Friday Forum Fall Semester 2010 - 11

September 10, 2010 - Carla Jones (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Colorado-Boulder) 
Heaven Sent: Virtue and Vanity in Indonesian Islamic Fashion.
     The vibrant Islamic fashion scene in Indonesia provides a striking counterpoint to Western European and North American assertions that Islamic piety and fashion are antithetical. In the weeks prior to the start of Ramadhan, Jakarta is abuzz with fashion shows featuring new collections for the coming month. Yet in spite of the apparent distinction between Indonesian and Western ideas about Islamic fashion, both systems traffic in a particular anxiety about the superficiality of fashion, the feminine impulse to self-decorate, and the role of religion in ameliorating that anxiety. Using examples from Indonesian consumers and designers, especially Itang Yunasz, I argue that Indonesian Islamic fashions address this anxiety through the question of virtue, making Indonesia an illuminating site for broader theoretical questions about the intersection of consumption and devotion.

September 17, 2010 - Taylor Easum (Dissertator of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Old Power and the 'New City': Chiang Mai as a Micro-Colonial Space
     Within the field of Thai studies, Siam’s coloniality remains a key question. Scholars have highlighted the compromising of Siamese sovereignty, the cultural allure of the West among the Siamese elite, and the extension of Bangkok's power and control to its vassal neighbors, thus creating the peripheries of modern Siam. The city at the center of this emerging state, Bangkok, saw a diverse array of foreign actors as well as Siamese elites, which gave shape to the social and political space of the city. But the distinctiveness of Bangkok as the primate city of Siam/Thailand means that the intermediate or regional centers in the peripheries of the kingdom have been largely ignored, or viewed primarily as the larger national narrative writ small. 
      Chiang Mai’s urban and spatial history is much more than Bangkok's tale in miniature, however; it tells a story of overlapping colonial powers, negotiated domination, and a spatial re-centering of power. Chiang Mai’s urban space can be seen as a ‘micro-colonial’ reflection of the late 19th-early 20th century formation of the modern Siamese state. The ‘internal imperialism’ of the Siamese state shaped Chiang Mai through a complex, gradual transition from a pre-modern vassal-overlord relationship to a modern colonial form of domination. This transition manifested itself in different and distinct urban formations--one based in and around the old royal capital within the city walls, and another around the commercial center along the Ping river. By the early twentieth century, these two urbanisms had come together, as the old city was effectively colonized by the new.

September 24, 2010 - Michael Sullivan (Director, Center for Khmer Studies)
Chinese Investment and Aid in Cambodia 
     This paper investigates Chinese investment in Cambodia in the context of strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries. The apparent symbiotic nature of Chinese business interests and China’s foreign policy objectives in Southeast Asia augurs well for Cambodia’s controlling political-economic elite. Because of this, some western observers have expressed concerns about China’s capacity to affect the behaviour of Cambodian state power holders that will not bode well for donor attempts to promote democratic reform. It is suggested here that Chinese investment, backed by China’s regional foreign policy goals, potentially creates new rent-seeking opportunities for powerful political and economic networks within the Cambodian state, at the expense of the government’s reform agenda. At the same time, Chinese influence is unlikely to dramatically alter donor efforts to push the current Cambodian government down the reform path. After almost two decades of government-donor engagement very little has been achieved in reforming sectors seen as key to Cambodia’s future development and prosperity, like the judiciary and the civil service. The upshot of Chinese investment, for the foreseeable future, will be the further entrenchment of Cambodian state political elites and their business associates, alongside a continued government-donor dialogue that to date has failed to bring about substantive reform where it is needed most. This also raises a number of important questions concerning the overall long-term benefits accrued to Cambodia from Chinese investment and aid.

