Friday Forum Lecture Archive


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Spring 2016


Director of the Center for Textiles and Design, Pleasant Rowland Endowed Director of Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, UW-Madison. 

“Exhibiting Southeast Asian Material Culture in Higher Education.”
In 2014, Dr. Catherine Raymond, Director, NIU Center for Burma Studies and Dr. Sherry Harlacher, Director, Denison Museum, Denison University combined objects from two university collections for an exhibition entitled Dressing Difference: Exploring Ethnicities in Modern Burma.  The collaboration was inspired by the discovery of painted ethnographic albums created by local artists from the Shan States. The exhibition featured textiles, jewelry, weapons, and photographs dating from the late 19th to mid-20th century.  Taking into account the differences in available gallery space and differences in student audiences (a liberal arts college versus a public university), the curators chose to emphasize different concepts while preserving the same layout where objects were arranged in an arc that followed the distribution of the various upland ethnic groups along Burma’s eastern, northern, and western frontiers.  This collaboration provides a useful case study about how teaching and learning about Southeast Asia is practiced in two very different academic settings.


Sociolinguist in the Department of Western Languages and Literature, Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand

“Who Speaks ‘Lao’ Anymore? Upward Social Mobility, Language Change, and Issues of Inequality in Northeast Thailand.”
Under Thai nationalist policies, the Northeast (or Isan), which was historically dominated by Lao culture, has gradually become “Thai.” Isan today is in many ways different from what it was in the past. Nevertheless, the default Bangkokians’ view of Isan people remains unchanged: Northeasterners are still their inferiors (see Hesse-Swain, 2011). Yearning to attain a “higher status” drives many Isan people to try to prove that they too are members of Thai society. Those who have embraced the term khon Isan have also embraced the Thai identity (Saowanee and McCargo, 2014) while others persist in identifying themselves as Lao. The talk explores relationships between Isan identity from a linguistic perspective. In particular, it examines changes in lexical and phonetic features of Lao (also known as phasa isan) spoken in the region in the speech of speakers across generations, and how these changes reflect social inequality, which is pervasive in Thai society.


Professor of English and Creative Writing, UW-Madison.

“She Weeps Each Time You’re Born: Vietnam Beyond the American War.”
Quan Barry’s luminous fiction debut brings us the tumultuous history of modern Vietnam as experienced by a young girl born under mysterious circumstances a few years before the country’s reunification, a child gifted with the otherworldly ability to hear the voices of the dead.
At the peak of the war in Vietnam, a baby girl is born along the Song Ma River on the night of the full moon. This is Rabbit, who will journey away from her destroyed village with a makeshift family thrown together by war. Here is a Vietnam we’ve never encountered before: through Rabbit’s inexplicable but radiant intuition, we are privy to an intimate version of history, from the days of French Indochina and the World War II rubber plantations through the chaos of postwar reunification. With its use of magical realism—Rabbit’s ability to “hear” the dead—the novel reconstructs a turbulent historical period through a painterly human lens. This is the moving story of one woman’s struggle to unearth the true history of Vietnam while simultaneously carving out a place for herself within it.
Co-sponsored by UW-Madison’s Religious Studies Program, Center for the Humanities, and Center for Southeast Asian Studies


Ph.D. Candidate, Institute of International Studies/Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Yunnan University, China. 

“Water Diplomacy: Transboundary Cooperation Between China and the Lower Mekong Countries.”
Against the background of transboundary cooperation on water resources and the scramble for water power increasing steadily among countries, some international agencies and countries have begun to attach importance to “water diplomacy” and regard it as one of the important means to maintain foreign relations. The issues between China and the Lower Mekong Countries on the transboundary development of water resources of the Mekong River urgently need to be solved by water diplomacy. After defining this term, the talk explores the problem of transboundary water cooperation between China and the Lower Mekong Countries. It then highlights factors that contribute to the inadequate implementation of water diplomacy by China and proposes suggestions on what China should do in the future.


Family Professor of South Asian Studies and History, Harvard University. Trans-Asia Lecture, UW-Madison. 

“Environmental History as Trans-Asia History.”
How does environmental history reshape our perception of the regional boundaries that have shaped area studies, and the boundary between South Asia and Southeast Asia in particular? This lecture explores alternative conceptualizations of Asia that have arisen from attempts to understand the relationship between climate, land and sea. Beginning with the the history of meteorology in India, the talk explores the origins of the idea of “monsoon Asia,” and proceeds to discuss its unexpected reemergence in current debates on climate change in Asia.
Far from making area studies irrelevent before a “planetary turn” in the humanities, an understanding of the environmental crises that confront South and Southeast Asia can be enhanced by drawing on the inter-regional and trans-Asian perspectives that have emerged from recent scholarship. A more connected, trans-Asian environmental history lies at the heart of that project.



Associate Professor of History, Rice University. 

“Undercurrents: British Perceptions of Human Smuggling and Slaving in the Western and Eastern Indian Oceans in the Mid-Nineteenth Century.”
British perceptions of slave trading in the western and eastern Indian Oceans varied partly as a result of policies regarding anti-slavery activities in both regions. Human smuggling and slaving were generated both by unrest in local societies combined with intensifying European colonial encroachment that affected the vulnerability of people to slave raiding as well as creating new markets for bonded labor. Intense British ‘anti-slavery’ intervention along the east African coast and western Indian Ocean contrasts markedly with the muted response to slave trading in the eastern Indian Ocean and South China Sea.
Sponsored by the University Lectures Committee and co-sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.


Associate Professor of Religion, University of Vermont. 

“Thai Monks, Freedom of Speech and the Ability to Speak in a Time of Protest.”
Monks are generally perceived as having a special place within the Theravada world. They are leaders within society, and their speech, broadly construed, is effective, as demonstrated by recent events. The “Saffron Revolution” in Burma was triggered by monks asserting their right to express themselves on behalf of the nation; recent speeches by monks in both Burma and Sri Lanka are thought to have triggered Buddhist attacks on Muslims in both countries and in Thailand, and in 2014, the monk Buddha Issara set up a protest stage from which he preached twice a day in order to bring down the caretaker government of Yingluck Shinawatra. While it was not his speech alone, of course he was an important member of the coalition that ultimately precipitated a coup in May of that year. At the same time, within Thailand, the right to speak freely is not one that all monks share equally. Although as citizens the right of Thai monks to free speech has been constitutionally guaranteed (when there has been a constitution), as members of the Sangha they are often subject to greater constraint, in society as a whole and even in the wats in which they live. In this talk, Dr. Borchert considers the attitudes of monks with regard to the right to free speech and also speculates about the conditions that enable and constrain their ability to speak in post-Coup Thailand.


Professor of Political Science, University of Leeds and Visiting Professor of Political Science, Columbia University.

“(Un)Happy Stories from Thailand’s Constitutional Court.”
This presentation discusses some key cases brought before Thailand’s Constitutional Court following the 2006 military coup, borrowing its title from a memoir penned by former Court president Wasant Soypanit. It argues that behind the formal complaints levied by the petitioners lay accusations along the treason spectrum: that pro-Thaksin politicians were seeking to undermine the system of government and alter the status of the crown. The 2012 constitutional amendment case, which almost precipitated a major political crisis, will form the main focus of the discussion. Did the workings of the court illustrate a new politicization of the Thai judiciary? Or were these cases simply business as usual?


Lecturer, Faculty of Political Science and Head of the Southeast Asian Studies Center, Thammasat University, Thailand. 

“Bullets and Ballots: Electoral Violence and Democracy in Thailand, 1997-2014.”
From 1997 to 2006, the 1997 Thai Constitution, its newly designed electoral system, the rise of a strong populist party led by Thaksin Shinawatra, and the 2006 coup transformed local political structures and power balances. Thaksin’s ambitious goal of monopolizing the political market raised the stakes of electoral competition, forcing provincial bosses to employ violent tactics to defeat their competitors. Consequently, the demand for and supply of electoral violence increased, as witnessed in the 2001 and 2005 elections.  After the 2006 coup, political settings at the national and local levels underwent another major change. The royal-military intervention in the electoral process combined with growing ideological politics stifled and marginalized provincial bosses, thereby decreasing the demand for violence. As a result, incidents of violence during the 2007 and 2011 elections declined. The exercise of privatized violence by the provincial bosses was a remnant of the political and economic order established in the 1980s. This unsettling phenomenon will not entirely disappear until the patrimonial structure of the state is radically transformed and personalistic fighting over government spoils and rent-distribution are substantially reduced. However, the February 2, 2014 elections witnessed a significant change in the pattern of electoral violence in Thailand. It changed from targeted killings among the rival candidates to mob violence aimed at disrupting the electoral process and institutions. The protesters mobilized under the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and employed violent tactics to disrupt electoral voter registration, vote casting, and vote counting activities. The degree of violence was the highest in the country’s electoral history. The PDRC’s animosity towards the election marked an unprecedented development in the country’s prolonged political conflict.


Professor of Anthropology, Chiang Mai University.

“The Impact of China’s Rise on Southeast Asia.”
This talk analyzes the impact of China’s rise on the Mekong Region at a critical period of Southeast Asian history. Three decades of sustained economic growth have given rise to a powerful and prosperous China. As the most populated country and the second largest economy in the world, China has become an increasingly influential player in global and regional affairs. Economic ties between China and her southern neighbors are particularly strong. Yet relations between China and the Mekong region are inherently complex and embedded in other socio-cultural and political issues. China’s accelerated growth, increasing economic footprint, global search for energy and natural resources and rapid pace of military modernization have created a wide range of new challenges for smaller countries in Southeast Asia. These new challenges both encourage and limit cooperation between China and the emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The talk addresses some of these challenges, with particular focus on the impact of Chinese investment, trade, foreign aid and migration, and some of the consequences of each.
More broadly, over the past decade, the increasing political alliances between China and the Mekong region have been established by three interdependent factors, namely (1) the expansion of trade, investment and foreign aid; (2) increasing territorialization through large-scale concessions and mega-projects; and (3) the expansion of Chinese economic culture that goes hand in hand with the increasing flows of new Chinese migrants into the Mekong region.


doctoral student in Languages and Cultures of Asia, UW-Madison

“Surrounding the Sacred: Rebuilding the Buddhist Landscape in Chiang Rai, Thailand.”
When Chiang Rai was resettled in 1844 the city and its surrounding territory had been abandoned for a period of forty years. As new communities sprang up over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, people found themselves living amongst scores of abandoned Buddhist temple sites. Still today, stupa ruins stick up in the verdant river valley like the stumps of great trees, and tumbled piles of bricks punctuate karst cliffs that rise into the surrounding mountains. The presence of this abandoned Buddhist material has been central to the motivations and techniques behind Buddhist construction in Chiang Rai. Many of the active temples throughout the city are built over older sites, and current Buddhist construction often incorporates older material into new structures.
This talk explores one way in which Chiang Rai Buddhists have approached and dealt with abandoned Buddhist material in their midst—they have covered it up. The specific building practice known as khrop [ครอบ] is a technique of encasing, surrounding, and covering over older Buddhist material with new, outer facades. Khrop is more than a building technique; it is an important ethic of preservation, protection, and reverence. Performing acts of khrop, and the material products of the practice, are leveled on specifically Theravada Buddhist foundations. This talk investigates acts of khrop to plumb Buddhist understandings of time, community, and power.


Executive Director of Transparency International-Philippines/Associate Professorial Lecturer of Political Science, De La Salle University, Manila. 

“No Dirge for Dynasties: DNA, DQ, and Drama in the 2016 Philippine Presidential Elections.”
On May 9, the Philippine electorate will head to polling precincts to vote for over 18,000 elective posts. At the precinct, the Filipino voter faces the burden of remembering multiple candidate names given the synchronized nature of elections in the Philippines. It therefore comes as no surprise that in the 2016 presidential and national elections, celebrities and dynasties will have the edge. The persistence of dynastic politics in the Philippines weakens efforts at political party building and uncontested seats are on the rise. Recent political events also show that Estrada and Arroyo have re-defined the vice-presidential race. Some politicians have shifted their aim at the vice-presidency because of its increased relevance, competition and possibilities. The campaign for the vice-presidency is evolving, becoming more competitive and contributing further in undermining the creation of genuine political parties and exacerbating campaign finance issues. With President Aquino’s positive end of term rating, Filipinos continue to hope for reform and improved economic and political conditions. The 2016 election is crucial and can build on the gains of the Aquino administration. Looking at the front runners, will the Philippines vote for continuity or change?


Professor of History, University of California-Riverside.

“In the Footprints of War: Environmental History and Militarized Landscapes in Central Vietnam.”
In many historic places, war does not simply sweep across the landscape. Often, militants and military camps become embedded in spaces long-shaped over decades or even centuries by earlier “footprints” of military conflict.  On the central coast of Vietnam, journalist Bernard Fall described “The Street Without Joy” as a narrow corridor of fields and villages along the coastal highway that French troops struggled to hold from 1947 to 1954. Meanwhile, the Việt Minh retreated to the mountains and built new “tactical zones” and a rebel “inter-zone” government in the interior. Their success derived not only from new construction – weapons workshops, safe zones, and supply routes – but also a deep engagement with the long-militarized landscapes of the coast. This talk examines the First Indochina war through a landscape lens, considering how combatants negotiated with each other and historic landscapes in their campaigns.  Military and political success hinged on the ability to build new networks out of these conflict-prone, historic spaces.

