Friday Forum Spring Semester 2009 - 10

January 22, 2010 - Jacob Hickman (PhD Candidate, Department of Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago) 
Ancestral Personhood and Value Pluralism:  Changing Identities in the Hmong Diaspora
     In this talk I discuss the design and results of my dissertation project, a comparative ethnography of Hmong who have resettled from Laos to Thailand and the United States. Focusing on 18 families with members in each resettlement location, I analyze the moral discourse and life narratives of both parents and children in each location. This includes a particular emphasis on how idiosyncratic models of moral personhood vary from normative models (i.e., a "person-centered" ethnographic approach), whether Thai, American, or "traditional" Hmong. The data and analysis I present here will address the ways in which Hmong deal with these competing models - what old identities are solidified, what new ones emerge, and how Hmong experience psychological conflict over competing moral goods and conceptions of self. The comparative dimension of this project looks at how generation and resettlement location factor into the results, and I address these findings within an ethnographic context of the rituals and practices that reinforce different cultural models.

January 29, 2010 - Hjorleifur Jonsson (Associate Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University) 
Ethnography, Mimesis, and the Peoples of Southeast Asia
     This talk argues that the notion of Southeast Asia in terms of discrete ethnic groups is a fundamentally national project, and one that needs ethnographic and theoretical critique which pays equal attention to regional diversity and internal differentiation. Indications of state oppression of highland ethnic groups such as Mien and Hmong need to be situated historically and examined in relation to the dynamics of mimetic identity work. The case I make is anchored to the historical period for the region and to the contemporary setting in Thailand. In both periods, official and vernacular realms of culture and identity assume separate kinds of relationships and inequalities within and between ethnic groups. Thailand's current multiculturalism has opened avenues of minority recognition, within a pervasively gendered national public sphere where "the Thai" come into being through their ethnic others, on landscapes that are variously spiritualized, sexualixed, or militarized.

February 5, 2010 - Xianghong Feng (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Ball State University) 
Tourism in Fenghuang, China:  Accommodations and Resistance in Hmong (Miao) Women's Traditional Handicraft Practice
     In 2002, Fenghuang County in rural Hunan Province of China started its elite-directed “Tourism Great Leap Forward”.  Since then, changes have been dramatic in local socioeconomic structure including increasing disparity and conflict. This talk particularly focuses on the impacts tourism has on the local Hmong (Miao) women and their traditional handicraft practice.  According to the official state development discourse, local Hmong's traditional ethnic culture is associated with both poverty and the solution to poverty. This ethnographic research looks at local Hmong women and their handicraft practice in the context of tourism to illustrate how local people react to this dilemma, and how ethnic minorities and rural residents are being drawn into the widening orbit of contemporary China’s economic growth in the process of accommodation, competition, and resistance.

Monday, February 8, 2010 - Special Lecture:  Ian Baird (POLIS Project for Ecological Governance, University of Victoria) 
Internal Resettlement in Laos:  Past, Present and Emerging Issues
     The upland peoples of Laos—whether Hmong, Brao, Khmu or others—have long been the targets of attempts by states and others to socially (re)organize them. While the reasons for promoting such changes have differed, in recent years they have often related to eradicating swidden agriculture and opium cultivation, maintaining military security, making public services such as health and education more easily accessible, and promoting the assimilation of ethnic minorities into mainstream lowland Lao society. Spatial (re)organization has frequently been a key tool for bringing about social transformation, and discursive constructions of place have often been a pivotal part of the struggle over space. In this presentation I consider the political geographies of internal resettlement in Laos, and the experiences of the Brao in southern Laos. I also examine broader government policy frameworks and state efforts to socially and spatially organize upland peoples in Laos. I show how the context of the times and various nuanced factors have greatly affected resettlement policies and practices, the ways they have been justified, and local responses. I also briefly consider how a new trend with important links to internal resettlement is developing in Laos, one in which is associated with the granting of large economic land concessions. While recently much attention has been devoted to the forced repatriation of Hmong refugees from Thailand to Laos, more interest needs to be given to other forms of resettlement occurring in Laos, as they are crucial for large numbers of highlanders, including many Hmong.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 - Special Lecture:  Prasit Leepreecha (Researcher, Center for Ethnic Studies and Development, Chiang Mai University)
ROOM CHANGE: 12:00-1:30pm, 260 Bascom Hall 
Transforming Ethnicity: Hmong Kinship Identity under State Formation
     Although James Scott’s recent book, the Art of Not Being Governed (2009), argues that throughout the history of mainland Southeast Asia hill peoples are best understood as runaway, fugitive, and marooned communities who have been fleeing the oppression of state-making projects, my findings in contemporary Hmong hill society in the region are quite different. It is my argument that Hmong ethnic identity is gradually absorbed by the state’s assimilation practices. On the other hand, as a transnational ethnic group, the Hmong have employed appropriate technologies to strengthen their kinship and ethnic ties. My talk will focus on Thailand’s state registration system and the transformation of Hmong ethnic identity, by emphasizing kinship issues. My empirical evidence is based on ethnographic fieldwork among Hmong people in northern Thailand, as well as the neighboring countries of Laos, Vietnam, and China.