October 1, 2010 - Joe Harris (Dissertator of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
A Right to Health?: Expert Networks, HIV/AIDS, and the Politics of Universal Health Care in Thailand
     The presentation will provide a brief overview of my dissertation, which explores the recent trend towards expansive state commitments to health care in the developing world, grounded in case studies of Thailand, South Africa, and Brazil.  The talk will focus primarily on a discussion of my findings from my year-long fieldwork in Thailand that was generously funded by the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Abroad. Joe Harris is currently a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

October 8, 2010 - Kullada Kesboonchoo-Mead (Associate Professor of International Relations, Chulalongkorn University)
Re-thinking the Economic Crisis in Thailand
     The talk will deal with Thai economic crisis in 1997 from historical and theoretical points of view. In her discussion, Dr. Mead will analyze how Pax American shaped the Thai political economy. She will also examine the role of Pax Americana under a neo-liberal order. Her study observes the working relationship between the IMF and the Bank of Thailand. As a result, the Thai economy was forced to adopt the priorities and structures of neo-liberalism.

October 15, 2010 - Wynn Wilcox (Associate Professor of History and Non-Western Cultures, Western Connecticut State University)
War or Peace in Vietnam? Vũ Nhự and the 1868 Palace Examination
     In 1867, as the French government seized three provinces in Southern Vietnam, giving them control of the entire Mekong Delta area, the Vietnamese court in Hue debated their response. The court was divided between two factions: one argued for war, and the other for peace. Early in 1868, the Emperor decided to put the two factions to the test by ordering that the main essay question on the imperial examination that year was to be “make war or make peace?” This paper will present a close reading of the answer provided by Vũ Nhự (1840-1886), the only person to pass this examination at the exalted hoàng giáp level. Vũ Nhự's essay advises the Emperor that upright government will deter French intervention without the need for the Vietnamese to attack. This paper argues, however, that within this seemingly traditional Mencian position is interspersed evidence of the influence of the rhetoric of modernization and self-strengthening, and that the examination system was an avenue for political reform.

October 22, 2010 - Anne Blackburn (Associate Professor of Asian Studies, Cornell University)
Buddhist Diplomacy in Colonial Southern Asia
     As British and French colonial control deepened in Lanka and Southeast Asia during the latter half of the 19th century, Buddhist monks and devotees relied increasingly on regional Buddhist networks in order to address the direct and indirect effects of colonial presence on royal courts and Buddhist communities. Drawing on epistolary and newspaper records in Pali, Sinhala and English from Lanka, this paper explores Buddhist collaborations within the Indian Ocean world, especially those related to ritual, pilgrimage, and monastic institution-building.

October 29, 2010 - Puanthong Rungswasdisab (Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University & Visiting Research Fellow of The Shrorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center, Stanford University)
The Uncivil Society Movement in the Thai-Cambodian Relations over the Preah Vihear Temple Conflict
     One of the major arguments in literature on foreign policies of the ASEAN states is that, on the one hand, the increasing democratization in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, since the 1990s has allowed the non-state actors to participate in the foreign policy making process greater than ever. On the other hand, the non-state actors, especially the civil society movement, have been pushing the elitist foreign policy makers toward democracy and consideration of human rights and human security issues. The problem is Thailand in the last five years witnessed a push toward authoritarianism by civil society groups who explicitly called for military intervention to topple the Thaksin government. The coup d'état in 2006, followed by a series of protests by colored groups, widespread media censorship, suppressions of the Red Shirts movement, and the existing Emergency law, led Thailand spiral down the authoritarian path. Thai society is greatly divided than ever. The questions is what would be the implication for Thai foreign policy and possibly the regional organization. This lecture will use the recent conflict between Thailand and Cambodia over the ancient Temple of Preah Vihear to discuss the impact of the authoritarian civil society movement and the divided Thai society.