Spring 2017


College of Education, University of the Philippines

“Muslim Education Initiative Review in the Philippine Public Schools”

This talk examines Muslim Education Initiatives (MEIs) in the Philippines that are being implemented by the Department of Education and external stakeholders.  It evaluates the relevance, appropriateness and responsiveness (RAR) of the Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) in Basic Education, Teacher Education and Instructional materials based on Muslims’ perspectives and the effectiveness and efficiency of the implementation. The talk also presents findings on the effectiveness of other initiatives by the private sector in improving equitable access to quality education for Muslim Filipino learners. Finally, it discusses promising practices and offers recommendations to address the gaps in the framework, program design, and implementation mechanisms for these initiatives in the context of multicultural education, inclusive education, peace education, education for sustainable development, and lifelong learning.


Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Washington State University

“Remembering the Present: Mentality and Mental Health in Theravada Southeast Asia”

This talk will discuss an ethnographically based research project on the mindfulness practices of monks, psychiatrists, and lay Buddhists that I recently carried out in the Theravāda countries of Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. Drawing from data collected from over 600 participants I map out some of the ways that mindfulness, as understood through its Pali-language root sati, is associated in Southeast Asia to psychological processes in ways that are different from how they are usually understood in other cultural contexts. I attend especially to what I have called the TAPES of mindfulness: Temporality, Affect, Power, Ethics, and Selfhood, and demonstrate how each suggests new perspectives for thinking about the complicated relationship between culture and mind. I begin with a case study of a man named Sen staying at a psychiatric hospital in Chiang Mai, and through an examination of the meanings that he and his family and friends make of his problems show some of the connections that local ideas about the mind have to the wider circulation of Buddhism across Asia and around the world.


Assistant Professor of History, UW Madison

“Histories that Don’t Fit: The Chinese ‘South Seas’ and its End in the Twentieth Century”

This talk asks how Chinese diaspora histories across the “South Seas” (Nanyang)—a maritime region connecting East and Southeast Asia from its height in the 1920s to its end in the 1960s—may help advance the understanding of trans-Asia. Two moments serve as the center of this discussion: a surge of Chinese nationalist writings about migrants to Southeast Asia during the 1920-30s, and an influx of migrants “returning” to China from Southeast Asia during the 1950s-60s. Together they demonstrate both the present limits and future directions of the “transnational turn” on twentieth-century Asia: a dominant focus on multiple spaces has eclipsed an attention to multiple times; studies of transnational crossings have tended to be land-based rather than seaward. The rise and demise of the Chinese “South Seas” suggest that diaspora can be better understood as temporal fragments intersecting with other temporalities of human action, sometimes cropping up and ripping through the telos of the nation. These histories that don’t fit in linear narratives, therefore, invite a writing of not only multiple geographies but also of multiple chronologies. They will also contribute to a more dynamic interpretation of trans-Asia.


Professor of Curriculum Studies and Social Studies Education,  Indiana University

“‘Don’t Be Like Other Countries!’ Promoting National Identity in Singapore Schools”

It’s not surprising that schools tell national stories meant to develop certain kinds of citizens, but it’s less obvious how they use stories of other nations for the same purpose. This talk compares curricula in the United States, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, and Singapore, with a focus on how young people in Singapore learn about other countries as cautionary tales that warn of vulnerability and the need for harmony.


Professor of Political Science at the University of Leeds
and Visiting Professor of Political Science at Columbia University

“Doing Humanistic Research on Southeast Asia’s Politics”

In this presentation, Duncan McCargo makes the case for using political ethnography as a primary research method for understanding contentious issues in Southeast Asia. He discusses some of his experiences in deploying this approach during three year-long periods of fieldwork in Thailand. The first project involved participant observation research inside the newsrooms of Bangkok’s leading Thai language dailies, asking what kind of political role the media performs: just how much participation could an academic observer get away with? A decade later, a thousand kilometers away from the capital in the country’s Muslim-majority Southern border provinces, McCargo traveled around Patani in an attempt to understand the underlying causes of an ongoing violent insurgency that had already claimed thousands of lives. Most recently, he spent 2012 conducting fieldwork in Thai courts and police stations, seeking to examine the interplay between justice and politics. His presentation aims to stimulate discussion about how best to conduct academic research in a rapidly changing region where many political and social issues are highly charged and emotive.


Fellow in Political and Social Change at the Australian National University

“Towards an Accounting of Late Cold War Human Rights Violations in Thailand”

The 6 October 1976 massacre and coup first ended nearly three years of open politics in Thailand, and then began an extended period of arbitrary detention, torture, and killing of citizens who came to be seen as Communists, dissidents, or simply ran afoul of state officials in Thailand. While evidence prior to the massacre and coup supports the idea that the definition of ‘human rights’ in use by the state did not account for the violations of the rights of certain citizens deemed to be enemies, shifting geopolitics and the emergence of the international and domestic human rights movements during the late Cold War period (1976-1988) made this no longer tenable. This paper begins by drawing on state archival documents, primarily a series of exchanges about torture and detention between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Corrections, to trace the emergence of a new awareness about human rights within the state and to then examine how the state accounted for human rights violations. New forms of bureaucratic obfuscation emerged and to account for human rights violations became part of the very process of evading accountability for them. Then, as a response to what the state documents do not reveal, drawing primarily on the materials of new domestic human rights organizations, as well as solidarity and diaspora groups, the paper then creates an alternate accounting of the rights violations that took place during these years. The profound discrepancies between the two different histories of human rights violations offered by the records of the state and human rights activists invite reflections on how the process of creating an accounting of human rights violations is shot through with questions of evidence and politics, questions that are no less urgent for scholars than they are for state officials or human rights activists.


Boone Research Scientist, Asian Anthropology, Integrative Research Center at The Field Museum

“Early Maritime Trade in the South China Sea Region: Evidence of Globalization?” 

Globalization has become a central concern of anthropology, and, recently, scholars have debated its definition, origins, and social implications. For example, some contend that it is a process associated with modern times while others argue that the first long-lived networks involving regular, transregional trade emerged between East Asia and the Mediterranean around AD 1000. It has become increasingly evident, based on a growing corpus of data, that long-distance economic and social interactions were very important in the ancient world in many different regions and had transformative effects on the communities involved. In this lecture, I examine current debates surrounding globalization and discuss how shipwrecks and other maritime archaeological sites can be used to investigate this phenomenon in East and Southeast Asia during the late first to mid-second millennia AD. In particular, I will highlight the Java Sea Shipwreck, a 12th-13th-century trading vessel thought to have been sailing from China to Java when it foundered in the Java Sea.


Harrington Professor of History, UW-Madison

“Global Populism: Filipino Strongmen from Marcos to Duterte” 

In the last years of his martial law dictatorship, President Marcos sanctioned some 2,500 extrajudicial killings, and during his first months in power President Duterte has presided over 6,000 such killings. Are these simply senseless murders, or do they have some larger significance that can help us understand the sudden proliferation of populist leaders in nominally democratic nations around the globe?

The rise of Rodrigo Duterte as a populist strongman resonates deeply with his country’s political culture, but it also reflects broader global trends that make his blunt rhetoric and iconoclastic diplomacy seem unexceptional. Although seemingly universal in depicting the way populist demagogues generally rely on violent rhetoric, extant academic models omit a defining attribute of populism in the Philippines: that is, the way Filipino leaders can win exceptional power by combining the low politics of performative violence, with corpses written upon and read as texts, and the high politics of global diplomacy.

In the 80-year history of the modern Philippine state, just three presidents—Manuel Quezon, Ferdinand Marcos, and Rodrigo Duterte—have been adept enough to juxtapose geopolitical calculus with manipulations of local power to gain extraordinary authority. All three were skilled in manipulating the world powers of their day, using this international imprimatur to reinforce their domestic authority. Apart from a shared ability to navigate the great power politics of their eras, these successful Filipino strongmen succeeded by projecting strength and offering a promise of order that appealed to their country’s impoverished masses.


Ph.D. candidate in History Department, UW Madison 

“Before the first Indochina War: Redefining the Origins of Vietnam’s Civil War” 

Debates among historians of the Indochina Wars have centered on the degree to which they were characterized by colonialism or communism. Histories of the First Indochina War – predominantly authored by diplomatic historians – offer a distinct periodization of the conflict. First, an anti-colonial phase (1945-1948) characterized as a clear-cut battle between returning French colonialists and Vietnamese nationalists; second, a Cold War phase (1949-1954) when French diplomats internationalized the war and the Vietnamese, without other recourse, aligned with the Soviet bloc. Finally, with the division of Vietnam after 1954, American support for an illegitimate South Vietnamese state cemented the Cold War in Indochina.

This periodization is largely based on an exogenous interpretation of the First Indochina War’s causes and a focus on external actors. Conversely, this paper argues for an understanding of the Indochina Wars as an endogenous process that originated within Vietnamese society, and not simply a tragedy authored by French colonialists or American internationalists. Achieving this understanding requires looking beyond 1945, back toward 1935 and even 1925. From Marseille to Saigon and Kunming to Canton, this paper follows the heated debates and battles between Vietnamese as they struggled over the character and pace of reform and revolution in Indochina. By expanding the periodization of the conflict between Vietnam’s communist and nationalist organizations, and the civil war that would only end in 1975, we can see it originated in this earlier era.


Adjunct Associate Professor at LaFollette School of Public Affairs, Former World Bank Senior Economist, UW Madison

“Has Vietnam ‘Made Poverty History?’”

The World Bank worked together with the Ministry of Labor and Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), the Government Statistics Office (GSO), and Vietnamese research institutes and universities to update the government’s poverty standards and reframe the national debate about progress and remaining challenges.  Consensus was reached that Vietnam has not (yet) made poverty history, and in important respects, the task of poverty reduction is becoming more difficult. The remaining poor are harder to reach; they face difficult challenges—of isolation, limited assets, low levels of education, poor health status—and poverty reduction is becoming less responsive to economic growth.  Ethnic minority poverty remains a growing, persistent, and poorly addressed challenge.  Based on updated statistics and standards, 58 percent of ethnic minorities still live below the poverty line in 2014, compared to only 6 percent of the Kinh majority, and share of  minorities among Vietnam’s remaining poor increased to 60 percent.


Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Looking Beyond the Temples: Exploring the Residences of Ancient Angkorians” 

Angkor, centered in the modern nation of Cambodia, was one of the largest preindustrial settlements in the world and has been the focus of more than a century of epigraphic, art historical, and architectural research. However, few scholars have examined the lives of the people who built the temples, kept the shrines running, produced the food, and managed the water. This presentation will focus on my recent work with the Greater Angkor Project examining Angkorian habitation areas and specifically the June-July 2015 excavation of a house mound within the Angkor Wat temple enclosure. Through this multidisciplinary research, we aim to better understand the nature and timing of occupation within the Angkor Wat temple enclosure and the types of activities taking place within an Angkorian household.



Emeritus Professor James T. Collins
Principle Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia

“Documentation and Revitalization of Indonesia’s Minority Languages: A Tale of Two Projects” 

In the last twenty years, language documentation of endangered languages has emerged as a new field of linguistics with contemporary priorities and procedures. Significant funding from diverse sources, including the Volkswagen Stiftung, the Arcadia Fund and the Documenting Endangered Languages Programme, has yielded accessible, archived materials of high quality. Very often these language documentation projects and programs are linked to aspirations of language revitalization. Recently, however, some consideration has been given to the strength of that link. As Peter Austin (2016), one of the leading scholars engaged in language documentation, somewhat indirectly pointed out:

“…there are opportunities for language documentation to adopt a more socially-engaged approach to languages to and linguistic research, including better engagement with language revitalisation.”

Beginning in 2015, Malaysian and Indonesian fieldworkers, in collaboration with a few experienced foreign scholars, have launched two projects focused specifically on language revitalization. The first project, Language networks and variation of the Bandanese (Eastern Indonesia), was funded by the Kone Foundation of Finland, under the direction of Prof. Timo Kaartinen (Helsinki University). The second project, Attitudes Towards Language Choice and Ethnicity: Multigenerational Divergence and Rapprochement, was funded by the Toyota Foundation of Japan under the direction of Dr Chong Shin (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia)

These projects may represent a paradigm shift or, at least, a reshuffle of priorities. By putting language revitalization first with documentation as a spin-off, new procedures and new products are being tested. Perhaps this reshuffle will contribute to the empowerment of local communities to revitalize their own languages.


Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University

“Mandating Modernity: The 12 Cultural Mandates and the New Thai Woman” 

This talk explores the nationalist campaign waged by the 1st Phibunsongkhra Regime from 1939 – 1942, in particular, those policies that were directed at women. I discuss the mandates and the supplemental propaganda texts produced by the Department of Publicity that targeted women, as well as the afterlife of the Mandates in current day Thailand. Sources include original texts (books, pamphlets, and speeches).

