Friday Forum Lecture Archive

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Spring 2021


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

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

Watch a video of the talk here.

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

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

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


Professor Emeritus
Colorado Mesa University

“Malaysian Politics: State of Play”

Watch a video of the talk here.

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


Professor Emeritus
Colorado Mesa University

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

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


Journalist and Author of The Jakarta Method

“Mass Murder and U.S. Hegemony”

Watch a video of the talk here.

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

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

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

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


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

“Vietnam’s Responsive-Repressive Regime”

Watch a video of the talk here.

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


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

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

Watch a video of the talk here.

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


Assistant Professor
Department of History
Baruch College-CUNY

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

Watch a video of the talk here.

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


Author of Thai Cinema Uncensored

“Politics and Ideology of Thai Film Censorship”

Watch a video of the talk here.

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


Associate Professor
School of Communication & Multimedia Studies
Florida Atlantic University

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

Watch a video of the talk here.

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


“Far Right Regimes: A Global Comparison”

Watch a video of the talk here.

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

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


Research Associate
Institute of Archaeology
University College London

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

Watch a video of the talk here.

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

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

Co-sponsored by the Archaeology Brown Bag Lecture Series.


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

“The Jurisprudence of Torture in Thailand”

Watch a video of the talk here.

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


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

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

Watch a video of the talk here.

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

Co-sponsored by the Archaeology Brown Bag Lecture Series.

Spring 2022


Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor

Department of Anthropology

“Eunuchs in Southeast Asia: Of Matrilineality and Theravada Buddhist Harems”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Compared to other Asian courts, eunuchs were relatively absent in Southeast Asian courts. Given the close association of eunuchs with Chinese and Muslim harems, this essay considers the role of eunuchs in the Theravada Buddhist courts of mainland Southeast Asia. Focusing on Burma and Thailand, the evidence suggests that eunuchs were imported from castration centers embedded in global trade networks, rose in numbers primarily during the seventeenth century but declined thereafter, and their roles supported rulers but did not include policing harems. That eunuchs were few in number, imported, relatively temporary, and did not police harems suggests that the political logic of Theravada Buddhist courts was different from Chinese and Muslim courts due both to the influence of Theravada Buddhism and matrilineality. Because matrilineality was widespread across Southeast Asia, the presentation will conclude by suggesting that the insights from the analysis of Theravada Buddhist kingdoms shed light on the relative absence of eunuchs from Southeast Asian kingdoms more broadly.


Wilson Center China Fellow

Assistant Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology
University of Oklahoma

“Beloved Technologies: Entangled relations in a Cambodian minefield”

My fieldwork confronted me with two technologies- bombs and rats. Both were integral to understanding relations in the aftermath of war—that, in fact, these relations were transformed not only by the humans but by the nonhumans who actively disarmed the land, namely, landmine detection rats. Fears of militarism became disrupted when a rat came into the minefield. The rat itself provoked feelings of love between human deminers. The rat, as landmine detection technology and a being, helped to alter feelings of war that the bombs perpetuated. I soon began to realize that this had implications for how trauma and healing, ecological relations, and transitional justice, all of which I found to be entangled.


Postdoctoral Fellow

Georgetown University

#Papuanlivesmatter: Black Consciousness and Political Movements in Indonesia

Watch a video of the talk here.

After the brutal killing of George Floyd sparked antiracism protests worldwide, Black youth organized protests in West Papua, Indonesia’s marginalized and easternmost region. In 2019, Papuans protested against entrenched racism in Indonesian society, when Papuan students in Java were subjected to racist epithets. Since then, Papuans have used the hashtag #Papuanlivesmatter to articulate their connection with broader antiracism protests across the world and bring the Papuan experience to #BlackLivesMatter movements. While global Black political movements have long shaped Papuan identities, the new Papuan Lives Matter movement shows how digital media have played an influential role in the spread of antiracism protests and how Blackness has been understood and articulated not only in relation to white supremacy but also to postcolonial claims of multiculturalism in Asian societies. This presentation discusses the specific context in which protests under Papuan Lives Matter emerged and its relationship with the global Black Lives Matter movements. This presentation also explores the idea of Blackness in West Papua that stems not only from the influence of and conversation with American Black political movements and African liberation movements but also lived experience as a Black people under Indonesian occupation.


PhD Candidate in History

Cornell University

This Friday Forum was a teaching demonstration by History job candidate Juan Fernandez.