November 5, 2010 - Ian Baird (Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
The Hmong Come to Southern Laos: Local Responses and the Creation of Racialized Boundaries
     There is a long history of Hmong migrations from the north to south. Most recently, Hmong have begun emerging in the southern-most parts of Laos, including Champasak and Attapeu Provinces, places where they never lived before. It appears that some Hmong movements into southern Laos have been accepted, while others have not. The movement of the Hmong from the north to the south, and the reactions of others to them, are important for understanding the ways Hmong are geographically positioning themselves, and how others are attempting to construct spaces and associated boundaries designed to restrict them.

November 12, 2010 - Heather Akin (PhD Candidate of Life Sciences Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
New Media and the West Papua Movement: Political Message Construction in a Controlled Media Environment
     Communication by social and political movements demonstrates how new media may be leveraged by social or ethnic groups to mobilize the global community. Separatist movements, collective groups seeking independence from a dominating society, are one form of movement that is understudied in communication scholarship. Dominating societies may not offer a level of freedom of expression that it is assumed in a democratic society if it poses a threat to their power. Looking at restive West Papua, where groups are seeking independence from Indonesia, this study explores how messages are constructed using a discourse analysis of three Web sites that convey a plea to the international community. The study finds the West Papuan movement’s online presence expresses a strongly unified, powerful, and emotional voice, that the sites frequently use West Papuan cultural symbols, and that authors are often anonymous, implying dissemination of such a message may put authors at risk.

November 19, 2010 - Robert Pringle (Former Ambassador and Retired Foreign Service Officer, US Department of State)
Writing about Islam in Indonesia for Non-Specialists
     Understanding Islam in Indonesia by Robert Pringle is a book written for generalists (students, professionals and others), with the aim of providing them with an introduction to the subject and – just as important -- tools to facilitate further learning. Pringle will explain the organization of the book, its main conclusions, what surprised him most in writing it, and the challenges of writing and publishing on a specialized topic for a non-specialist audience.

December 3, 2010 - Anna M. Gade (Associate Professor of Languages and Cultures of Asia, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
"Green Islam" in Indonesia
     Muslim Indonesia is becoming known globally as a leader in faith-based responses to environmental challenges. Based on recent fieldwork in Indonesia, in this presentation Professor Anna M. Gade explains recent trends in this area, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. She focuses on the new movement in traditional Islamic education, called “eco-pesantren,” that represents old and new approaches in teaching, learning, and practice of global Islamic ecology with respect to multiple issues of concern, including deforestation and climate change. Professor Gade teaches in the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia and the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is also a Faculty Member of the Center for Culture, History, and Environment. She is author of the books, Perfection Makes Practice: Learning, Emotion and the Recited Qur’an in Indonesia (University of Hawai’i Press, 2004) and The Qur’an: An Introduction (Oneworld Publications, 2010). She has also carried out in-depth fieldwork studying Islam, religion and development in Cambodia.

December 10, 2010 - Keith Barney (PhD Candidate of Geography, York University)
The Political Ecology of Cumulative Effects: Remaking Environmental Governance and Livelihoods through Resource Concessions in Lao PDR
     Contemporary Laos is a site for major investments in resource sector development in hydropower and mining, and is also a hot-spot in the ‘global land grab’ phenomenon. On the ground, existing constraints in the regulatory capacities of the Lao state are being compounded by the ways in which the externalities of different resource mega-projects often combine and cascade, and interact with the environmental practices of local communities, producing cumulative and unpredictable outcomes. A chaotic and semi-regulated pattern of resource concession activity in Laos is thus producing complex mosaics of environmental degradation and community (under) development. Drawing on Latour-inspired geographers such as Paul Robbins, my talk will first explore how the environmental classificatory schemes of the state and professional resource managers, which seek to delineate political-administrative jurisdictions over forests, land, water, and communities, are constantly transgressed by local, relational socio-ecological processes. Second, I explain how the establishment of this ‘relational resource frontier’ in Laos is altering regimes of political authority, and producing novel governmental orders in the countryside. The proliferation of new spatial-territorial configurations in Laos challenges our understanding not only of the multiple scales of resource governance, but also of the nature of state authority and sovereignty in an era of global connection.