Friday Forum Lecture Archive

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Spring 2021


Visiting Scholar
Center for Southeast Asian Studies
University of California – Berkeley

“The River Grew Tired of Us: Spectral flows of potency along the Mekong River”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Along the Mekong, where it creates the border between Thailand and Laos, hydropower projects have triggered a transformation. Strange floods and ebbs disrupt fish migrations, undercut riverbanks, and sweep away nets. Facing this new landscape, fishermen on the Mekong seek out new, hidden sources of potency that have revealed themselves at the same time as other powers fade in importance. Via an ethnographic study of Mekong ‘river beings,’ this talk addresses a reconfiguration of sources of power on the river away from the proximate and material, and towards the inaccessible, distant and spectral.

Andrew Alan Johnson is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California-Berkeley. He has previously served as an Assistant Professor at Yale-NUS College and at Princeton University and received his Ph.D. from Cornell in May of 2010. His research looks at how individuals reshape their worlds in the wake of economic and environmental disaster. He has two books – Ghosts of the New City (2014), a study of abandoned buildings as a crisis of urbanity in Chiang Mai, and Mekong Dreaming (2020), a look at how dams across the main stream of the Mekong River reconfigures how fishermen live with fish, the great river itself, international migrant labor, and the spirits of the river.

Mekong Dreaming:
Ghosts of the New City:
Twitter: @manusyadrew


Professor Emeritus
Colorado Mesa University

“Malaysian Politics: State of Play”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Malaysian politics is like a long-running soap opera, replete with bizarre plot twists and aging stars who don’t seem to recognize they can no longer cavort as in days of yore.  Keeping up is a monumental task, but one I’ll attempt with the help of Malaysians, who kindly supplied me with survey data back in Fall 2019, and yesterday’s newspaper, which will doubtless demonstrate the folly of trying to stay current.


Professor Emeritus
Colorado Mesa University

“Indonesia’s Infrastructure of Impunity and The Mobilization of Affect”

This talk examines the repeated performance of impunity over decades in and through the law, bureaucracy, policy, culture and common sense as an infrastructure of impunity. Understanding impunity as an infrastructure discloses how a number of dynamic systems intersect to compound impunity over time and space. It explores how victims, family members and activists persistently demand justice (most often defined in legal terms) despite repeated failures to achieve accountability and consider how their consistent and creative demands may ultimately subvert the infrastructure in the realm of affect rather than truth and law.


Journalist and Author of The Jakarta Method

“Mass Murder and U.S. Hegemony”

Watch a video of the talk here.

In 1965, the US-backed Indonesian military carried out the intentional murder of approximately one million innocent civilians. The victims were members of the popular Partai Komunis Indonesia, or accused of being affiliated with the legal Communist party, and they were exterminated so that General Suharto could consolidate power and create an authoritarian capitalist state allied with Washington. This was one of the most important turning points of the Cold War, seen as such a success by other right-wing movements, and US allies, around the world, that they took inspiration from the massacres, and created copycat programs.

Overall, in the second half of the 20th century, the intentional mass murder of leftists was carried out in over twenty countries, and Vincent Bevins argues in his book The Jakarta Method that this was such an important part of the way global US hegemony took shape that it profoundly affected the nature of the globalized world in the 21st. Now that the relative power of the United States seems to be in secular decline; that Washington seems a site of instability rather than a guarantor of any global order, brutal or otherwise; in short, that North American hegemony is contested, for better or worse – what does this particular history tell us about our current world system, and the ways it might change?

For more about Vincent Bevins and his published works, please click here.

A HARVEY GOLDBERG CENTER LECTURE. Co-sponsored by UW-Madison’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program (LACIS) and The Southeast Asia Research Group (SEARG).


Emeritus Professor
The Australian National University and
Affiliate Graduate Faculty
University of Hawai’i

“Vietnam’s Responsive-Repressive Regime”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Repression is featured in many US news media accounts and human rights advocates’ reports about Vietnam. However, this is a highly misleading portrayal of how Vietnam’s regime deals with citizens’ political criticisms. Vietnamese authorities’ reactions to criticisms since the mid 1990s have also involved toleration and responsiveness, some of which included significant policy changes to accommodate critics’ demands.