Spring 2018


Professor of Religious Studies and Southeast Asian History
University of Wisconsin Madison

“When Religion Ends: Buddhist Prophetic Temporality in Cold War Southeast Asia”

Buddhist prophesies about the end of religion and the dawning of a new temporal era tied to the enlightenment of the fifth buddha in our kalpa or “epoch” have circulated widely across the Buddhist world for nearly two millennia.  In modern Cambodia, as in other parts of Southeast Asia, these millenarian prophesies have served as a powerful and pervasive response to social turmoil, violence and changes in socio-political order. This talk draws on my current research investigating Buddhist prophesies that have inspired millenarian poetry, prose and political and religious movements in Cambodia from the colonial era to the post-Socialism of the 1990s.  Responding to Heonik Kwon’s call for a reappraisal of Cold War historiographies and representations of the bipolarity of conceptions of temporality and modernity in the Cold War,  this paper examines how Buddhist prophetic conceptions of temporality might serve as an alternative frame for understanding how people have ordered and interpreted their everyday experiences in Cold War Southeast Asia.


Doctoral Candidate, Political Science, UW-Madison

“Shedding their Custom: Forced Marriage and Social Collectivization in Democratic Kampuchea” 

This presentation focuses on the use of forced marriages in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime. It asks why the Khmer Rouge arranged, coerced, and enforced marriages among civilians. When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975, they instituted policies aimed at leveling the traditionally hierarchical society and implementing a new social order. In theory, marriages and family life were regulated in an effort to reorganize communities into village cooperatives and assert regime control over daily life; however, these policies were not implemented uniformly across society. Instead, I find that forced marriages were most frequent among targeted groups that represented an internal threat and among populations living in highly productive economic regions. I argue that forced marriage is an ideologically constructed policy choice, but its implementation responded to security and economic incentives. This presentation also seeks to conceptualize forced marriage as a tool of sexual violence, beyond genocidal rape or forced concubinage, that can be deployed strategically during conflicts. This issue has become particularly salient in light of the on-going tribunal’s upcoming decision on the crime of forced marriage.


Professor, Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism
Dean of Academic Affairs, Graduate School of Journalism
Columbia University

“Murder as Enterprise: The Philippine Police at the Frontline of President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs”

During his election campaign in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte promised Filipinos that he would wage a war on drugs. “It’s going to be bloody,” he told wildy cheering crowds. “The funeral parlors will be packed.” He was true to his word. In the 18 months since his election, thousands of poor drug users and dealers have been killed.

The brutal efficiency of the war on drugs was possible only because the Philippine police was a ready, willing, and able killing machine. The police provides the resources and organizational structure for surveiling drug suspects, rounding them up, and conducting operations that almost always result in killing. Why are the police such willing executioners of the war on drugs? What makes the Philippine police so prone to excesses and abuse? What incentives do policemen have for fighting the war on drugs?

This talk will examine the underground economy of extortion, theft, abduction, and murder in which the police are both enforcers of the law and its worse offenders. It will explain how Duterte’s anti-drug campaign opened to the police fresh opportunities for extortion and other forms of money-making. It will make the link between corruption and torture and murder on a scale unprecedented in recent Philippine history.


James Madison School of Public Affairs
Michigan State University

“No Land’s Man: Sovereignty, Legal Status and the Production of Statelessness, among Highland Indigenous Peoples in Northern Thailand” 


Coordinator, Saola Working Group
International Union for the Conservation of Nature

“New Species, New Extinctions in Laos and Vietnam” 

In 1992, the most spectacular zoological find of the 20th century, a new genus of large, hoofed mammal, the Saola, was made at a small nature reserve in Vietnam. Subsequently, several other new species of animals have been described from the same region, marking a pace of biological discovery unmatched by any other area in the world. Unfortunately, at the same time, an explosive wildlife trade in Asia has put many of these new species at risk, before we even know much about them.


Doctoral Candidate, Population Health Sciences
University of Wisconsin Madison

“Pushed at the Margins: Social Patterns of Discrimination, Human Rights Abuses, and Violence Against Women at the Thai-Myanmar Border”

Myanmar has ranked in the top ten major source countries for refugees worldwide since 2009, with roughly half a million fleeing violence perpetrated by the authoritarian Burmese military regime (or Tatmadaw) in 2015 alone. The Shan state, bordering the northernmost region of Thailand, has been one of the most severely affected ethnic states by the Tatmadaw’s “Four Cuts” (Pya Ley Pya)- the strategic cut-off of selected villages’ sources of food, money, intelligence, and recruits to ethnic insurgency groups- coinciding with extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence, and property seizures against civilians. The Shan living in northern Thailand along its border with Myanmar now reflect multiple decades and generations of displacement triggered by conflict coexisting with Shan communities in Thailand that predate such displacement. The resulting border landscape captures a mosaic of life histories that underlie fundamental determinants of health and social wellbeing. Based on interviews with over 600 women living at the Thai border with the Shan state, I examine more closely how forms of displacement, legal documentation, and related discriminatory structures shape women’s past and ongoing experiences of violence and human rights abuses in these spaces.


Instructor in Geography and the Center for Asian Studies
University of Colorado, Boulder

Associated Senior Research Scientist
University of Bern’s Center for Development and Environment

“The Geography of Security: The Birth of Focal Site Development in Postwar Laos” 

Postwar Laos’s short-lived experiment with agricultural collectivization was abandoned in the early 1980s, but the mix of productivity and legibility it sought to create also took form in state efforts to develop industrial forestry in the country’s rural hinterland. This talk uses the case of the “focal site,” a model of population management that sought to reconcile conflicts between upland agriculture and postwar forestry, to examine the often-unexamined legacies of the Indochina wars on subsequent efforts to pursue national development in and through Laos’s rural uplands.


Doctoral Candidate, Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, UW-Madison

“Religion for Society: Exploring the Origins of Socially Engaged Buddhism in Thailand” 

Socially engaged Buddhism’s origins are often discussed as beginning with Thich Nhat Hanh during 1960s era Vietnam. This lecture, through an historical analysis of recent events, centering around Sulak Sivaraksa, offers an alternative conceptualization of socially engaged Buddhism’s historical origins as a localized phenomenon that arose for different reasons, inspired by differing intellectual influences under varying country-specific circumstances. Drawing from my current research in Thailand that probes the roots and development of this movement, this paper examines how a localized and broader, transnational understanding of the beginnings of socially engaged Buddhism in Thailand can help inform our contemporary understanding of the movement.


Assistant Professor, Department of History
University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point

“A City and Its People in the Colonial Margins: Chiang Mai between Empire and Nation”

History is alive—and contested—in Southeast Asian cities. Diverse groups with various degrees of access to power and resources, or different claims to state authority or local identity, often debate how the past should be remembered, both in print and in the urban fabric of the city. In Chiang Mai, several interpretations of the city’s present and its past have converged in efforts to reshape the city center and its meanings in post-coup Thailand. In this lecture, I evaluate the possibilities for the urban center of the city as several projects aim to control and conserve the area in the wake of national and regional economic changes, particularly a turn towards greater centralization of power and resources, and the rise of outside investment and Chinese tourism in the city. One response to these rapid changes has been a campaign for World Heritage status for the city, which was placed on UNESCO’s tentative list of World Heritage sites in 2015. Other responses highlight the contested history behind this push to preserve and promote the heritage of the city: There are the long-simmering plans to renovate an old prison into a historical park, and a program of temple restoration, linked to both the former king and a charismatic monk, which has made both religious and historical claims on the city’s center. Taken together, these overlapping projects show the challenges of dealing with complex pasts and multiple stakeholders in building an urban future for the Southeast Asian city.


Director, Gender Equality Network (GEN)

“Myanmar in Crisis: What Will Happen Next?” 

May Sabe Phyu is a passionate and committed advocate for women’s rights and gender equality in Myanmar. She works actively in the areas of the prevention of violence against women, law reform and women’s engagement to bring peace. Her determination in the face of adversity – political opposition, widely held and rigid views about women’s roles, and personal risk – inspire others to push for government policy changes and to join collective actions to recognize and realize women’s right to live in peace. She is the Director of the Gender Equality Network (GEN), a coalition of more than 130 organizations collaborating to advocate for women’s rights to end discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities since 2011. She also co-founded the Kachin Peace Network (KPN) and Kachin Women Peace Network (KWPN) to raise awareness of the human cost of conflict and to advocate for peace and reconciliation.

Before joining with GEN, May Sabe Phyu has worked with UNDP as a Health Education Specialist, and with MSF-Holland in a variety of roles, including as a Health Education Supervisor and as Team Leader of the Counseling Program of HIV/AIDS Care and Support for the people living with HIV/AIDS. She has a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) degree from the University of Distance Education, Yangon in 2007.

For her leadership in advocating for the full and equal rights of women, ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar, May Sabe Phyu was honored with an International Women of Courage Award by the State Secretary of the United States of America in 2015. Later, she was listed as one of the inspiring women leaders in changing Myanmar’s society by many local and international news media. She has been also recognized as distinguished alumni by the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Alumni Association (AITAA), Thailand in September 2015, where she attained her first Master degreed in Gender and Development Studies. Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace & Security presented the 2017 Global Trailblazer Award for her courage and commitment to inclusive peacebuilding, and tireless work to advance women’s equality in the face of violence opposition.

Currently, she is studying at Harvard Kennedy School of Government for one year Mid-Career Master of Public Administration program as one of the Mason fellow.


Bruce Shoemaker
Independent Researcher

William Robichaud
Program Coordinator
Saola Conservation Program

“Dead in the Water: The World Bank’s Model Hydropower Project in Laos”

For decades large hydropower dam projects have been undertaken with the aim of doing good: preventing floods, irrigation, bringing electricity to rural and urban populations and generating revenues for poor nations. Yet the social, environmental and economic costs of these projects have often outweighed their benefits. In the early 2000s, even as the World Bank was reeling from revelations of past hydropower failures in which it had been involved, it promoted the enormous Nam Theun 2 dam in Laos as a new model of “dams as development” — one which would be environmentally beneficial, alleviate poverty and uplift the lives of those affected. This new model attracted support from a wide number of other financial institutions as well as academic experts and some NGOs. The narrative of NT2’s success led to a revival of the international hydropower industry and the promotion of the concept of “sustainable hydropower.”

However, the dam’s true story is more complex, and much less positive in regards to restoring livelihoods, effective biodiversity conservation, alleviating poverty or other promised transformations. Given this lack of success, the World Bank’s promotion of NT2 as a model remains unjustified and inappropriate. The Nam Theun 2 experience points to a number of important lessons for global policy-makers promoting “high-risk” large infrastructure projects in the name of development and poverty alleviation.

Spring 2019

February 1, 2019

Viewing Environmental Humanities From Muslim Indonesia

Anna M. Gade
Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor, Nelson Institute For Environmental Studies, UW-Madison


February 8, 2019

Money Talks –
Monetary Gift-Giving

Dr. Pao Vue
United States Department Of Agriculture


February 15, 2019

Minority Candidates And Muslim Voting Behavior: Evidence From Indonesia

Nathanael Sumaktoyo
Postdoctoral Fellow
Center For The Study Of Religion And Society
University Of Notre Dame


February 22, 2019

Financial Landscapes Of Agrarian Change In Cambodia

W. Nathan Green
Phd Candidate, Department Of Geography


March 1, 2019

Sounds Of Biodiversity And Chainsaw: Conservation Of Indonesia’s Tropical Forests Using Bioacoustics

Zuzana Burivalova
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Woodrow Wilson School Of Public & International Affairs
Department Of Ecology And Evolutionary Biology
Princeton University


March 8, 2019

The Kmu Labor Center Of The Philippines During The Time Of President Rodrigo Duterte: A First-Hand Account

Kim Scipes
Professor Of Sociology
Purdue University Northwest


March 15, 2019

The Balinese Cockfight Reimagined: Tajen: Interactive And The Prospects For A Multimodal Anthropology

Robert Lemelson
Psychological Anthropologist And Ethnographic Filmmaker
Department Of Anthropology, UCLA


March 29, 2019

Variegated Transitions Of Agrarian Capitalism: The Rubber Boom And Bust In Northern Laos

Miles Kenney-Lazar
Assistant Professor Of Geography
National University Of Singapore

Miles Kenney-Lazar


April 5, 2019

The Military And Monastic Order In Modern Thailand

Prakirati Satasut
Doctoral Candidate, Department Of Anthropology


April 12, 2019

Anti-Archive: Contesting Authoritative Claims To Space And Power In Phnom Penh

Erin Collins
Assistant Professor
School Of International Service
American University


April 19, 2019

Empire Of Dominoes: Britain, Southeast Asian Anticommunism And U.S. Hegemony

Wen-Qing Ngoei
Assistant Professor Of History
Nanyang Technological University

April 26, 2019

Piety, Possession And “Buddhaization” In Modern Thailand

Erick White
Assistant Professor Of Thai Buddhist Studies
University Of Michigan


May 3, 2019

A High Price To Pay: Weddings And Economic Anxiety In Cambodia

Jennifer Estes
Doctoral Candidate In Anthropology
University Of Wisconsin-Madison

Spring 2020


Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies
University of Wisconsin – Whitewater

“Buddhism’s Implicit Theology and the Discourse of ‘Holy Things’ in Thailand”

Numerous scholars have addressed the theoretical problem posed by the worship of gods and spirits in Theravāda Buddhist countries. I have previously argued that we should abandon divisions of Thai religion into Buddhism, Brahmanism, and spirit worship and instead recognize the indigenous vocabulary of “holy things” (sing saksit), crossing putative sectarian boundaries, that are capable of granting boons. The worship of gods and spirits is in fact completely compatible with normative Buddhist discourse, insofar as supernatural beings are recognized as beings trapped within saṃsāra. Buddhism, in other words, has an “implicit theology.” However, this does not explain the propitiation of Buddha images for boons. Through a historical analysis of the term saksit and associated vocabulary in Thai literature, I argue that another discourse is at work in Thailand, the discourse of saiyasāt. This discourse is a vestige of the “Śaiva world” that dominated the Sanskrit cosmopolis of the middle ages, and in which much of Southeast Asia took part, prior to the introduction of the Islamicate cosmopolis to Southern Asia and the reactionary formation of the Pali cosmopolis in Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia from the 13th century on. Discourse analysis thus allows us to understand Buddha images as simultaneous referents of two discourses—normative Pali Buddhist discourse and the vestigial Śaivism of saiyasāt discourse—without resorting to the problematic concepts of “syncretism” and “popular religion.”