PhD Candidate

School of Journalism & Mass Communication

“Feminization of Truth-Telling Professions? Journalism and Documentary Filmmaking in the Philippines”*

*Based on a paper co-authored with Grace Pimentel Simbulan.

This presentation concretizes the notion that truth is gendered by examining how the credibility of women-led truth-telling professions is undermined through sexist and misogynistic attacks. Analysis of this phenomenon is grounded in the Philippines, where journalism has been dominated by women since the 1970s and critically acclaimed documentaries have been largely produced by women filmmakers. In tracing how gender stereotypes and segregation in these occupations become the base for devaluing truth-telling, this talk raises the question of whether journalism and documentary filmmaking have also become “feminized” — in a pejorative sense. Despite such attacks, women journalists and documentarians persist and find ways to perform their truth-telling functions to the public.


Dis. Faculty Associate of History

Associate Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies

“Kinsa si Juan Diyong? Historicizing the 1815 Uprising in Cebu”

Watch a video of the talk here.

This paper is an analysis of a unique civil disturbance that took place in Cebu Province in 1815, led by a little-known resident of a large village on the southeast coast of the island. It explores the historical circumstances of this outbreak and places it in a particular period of regional history.


Ph.D. (Linguistics)

Professor in the Dept. of ELAP, Linguistics and Communication Studies
Montgomery College (Rockville, Maryland)

“Southeast Asian Ethnohistory through Historical Linguistics and Archaeology – Contributions and Limits of Lexical Data”

Watch a video of the talk here.

The goal of this talk is to present ways in which historical linguistics in greater Southeast Asia can benefit from and aid in research in archaeology and ethnohistory broadly. Southeast Asia (aka Indo-China) is known for its complex sociocultural mixing during waves of incoming groups through both settlements and trade from the Neolithic period into the era of SEAsian kingdoms. Exploration of cultural domains through proto-language lexical reconstructions, combined with information gleaned from historical phonology and research on language contact and loanwords, can provide insights into regional ethnohistory. There are, of course, limits to such data, but it is also to the detriment of ethnohistorical and ethnoarchaeological research to ignore what linguistic data has to offer. This presentation will cover the following: (a) key aspects, data (e.g., digital databases), and methods (e.g., the requirement of recurring phonological patterns) of SEASian historical linguistics in relation to regional history and archaeology; (b) a brief overview of the matching of language families in SEAsia with archaeohistorical periods; and (c) presentation of several examples of how etymological and historical phonological research sheds light on SEAsian ethnohistory. These examples will include lexical evidence of the late Neolithic culture, rice production in northern Vietnam, the impact of Chinese on terms for metals in the region, numeral systems of Tai languages versus Vietnamese, and the regional spread of words from the Khmer kingdoms of the 1st to 2nd mill. CE. Caveats regarding the data will also be presented.


Sociology PhD Candidate

University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Lives in Limbo: Precarious Migrant Workers between Migration, Labor, and Criminal Law”

A remarkable statistic about Singapore is that 1 in 9 residents of the city-state is a low-wage, temporary migrant worker—authorized on a tenuous two-year contract to perform either construction/marine work (if a man), or live-in domestic work (if a woman). Though largely hidden away from the public eye, these precarious South and Southeast migrants are essential to the country’s economic and political model. However, while the Singaporean state aggressively oversees many facets of low-wage labor migration, subjecting foreign workers to careful surveillance and control, it selectively abdicates other oversight roles on the grounds that it is “not practical to regulate specific aspects” of the labor market. Where well-meaning protections do exist, they frequently backfire on workers who come forward with salary, injury, labor violation, or criminal violence claims. My 18+ months of ethnographic research show how uneven regulation and hazy enforcement mechanisms can trap temporary migrants between contradictory regimes of labor, migration, and criminal law. In this talk, I examine migrants’ lives in various states of juridical limbo.


Associate Professor of History

University of British Columbia

“The 1965-66 Massacres in Indonesia within the Frame of Genocide Studies: What is Gained, What is Lost”

Watch a video of the talk here.

Genocide Studies, since its beginnings as an academic field in the early 1980s, has worked with a more expansive definition of genocide than that codified in the 1948 UN convention. Scholars working within this field have recognized the anticommunist mass killings of 1965-66 in Indonesia as a case of genocide. They have had, however, little information about this case. It did not become a canonical case, like the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. Only in recent years have historians of Indonesia been able to provide substantive answers to questions posed in the Genocide Studies literature, questions such as: How did the perpetrators come to perceive unarmed civilians as mortal threats who must be killed? How did some individuals refuse to become perpetrators? How did the victims resist and why were they so often unable to resist? How were the massacres organized? What role did state propaganda play? My book Buried Histories (2020), while framing the mass murder of 1965-66 as a case of genocide, moves outside that frame by analyzing the specific logic of disappearances and the dynamics of class conflict.