February 12, 2010 - Rachmi Diyah Larasati (Theatre Arts and Dance, University of Minnesota) 
Choreographing Memory: Dance Technique and Militarized Space
     Focusing on Indonesia, where histories of colonialism, dictatorship, genocide and global tourism have intervened in the creation of the dancing body, my interest centers on theoretical questions about the political economy of dance in the construction of national identity while the centralized violence by the state emerge. An integral piece of my research project questions the vanishing of dancing bodies and the effects of Indonesia’s state-sponsored cultural reconstruction after the 1965-68 massacre. In this presentation I elucidate the complex, often paradoxical relationships between the dancing body and the Indonesian state since 1965. In the brief period from late 1965 to early 1966, approximately 1,000,000 Indonesians, including a large percentage of the country’s musicians, dancers, and artists were killed, arrested, or disappeared as then-general Suharto took control of the nation, implanting his “New Order” regime, which would rule for the next 30 years. Looking back on the New Order from the context of the present, I interrogate the specific ways in which female dancing bodies have been dealt with by the state: vilified, punished, then replaced with idealized, state aligned bodies who must nonetheless continually prove their allegiance and adherence to nationalized culture.

February 19, 2010 - Katherine Bowie (Professor of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison) 
TIME CHANGE: 12:30pm, 206 Ingraham Hall
Regional Variation in Performances of the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand: A Historical Perspective
     This essay notes significant variations in both interpretations and performances of the Vessantara Jataka. While the Vessantara Jataka continues to play an important role in the annual cycle of temple festivals in northeastern Thailand, its importance in central and northern Thailand has been steadily declining. This essay will explore possible historical explanations for this regional variation.

February 26, 2010 - Tong Soon Lee (Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, Emory University) 
Peranakan Music and Cultural Representations in Singapore
     The Peranakan community in Singapore has made much concerted efforts in enhancing public understanding of their culture. With a mix of Chinese and Malay heritage, the roots of the Peranakan communities can be traced back to 17th century Malacca. Since the 1980s, Peranakan culture has been represented in the form of restaurants specializing in their cuisine, revival of Peranakan plays, and permanent exhibits of their architecture, dress, household paraphernalia, and crafts in museums. Such efforts complement, and indeed constitute the broader State’s effort to create interests and concern on local heritage, thereby affirming the community as an integral part of the State’s conception of a national culture. Peranakan musical practices in Singapore include the performance of music and songs in Peranakan plays, singing of Peranakan hymns and translations of English hymns in the Peranakan patois for Catholic masses, and dondang sayang singing sessions.
     Much of the State’s representation of Peranakan culture is inclined towards nostalgic and reified perspectives of Peranakan identities and belies the current state of anxiety the community faces in affirming a sense of who they are in the Singapore context. In this presentation, I would like to explore the ways in which Peranakan music underscores the changing dynamics of Peranakan identities in Singapore.
     Co-sponsered with Center for East Asian Studies