Assistant Professor of  Geography
Indiana University

“Risky Subjects: Pesticide, Vulnerability and Uncertainty in Laos and Beyond”

Globally, pesticide use is increasing significantly faster than food production. The vast majority of the world’s food producers depend on pesticides, and most of those users live in the Global South. Shattuck presents data from Northern Laos, until recently among the world’s lowest per capita pesticide users, to explore the everyday life of pesticides and commodity agriculture as it transforms forests, local livelihoods, and health. Using oral histories, and socio-economic surveys, she looks at the relationship between modern agriculture, vulnerability, and deforestation as old forest-based safety nets are ploughed under for maize to feed growing meat consumption in China and Vietnam. Shattuck interrogates the diverse — and divergent — set of partial knowledge among pesticide users, and ask how small scale farmers’ direct experiences of toxicity both reinforce and transgress the international model for safe use. She describes the ways that what counts as ‘risky’ and ‘safe’ is locally adapted, filtered through rural community dynamics, and bound up with the other risks farmers are facing – the risks of living at the precarious end of a global commodity chain.

Co-sponsored by UW-Madison’s Department of Geography.


Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
New York University

“Late Industrial Environments are Constituted by Uncertainty: Notes from Lao Hydropower” 

Viewing contemporary environmental politics through the lens of crisis or destruction may lead to an overly apocalyptic understanding of our contemporary ecological predicament. A different view draws on English and American pluralist philosophies, and highlights the role of potentiality, knowledge and uncertainty at work when technologies amplify ecological relations in ways both terrifying and hopeful. This view places technology and ecology on the same side of the equation, rather than positioning them as opposites, and emphasizes the role of uncertain knowledge in the emergence of anthropogenic ecologies. In this talk Whitington elaborates on late industrial capitalist ecologies from the vantage point of sustainable hydropower development in Laos. Because industrial technologies produce emergent relations it may be useful to say that late industrial environments are constituted by uncertainty. He draws on Susan Harding’s term underdetermination to argue that uncertainty is a subjectifying and productive force whereby people conform themselves to emergent ecological relations through the interplay of threat and opportunity. This leads to surprising results in understanding the relation between culture and ecology, without implying that people are either rational-objective observers or sociobiological automatons. While contributing to a political understanding of current ecological dilemmas, this view does not, however, obviate or solve them.


Department of Anthropology
University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Choose Your Own Adventure: Thematic Tourism and Symbolic Economy in Cambodia’s ‘Charming City’”

Over the past two decades, international tourist visitation to Cambodia has grown more than 2,200%.  Cambodians are also traveling within their own country much more frequently, creating new forms of domestic tourism that influence regional development.  While the nation continues to struggle with the consequences of such rapid expansion, the growing number of tourists also provides opportunities for smaller urban spaces to compete with Cambodia’s larger cities through the creation of region-specific tourism industries.  Such is the case in the northwestern provincial capital of Battambang City, where local residents and their provincial government are attempting to establish a ‘symbolic economy’ based on thematic tourism that can tempt tourists away from well-trod tourist attractions found elsewhere in favor of regional offerings.  In this talk, I detail how Battambang uses thematic tourism and “Disneyization” to reflect the new goal of becoming Cambodia’s “Charming City”.  In so doing, Battambang City is better able to compete with larger cities like the national capital of Phnom Penh for tourist income while also promoting narratives about regional history and identity that challenge the nationalist discourse asserted by the central Cambodian government.


Assistant Professor of Composition and Rhetoric
Department of English
University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Moving Labor: Literacy Programs and Care Work in the Filipino ‘Brain Drain’”

This talk examines the development of government sponsored literacy programs in the Philippines as they emerged alongside the rise of temporary care work migration in the mid-1990s to early 2000s. It suggests that as migrant care work became an increasingly vulnerable profession abroad, the government began a series of training initiatives, including skills training and language education, as a means to replace the care, in the form of welfare protection, that they could not provide for migrant citizens abroad. Drawing from qualitative research in the Philippines, including interviews with migrant workers, educators, and government employees, the talk examines the ways that literacy programs became the means to mediate an affective relationship between the state and its migrant citizens, revealing a form of care transfer that challenges care drain and brain drain narratives for migrant movement.


Professor of Islamic Studies
Wake Forest University

“Indonesian Muslim Activism Against Child Marriage”

This past fall, the Indonesian Constitutional Court ruled that the minimum age of marriage for girls will be raised from 16 to 19. Indonesia is number eight on the list of countries with the highest number of child brides in the world; 14% of the girls are married before the age of 18 and more than 3 million before age 15. Muslim activists, who have fought against child brides for decades, consider this ruling only the beginning of an extended battle against a practice that has long been the social norm in large parts of the country. This talk analyzes the strategies used by the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) and the Muslim organization Rumah Kitab. Through these strategies, these organizations are helping change the Indonesian mindsets that allow for the phenomenon of child brides to remain acceptable.


Visiting Fellow
Cornell University

“Praetorian Divergence: Military Politics in Indonesia and the Philippines”

Both Indonesia and the Philippines obtained modern coercive institutions via exogenous intrusions. Euro-American colonial agents developed coercive infrastructures geared toward domestic repression and resource extraction while keeping armed forces subservient to civilian control. The Second World War fundamentally altered these dynamics by setting in motion processes that ultimately politicized both militaries. Indonesian and Philippine military personnel exercised power via praetorian networks that ranged across local, national, and supranational spheres. Yet, from the second half of the 1980s onward, Indonesia’s praetorian network began to contract while Philippine praetorian power continued to expand. This talk attempts to explain why.

*Canceled due to Covid-19.

Women’s Studies in Religion Program
Harvard Divinity School

“Doing and Sidestepping the Work of Emotion: Affect and Religion in Malaysia”

Work and emotions are intimately intertwined in Southeast Asia. The region is one of the world’s biggest exporters of domestic and care work. As a key site for the global manufacturing industry, the emotional impact on women factory workers as documented by Aihwa Ong has been staggering. Mass hysteria and psychological distress characterize the extreme effects of globalization on gender, culture, and tradition. Less attention has been paid to the affective fallout of religious transformations in Southeast Asia that have occurred alongside these economic upheavals. In Malaysia, where Muslim citizens are micro-managed by Islamic bureaucracies and sharia laws increasingly favor Muslim men, Muslim women must face inequalities in married and family life with emotional stoicism. This lecture raises the following question in response: what forms and relations of emotional labor are recruited, performed, and cultivated at this religious and socioeconomic juncture? What emotional selves are formed when pious acquiescence and acceptance are expected? Using sociological material collected from interviews, focus groups, and book fairs in Kuala Lumpur, this lecture elaborates on the argument that religious transformations in Malaysia create new forms of identifications, practices, and intimacies among Malay-Muslim women in their pursuit for personal and communal success.

MARCH 20, 2020 – IAN BAIRD
*Canceled due to Covid-19.

Center for Southeast Asian Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Considering Present-Day Concerns about the Possible Deportation of Ethnic Hmong and Lao People from the U.S. to Laos”

Recently there has been considerable concern regarding efforts by the US government (the Trump Administration) to pressure the government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to accept ethnic Hmong and Lao deportees from the United States. The US is proposing to permanently deport those who came to the United States as political refugees decades ago—mainly as young children—and were later convicted as US permanent residents of felonies in the United States. In the past, the Lao PDR government has refused to accept these potential deportees, but the US government appears to be stepping up efforts to coerce the Lao government into doing so. If the Lao government agrees to the US proposal, this could lead to large numbers deportations, tearing families apart and leaving those deported in precarious circumstances in a country that they do not know. In this presentation, I consider the circumstances surrounding present-day community concerns about possible future deportations to Laos. I also reflect on the impacts of past deportations of ethnic Khmer people from the US to Cambodia based on similar circumstances. I argue that such deportations should not take place, and that they would violate fundamental human rights.

Sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, the Hmong Studies Consortium and the Asian American Studies Program.

*Canceled due to Covid-19.

Associate Professor of Archaeology
Silpakorn University, Bangkok

“Prehistory of Thailand, from the Beginning to the Emergence of Urban Centers”

This talk presents various lines of archaeological evidence illuminating an overview of past human societies in Thailand in particular and Southeast Asia in general throughout major periods ranging from prehistoric times (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Metal Age) to early historic period (also known as Dvaravati period). it emphasizes on the late prehistoric periods (Metal Age or Bronze and Iron Age) or the time before the rise of early urban society, as the speaker has been working on for more than a decade.

Sponsored by the University Lectures Committee. Co-sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the Archaeology Brown Bag Series.

*Canceled due to Covid-19.

Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Author of The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family
Consultant for the Ken Burns series, The Vietnam War

“Can You Go Home Again?  Searching for My Family’s Roots in Post-war Vietnam”

Mai Elliott is the author of “The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family,” a personal and family memoir which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her second book, “RAND in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era,” chronicles this think tank’s involvement in research about the Vietnam War at the behest of policy makers in Washington D. C. and the impact of this involvement on RAND itself.

The New Yorker magazine called her family memoir “as engrossing as fine literary fiction and…indispensable to understanding Vietnam from a Vietnamese perspective.” In a 2016 podcast, author Malcolm Gladwell called her family memoir “beautiful” and her book about RAND “brilliant,” and listed both on his podcast website as recommended readings. Mai Elliott served as an advisor to Ken Burns for his documentary on “The Vietnam War,” which aired on PBS in September 2017, and featured in seven of the ten episodes of the film. She is a frequent speaker and writer on Vietnam. She recently contributed a chapter for a Cambridge University Press 3-volume work on the Vietnam War, and has completed a novel on Vietnam in the early 1960s.

Mai Elliott was born in Vietnam and grew up in Hanoi and Saigon. She attended French schools in Vietnam and is a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

A Judith L. Ladinsky Lecture.

*Canceled due to Covid-19.

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”

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 interpretative models that directly involve community members, essentially a  ‘co-curation’ model of preserving the past.

University of Illinois at Chicago and the National Museum of the Philippines archaeologists have formed a strong, decade-long partnership with the Bacong municipality in Negros Oriental Province that involves sharing responsibility for educating the largely rural populations in the region on the importance of the archaeological heritage in the region, training local individuals and groups to identify archaeological remains and report endangered archaeological sites, and integrating them into our field teams.

While our primary research largely focuses in on the middle first millennium A.D. to Spanish contact, our field team has also engaged in archaeological research on more recent WWII history, briefly discussing a second case of strong community partnership in the context of WWII archaeological remains in another region of the Philippines where community involvement was crucial in the piecing together the local history of WWII as they experienced it in their community.

Co-Sponsored by CSEAS Friday Forum Lecture Series and the Archaeology Brown Bag Series.

*Canceled due to Covid-19.

*Canceled due to Covid-19.

Department of Geography
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Fall 2016


Professor of Anthropology, UW-Madison

“Kruba Srivichai, the Saint of Northern Thailand:Exploring the Historical Context of his 1935-36 Detention”

Kruba Srivichai is the most famous monk in northern Thailand, yet he was also the most controversial. He was sent to Bangkok for investigation in 1920 and 1935-35. Over 400 northern monks and novices were forced to disrobe before Srivichai was allowed to return to the north. After being disrobed, some monks reordained under central Thai authority, some wore white robes the rest of their lives in protest, and some returned to lay life. Elsewhere I have explored the circumstances surrounding his first detention. In this talk I will consider the historical circumstances surrounding the 1935-36 detention.


Associate Professor of Political Science, Northern Illinois University

“Weak State and the Limits of Democratization in Cambodia, 1993- 2016”
This talk analyzes the nexus of democracy and state building in Cambodia following the 1993 United Nations intervention. It reveals that over two decades later, Cambodia’s democracy has landed in the zone of electoral authoritarianism while its state capacity remains weak. These conditions are by-products of the nature of the state at the time of the introduction of democracy. Despite the promulgation of a new liberal democracy in 1993, the structure of the Cambodian state has remained based on a neo-patrimonial system which constitutes of formal political institutions and informal networks of patron-clientelism. This talk traces the formal and informal structures to discern their interactions and impact on state capacity and the quality of democracy.