“Being Muslim in Indonesia: The Local Conception of Islam and Every-day-experience of Muslims in Bima, Eastern Indonesia”

Watch a video of the talk here.

This talk is primarily based on my study being part of, and funded, by the project entitled the Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant DP00881464 “Being Muslim in Eastern Indonesia: Practice, Politics and Cultural Diversity,” with Kathryn Robinson and Andrew McWilliam as primary investigators. This project analyzes the conversion to Islam in eastern Indonesia that is critically linked to the rise of Islamic sultanates among the major Indonesian maritime groups—Bugis, Makasarese, Butonese— and the Malukan islands of Tidore and Ternate, associated with powerful regional trading networks and the opportunistic exploitation of natural resources (Andaya, 1993). As a result, the historical conversion has fostered a lively diversity of local forms of Islam. This presentation, in particular, will shed a light on a critical feature of the contemporary experience of Islam in Bima of Sumbawa island, by describing the widespread influence of Bugis, Butonese and Makassarese in shaping the local conception of Islam among Bima Muslims. Through ethnographic field study from 2011 through 2012, and returning in 2018 and 2019 intermittently, this presentation investigates local beliefs and practices and understands the specificity of the local settings. I asked what Muslim identity means to the Muslims in Bima? How do their practices of daily life reflect their commitment to indigenous cultural traditions and to Islam, as a religious, cultural and political force? What role do Islamic organizations (e.g., NU and Muhammadiyah) play in their lives? Does the everyday experience of ‘being Muslim’ in eastern Indonesia include engagement with national forms of political Islam and if so, how is it embraced? Data from the field study serve as the basis for a comparative ethnographic analysis of religious diversity and change among Muslims in Indonesia.

Dr. Muhammad Adlin Sila works at Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) and is a lecturer at UIN Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta.


Assistant Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures

University of California – Los Angeles

Watch a video of the talk here.

How can we imagine the spaces and peoples at the fringes of empire without centering empire? In this talk, I speculate on the challenges and possibilities of historicizing the “fringe” spaces of Southeast Asia, expanding on the concept of pericoloniality that I introduced tentatively in my earlier work on the ethnohistory of the various Lumad peoples of Mindanao. The Lumad, in the southern Philippines, are but one of the many categories of indigenous minority peoples in Southeast Asia who have been recognized globally under the postcolonial political label of “Indigenous Peoples,” despite the epistemological problems inherent in designating some populations as “indigenous” in a region of (mostly) natives. The intersection of the colonial-era imperial fringe with postcolonial sites of “indigeneity” is no accident, given that today’s “Indigenous Peoples” are generally found in what have been considered “fringe” spaces since the region’s early modern period. I consider the potential significance of rethinking these spaces and histories as more than mere peripheries of colonies and empires, and reconceptualizing (and deliberately rewriting) them as unique spaces—and peoples—that coexisted and collaborated with the region’s economic and political centers and influenced their formation, yet somehow remained largely autonomous of them. In the process, I highlight the political persistence of Southeast Asia’s fringe spaces, and argue for (re)integrating such spaces and peoples into a fuller understanding of the region’s past.


Professor of History

Northern Arizona University

Associate Senior Fellow
Temasik History Research Center
ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Center

“Diversity in a Melaka Straits Region Port-City: Temasik in the 14th Century”

Pre-modern port-cities of the Melaka Straits region were one of the most diverse places in Southeast Asia. The range of networks, the openness of the economy, the free movement of people, as well as the small population base in the region, has meant that from the inception of a port-city, the nature of the settlement and its population would reflect the multi-cultural influences that flow through the port.

Temasik, a port-polity located on the southern tip of Singapore Island, has been one of the most intensely researched urban centers of the Melaka Straits region. Taking an integrative approach, utilising both historical (textual) and archaeological research, this talk seeks to explore the cosmopolitan nature of the port-polity. In the process it will seek to elucidate the various influences on its economy, society and culture, and reconstruction the uniqueness of its hybrid culture.


Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
University of Minnesota

“Censoring ‘Miss Suwanna of Siam:’ Film Diplomacy and the
Ruling Class’s Double Vision”

Miss Suwanna of Siam (1923), putatively the “first” international co-production in the history of Thai cinema—a partnership of a Hollywood team and local talent—was meant to promote film diplomacy and introduce modern Thailand to the world. This film generated intense excitement among the Thai population about filmmaking and the potential of a national film industry, and yet, we have no record of a US screening. The complete disappearance of this film and dozens of other Thai films from this era makes it impossible for the following generations to engage textually with the early days of Thai cinema. However, this unfortunate absence of the film paradoxically presents an opportunity to examine its reception and what the contrasting responses of the Thai public and the Royalist elites tell us about the status of the moving image in the nation’s emerging modern media infrastructure. I compare the public’s enthusiastic embrace of the film following two-weeks of free screenings in Bangkok to the government’s anxieties about the film’s politics of representation and their concomitant appeal to American producers to ban the film from being screened in the US. Focusing on the ambivalent exchanges—both amicable and wary—between the Thai government and the Hollywood team, this talk will trace the emergence of a “double vision” that structures the very foundation of a national cinema and will show how, under conditions of coloniality, film diplomacy is a tricky business requiring careful management and censorship.

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Fall 2021

September 10 – Thongchai Winichakul

Professor Emeritus

The Misunderstood Foundation of Modern Thai Jurisprudence

Recording available here.

With the modernization of the legal system in Siam in early twentieth century, legal historians of Thailand have regarded the modern rule of law as established in the country since then, despite being imperfect. Such is a consequential misunderstanding.

September 17 – Mark P. Bradley, Alfred W. McCoy, and Monica Kim

Mark Philip Bradley
Bernadotte E. Schmitt Distinguished Service Professor of History
University of Chicago

Alfred W. McCoy
Harrington Professor of History

Monica Kim
William Appleman Williams & David G. And Marion S. Meissner Chair in US International and Diplomatic History
Associate Professor of History

The Forever Wars in Asia: A Roundtable Discussion on Marilyn B. Young and American Intervention Overseas

Recording available here.

The constancy of American war, and its paradoxical erasure in U.S. politics and culture, were central concerns of Marilyn Young, the preeminent historian of war’s place in modern U.S. history. This roundtable on Making the Forever War, a new collection of Young’s most important writings, will explore how endless war came about, the nature of its deadly consequences, and how it became embedded and invisible for most Americans.

September 24 – Julie Chernov Hwang

Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations
Director, International Relations Program
Center for People, Politics and Markets
Goucher College

How They Join: Understanding Entry into Islamist Extremism in Indonesia and the Philippines

Recording available here. 

This presentation will highlight findings from original research in Indonesia and the Philippines analyzing the processes and pathways via which individuals join and commit to Islamist extremist groups and, in some cases, participate in acts of terrorism.

October 1  – Mai Elliott (pen name: Duong Van Mai Elliot)

Pulitzer Prize Nominee
Author of The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family
Consultant for the Ken Burns documentary, “The Vietnam War”

Saigon 1975 and Kabul 2021: History Repeating Itself?
*2021 Judith L. Ladinsky Lecture

Recording available here. 

An examination of the causes and events leading to the collapse of Saigon in 1975 and Kabul in 2021.

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 also 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.

October 8 – Li-Ching Ho

Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
School of Education, UW-Madison

Curriculum for Justice and Harmony: Deliberation, Knowledge, and Action in Social and Civic Education

Recording available here. 

How do we prepare young people to work for a better world? The time is right for a new way of thinking about civic education curricula in different educational contexts, including higher education. In this book talk, Dr. Ho presents a global vision for education, one that can guide students in the pursuit of societal justice and harmony. Drawing from diverse philosophical and cultural traditions, including Confucian and Indigenous philosophies, as well as empirical research, she introduces three curriculum principles designed to motivate and inform students’ thoughtful and compassionate deliberation of public issues.

October 15 – Praopan Pratoomchat

Assistant Professor of Economics
School of Business and Economics
University of Wisconsin-Superior

Inequality, COVID-19, and Thailand’s Youth Democracy Movement

Recording available here.

This study analyzes income and wealth inequality and the effects of the shock of the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19 in Thailand. The existing constitution has allowed the military government to become extremely powerful financially and politically. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the effects of this unequal system. Workers in vulnerable service sectors are losing their jobs and income. The middle class and young generation have sparked the democracy movement and protests, beginning in September 2020, to request a new constitution, transparency, and democracy in Bangkok and many big cities. This study applies the political economy framework to analyze these phenomena.