Postdoctoral Research Associate
Department of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
University of Sydney

“Eating and Being Eaten: The Changing Meanings of Hunger among Marind, West Papua”

Watch a video of the talk here.

This talk explores how Indigenous Marind communities in the Indonesian-controlled region of West Papua experience and interpret the condition of “hunger.” Drawing from Indigenous discourse and practice, it examines how agro-industrial expansion and commodified foodways provoke multiple, conflicting hungers among Marind – for sago, “plastic” foods, money, and human flesh. In tandem, Marind themselves are subjected to the insatiable appetite of various invasive entities – corporations, the government, roads, cities, and oil palm. It argues that hunger constitutes a symbolically charged, culturally constructed, and morally laden experiential mode through which Marind characterize and contest capitalist modernity and its more-than-human dynamics of eating and being eaten.


Assistant Professor
Department of History
Baruch College-CUNY

“On Our Own Strength: The Self-Reliant Literary Group (Tự Lực Văn Đoàn) and Cosmopolitan Nationalism in Late Colonial Vietnam”

Watch a video of the talk here.

On Our Own Strength examines the political activities of the most influential intellectual movement in interwar French-occupied Vietnam. The Self-Reliant Literary Group’s (Tự Lực Văn Đoàn) far-reaching work, which included applied design, urban reform, and fashion as well as literature, journalism, and cartoons, was deeply political in both form and intent. The Group drew upon a wide range of global intellectual currents and practices to build an enlightened public that would ultimately serve as the basis of a modern Vietnamese nation, a vision that was nationalist but curiously not anticolonial. This form of cosmopolitan nationalism proved tremendously popular among ordinary Vietnamese and necessarily shaped local politics, including the political agenda of rival groups like the newly-revived Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). The book argues that the Group’s cosmopolitan nationalism shaped the ways that the ICP positioned itself and sought popular support in the years leading up to the August Revolution and beyond. In later years, the ICP attempted to erase the early influence of the Group on national politics, banning their writings and casting them as little more than bourgeois literary figures. In analyzing the Group’s unique response to the world around them, this book bridges the areas of political, cultural, and intellectual history, drawing them together into a rich narrative of Vietnamese nation-building from the bottom-up within a larger global context.


Author of Thai Cinema Uncensored

“Politics and Ideology of Thai Film Censorship”

Watch a video of the talk here.

After a campaign by the film community protesting against the arbitrary censorship of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century, a rating system was introduced to Thai cinemas for the first time in 2008. But that long-overdue change didn’t save Thai films from being censored, largely for political reasons. Matthew Hunt wrote a book on Thai film censorship that includes interviews with ten directors whose films have been cut or banned. In this lecture, he will present an overview of the history of film censorship in Thailand, examine the consequences of the rating system, and show how filmmakers are finding ways to comment on Thailand’s volatile contemporary politics.


Associate Professor
School of Communication & Multimedia Studies
Florida Atlantic University

“Route and Road: Postcolonial Hangovers in the Cinema of Singapore and Indonesia”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Postcolonial Hangups in Southeast Asian Cinema: Poetics of Space, Sound, and Stability (Amsterdam UP, 2020) is an interdisciplinary journey through the cartographic cinema of Singapore, Yasmin Ahmad’s aural stagings of Malaysian soundscapes, and the recursive comfort of generic stability in Indonesian films after Reformasi. The book finds that these expressions in form, overdetermined by national encounters with colonial history, reflect Southeast Asia’s distinctive relationship to colonialism and transcend popular postcolonial tropes such as hybridity and mimicry. This presentation draws from the chapters about Singapore and Indonesia. Cartographic reiterations in Singapore’s cinema and visual culture reflect both the island’s desire to press its locational advantage as well as the desperate unending need to overcome spatial limitations. Just as its “red dot” moniker is a cartographic symbol that signifies both self-effacement and pride, physical infrastructure is a source of cinematic fascination, tools of both economic triumph and individual debilitation. Infrastructure also happens to feature in the expressive palette of Indonesia’s Reformasi movement. The book finds that genres, road narratives in particular, are a narrative vestige of the New Order’s stability discourse that embeds itself in the historical and feminist reckonings that energize post-1998 filmmaking.