Associate Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

“Southeast Asia’s Early Maritime Exchange Networks and their Impact on Southern China during the Han Dynasty”
Archaeological evidence from Southeast Asia points to the operation of trade and exchange networks linking the region to the Indian subcontinent – as well as coastal areas within the South China Sea – by the mid-first millennium BCE. However, it is not until the first century BCE that evidence of sustained trade with southern China emerges, with the ports of Hepu and Panyu playing an important role in this development. Even as burials at these coastal locations have yielded significant amounts of materials originating from Southeast Asia, relatively few such artifacts have been found inland, a spatial pattern which encourages caution when evaluating the impact that Southeast Asia’s early maritime exchange networks had on southern China during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE).


International Journalist and Visiting Lecturer, UW-Madison

“The Remarkable Story of the Duch Trial”
Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, was the first senior Khmer Rouge to be tried before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Thierry Cruvellier, a UW-Madison Visiting Lecturer and author of The Master of Confessions – The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, explains why this trial stands out as the judicial symbol of Pol Pot’s terror and as a unique case in contemporary war crimes justice.

Thierry Cruvellier is an international journalist and author whose specialty is international criminal justice, especially the workings of international justice systems after war crimes and atrocities. He is the only journalist in the world who has attended and reported on all of the important post-Cold War international tribunals. He is the author of three books: Court of Remorse – Inside the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, The Master of Confession – The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, and, coming out later this year, The Richest Poor Man – Stories from Sierra Leone. Writing in The New Yorker, Philip Gourevitch has called him, “a deeply informed and deeply thoughtful observer of the legal, political, moral, and psychological complexity of his subject. He is an elegant, understated writer, with a keen and rigorous intellect, and a wry, quiet wit.”

Mr. Cruvellier, who has a master’s degree in journalism from the Sorbonne, is spending the fall semester of 2016 in residence in the UW-Madison’s Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS). While here, he is teaching an undergraduate course: International Studies 601, “International Criminal Justice: Models and Practice.”


Professor of History, Southern Connecticut University

“The Early Life of the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Physician Tuệ Tĩnh and the Medical, Religious, and Physical Environment of 14th Century Ðai Việt”
The Vietnamese monk physician Tuệ Tĩnh (c. 1330-c.1400) is most famous for having been sent, in 1885, as a living present to the Ming Dynasty from the Vietnamese royal court. This is at least in part because the medical text he wrote while living in China had a profound impact on the history of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine. Tuệ Tĩnh wrote his most well known text, Nam Dược Thần Hiệu (Miraculous Drugs of the South), specifically to explain Vietnamese medicine to the Chinese. Tuệ Tĩnh had attracted the attention of the Trần Dynasty (1225-1400) through his work in the medical gardens and clinics attached to most Buddhist monasteries in Vietnam. Through royal land grants and other forms of patronage Buddhist monasteries formed the closest thing to a public health system that Vietnam had and many members of the Vietnamese sangha were healers, pharmacists, and field botanists. Before being sent to China, Tuệ Tĩnh had traveled extensively, within Vietnam, on a common Buddhist circuit of monasteries. While some of his monastic companions spent most of their time studying and writing religious texts, Tuệ Tĩnh spent his time studying plants and composing texts in Nôm on them. He also gathered local knowledge of plants and their properties, in fact some scholars regard Tuệ Tĩnh’s work as ethnobotanical in nature.

While the Trần Dynasty has long been acknowledged as the most devoutly Buddhist of all Vietnamese royal dynasties, and the political influence of prominent Buddhists has been discussed by several scholars, the entwinement between the Trần royal family, Buddhist personages and institutions, and health care in Trần ruled Vietnam has received scant attention and to my knowledge no one has yet published on the physical and political environment which shaped this.


Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

“Buddhist Brahmans: The Royal Court Brahmans of Thailand”
Even in the present day there is a coterie of Brahmans who perform rituals for the King of Thailand. Although these Brahmans are fully assimilated into Thai culture and have been so for many generations, they claim descent from actual Indian Brahmans who migrated to Siam in the Ayutthaya period or earlier. This talk will explore some of the evidence for the history of Brahmans in Siam, as well as ways of theorizing the role they play in an overwhelmingly Buddhist context.


“Creative Criticism, or Writing as an Other”
Viet Thanh Nguyen is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Associate Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, and is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Sympathizer; Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War; and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. For more info, see:



“The New Vietnam Revolutionary Party in Colonial Annam”
Between 1925 and 1929, the New Vietnam Revolutionary Party was the most intellectually vibrant and politically vital Vietnamese political grouping in colonial Annam. A clandestine organization, the party successively went by many names: the Phục Việt, Hưng Nam, the Việt Nam Cách Mệnh Đảng, the Việt Nam Cách Mệnh Đồng Chí Hội, and the Tân Việt Cách Mệnh Đảng. The party provided an important meeting place for a wide variety of anti-colonial nationalists, ranging from reformers to radicals and nascent Communists, such as Trần Mộng Bạch, Đào Duy Anh, Tôn Quang Phiệt, and Trần Phú. This paper draws on published and unpublished colonial security reports, party documents, memoirs, newspaper articles, local and provincial histories, and retrospective assessments by former party members. The paper has three main objectives. First, it discusses the organization of the New Vietnam Revolutionary Party, its membership, and goals. Second, the paper argues that members of the Party were involved in a lively and contentious intellectual culture in the old imperial capital of Huế that became increasingly radical: they published tracts, pamphlets, books, and newspaper articles, introducing modern social, political, and economic ideas to readers in Annam. Third, the paper argues that contrary to the received historiography, the New Vietnam Revolutionary Party had a broad rural base in the countryside of colonial Annam. This latter point has significant consequences for our understanding of the revolutionary high tide of the Great Depression in Tonkin and Northern Annam, particularly the Nghệ Tĩnh Rebellion.


Ph.D. Candidate in Southeast Asian History, UW-Madison

“People, Fish, Ocean: Enduring Encounters in Interwar Southeast Asia”
The world’s oceans have long been instrumental in shaping the fates and fortunes of human societies, and yet figure no more than saltwater in the archives of the written past. Indeed, historiographically, seas and basins have been largely conceptualized as infrastructure, linkages between shores. Anchored in a landlubber’s world, this otherwise rich literature has kept in place the assumption that oceans are unlike forests, deltas, and rivers, and thus exist “outside of history” (Bolster 2006: 574).

This talk, however, assumes a different approach. It examines the Asian marine environment not as a surface or linkage, but as an ocean of enduring encounters between people and fish, science and society, and technology and nature. The talk focuses on how these multiple encounters transformed the Philippine seascape in the wake of the nineteenth century. In particular, it looks at the rise of Mindanao’s tuna industry in the interwar years. By casting this iconic frontier within a wider milieu of peoples and environments, the talk shows how the ocean was central to Mindanao’s colonial development and its postwar positioning as one of the world’s leading tuna capitals.


Faculty Associate, Department of Political Science, UW-Madison

“Campaigning for All Indonesians: The Politics of Healthcare in Indonesia”
Many scholars argue that democratization is conducive to the development of social welfare policies and that democracy brings about redistributive reform due to demands from the newly enfranchised poor. In reality, however, democracy does not necessarily bring about comprehensive social welfare reform. If not democracy, what explains social welfare expansion in developing countries? This article examines Indonesia, which began the process of democratization in 1998 following the fall of President Soeharto, and which has since become a stable democracy with a consistently growing economy. More than a decade after Soeharto’s resignation, Indonesia started to implement a comprehensive health care policy. What explains the gap between the enactment and the implementation of this social policy reform? In answering this question, this talk argues that electoral competition alone does not shape social policy reform. Instead, social reform has institutional prerequisites, such as the broad-based organization of its advocates. A broad-based organization goes beyond its narrow interests, builds cross-class alliance and pressures the government. Without this prerequisite, democracy does not necessarily result in comprehensive social reforms.


Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

“Decolonizing the Prehistory of Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific”
We can now see how assumptions once widely held to be true in previous centuries about human diversity and prehistory in island Southeast Asia and Oceania are not only historically implausible but racist and demeaning. Yet many of these assumptions are still used today to interpret the results of new scholarship in archaeology, historical linguistics, and human molecular genetics. Drawing on decades of research in the southwest Pacific, this talk describes an alternative networks science approach to understanding history and diversity.


Ph.D. Candidate in Historical Musicology, UW-Madison

“Mythology and Modernity in the Musical Theatres of Early Twentieth Century Philippines”
In the early years of American colonialism in the Philippines, the theatrical stage became a contested space for the older form of komedya performance and the emerging musical theatre, the zarzuela. Set in the tenuous political landscape of Manila, the komedya-zarzuela debates shed light onto competing ideas on Filipino identity and modernity in theatrical representations. Leading intellectuals and writers of the period saw the fantastical elements of the komedya for its creative possibilities of incorporating local mythologies to produce new works, while others favored the realism of the zarzuela as a vehicle for social commentaries on contemporary issues. More importantly, music became a crucial factor in these debates where stage artists and musicians navigated a transitional space between different genres of popular performance. As the Tagalog zarzuelas began to dominate the cultural life of urban Manila, composers found opportunities to write new music while seasoned artists found it more difficult to transition to the lyrical stage. By examining these tensions between the ‘old’ and the ‘new,’ this paper shows how cultural legacies are also entangled histories in need of careful re-evaluation and study.


Laird Bell Professor of Economics, Emeritus Harvard University

“A Century of Philippine Spatial Inequality: Searching for Explanations”
This SEAC Forum presentation is in two parts. The first deals with the present and the second deals with the last century. They are connected.

Income inequality is higher in the Philippines than in most of its Asian neighbors, and spatial (urban-rural and provincial) inequality accounts for a fairly large share of it. However, there is little evidence of labor market failure since, when properly measured, real wage gaps by skill are modest or absent. Rather, unequal endowments account for most of the urban-rural and provincial income gaps, not wage or underemployment rates. That is, human capital endowments of workers and households explain the vast majority of the gaps. Workers born in the cities and immigrants to the cities invest much more in human capital than do rural workers and workers in poor provinces. But how much of that is due to better human-capital-building infrastructure supply in the cities and rich provinces, and how much is due to higher urban and rich province demand for that infrastructure? It’s very hard to disentangle these two by looking only at modern urban-rural and provincial comparisons, but a look at history certainly does.

By using census-based provincial Human Development Indices (first constructed by the UN in the 1990s), the second part of the presentation identifies an abrupt trend reversal from regional convergence 1918-1960 to regional divergence 1960-2010, and offers explanations for the reversal favoring human-capital-building infrastructure supply. It appears that the American imperialists favored inclusive convergence while the independent Filipino politicians did not.

Jeffrey Gale Williamson is Laird Bell Professor of Economics, emeritus, Harvard University; Honorary Fellow, Department of Economics, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Adjunct Professor, University of the Philippines, School of Economics. His most recent books are: Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality since 1700 (Princeton 2016: with P. Lindert), The Spread of Modern Manufacturing to the Poor Periphery since 1870 (forthcoming Oxford: ed. with K. O’Rourke), Latin American Inequality in the Long Run (forthcoming Springer: ed. with L. Bértola), The Cambridge History of Capitalism (2 vols. 2014: ed. with L. Neal), Trade and Poverty: When the Third World Fell Behind (MIT 2011); Globalization and the Poor Periphery before 1950 (MIT 2006); and Global Migration and the World Economy (MIT 2005: with T. Hatton).

Fall 2017


Associate Professor, Department Of Geography, UW-Madison

“The Hmong And The Communist Party Of Thailand: A Transnational, Transcultural And Gender Relations-Transforming Experience”

In the 1960s, a large proportion of the Hmong people living in the mountains of northern Thailand joined the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) due to various injustices and abuses. The Hmong became an important group within the CPT. However, by the early 1980s most Hmong and non-Hmong in the CPT had given up and taken advantage of the amnesty offered by the government in 1980 and 1982. Here I generally explain the history of Hmong involvement with the CPT, but I specifically focus on demonstrating how Hmong experiences associated with the CPT were not simply isolating with the Hmong living “in the forest” with others who joined the CPT, but were actually transnational, transcultural and gender relations-transforming.


Assistant Professor Of History, Eastern Connecticut State University

 “From China To Vietnam: Trade And Ethnicity In The Nineteenth Century”

Before the establishment of “Chinois” as a demographic category during French colonial rule, people from the Qing Empire (1644-1911) played a variety of essential roles in imperial Vietnam. Although maritime merchants from southern China connected Guangdong and other provinces to coastal Vietnam, laborers and merchants from inland China linked northern and central Vietnam to migratory networks that flowed across the borderlands. Based on work in the Vietnamese imperial archives, this presentation considers the nexus of trade and ethnicity in Southeast Asia before European colonialism, demonstrating that “Chinese,” as a unified category, fails to capture the sophisticated negotiations at the center of Chinese circulations in nineteenth century Vietnam.