October 22 – Maryann Bylander

Associate Professor of Sociology
Lewis & Clark College

Safe, Regular, Orderly: The Spectacle of Safe Migration in Southeast Asia

Recording available here.

Over the past decade, ‘safe migration’ programs have expanded across Southeast Asia. These programs are funded and implemented by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations (IOs), often through development assistance from states in the Global North. Safe migration programs do a range of things. For instance, where Cambodians deported from Thailand were once dropped off by Thai authorities at the Cambodia-Thai border, they now go through a lengthy process of official return at the newly established NGO-supported Migrant Assistance Center. Based on data collected from this center, NGOs track clusters of recent irregular migration, which they use to designate particular communities as high risk for human trafficking. Those communities become targets for education campaigns discouraging irregular movement. At eight newly established sites around the country Migrant Worker Resource Centers deliver assistance and information to would-be, current, and returning migrants. There are also financial literacy trainings for migrant workers and their families, self-help groups to help migrant families save, a systematized way of tracking grievances in the recruitment process, and regular evaluations of the Cambodian government’s efforts to meet their migration-related goals, among other things. Only a fraction of these practices were in place prior to 2010, and all were created either by, or in partnership with, development actors (NGOs and IOs).

This paper interrogates the discourses and practices of safe migration programming in Cambodia. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic work, it describes how safe migration programs seek to engender safety, the assumptions these programs hold about what makes migrants safe, and how these assumptions relate to migrant experiences. Based on an analysis of multiple sites of safe migration programming, I describe how these interventions rely on a form of rendering technical (Li 2007) that obscures the causes of precarity in migrant lives, legitimizes new forms of control enacted by states, and responsibilizes migrants for the exploitation and abuse they experience. Ultimately I suggest that while safe migration projects clearly serve the needs of development organizations and states, they provide only a spectacle of care for migrants.

October 29 – Leslie Castro-Woodhouse

Author, Editor, Independent Scholar
Founder of Origami Editorial 

Of Concubines and Crypto-Colonialism: Dara Rasami and the Making of Modern Thailand

Recording available here.

In this talk, Dr. Castro-Woodhouse will introduce her forthcoming book, Woman between Two Kingdoms: Dara Rasami and the Making of Modern Thailand (SEAP/Cornell University Press). This talk will explore how a northern Thai consort named Dara Rasami played a critical role in Siam’s effort to emulate a European-style “hierarchy of civilizations” in building a modern nation-state. The trajectory of Dara’s 24-year career as an ethnic outsider within the rarefied space of the Siamese Inner Palace illuminates both Siam’s crypto-colonial strategies to assimilate regional elites, and women’s importance to Thai political history.

Dr. Castro-Woodhouse is an independent scholar who earned both her MA in Asian Studies (2001) and PhD (2009) in History at UC Berkeley. Following a stint as managing editor of the journal Asia Pacific Perspectives from 2015-18, she founded Origami Editorial ( to help fellow scholars edit and polish their writing. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

November 5 – Claire-Marie Hefner

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellow, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
Visiting Research Scholar, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Fordham University

Morality, Religious Authority, and the Digital Edge: Indonesian Muslim School Girls Online

Recording available here.

In Indonesian Islamic boarding schools (pesantren), access to digital media is strictly regulated, if allowed at all. Gendered discourses surrounding morality are such that young women students are viewed as particularly susceptible to the perceived moral dangers of uncensored Internet content and the unmonitored communication of social media and cellphones. At the same time, digital literacy is seen as key to social advancement and higher education, particularly among upwardly mobile middle-class families.

In this presentation, Hefner argues that some young women students and recent alumni successfully cultivate a “digital edge”—the social agility to navigate the moral challenges, scrutiny, and social surveillance they encounter online while adhering to key gender norms. This “digital edge,” paired with religious training, creates new online spaces for young women to claim religious authority over peers and even parents. In this way, young women’s social practices online are not adequately or most appropriately characterized as resistance to the ethical instruction of institutions and families, as the formation of a kind of counter public or alternative moral system. Rather, they reflect patterns similar to their offline friendships—a deep sense of commitment to a shared moral project even while students explore the new and sometimes risky social space of the digital world. Closer attention to micro-level choices and the semiotics of self-representation online reflect the potential socio-religious ramifications of their online decision-making processes.

