Fall Semester 2015

September 4, 2015 – Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Kenneth T. Young (Professor of Sino-Vietnamese History, Harvard University)
The Contested Afterlives of Ho Chi Minh  (the first annual “Judith Ladinsky Lecture”—made possible through support from the Judith L. Ladinsky Memorial Fund)
      This talk concerns the Religion of Uncle Ho whose central figure is Ho Chi Minh. Ho, who is considered the father of the modern Vietnamese nation-state, has become an object of commemoration, worship, and contestation on the part of the Communist Party and ordinary Vietnamese who claim to be his devotees.The contention involves who speaks for and through Ho: the Party which has compiled his collected works and constantly invokes his writings and sayings in support of often contradictory policies or the devotees who claim to be able to channel him? Other areas of contention involve control of space and of time. Space is understood as both the world in which we live, but also the Other World of the dead, of gods and goddesses and of unseen but powerful forces. Time is not only commemorative time but also the past and the future, both of which are being re-interpreted in the light of new postwar circumstances. At the center of this re-interpretation is Ho Chi Minh, the mythical figure created by the Party over which it is losing control.

September 11, 2015 – Ounkeo Souksavanh (Correspondent for Asia Times and RFA (Radio Free Asia), former radio broadcaster and NGO activist in Laos)
Modern Laos and The Term “Human Rights”
      This talk focuses on the small, single-party country of Laos that has been under the rule of the Lao People’ Revolutionary Party since 1975. Laos has promoted an “open policy” since 1986 and the government has declared that it will upgrade itself from poverty status in 2020. As this talk explains, to do this, the Lao government is promoting the following types of development:
            Turning Laos into the battery of Asia
            Turning lands into capital
            Turning Laos from a landlocked to a landlinked country
      In its rush to make the country modern, the Lao government often proceeds without adequately considering the social and environmental impact of development efforts and the consequences faced by local people, including land grabbing. These circumstances are also linked to the detention of some Lao people in relation to land conflicts with investors, and the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a leader of Lao civil society, on December 15, 2012. In this presentation, Mr. Souksavanh explains the present situation in Laos, including the way the term “human rights” is used in the country, and how it relates to development efforts.

September 18, 2015 – Erik Harms (Associate Professor of Anthropology and of Southeast Asia Studies, Yale University)
Rights Gone Wrong on the City’s Edge: Evidence from Ho Chi Minh City
      This talk will discuss the story of Ho Chi Minh City residents who have been evicted from their homes in order to make way for a new master-planned urban development called the Thu Thiem New Urban Zone. Facing eviction, residents mobilized a strong and unambiguous language of “rights” to support their cause. On one level, their example is an inspiring story of bravery and resistance that clearly shows how an emerging “rights consciousness” can inspire new forms of agency and collective action. But on another level, I also describe the ways in which this emergent rights consciousness has also come to operate as something of a fetish. By focusing on property value, legal documents, petitions, and other artefacts central to the expression of bureaucratic rights, residents have participated in the proliferation of abstract rights that are not in fact realized in practice. After the dust settled and the bulldozers finally retreated, these residents found themselves dispossessed from house and home. Their evictions were made final at precisely the moment that they had so forcefully managed to understand themselves as rights-bearing subjects. This suggests that the new conception of rights emerging on the edges of Vietnamese cities cannot be disentangled from the very processes fueling dispossession.

September 25, 2015 – Stephen B. Acabado (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of California-Los Angeles)
Highland Responses to Spanish Colonialism: Economic and Political Transformations in Ifugao, Philippines
      This presentation focuses on the economic and political transformations that happened after AD 1600 in Ifugao, Philippines. The investigation reported here is part of the Ifugao Archaeological Project, a collaborative research program that investigates the political and economic impacts of Spanish colonialism in highland Philippines, particularly, in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ifugao, Philippines, where the most extensive rice terraces in the world are located. Previous models suggest that the rice terraces are at least 2,000 years old. Recent archaeological information, however, indicates that the agricultural marvels were constructed after the arrival of the Spanish in the northern Philippines at c. AD 1600. In addition, rapid social and environmental change occurred in the region shortly after the appearance of the Spanish in the Magat and Cagayan Valleys.
Recent findings of the Ifugao Archaeological Project indicate that landscape modification (terraced wet-rice cultivation) intensified between c. AD 1600 and AD 1800, suggesting increased demand for food, which could also indicate population growth. This period also shows increased social differentiation and apparent elite manipulation to maintain their position in the society. It is argued that, although the Spanish colonial government never controlled the interior of the Philippine Cordillera, the economic and political transformations in the region was drastic and this was likely due to the Spanish presence in the lowlands. Excavations from the Old Kiyyangan Village (Kiangan, Ifugao) also imply that the settlement had continuous contact/interaction with lowland groups and other highland groups between c. AD 1600 and late AD 1800, refuting the idea of isolation.panish Colonialism: Economic and Political Transformations in Ifugao, Philippines