Harrington Professor Of History, UW-Madison

Showdown In The South China Sea: Beijing And Washington Struggle For Dominion Over The “World Island”

Today, the shoals of the South China Sea are arguably the only place on the planet where there is a risk of armed conflict between nuclear-armed superpowers, drawing several Southeast Asian nations into these rising tensions. Using Sir Halford Mackinder’s seminal 1904 treatise that both created the study of “geopolitics” and identified the “world island” as the pivot for global power, this presentation sees current tensions arising from rival superpower strategies for the exercise of global power. Washington is struggling to maintain its chain of bases along the Asian littoral from Japan to the Philippines as leverage for control over the vast Eurasian land mass. By contrast, Beijing seeks to unify Eurasia economically through a trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure, while slicing through U.S. strategic encirclement of the continent by building military bases in the Arabian and South China Sea.


College Fellow & Assistant Professor, Weinberg College Of Arts & Sciences, Northwestern University

“Reading Between The Lines: A Text-As-Data Approach To Studying Myanmar’s Parliament”

This paper presents an approach to bridge qualitative and quantitative methods in political science, using expert assessments of participation in Myanmar’s parliament derived from textual sources to inform a quantitative analysis. Accessing diverse expertise, particularly in challenging developing or authoritarian contexts, requires expanding the pool of “experts” and leveraging information not just in interview contexts but also through written works as a way to systematically apply previous knowledge to current modeling challenges. This paper investigates participation in Myanmar’s parliament and demonstrates a method for characterizing expert opinions from newspaper, ethnographic, and other qualitative sources using text-as-data analysis. Specifically, the paper elicits expert opinions from 4,126 English-language newspaper articles about Myanmar’s parliament published from 2010-2013 across 12 national and international sources. I treat the editorial boards of these sources as “experts” and use sentiment analysis to characterize their opinions and uncertainty about how certain variables such as party affiliation and ethnicity impact participation in Myanmar’s parliament. I evaluate the opinions extracted from these textual sources against opinions from Myanmar experts gathered through an online survey. The paper then demonstrates the text-as-data method for eliciting expert opinions with additional qualitative sources of scholarship about Myanmar’s parliament, and discusses how this approach generalizes in order to bridge the qualitative/quantitative divide and leverage new materials for studying politics in authoritarian contexts throughout Southeast Asia.


Assistant ProfessorEast Asian Languages & CulturesColumbia University

“Nationalism And The Sinograph In Early 20th Century Tonkin”

The specter of nationalism has cast a long shadow over the study of Vietnamese history, literature, language, and culture.  Not only have nationalistic formations resulted in deeply anachronistic visions of the past, but reactions to the enormity of these effects have likewise led many scholars to overly cynical views of cultural, intellectual, or social identities in premodern times.  In this paper, I argue that a matrix of elite cultural identity was forged in early 15th century Vietnam, which bears distinctive similarities to what Benedict Anderson famously defined as the “imagined community” of the modern nation.  In particular, I suggest that an abstracted cultural fraternity was constructed among Đại Việt elites in the wake of a twenty-year occupation by Ming China, which was imagined in contradistinction to Ming cultural elites, with whom they otherwise shared virtually indistinguishable philosophical, religious, literary, and even linguistic practices. In other words, post-occupation Đại Việt was engaged in constructing a quasi-national identity. I argue that it was this incumbent, quasi-national sense of cultural identity that eventually clashed deeply with the Europeanized nationalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.   The drive to fashion a Vietnamese nation-state, in other words, led to a rivalry of competing nationalisms, and ultimately, a rebranding of cultural identity—with specific attention paid to the realms of writing and language. In this analysis, I focus particularly on the great literary and historical projects of 15th century Đại Việt, in comparison with the specific debates over language and writing that obtained in early 20th century French Indochina.


Associate Professor, Department Of Political Science, Affiliated Faculty In Environmental Studies, Carleton College

“Citizen Science And Sustainability: How Does Individual Knowledge Relate To System Level Social-Ecological Interactions In The Pak Mun Dam Case In Thailand”

Over half a century of the power struggle between local communities and the state on environmental governance issues in Southeast Asia, the conception of data, knowledge, and science went through critical interpretation as more open framework of governance structures emerged in the majority of the countries.  In Eurocentric view of educational practices and political orders, the science is perceived to belong only to official academic research practices and in research.  That science is believed to be taken as the ultimate authority in decision making processes of governmental institutions.  This view of science considers local knowledge and tacit knowledge of individuals as inferior in decision making processes.  The paper examines the case of Thai Baan research which counters the Eurocentric practice of science.  In so doing, the paper explains how cooperative science conducted by local communities and individuals plays critical role in animating associational life in democracy and democratic decision making processes of social ecological systems.


Dorothy Borg Professor in the History of the United States and East Asia, Columbia University

“Rethinking The Tet Offensive Fifty Years Later”

Although the Tet Offensive represented a major turning point in the Vietnam War, much of North Vietnam’s decision making surrounding the offensive remains unclear even fifty years later. Based on recently-declassified materials and publications from Vietnam, this talk reveals how North Vietnamese domestic politics and foreign relations influenced Hanoi’s strategy deliberation for the 1968 offensive.


“Us-Philippine Relations: An Insider’s View Of Diplomacy During The Marcos Years And Beyond”

The U.S.-Philippine relationship was born into and crafted by the emergence of the United States as a Pacific power. World War II victory and Philippine independence found both countries dealing with the Cold War, the Korean War, Vietnam, China, new regional realities, and interlocking development, security, military basing, economic, and trade issues. Bilateral ties from the 1960s through marital law and the end of the Marcos years, People Power, the bookend Aquino governments (Cory and Benigno, Jr.), and now Rodrigo Duterte have to be viewed through these prisms. U.S. diplomacy during the 1970s and into the fall of Marcos in 1986, seen and executed from inside the American embassy in Manila and then the Philippines Desk at the State Department in Washington, will provide that look, to be followed by a review of bilateral ties to the present.


Professor Of Art History, School Of Art & Design, Northern Illinois University

“Sacred Spaces, The Art Of Merit Making And The Trans Asian Trade: Looking Beyond The Glass Of Buddhist Mainland Southeast Asia”

Reverse Glass Paintings —which in Myanmar/Burma particularly, flourished in the mid-19th century— are proving a fascinating, yet a comparatively-unknown aspect of Southeast Asian artistic traditions. Originally of European provenance, these exotic productions in luminous colors were re-created by Chinese and Indian artists who had been introduced to this medium by Jesuit missionaries. Much admired by royal patrons, and later by prosperous landowners and city merchants during the colonial period, Reverse Glass Paintings became favored within mainland Southeast Asia as sacred objects for Buddhist merit-making, delineating sacred places. This vanishing art came to play a notable role in the trans-Asian trade: both between Europeans and Asian courts; and directly between China and India. Our 2014-2017 field research explored how artisans within the Chinese diaspora spread an emerging tradition of Reverse Glass Painting as a medium especially suitable for religious iconography across South and Southeast Asia.


Professor Of Asian And African Studies, Colegio De Mexico

Transnationalizing Buddhism: Cambodian Temples, Student Monks, And Pilgrims In Sri Lanka And India

When socialist restrictions on Cambodian Buddhism were loosened in the early 1990s, Cambodian monks began traveling to Sri Lanka and India, as well as other Buddhist countries, to study. Eventually a pattern emerged where the study of many young monks was supported by individual sponsors from Cambodia or, more commonly, the Cambodian diaspora communities of Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. This corresponded with the growing phenomenon of Cambodian groups going as pilgrims/religious tourists to the two South Asian countries in trips organized by Cambodian monks and prominent lay figures. Pilgrims, in turn, sometimes became sponsors of student monks or publicied their need for sponsorship. These trips, and the videos generated by them, would also generate support for projects to build Cambodian-style temples in India and Sri Lanka; most of the Indian temples were close to sacred Buddhist sites. The talk offesr an overview of these interrelated processes and explores the negotiation of religious and national identities taking place among Cambodian and South Asian actors.


Assistant Professor Of Political Science, Department Chair Of Russian, Central, And East European Studies, Grinnell College

“Religious Practice And Political Participation In Indonesia: Is There A Link?”

Religion has a longstanding role in Indonesian public life, with religious organizations serving as important actors in the political realm, including the country’s democratization efforts. Yet, since the end of authoritarian rule in 1998, increased freedom of speech and a strengthening of political rights have contribute to an increased politicization of religion and rising tensions between the limits of religious tolerance. What is the connection between religious practice and political participation? This project examines the role of houses of worship in facilitating political participation among Indonesian Christians and Muslims. Drawing on participant observation of over 350 worship and non-worship gatherings in eight Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic religious communities in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, as well as interviews with members of these communities and an original survey, this project investigates several key questions: 1) what opportunities exist for members of Indonesian worship communities to develop and practice the civic skills that are believed to facilitate political participation? 2) are individuals exposed to political messages in their houses of worship? and 3) is there observable variation across religious denominations regarding the intersection of religious practice and political opportunity? Research findings show that mosques are less likely to develop civic skills among their worshippers than are churches, but are also more likely to use religious spaces for political communication. These findings have important implications for the interaction between democracy and religion in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.


Assistant Professor, History Department, University Of Wisconsin-Whitewater

“Disenchanted: American Cold War Missions In Thailand Through The Stories Of The Young Family”

Oliver Gordon Young was a son of American Baptist missionary who had served the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the 1950s and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the 1960s in Thailand. He left Thailand in 1974 with disenchantment of his missions while his father and younger brother who had shared similar working experiences remained in Thailand. Based on personal correspondences, archival and field researches, this presentation will examine the Young family’s missions in Thailand during the Cold War. The stories of the Young family will elucidate indigenizing nature of the American Cold War and innate limitation of the U.S. foreign policymaking establishment for comprehending the consequence of collaboration with the local Thai ruling elites.


Doctoral Candidate, Maxwell School Of Citizenship And Public Affairs, Syracuse University

“Reshuffling The Deck? Organizational Evolution, Officer Promotion, And Military Reform In Post-Authoritarian Indonesia”

The process of reforming the Indonesian military is essential to the post-authoritarian democratic consolidation process. Since 1998, some reform policies (e.g. disbanding the dual-function doctrine) were successfully undertaken while others fell by the wayside (e.g. dismantling the territorial command structure). Recently under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the military has been re-inserting itself into non-military duties. Its generals, meanwhile, have been exhibiting conservative and political tendencies while proposing antiquated notions of ‘state defense.’ Scholars have seized on these regressive behaviors as yet another sign of Indonesia’s growing ‘illiberal turn.’ Contrary to this argument, this presentation provides an organizational perspective of the military reform process. It focuses specifically personnel policies and how officers rise and rotate through the ranks. Drawing from dozens of organizational documents and a new empirical dataset of 1,863 senior officers, it demonstrates how officer promotional logjams—too  many officers but too few positions available—have taken place over the past decade with broad institutional and political ramifications. More broadly, the presentation will highlight the promises and pitfalls of relying on a ‘democratic liberal’ lens in understanding contemporary civil-military relations in Indonesia.

*Co-sponsored by the Indonesian Student Association (PERMIAS).

Fall 2018

September 7, 2018

Open Forum on ASEAN

Consul General Rosmawalit Chalid, Republic of Indonesia


September 14, 2018


Doug Hulcher, Asia Director, Minors


September 21, 2018

Who Belongs to the New Myanmar? Islamophobia and Other Buddhist Sentiments in the Digital Age

Juliane Schober, Professor of Religious Studies, Arizona State University



September 28, 2018

The Prosecution of Dictators in Thailand

Tyrell Haberkorn, Associate Professor of Southeast Asian Studies, UW-Madison Department of Asian Languages and Cultures


October 5, 2018

CSEAS Meet and Greet for Students

CSEAS Meet and Greet


October 12, 2018

Development and Impact of the Thai Military’s Political Offensive

Puangthong Pawakapan, Associate Professor of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University; and Visiting Fellow, Harvard Yenching Institute

Puangthong Pawakapan


October 19, 2018

How did Angkor become Angkor? Conceptualizing the rise of the Khmer Empire (9th to 15th c. CE), Cambodia

Mitch Hendrickson, Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Illinois at Chicago

Friday Forum Mitch Hendrickson Angkor


October 26, 2018

Koh Ker: The 10th Century Angkorian Capital City of Jayavarman IV and His Son, Harshavarman II

Darith Ea, Visiting Professor, Cornell University; Deputy Director,  Angkor International Center for Research and Documentation, Apsara Authority, Cambodia

Darith Ea Flyer


November 2, 2018

The New Spectrum of Islamism in Malaysia and Indonesia

Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, Associate Professor, Nanyang Technological University


November 9, 2018

Problems of Thai Democracy and Prospects for an Election in February 2019

Tanet Charoenmuang, Professor of Political Science

Tanet Charoenmuang


November 16, 2018

Gender Discourse in Indonesian Islam

Nina Nurmila, Professor of Gender and Islamic Studies, State Islamic University (UIN) Bandung; and Commissioner of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan)


November 30, 2018

Mobilizing Through Regional Anchors: Chao Suan Yang in Southern Thailand Respond to Falling Rubber Prices

Will Shattuck, Doctoral Candidate, UW-Madison Department of Geography

Will Shattuck Rev


December 7, 2018

Vietnam’s Bumpy Road to Economic Renovation or Doi Moi in 1986

Kosal Path, Assistant Professor of Political Science, City University of New York

Kosal Path

Fall 2019


Harrington Professor Of History, UW-Madison

“Beyond Empires: The Succession From  Washington’s World Order To Beijing’s Global System”

After a decade of debate, the current consensus among academics and policy makers in the Boston-Washington corridor of power is that U.S. global power is fading but its liberal world order of international organizations governed by the rule of law will almost certainly survive. That confident assumption rests upon a limited understanding about the nature of world orders and the historic conditions for their ascent and eclipse. Indeed, the discovery of world orders as a level of global power apart and above the empires that create them represents a significant departure in the study of international history.

