cambodia around the turn of the 21st century, although here as elsewhere its existence is highly contested. Today there are approximately 70 states within which groups claiming Indigenous identity are situated. Although there is significant variation, in none of these states does Indigeneity go uncontested.
Indigeneity poses considerable challenges to the hegemonic international system of states precisely because it calls into question the basis of what is most important to states: the maintenance of political unity and territorial integrity. While not an overtly secessionist movement, Indigeneity nevertheless implies this possibility through its basic assertions of collective rights to self-determination and to traditional lands, territories, and resources. This ontological radicality aside, Indigeneity discourse more explicitly aims at reformulations of power structures within states, and in this sense is arguably much more reformist than it is radical. Both immediately before and since the UN’s 2007 adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigeneity discourse increasingly moved into the mainstream of the international system, including UNESCO, the World Bank, the OHCHR, the ILO, INGOs, and many other transnational agencies.
In Cambodia, Indigeneity has emerged in the form of a nascent movement, that is mobilized in part by national legislation, and part by transnational actors who appear on the scene starting in the 1990s, in addition to its subject groups. However, the Cambodian state’s recognition of Indigeneity remains highly ambivalent, as it does among many Cambodian scholars, NGOs, and even Indigenous peoples themselves. In the anxieties over the identification of just who Indigenous peoples are, what often gets silenced is the question of defining the state, which is no less theoretically and historically ambivalent than a peoples. The explanation of Cambodian Indigeneity and its received ambivalence requires more than an account of the actors involved on the ground. It also requires an account of what are the historical and structural conditions of possibility of Indigeneity in the first place, and why it is happening in Cambodia now. Given that Indigeneity has historically emerged in parallel with modernist development and economic globalization, to what degree and on what scales are Indigeneity and neo-liberalism imbricated with each other? By focusing these questions through the long history of the Kuy peoples, one of the more prominent groups in the contemporary Indigenous rights movement in Cambodia, it becomes possible to map out these imbrications.
December 7, 2012 - Christopher Goscha (University of Quebec-Montreal)
Plural Vietnam? From Singularity to Plurality
The History of Vietnam remains a prisoner of its past. Thirty years of war, much of it civil, made history a contested phenomenon for Vietnamese at odds over the present, to say nothing of the foreign powers who used history to justify their armed interventions in this country. At the same time, those writing on Vietnam in the West tend to accept that the Vietnam we see on the map today is the one that was always there or that was certainly destined to be, with the major difference being over whom should run the country.
This paper tries to suggest that it is time to step back and think about the history of this country in different ways. At the heart of this paper is the simple caveat that there has never been one Vietnam, but several remarkably varied ones, none of which was necessarily destined to "be". Rather than focusing on the "singularity" of Vietnam's past, this paper will investigate the plurality of Vietnam's pasts, providing a number of examples and thoughts for how it might be able to write a different, more complicated account of this country and its peoples. After all, Vietnam has only existed in its present national form for about 82 years – never before 1802, for forty-three years in the 19th century, six months in 1945, and (as of 2012) for thirty-seven years since 1975.