October 2, 2015 – Rebecca Hall (Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA)
Banners, Palaces, and the Art of Navigating Liminality in Northern Thai Funerals
      The creation of beautiful, often elaborate works of art, including funeral banners and cremation structures, for the purpose of their complete destruction is one of the most fascinating characteristics of Northern Thai funeral arts. Their presence functions as a physical embodiment of impermanence, echoing the overall theme of the ceremony itself. Only after these objects are decimated by fire are surviving family and friends able to put to ease concerns about the successful transition of the deceased from one existence to the next. In this presentation I examine how funeral arts give form to the immaterial, help to guide the spirit of the deceased, and have the power to affect observers’ attitudes towards the dynamics of life and death.

October 9, 2015 – Walden Bello (Senior Analyst of Focus on the Global South and Professor of Sociology at the University of the Philippines)
Promise and Performance: The Politics of ‘Good Governance’ in the Philippines under Aquino III
      Dr. Walden Bello is a senior analyst of Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines. He is one of the leading critics of the current model of economic globalization, combining the roles of intellectual and activist. As a human rights and peace campaigner, academic, environmentalist and journalist, and through a combination of courage as a dissident, with an extraordinary breadth of published output and personal charisma, he has made a major contribution to the international case against corporate-driven globalization. During the fall 2015 semester, Dr. Bello is an Activist-in-Residence Writing Fellow with the Havens Center.

October 16, 2015 – Laurie Sears (Walker Family Endowed Professor of History, University of Washington)
Critical Spirituality and a Critical Path in Ayu Utami’s Indonesian Novels
      Ayu Utami is one of Indonesia’s most acclaimed writers. Her first two novels were written in the very late New Order and soon after its fall. The first one, Saman, won prizes. The second one, Larung, was a difficult read. Hardly anyone in Indonesia or outside of it could understand the text outside of her intellectual circle. Having established her reputation as a serious writer, Utami’s next work is a tale of three friends and their adventures as they pursue critical spirituality and a critical path. Known for her liberal use of sexuality in her novels, this third book, The Fu Numeral, is no different, and the three friends pair up sexually in different ways in their journeys in the novel. This third 500-page but more accessible novel has also spawned what Utami promises will be 12 more novels drawing on themes from the first one. Three have been written so far, and it’s clear Utami now wants a bigger audience. This talk will explore Utami’s notions of critical spirituality and a critical path, her use of the Oedipus complex, and why these novels are important for historians.

October 23, 2015 – Mai Na Lee (Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies, University of Minnesota)
Back to Zomia: Hmong-French Relations During the Colonial Era
      This talk will examine how French appointment of a paramount leader led to internal competitions between Hmong leaders, complicating French power at the margins of empire.

October 30, 2015 – Dr. Mari Pangestu (George W. Ball Adjunct Professor, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs Fall 2015, and Indonesian Minister of Trade, 2004-2011)
Indonesia and the East Asian Region in the Global Economic Crisis
      The world is still filled with uncertainties after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Although there are some signs of recovery in the US, the world economy remains in a slow growth trajectory, and most worrying is the new normal for China. Indonesia and East Asia have gone from the East Asian Miracle of the 1980s-1990s to the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and East Asia Rebound, while showing different degrees of resilience during the recent crisis. How should countries like Indonesia navigate the “new normal” of slow external growth and volatility? Where should the new sources of growth, productivity and innovation come from? How can governments ensure sustainable development and safeguard vulnerable groups? Is there a role for regional cooperation through groups such as ASEAN?