March 5, 2010 - No Friday Forum: CSEAS Lunch

March 19, 2010 - Andrew Walker (College of Asia & Pacific, Australian National University) 
Exploring Power Among Thailand's Middle-income Peasants
     Extraction of surplus by external power holders is often seen as a central definitional criterion of the peasantry. In The Moral Economy of the Peasant, James Scott wrote that “taxes and rents, together or individually, form the twin issues around which peasant anger in Southeast Asia has classically coalesced". Scott's famous “moral economy” derives from the subsistence vulnerability of rural cultivators: with only a fine line separating sufficiency and hunger, peasants are driven to resist any externally imposed measures that undermine local security or disrupt social protections. But what happens to peasant politics when the rural economy becomes much more affluent and when peasants become a target of state subsidy and electorally-motivated benevolence? What happens when resistance is transformed into desire? This paper addresses these questions by exploring orientations to power in the northern Thai village of Ban Tiam. It briefly surveys four different domains of power: the supernatural world, the state, the market and the community. The paper argues that these overlapping networks of power are important elements in a new form of "political society" which is oriented towards binding powerful forces into relationships of productive exchange. In forming this new political society, Ban Tiam’s peasants are confronting some of the classic economic and political challenges faced by middle-income countries.

March 26, 2010 - No Friday Forum: AAS Meeting

April 2, 2010 - No Friday Forum: Spring Break

April 9, 2010 - Justin McDaniel, Ph.D. (Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania) 
Affixing Gold: Beyond Symbology and the Very Idea of Studying a Buddha Image in Thailand
     The study of symbols once dominated both the fields of Religious Studies and Art History. In the past two decades scholars have moved away from studying symbols for a variety of reasons and the socio-historical context of individual pieces of religious art is now looked at closely. However, certain aspects of “symbology” have not changed. This paper will further question the study of not only symbols, but also the idea of study “individual” pieces and the notion of “a context.” Moreover, since, Art historians in Southeast Asia have primarily concentrated on the study of images, stupas, manuscripts, and murals produced by the elite before the nineteenth century. I will shift focus in this talk and concentrate on vernacular art made in the last 150 years. While certain images in Thai Buddhism are lauded for their age or precious materials, most are honored for their connection to certain powerful monks, ghosts, and kings. Many of these highly revered and powerful images are made out of wax or wood, or crudely and mass–produced bronze, plastic copper, resin, or clay. Furthermore, instead of concentrating on the origins of pieces of art, I want to study art as it exists and operates in dynamic ritual activities and highly complex synchronic relationships with other images and with patrons, artists, and visitors. I want to move beyond aesthetic and iconographic analyses of individual objects, and focus on recipients, rituals, and agents, as well as the agency of the “things” themselves. Finally, I argue that images, photographs, murals, amulets, and buildings do not only exist in synchronic relationships, but also diachronic.

April 16, 2010 - Mary McCoy (Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Arts, UW-Madison)
Indonesia - The Triumph of Transparency
     In the past turbulent decade of bitter partisan divisions in Thailand and the Philippines and persistent dictatorship in Burma and Vietnam, Indonesia stands out as one ASEAN state that has made a successful democratic transition, surviving numerous reversals and ongoing corruption. While the causes are complex, a flawed but assertive media and increasing institutional transparency are key factors in this successful transformation.

April 23, 2010 - Dierdre de la Cruz (Assistant Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures and Assistant Professor of History, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, University of Michigan) 
Of Crusaders and Crowds: The Family Rosary in the Philippines (1951-1985)
     An American apostolate dedicated to propagating devotion to the Virgin Mary through Rosary prayer, the Family Rosary Crusade was one of the first organizations of its kind to self-consciously recognize and deploy various media—including rallies, film, and television—as tools of evangelization during the Cold War. This talk will examine the history of the Family Rosary Crusade as it took root and developed in the Philippines, paying particular attention to its reception and the means through which it spread, its purchase for thinking about U.S. Empire in the postwar period, and its transformative effect on Filipino Marianism and religious visual culture.

Friday, April 30, 2010 - Mitch Aso (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History of Science, UW-Madison)
ROOM CHANGE: 12:00-1:30pm, 849 Van Hise 
Between individual and collective prophylaxis:  Moral economies of malaria prevention efforts in Vietnam, 1925-1954
     My talk explores the tensions between malaria prevention efforts aimed at individual bodies and those attempting to deal with larger collectives in French colonial Vietnam. This talk argues that the range of anti-malaria efforts can be understood within a moral economy of disease at work in Vietnam during the 20th century. In particular, while some anti-malaria approaches worked to link bodies more tightly to particular environments, others worked to enable bodies to move more easily through diverse landscapes.