November 12 – Mark John Sanchez

Research Associate
Office of the Chancellor
Vanderbilt University

Religious Human Rights in the Philippines under Marcos and Martial Law, 1972-1986

As representatives of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), religious activists such as Sr. Mariani Dimaranan traveled worldwide, working to highlight human rights injustice in the Philippines and to gather support for her organization. After Ferdinand Marcos’s declaration of martial law in 1972, TFDP quickly became one of the most prominent human rights organizations in the Philippines. International agencies such as Amnesty International relied on the connections provided by TFDP to understand the human rights abuses under Marcos. TFDP worked locally to document instances of political arrests as well as provide material support for detainees and their families.

In this talk, Dr. Sanchez shows how religious figures such as Sr. Mariani, engaging deeply with teachings around the “option for the poor” in the post-Vatican II Catholic Church, were central to the development of institutional human rights in the Philippines. Human rights offered political possibilities to grassroots activists in the Philippines, even as the institution of human rights was most frequently debated as a Cold War middle path in Western Europe and North America. The formation of a human rights solidarity movement also required that Filipino organizations find ways to navigate between welcoming the crucial aid offered by international supporters while maintaining autonomy over their organizational efforts. Ultimately, the efforts of TFDP activists drew international attention to local human rights violations, helped lay the groundwork for the eventual Marcos overthrow, and profoundly shaped the human rights movement in the Philippines beyond the Marcos period.

November 19Roger Polack

Fellow and Senior Legal Counsel
Schell Center for International Human Rights
Yale Law School

The Myanmar Coup: Assessing Crimes against Humanity and the International Community’s Response

In this talk, Roger Polack will underscore the findings of a study conducted by Yale Law School and a partner NGO into atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military since the 1 February coup. Fellow Polack will also highlight the response from the international community since the coup and options moving forward.

December 3 – Kathleen Cruz Gutierrez

Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Santa Cruz
Mellon Fellow (21-22) of the New York Botanical Garden Humanities Institute

Sinopsis de familias y géneros de plantas leñosas de Filipinas (1883): The Art of Scientific Statecraft

In 1876, the Spanish colonial government founded the Comisión de la Flora Estadística y Forestal de Filipinas, a research body tasked with cataloging flora and surveying forests of the archipelago. In addition to the voluminous research reports produced by the body during its eight-year operation, the Comisión most notably published in 1883 Sinopsis de familias y géneros de plantas leñosas de Filipinas (Synopsis of families and genera of Philippine flowering plants) written by Catalán botanist Sebastián Vidal y Soler and illustrated by Filipino artist Regino García y Baza. As historian Resil B. Mojares has written, “No decade in Philippine intellectual history has been as productive and as consequential as the 1880s.” Mojares cites several ilustrado (enlightened intellectual) publications from the decade, including polymath José Rizal’s Noli me tangere and the books of politician-writers Pedro Paterno, Isabelo de los Reyes, and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera. To this library, Dr. Cruz Gutierrez adds Vidal and García’s Sinopsis.

For this talk, Cruz Gutierrez focuses on the publication’s visuality. Cruz Gutierrez conducted a formal analysis of García’s illustrated atlas, comprised of one hundred lithograph plates depicting roughly 1900 plant figures, and read the atlas against the intellectual milieu of Spanish colonial botany in the Philippines. By comparing García’s illustrations to others he completed on behalf of the Augustinian-backed reissue of Francisco Manuel Blanco’s Flora de Filipinas and other illustrated natural science publications of the time, Cruz Gutierrez argues that Sinopsis captures the apex of secular Spanish botany at the end of the nineteenth century through its visually distinctive and classificatory quality. Sinopsis furthermore enacted a scientific statecraft for Spanish colonial botany and Philippine plant life through García’s artistic techniques. An invitation for heightened imperial scientific investigation, Sinopsis became an intellectual and diplomatic tool to further Iberian intellectual undertakings in tropical terrain.

December 10 – Hjorleifur Jonsson

Professor of Anthropology
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Arizona State University

Thai-plus: Sensing Gender on Thailand’s Ethnic Frontiers

Thai nationalism projects a particular alien-ness and inferiority on ethnically-other hill peoples. However, my examination of the range of Thai-language representations of ethnic difference in the highlands over the 20th century – in ethnography, documentary- and fiction film, in novels and short stories – suggests pervasive internal contestation regarding Thai identity. Many of the depictions concern gender and sexuality. There are two rival perspectives that insist on the absoluteness of the ethnic divide, each resting on a distinct moral binary. Among these representations is also a third perspective that undermines any claim to Thai uniqueness or superiority. The third angle is most common in works that cannot be taken seriously, in fiction that is marked as romance, adventure, or comedy, which may be telling of the pressures of official nationalism.