Despite their aura of awe-inspiring power, empires are often ephemeral creations of an individual conqueror that fade fast after his death or defeat. World orders are, by contrast, deeply rooted global systems created by a convergence of economic, technological, ideological, and geopolitical forces. To uproot such a deeply embedded global system takes an extraordinary event, even a catastrophe.

Looking back over the last millennium, new world orders seem to arise when a cataclysm, marked by mass death or a maelstrom of destruction, coincides with some slower yet sweeping social transformation. Since the age of exploration started in the fifteenth century, some 90 empires, large and small, have come and gone. But in these same 600 years, there have been only three major world orders—the Iberian age (1494-1805), the British imperial era (1815-1914), and the Washington world system (1944-circa 2030). By the middle of this century, if not before, global warming has the potential to equal if not surpass past catastrophes, potentially creating conditions for the fading of Washington’s world order and the rise of Beijing’s global system.


Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, Indiana University – Bloomington

 ‘Your Question Doesn’t Make Sense’: How Southeast Asia Complicates U.S. Teaching About World Religions

Most U.S. students learn about “major world religions” as part of social studies in middle or high school, but the curriculum typically focuses on similarities among religions—beliefs, holy books, founders, places of worship, and so on. This model is derived from a Judeo-Christian-Islamic model, but it has limited relevance to other religious traditions. Southeast Asia in particular represents a challenge to how religion is taught in the United States: Beliefs are not as central to many religions there, there may be no systematic body of theology, and the boundaries between religions are not always distinct. Drawing from experience in Singapore and other parts of Asia, this talk highlights ways in which U.S. educators are frequently constrained by their own cultural backgrounds and how they may unwittingly convey misleading depictions of specific religions and of the nature of religion itself.


Professor of History, University Of California – Los Angeles

 “The Mass Killings of 1965-66 in Indonesia: Questions of Responsibility”

Long ignored or deliberately misrepresented, the mass killing of some 500,000 Indonesian communists and leftists in 1965-66 has recently become the focus of serious historical inquiry. Among those who have undertaken this work is historian Geoffrey Robinson whose new book, The Killing Season, challenges conventional narratives that portray the violence of 1965-66 as arising spontaneously from religious, cultural, and social conflicts. Robinson argues instead that the violence was the product of a deliberate campaign led by the Indonesian Army, and explores the principal dynamics of that campaign. He also details the pivotal role played by the United States, Britain, and other major powers in facilitating the violence. The paper concludes with reflections on the significance of this history for the more than 50 years of silence and inaction that has followed, and for the pressing current problem of impunity for the perpetrators of those crimes.


Research Director for East-West Center, University Of Hawaii-Manoa
Lecture Co-Sponsored By the Department Of Geography

Expansion of Rubber and Its Implications for Landscapes and Rural Communities in Mainland Southeast Asia

Since about 2000, large-scale investments in land for plantation crops have become a major driver of change in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. This project began with mapping the expansion of rubber plantations across the region and then examined land use in the context of labor and capital, the national and local policies that permit the development of large-scale plantations and the impact of land-use change on rural livelihoods. The project points out the need to develop a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of land-use changes and their implications for the broader landscape and rural communities.

Jefferson Fox is a Senior Fellow in the Research Program at the East-West Center. He previously served as the Director of Research. He conducts research on land-use and land-cover changes in Asia and the impact of these changes on the region and the global environment. Other areas of study include resource-management systems and land-cover transitions in Montane Mainland Southeast Asia—their role in altering regional hydrological processes under a changing climate; the ethics, values, and practice of spatial information technology and society; and natural resources and violent ethnic conflict in the Asia Pacific region. He holds a Ph.D. in development studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Doctoral Candidate in the Department Of Geography, University Of Wisconsin-Madison

“The Construction of Othering: The Study of Migrant Workers from Myanmar in Thailand”

Migration is seen as a crisis, a problem and a threat. Some scholars see it as a problem based on the discourse of fear. For securing society, migrants have to be divided into good and bad circulations. On the one hand, migrants are an important factor driving some national economies. On the other hand, some migrants are seen as harmful to national security. Some have diseases. Some become criminals. But most of them are seen as a danger to the homogeneity of the people in the host country, and thus endanger the image of the state. Therefore, migration is an important issue to study and to understand, including problems related to migration and ways to solve those problems. Accordingly, to understand issues related to migration, my research seeks to investigate the migrant workers from Myanmar’ lives in Thailand, specifically those who live in the Mahachai area of Samut Sakhon Province. The Mahachai area is well known for supporting the largest Burmese community in Thailand. The research will investigate the boundaries between the migrant workers from Myanmar and native-born people in this area. My project is shaped by concepts related to labor geographies, managers of unease, identities and performative bordering practices.

The research illustrates the stories of the migrant workers from Myanmar in three main points. First, it talks about how social networks, policies, job opportunities and incomes, social and cultural preference and brokers and accessibility made Mahachai became a biggest Burmese labor market where the migrant workers are easier to be constructed as others and be exploited in Thailand. Secondly, I describe how Thai state, local officials and security professionals (based on the idea of managers of unease from Bigo) view and manage the migrant workers from Myanmar in the Mahachai area. Third, I illustrate the relationships among the migrant workers from Myanmar and native-born workers in a factory. How do those workers shift their identities to be part of other groups in the factory? In this research, I use participant observation, interviews, autoethnography and archival research as my main research methodologies.

October 11, 2019 – JANET STEELE

Professor of Media And Public Affairs And International Affairs, Director of the Institute For Public Diplomacy And Global Communication, George Washington University

The Journalisms Of Islam: Contending Views In Muslim Southeast Asia

What is Islamic journalism? It depends on where you stand. In Indonesia or Malaysia, journalism and Islam can have many different faces. At Sabili, an Indonesian Islamist magazine first established as an underground publication, journalists were hired for their ability at dakwah, or Islamic propagation. They believed that the solution to the ills of modern society lies in sharia, the law laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet Mohammad in the seventh century. At Tempo on the other hand, a weekly Indonesian news magazine that was banned by the Soeharto regime and returned to print in 1998, journalists don’t talk much about sharia. Although many are pious and see their work as a manifestation of worship, the Islam they practice has been described as cosmopolitan, progressive, and even liberal. Does Islamic journalism require that reporters support an Islamic party as they do at Harakah newspaper in Malaysia? Or is it more important to practice the kind of substantial Islam promoted by the Indonesian newspaper Republika? What about Muslim journalists who work at secular news organization such as Malaysiakini? Journalists at these five news organizations in one of the world’s most populous Muslim regions draw upon what are arguably universal principles of journalism, but understand and explain them through the lens of what I call an Islamic idiom. What they say about the meaning of their work suggests a richness of experience that has been overlooked by both scholars and those engaged in international affairs.


Department Of Political Science, Thammasat University, Thailand

Fragile Authoritarianism and State Violence in Thailand: Radical Ideology, Elite Conflict and Repression

Essentially state is defined as the organization that successfully controls the legitimate use of coercive force. The legitimization of state violence is thus a critical topic to understand the operation of the state. Nevertheless, this topic has been understudied by scholars in Thai studies. This presentation aims to investigate the way the Thai state makes an attempt to justify its use of force against its own citizen throughout modern history from the Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat era to the present. The better understanding of the inner logic, process, practice as well as limits of the legitimization of state violence is significant to an attempt to end pattern of state violence in Thailand. The discourse of official nationalism- nation, religion, and king- seems to be repeatedly employed in time of crisis to silence the dissenting voice and legitimize the ensuing use of force by the state in violently suppressing the dissidents. Moreover, the official discourse, subscribed by a conservative segment of the population, plays a crucial role in cultivating the culture of impunity. For many Thais, it seems to be legitimate or even a duty for the state to deploy violence to protect their beloved and worshiped entities. The noble acts of preventing the disintegration of “fatherland” in Thai body politics do not tolerate non-compliance. During the critical “period of transition,” the reflection on the use of force by Thai state and its legitimation is timely.


Doctoral Candidate, Department Of Anthropology, UW-Madison

Thep Thanchai and Religious Acceleration in Thailand


Thep Thanchai means a responsive god who grants a wish quickly. The title specifically refers to Bo Bo Gyi, the Burmese guardian god, the protector of the Buddha’s relics, whose shrine in Yangon has been the highlight among the sacred sites in the tour package for the Thai tourists. This paper traces the emergence of the cult of Thep Thanchai and its connection with Thai current religious climate. The rise of Thep Thanchai not only marked the dramatic change of Thai pilgrimage tourism to Myanmar but also revealed the role of the informal Thai-Burmese sangha linkage and the Burmese migrant communities in Thailand in facilitating the trans-border tourism and the transference of Burmese Buddhism to Thailand.

The cult of Thep Thanchai popularizes the sense of punctuality in propitiation. After the boom of Thep Thanchai in Myanmar, many replicas of the god were enshrined in Thai temples while other Buddhist cults adopted the discourse of speed to attract clients. Thep Thanchai cult responded to the increase of everyday life pace driven by politico-economic constraints and precarity of late modernity while accelerating the demand for magical speed, reflecting the current trend of Thai practical Buddhism in which instantaneity and efficiency have become part of the Thai spiritual consumption.

November 1, 2019 – KAAN JITTIANG

Ph.D. Candidate, Department Of Sociology, University Of Wisconsin-Madison

“Balancing Security and Humanitarianism”: Thai Responses to Urban Refugees


In recent decades, the rising number of urban forcibly displaced persons—people who have left their country of origin due to fear of persecution to seek refuge in another country’s urban settings—has become a pressing global phenomenon. Thailand hosts a significant number of these populations; as one of a handful of countries in the global south considered a safe ‘transit country,’ this study investigates how the regime governing urban forcibly displaced persons in Thailand has emerged and developed. I argue that Thailand’s regime governing urban forcibly displaced persons grew out of the legacy of the Thai forced migration management during the Cold War, based on a principle of “balancing security and humanitarianism”—framing of forced migration as a national security issue, but also acknowledging the international pressure on Thailand to provide humanitarian assistance for forcibly displaced persons. The attempt to strike a balance between both principles has produced an unspoken dual-track management system for those seeking asylum in Thailand’s urban areas, which allows the Royal Thai Government to speak a humanitarian language while pursuing measures that aim at safeguarding Thailand’s national security interests.

November 8, 2019 – Research Panel

The Challenges of Researching Violence and Terror: Faculty Conversation with Graduate Students

This week’s Friday Forum event is a conversation between graduate students and UW-Madison faculty members who have conducted difficult, sometimes dangerous, research that often has entailed close examination of deeply troubling topics. Scholars across many fields encounter similar challenges, but the skills required to overcome them are often difficult to learn without hearing from veteran researchers who have succeeded in such work.

Panelists: UW-Madison professors Thierry Cruvellier, Tyrell Haberkorn, and Alfred McCoy

November 15, 2019 – INGRID JORDT

Associate Professor of Anthropology, UW-Milwaukee

“Why ‘Democracy,’ ‘Authoritarianism,’ Or ‘Nationalism’ Fail To Explain Burmese Politics Today, And Why It Matters”

International scholarly and journalistic observers have, with few exceptions, settled on a narrative of democratic transition in Myanmar that fit global and especially Euro-American political frames for understanding late-joiners to the international order. Overthrowing authoritarian oppression has been the dominant interpretive framework for Myanmar. Initial assumptions that Buddhism was a double for liberal universal human rights, secular tolerance and peaceful social evolution through the mechanism of the market was part of the freighted postulation that outside observers conveyed when they employed terms such as “democracy”, “authoritarianism” and “nationalism” to the Myanmar context.

In this talk, Dr. Jordt analyzes Myanmar’s re-entry into world politics after more than half a century of political, economic and cultural isolation. Drawing on diagnostic cases of popular protest and state responses to them, including the ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, she explains how domestic anti-military protests have mutated into a broader battle against outside enemies to the religion and the nation. Populous protests and the civilian and military governments’ responses are locations from which to perceive how a broad swath of Buddhist Burmese meaningfully confront established and emergent political and religious hierarchies and arrangements in pursuit of a system of moral order that is Buddhist and Burman.