“Far Right Regimes: A Global Comparison”

Watch a video of the talk here.

An exploration of similarities and contrasts among far-right regimes across the globe focusing on why they came to power, why they stay in power, and what their strengths and vulnerabilities are.

Walden Bello is an Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton and the former MP of the Republic of the Philippines. Bello is the co-founder and current senior analyst at Focus on the Global South in Bangkok, and author or co-author of 25 books and numerous studies, including Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right (2019) and Paper Dragons: China and the Next Crash (2019). He has received the prestigious Right Livelihood Award (aka Alternative Nobel Prize) and Outstanding Public Scholar Award of the International Studies Association.


Research Associate
Institute of Archaeology
University College London

“Fifteen Years of Archaeobotanical Investigations in Mainland Southeast Asia: What Have we Learned?”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Archaeobotanical investigations in Southeast Asia have been limited by the belief that preservation is an issue in tropical climates. However, in the past fifteen years, the retrieval of botanical macroremains in many sites across mainland Southeast Asia has been successful. The results provide a deeper understanding of the emergence of rice agriculture, diets in prehistoric and historic periods, ecological reconstructions of the area, farming systems and the adaptation of people to changing climatic conditions.

This presentation will elucidate key findings. It will present data from different sites where Dr. Cobo has worked in Southeast Asia that are shaping the understanding of mainland Southeast Asia. Cobo includes her collaborative work in disentangling the origins and domestication of rice, a case study in Northeast Thailand that shows an agricultural transition from dryland to wetland rice cultivation happening during a period of increasing social complexity and aridification and new work conducted in Angkor that sheds light on the lives of the non-elite and on urban horticulture.

Co-sponsored by the Archaeology Brown Bag Lecture Series.


Fellow, Department of Political & Social Change
Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs
College of Asia & the Pacific
Australian National University

“The Jurisprudence of Torture in Thailand”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Where torture is practiced but is legally impermissible, what part do courts play in making it possible? How do they mediate relationships between tortured persons and the state whose officers practice torture? What effect do they have? Based on 16 months of research in Thailand, this talk outlines a jurisprudence of torture in which judges accommodate the practice by denying the facticity of narratives about torture, or accepting their facticity but denying that anyone can be held responsible, or accepting that someone might be held responsible but excusing them of responsibility in the name of duty, or in the last instance, holding one or two of them, or their state employer, in some way liable. The jurisprudence, the argument goes, is legal in form but alegal inasmuch as it is animated by moralities that transcend law and press judges to permit state officers to transgress legal limits in the interest of maintaining civil order. Its effect is to make torture innocuous—not to those tortured, but to the state whose officials receive and are duty-bound to respond to their accounts.


Professor of Anthropology
Associate Dean for Behavioral Sciences, Fine Arts, and Humanities
The Graduate College
University of Illinois at Chicago

“Community Engagements and Partnerships in Archaeological Fieldwork in the Philippines:
Prehistoric Heritage to Recent History”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Long‐term engagement with local contemporary communities concerned with preserving cultural heritage can be extremely fruitful by building strong and long‐term relationships with local government officials and community members, particularly when archaeological teams develop a strong sense of joint stewardship of the archaeological remains discovered on their local landscapes. Community buy‐in requires an enduring commitment by archaeologists to share responsibility for using best practices in collaborative archaeological fieldwork, curation of the material remains of their heritage, and interpretive models that directly involve community members, essentially a ‘co‐curation’ model of preserving the past. This talk will present three cases of long-term archaeological work in the Philippines, ranging from 2500 year old Metal Age sites in the community of Bacong, to an early to middle second millennium chiefdom in the Tanjay area, and WWII period sites in the interior of Luzon Island associated with the MIA WWII soldier recoveries.

Co-sponsored by the Archaeology Brown Bag Lecture Series.