Fall 2022

September 9|Archaeological Explorations of “Viet” Origins: A Personal Journey

Nam Kim
Professor of Anthropology
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Watch the video of the talk here.

The discipline of archaeology in present-day Vietnam has an interesting and deep history, one marked by alternating backdrops of political stability, social upheaval, and nationalistic agendas. Past and present Vietnamese researchers have been interested in a material record (dating back millennia) to consider the underpinnings of an ancient “Viet” civilization, and how landscapes, relics, and sites fit into a larger tapestry of history – both ancient and recent. Not surprisingly, these material remains have also been incorporated into modern notions of identity and projects aimed at cultural preservation. This lecture considers these themes while also highlighting my own personal engagement with archaeological research as an individual of Vietnamese ancestry.

September 16 | Of Rice and Roses: Preliminary Thoughts on Critical Pleasure and the Philosophy of Sabai
Boreth Ly
Associate Professor Southeast Asian art history and visual culture
University of California, Santa Cruz

Watch the video of the talk here.

Colonial regimes in Southeast Asia considered natives to be lazy and incapable of making progress, and thus separate from the industrial world. In recent decades, global capital and shifts in political regimes in Southeast Asia have engendered massive changes in local lifestyles within nations, have redefined structures of labor, and have resulted in mass migrations. With a focus on Cambodia and its diaspora, this talk argues for the need of critical pleasure or sabai in the aftermath of genocide and the current global pandemic and ongoing climate crisis. Further, it seeks to reassess how ideas of progress, civilization, and time are expressed and negotiated in everyday life. Last, the talk hopes to engage the audience with the following questions: Can one define a local aesthetic of sabai? How is sabai embodied and pictured? How might the traditional local Southeast Asian understanding of sabai contribute to the discourse on and practice of critical pleasure?

Co-Sponsored by the Department of History and the Department of Art History.

September 23 | Four of the Thirteen Lives Are Stateless: The Cave Rescue, Hollywood Heroism and Ethnonational Traps at the Thai-Burma Border

Jane M. Ferguson
Associate Professor in Anthropology and Southeast Asian History
Australian National University
Fuller Visiting Professor
Ohio University

Watch the video of the talk here.

In 2018, the world news watchers were captivated by the real-life rescue of the boys’ soccer team, the Wild Boars, from deep within the labyrinth of Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. The amazing story was ripe for the plucking, with suspense, drama, and a happy ending. Just 4 years later, Hollywood director Ron Howard released the movie Thirteen Lives, with professed dedication to contextual authenticity. Moving from the heroic story itself, this presentation will consider ethno-nationalist discourse, and how Thai-ness is visible, assumed, or glossed over, depending on the situation. Does it matter if we emphasize their regional identity? Their Shan-ness? How are the boys trapped in the cave different from Shan construction workers? Can discussion of the amazing story, even the Hollywood film, prompt discussion about citizenship law reform? In addition to considering the framing of Ron Howard’s movie in light of these questions, this presentation draws upon ethnographic discussion of everyday statelessness in Thailand, as presented in my recent book Repossessing Shanland: Myanmar, Thailand, and a Nation-State Deferred.

September 30 | Late Industrial Environments are Constituted by Uncertainty: Notes from Lao Hydropower

Jerome Whitington
Clinical Professor of Environmental Anthropology
New York University

Watch the video of the talk here.

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.

October 7 | The Prehistory of Thailand, from the Beginning to the Emergence of Urban Centers

Watch the video of the talk here.

Thanik Lertcharnrit is Associate Professor of Archaeology at Silpakorn University. He specializes in Southeast Asian archaeology and the public education and perception of archaeology, with a focus on public Thai cultural heritage. He has made many contributions to the field of Cultural Resource Management (CRM), and acted as a pioneering figure and advocate for global public archaeology. He has received numerous research grants and scholarly awards from Silpakorn University, Washington State University, the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (Thailand), Royal Thai Government Scholarships, and public and private foundations, and in 2016, received a Fulbright Award for the project, Agricultural Stability and Instability in Prehistoric Central Thailand. His most recent book is Prehistoric Ceramics in Thailand (Museum Press, 2017).