November 6, 2015 – Hannah Bulloch, Research Fellow in Anthropology, Australian National University
Fetal Personhood in the Christian Philippines: The View from a Visayan Island
      While issues of fetal personhood have been controversial in the Philippines in the context of reproductive health debates, little is understood about how ordinary Filipinos actually construct fetal and early infant personhood in the context of their everyday lives. This paper draws on ethnographic research on Siquijor, an island in the Central Visayas region with a devout Catholic population. Based on conversations about pregnancy, miscarriage and mortuary rituals, I show that unlike the notions promoted by elites of the Catholic Church which see personhood as fixed to the moment of conception, Siquijodnon see the acquisition of personhood as a gradual process. Significantly, while ensoulment is thought to occur at conception, this is not sufficient to produce a person. I conclude with reflections on broader implications and avenues for future research.

November 13, 2015 – Laura Steckman (Cyber Warfare and Security Expert, Command Social Scientist for the Marine Corps Information Operations Center (MCIOC) at Whitney, Bradley and Brown)
Exploring the Digital Age and Local Conflict: Kalimantan’s Dayaks versus the FPI
      In February 2012, Central Kalimantan’s Dayaks refused to allow the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defender’s Front, FPI) to land at an airport in Palangka Raya. Hundreds of ethnic Dayaks swarmed the runway until the airline diverted the plane. Subsequently, the FPI also tried to increase its foothold in West Kalimantan. Faced with protests, its efforts were hindered, though the organization managed to retain some standing in the province. From that point, the FPI committed itself to expanding across the island and over the past three years, have encountered continued resistance but nonetheless renewed its efforts to gain traction. During the 2012 protests, online news outlets such as the Jakarta Post wrote that SMS, social networking applications, and social media helped to combat the FPI. At the same time, rumors spreading across these networks caused schools to close in West Kalimantan and, allegedly, deepened the Dayak-FPI conflict in Kalimantan. If this statement is true, it leads to the question: what can online and social media tell us about local conflicts? Can they deepen our understanding? Or do they just add layers of complexity to our analyses? Revolving around the Dayaks’ sporadic conflict with the FPI, this talk will provide an overview of the Internet in Indonesia, cover several Dayak-FPI incidents, and explore some of the ways in which the digital age can both influence and limit our understanding of local conflicts.

November 20, 2015 – Pavin Chachavalpongpun.  Associate Professor, Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University
Neo-Royalism Ideology and the Future of the Vajoralongkorn Reign
Video Link
This event was free and open to the public.

November 27, 2015 – No Friday Forum, Thanksgiving

December 4, 2015 – Valerie Kozel, La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison, formerly Senior Economist at the World Bank.
Building Consensus on Poverty & Inequality Challenges in Myanmar
      Myanmar launched into a “triple transition” in early 2011–from a military system to (emerging) democratic governance; from a centrally-directed, closed economy to a market-oriented one; and from 60 years of conflict in its border states to peace. Myanmar’s level of development was at one point on par with strong performers such as Thailand and Malaysia. However, it is now one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, due to its long history of isolation, conflict, and mismanagement linked to extensive military control of economic and political life. 37.5 percent of its 51 million residents live below a parsimonious poverty line, life expectancy is among the lowest in ASEAN countries, and infant and child mortality rates among the highest. Less than a third of households are connected to the main electricity grid, road density remains low, and—until very recently—cell phone and internet penetration was also low. Moreover national averages mask extensive heterogeneity across regions: access to infrastructure and basic services is much lower in Myanmar’s ethnic minority border states.
      Early on, the new administration expressed interest in addressing the needs of the poor and promoting a more equitable development path. International agencies have re-engaged in Myanmar and are keen to support the government in these efforts. However the data base on poverty and living conditions in Myanmar is weak and widely contested—internally as well as by international researchers and partners. As input for its re-engagement in Myanmar and to support country programming, the World Bank launched new analytic work in 2012 to (1) assess the reliability of existing data on poverty and vulnerability and (2) to work with government and other stakeholders in Myanmar to construct updated measures of poverty and inequality that better reflect the reality of living conditions in Myanmar as well as global good practice.
      The exercise aimed for greater openness and transparency in data and methods, with the aim of building consensus on the extent and nature of poverty and inequality in Myanmar, and supporting an informed discussion about priority measures to address them. The work met with mixed success: although it was successful at raising awareness and resolving technical issues, it was much less effective on the political front.