November 22, 2019 – JASON DEPARLE­

Two-Time Pulitzer Prize-Nominated Reporter for The New York Times

“A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century”

No issue is more polarizing in American life than immigration, and no issue in greater need of a perspective that goes beyond the day’s headline. On November 22, Jason DeParle will discuss his newest book, A Good Provider is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century — a sweeping, deeply reported tale of international migration that hopscotches from the Philippines through the Middle East, Europe, and eventually the United States.

As a young reporter in the 1980s, DeParle moved in with a family in a Manila shantytown and then spent three decades following their story as members moved from the slums of Manila to Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, and finally to the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Through the family’s multigenerational saga, his book tells the larger story of global migration — a force remaking economics, politics, and culture across the world.

At the heart of the story is an unlikely heroine, Rosalie Villanueva, whose sacrifices rescue the clan from abject poverty. A 15-year-old school girl when DeParle met her, she is now a 47-year-old nurse and mother of three Americanizing kids.

While the politics of immigration are broken, DeParle shows that immigration itself—tens of millions of people gathered from every corner of the world—remains an under-appreciated American success. Weaving narrative and analysis, DeParle reports on migration from places as far flung as Ireland, Cape Verde, and Nepal, and traces its impact on events as disparate as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. The story he tells is neither a knee-jerk defense of immigration nor an attack on it, but a deeply humanized portrait of its costs and rewards.

December 6, 2019 ILLAN NAM

Associate Professor of Political Science, Director of The Lampert Institute, Colgate University

“Making The State Work: Delivering Social Goods In Thailand”

Among states in East and Southeast Asia, the Thai state is an example of neither resounding success nor failure. Instead, it long has occupied intermediate ground as a middling performer. Despite anxieties that upgrading the state is imperative, especially to serve Thailand’s developmental aims, efforts to remake the bureaucracy have met with mixed success. This project examines the trajectory of sweeping reforms to the Thai bureaucracy’s two largest agencies – the health and education ministries – and argues that reform success takes place when agency insiders spearhead the movement.

Fall 2020


Professor of Agricultural & Applied Economics
University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Southeast Asia in the Western Pacific Century: from Plaza Accord to the Double Pandemic — and Beyond”

For two generations Southeast Asia’s economies have attained rates of economic growth that are the envy of the developing world, and surpassed only by China. Much of this growth stemmed from their high and/or enhanced integration into a dynamically expanding world trading system. Increasingly this integration occurred within a Western Pacific regional network of shared production and investment, as part of which NE Asian booms spilled over into SE Asian growth.

In the 21st century the global economy has staggered from financial crisis to protectionism and (now) the Covid-19 recession. Each of these has reinforced the internal E/SE Asian economic system relative to links with global (and especially North American) markets. Do these global trends indicate that trade-dependence is no longer the right strategy for SE Asia? How will the region’s increasing integration with China and NE Asia affect its development possibilities? What will the latest blow, the new coronavirus pandemic, mean for the region’s efforts to sustain economic growth and poverty alleviation?


Associate Professor of Geography
Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Rise of the Brao: Ethnic Minorities in Northeastern Cambodia during Vietnamese Occupation”

Watch a video of the talk here.

For many Cambodians, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) period of the 1980s is seen as a time of intense civil war, international isolation, and Vietnamese occupation: a dark period. In this presentation, which is based on my new book, Rise of the Brao: Ethnic Minorities in Northeastern Cambodia during Vietnamese Occupation, I explain the circumstances that led many ethnic Brao Amba people to join the Khmer Rouge in the 1960s. I also outline the events that resulted in most of the Brao in Taveng District, Ratanakiri Province—as well as some other ethnic minorities—turning against the Khmer Rouge, and fleeing to become political refugees in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and southern Laos in 1975. I then briefly explain the deterioration of relations between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam, and how the refugees from Cambodia were organized into a fighting force designed to assist and especially legitimize the Vietnamese in removing the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979. For the Brao, the 1980s represented a kind of “golden age”, as their loyalty to Vietnam resulted in them being appointed to the highest positions in the government and military in northeastern Cambodia. Finally, I consider how Brao people evaluate the PRK period compared with present-day circumstances. Until recently, most modern histories related to Cambodia have been centered in the capital city of Phnom Penh. This research demonstrates the need to decenter Cambodian history and focus on what I call “marginal histories”, histories that are not marginal due to being unimportant, but rather because they are not geographically centrally focused.


Professor of Southeast Asian Studies
Department of Asian Languages and Cultures
University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Drafting Justice: Jurisprudence and the Struggle to End Dictatorship in Thailand”

Watch a video of the talk here.

On 22 May 2014, a military junta calling itself the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) launched a coup and ousted the elected government in Thailand. When the NCPO launched the coup, they promised to restore the rule of law after ten years of political conflict but their regime instead undermined its most fundamental principles. The NCPO employed the arbitrary, disproportionate and politicized use of law to violate the rights of civilians, facilitate extrajudicial violence, and guarantee impunity for the coup and subsequent crimes. Justice, long tenuous in Thailand, disappeared entirely for those deemed to be enemies of the junta.  On 16 July 2019, the NCPO formally ceased to exist when a new civilian cabinet was sworn in following a national election, yet a post-NCPO military-monarchy alliance still continued to exercise significant power and obstruct democracy. Within the past few months, sustained streets protests have called this anti-democratic alliance into question and the conditions of possibility for a transition to democracy are as strong as they have been in decades. This talk takes a transformative protest on 10 August 2020 and a possible transition as a point of departure from which to reflect on how the past six years of dictatorship might be redressed and justice forged. Inspired by feminist court decision rewriting projects, the paper revisits a series of cases in which the court adjudicated in favor of the coup and the abrogation of the people’s rights.  Plotting alternative logics, interpretation of evidence and conclusions  — a jurisprudence of accountability — is a way to at once imagine what justice might look like and assess the depth of legal, social, and political transformation necessary to make it real.


Associate Professor of Anthropology
Northeastern University

“Trust, Theft, and Risk in Jakarta”

Watch a video of the talk here.

This paper describes the complex landscape of trust, credit, and finance in Jakarta’s new economy from the perspective of ordinary Indonesians who feel simultaneously empowered and constantly defrauded. Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, is considered the infrastructural and economic laboratory for Indonesia’s new economy. As e-commerce and financial technologies alter consumption patterns and shape the urban aspirations for millions of Indonesians, the risks and advantages associated with increased financialization have had a profound impact on ordinary citizens. Indonesians are increasingly drawn into minor transactions that habituate and concretize the practice of speculative consumption and trust-based interactions with anonymous strangers. Yet the financialization of everyday life has also yielded victims of financial fraud and deceit, in particular through scams (modus) that rely on legal and regulatory gaps to succeed. Tracking the connections between speculation and fraud, this talk analyzes the hidden points of vulnerability in celebratory narratives of financial innovation and economic growth and explores the reasons why Indonesians often feel defrauded by a boom economy.

Doreen Lee is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Northeastern University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociocultural Anthropology from Cornell University. Her first book Activist Archives: Youth Culture and the Political Past in Indonesia examines the strong tradition of youth activism in 20th-century Indonesian politics through a cultural, urban, and historical lens. Activist Archives was awarded the 2019 Benda Prize in Southeast Asian studies from the Association of Asian Studies. Her current research focuses on urban precarity and grassroots economies in Jakarta, Indonesia.


Research Assistant Professor
Division of Social Science
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

“Sovereign Debt in The Making: Financial Entanglements and Labor Politics Along the Belt Road in Laos”

Watch a video of the talk here.

This talk examines the contingent and contentious processes through which debt is created to finance major infrastructure projects. I contend that practices aimed at structuring credit relations into debt-financed projects often have important, unexpected, and underrecognized implications on the ground. My argument is illustrated through an analysis of the cascading impacts resulting from the making of a China–Lao sovereign debt agreement to fund the trans-Laos railway, an infrastructure project that is part of the broader Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The failure of the government to deliver the promised credit on time had multiscalar financial ramifications. Chinese enterprises that had been contracted to implement the railway were coerced into funding construction themselves, and the ensuing financial turmoil exacerbated the exploitative conditions experienced by construction laborers. As Lao laborers sought to resist exploitation in the form of delayed and denied wage payments, they were gradually substituted by their more vulnerable Chinese counterparts. Dynamics in the making of BRI-induced Lao sovereign debt therefore rendered some perceived beneficiaries of the interstate financial arrangement, such as Chinese enterprises and workers, its victims. I argue that the contradictory realities of this high-profile financial deal demonstrate the need for more grounded inquiries into the politics of sovereign debt making.


Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of California-Los Angeles

“Engaged Archaeology: Knowledge Co-production in Ifugao, Philippines”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Some related resources:

The Old Kiyyangan Story

Saving Ifugao Weaving

How do scholars approach community-engaged research? Why is there a need to involve community stakeholders in research? What happens when communities engage scholars and invest in the research process? Archaeological practice in Southeast Asia is increasingly recognizing the importance of active engagement with local stakeholders. A growing number of investigations actively seek the involvement of communities as both contributors and as active and involved research participants. This undertaking humanizes our community partners and counters the exclusivity often associated with the authority of scholarship. An example of this successful collaboration is the emergence of the Ifugao Community Heritage Galleries, which now serve as the Indigenous Peoples Education Center in the region. The involvement of the community in the Ifugao Archaeological Project spurred the investment of the community in conserving and safeguarding their heritage. In this presentation, I argue that vigorous community engagement provides venues for learning and unlearning histories and empowers marginalized peoples. I also present how recent archaeological data force the rethinking of history and subsequently empowering descendant communities to take control of their history and heritage. I describe the establishment of the Ifugao heritage galleries as an example of museums becoming areas of contestations and emphasise the fact that no one has the monopoly on the creation of knowledge.

Stephen Acabado is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. His archaeological investigations in Ifugao, northern Philippines, have established the recent origins of the Cordillera Rice Terraces, which were once known to be at least 2,000 years old. Dr. Acabado directs the Bicol and Ifugao Archaeological Projects and co-directs the Taiwan Indigenous Landscape and History Project. He is a strong advocate of an engaged archaeology where descendant communities are involved in the research process.

Co-sponsored by the Archaeology Brownbag Series.


Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
Purdue University

“Postcolonial Anxieties: Two Stories from the Town of Dollars, Philippines”

Watch a video of the talk here.

In a recent opinion piece, I argued that attitudes of anti-Blackness among people of color such as Filipinos are linked to the formation of a consciousness that is rooted in discourses that privilege whiteness and that dehumanize the other. In this talk, I expand my arguments by introducing two stories from my own ethnography, which illustrate colorism in both the mundane and spectacular dimensions of daily life in my hometown in the Philippines. The first story is a scene from my film titled “Restless,” a documentation of my mother’s application for a US tourist visa, which illuminates insecurities related to a process that Frantz Fanon calls “epidermalization” – an inferiority complex related to skin color wrought by the colonial encounter. In the second story, I introduce the most significant monument in my hometown located at its heart, which I pair with the town’s foundation narrative that is affirmed in the collective memory during the annual town festival. Through this pairing, I trace the genealogies of colorism and anti-Blackness that reverberate in daily life in my hometown in the Philippines. These insecurities are nestled and cultivated for centuries, to the effect that now the formerly colonized peoples are still expected to seek a path that takes them closer to whiteness as a civilizational goal.

Dada Docot is a visual and cultural anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology at Purdue University whose research focuses on her hometown in the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora. Using both academic and public-facing spaces and multimedia, she contributes to the expansion of conversations on the postcolonial condition that is fatigued by multiple histories of colonization, enduring precarity, and growing global inequality. She can be seen on Twitter @dadadocot.


Visiting Associate
Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies 
University of Michigan
Overseas Postdoctoral Fellow
National University of Singapore

“Making States, Claiming Subjects: The Politics of Religious Conversions in British Malaya”

Watch a video of the talk here.

In the aftermath of the Great War, growing imperial anxieties over pan-Islamic and anti-colonial movements led to major reorganization in British Malaya. Dominant scholarship shows how imperial reform pushed for decentralization so as to grant more autonomy to the native states, obscuring the equally urgent impulse for the harried empire to reinforce order across its colonies. Uncovering administrative reports from the colonial archives, I show how concerns over religious conversions gained prominence for the expanding colonial administration at this time. I argue that state-making in late empire was selective and centered on classifying and claiming subjects, which had the effect of reinforcing the administration of religious laws and strengthening the religious bureaucracy. I explore how (re)ordering power and state law in late empire precipitated the roots of ethno-religious nationalism in the Malay states.


Universitas Kristen Indonesia

“Development, Marginalization, and Disintegration in Papua”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Located in eastern Indonesia, Papua boasts a wide variety of landscapes, communities and customs, all woven into a long history of domination and resistance. This talk focuses on the state-led development projects undertaken in the last decade to outline how these have both exacerbated and created new rifts within the social fabric, causing marginalization and disintegration of communities. Development projects in Papua, such as the expansion of monocrop plantations and the construction of Trans-Papua Highway, are notorious for land-grab practices and their exclusionary economies that rely of transmigrant labour. As a result, local communities are dispossessed of customary lands and deprived of healthcare, education and employment opportunities. Furthermore, another critical consequence of these dynamics of dispossession and alienation is the increasing socio-political disintegration and fractionalization of Papuan communities, which radically diminishes prospects of resistance and justice.