~ Sponsored by the University Lectures Committee ~
Co-sponsored by the Archaeology Brownbag Series and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies

October 14 | The Interpretation of Silence: Navigating History, Myth, and Invention as a Vietnamese American Writer

Phong Nguyen
Professor of English

Director of Creative Writing
Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing

University of Missouri

This talk will explore my family background, my efforts to understand and write about my father’s history, and how this background continues to influence my literary career. Having grown up with a particularly reticent and reserved father, one who had many stories to tell but who passed on very few of them, I pose the question, “How do you interpret silence?” and show how my answer to that question has evolved over the course of my life.

October 21 | Border and Bribery: An Anthropology of Corruption

Pinkaew Laungaramsri
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Chiang Mai University.

Watch a video of the talk here.

Corruption has often been defined as a sign of social instability and decay, endemic to weak states with poor legal order. Anti-corruption networks, policymakers, politicians, and international institutes intrinsically linked corruption to the lack of good governance and transparency believed to lead to consequential economic losses for the developing world. Such view is shaped by the separation between the state and society and the law and corruption opposition. Drawing on fieldwork in border town A in western Thailand, this talk attempts to move away from the duality of the relationship between state and corruption and corresponding public and private dichotomy by investigating the politics of bribery, extortion, and brokerage operating at the border. In rethinking the anthropology of corruption, the speaker argues that corruption in the form of bribery has not only been central to the process of state making at the margin, it has also been key to accumulation of capital through fixity of migrant workers that connects the margin with the global textile industries. The complex relationship between state’s reification and exploitation of migrant categories, and immigrant’s negotiation of such immutability are discussed as fundamental to what Kirsten Endres calls ‘corrupt exception’ – the overlapping state of inclusion and exclusion in which corruption has become the norm rather than the exception.

~ Keynote Lecture for the 2022 Council on Thai Studies (COTS) Conference ~

November 4 | “Dharmawara Mahathera: More Thoughts about a Transnational Cambodian Monk”

Dr. John A. Marston
Center for Asian and African Studies
Colegio de México

Watch the video of the talk here.

Dharmawara Mahathera (1889-1999) was a colorful Cambodian monk resident in India from the mid-1930s until the mid-1970s and the United States from then until his death. I have previously written about a period in the 1950s when he was in regular contact with Norodom Sihanouk and played a role in Sihanouk’s emerging relation to India following Cambodian independence—with relevance for the way a stance of neutrality was negotiated in cultural terms in the context of the Cold War. This talk, while summarizing some of these same things, will shift the focus to other aspects of his career as a monk, healer, and teacher: his time in Siam and Burma before going to India, the life at his temple near Delhi, and the contacts with young Westerners which led him to go to Great Britain and the U.S.

November 11|“National Policies, Economic Realities, and the Shifting Acceptance of Mandarin and Chinese Dialects in Thailand”

Nattaporn Luangipipat
Ph.D. Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Watch the video of the talk here.

Language is an essential component in maintaining identity. Individuals and families make choices in languages spoken at home; however, sovereign states enact nationalistic policies to either foster a common tongue or eliminate languages deemed undesirable, particularly through schools. These policies, as rhetorical tools rationalizing the acquisition and suppression of Thai and Chinese languages, led to clashes between the desired national languages and dialects among Thai Chinese families in Thailand. This presentation highlights the shifting acceptance of Mandarin taught in schools and Chinese dialects used at home before, during, and after Phibun’s suppressive Thaification policies. At the same time, it connects national and international politics on language education and changing economic realities to the literacy and language of Thai Chinese families across generations.

November 18|“Looking For My Family’s Roots in a Changed Vietnam?”

Mai Elliott (pen name: Duong Van Mai Elliott)
Pulitzer Prize Nominee
Author of The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family
Consultant for the Ken Burns documentary, “The Vietnam War”

Watch the video of the talk here.

Returning to Vietnam after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, I found a country that time, two long and devastating wars, a Communist revolution, globalization and modernization, had transformed physically, socially, politically, economically, and culturally. My challenge was to find, underneath these changes, the vestiges of our journey through the country’s turbulent decades, unearth the traces of the society, culture, religion, and customs that formed my family’s story, and locate and convince long lost relatives to share their experiences of war and revolution that would fill the gaps of my knowledge. In my talk, I will share what I discovered during the many trips I made back to Vietnam to search for my family’s roots.