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.

Spring 2023

January 27 | Pig Feasts Democracy: Direct Local Elections and the Making of a Plural Political Order in West Papua

Veronika Kusumaryati
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and International Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Watch the video of the talk here.

This presentation examines the reemergence of pig feasts, a Melanesian institution of ceremonial exchange, in Indonesia-occupied West Papua in the context of the introduction of a special autonomy and direct local elections (Pilkada) to the region after the 1998 Indonesian democratic reforms. Whereas in other Melanesian societies pig feasts have been declining due to the incursion of Christianity and the modern economy, in West Papua pig feasts have been mobilized by indigenous politicians, especially during the elections as elections become a new site of competitive exchange .The intensification and increasing scale of pig feasts show how both the traditional institution of pig feasts and the modern institution of elections have become a platform for the contestation of Indonesian democracy and Papuan autonomy. Anthropological attention to traditional institutions, such as pig feasts, can offer an important insight into this plural political order, and tell us how Indigenous peoples have negotiated the terms of democratic reforms and their incorporation into the state through their own institution of ceremonial exchange.

February 3 | Religious Authority in Action: Women, Islamic Education, and Everyday Activism in Indonesia

Claire-Marie Hefner
Visiting Assistant Professor
Interdisciplinary Study of Religions Program
Bard College

Watch the video of the talk here.

Islamic schools are often imagined as spaces of restrictive rules and limited human flourishing, especially for women. Based on two years of fieldwork (2011-2013) in and beyond school grounds, as well as a decade of follow up research, this study tells a different story. It illustrates the ways in which Islamic schooling shapes the imagined futures and real-life trajectories of students through achievement-oriented curricula that prepare young women for higher education, careers, and community leadership. The two schools of this study are highly regarded Islamic boarding schools for middle- through high-school aged girls in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Each school is affiliated, respectively, with the two largest Muslim social welfare organizations in the country—the reformist Muhammadiyah and the neo-traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Both schools are committed to molding the future female leadership of their respective organizations. I argue that the model of selfhood in which students are trained is that of “encumbered selfhood”—a young woman who is achievement-oriented but always keeps in mind the social debts she owes her family, friends, peers, the nation, and the broader ummah (global Muslim community). After graduation, this socialization translates into social action for many alumnae as they apply their religious and leadership training to everyday activism and grassroots gender advocacy. This positions them, in turn, to play an important role in the maintenance of the boundaries of their communities at a time when the NU and Muhammadiyah face challenges to their authority from neo-Salafi and other prominent Muslim organizations in the country.

February 10 | Border Theologies: God and Resistance in a Southeast Asian Diaspora

Lailatul Fitriyah

No video available for this talk.

This talk will examine Islamic and Christian theologies from the lives of Indonesian Female Migrant Workers (FMWs) in Singapore. First, it will explore how the FMWs’ experiences of alienation and their social, political, and economic plights shape their theological praxes. In addition, we shall examine how these women perceive the problem of evil in the face of structural oppressions that they suffer, as well as the resources that these women use to establish their theological and religious authority. Finally, the discussion will conclude with a look at how the religious practices and beliefs of these women are shaped by their position at the intersection of multiple borders and oppressions, and how such religious praxes comprise a significant part of their anti-patriarchal and anti-capitalist resistance against structural oppressions in their lives.

February 17 | Real Farmers, Dream Cities: Agrarian Change, Demonstration, and the Politics of Visibility in Myanmar

Courtney T. Wittekind
Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University

Program in Agrarian Studies, MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies

No video available for this talk.

This presentation examines a series of demonstrations held in the southwestern outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, the site of a 20,000-acre proposal to transform the region’s farmland into a built-from-scratch “new city.” Slogans and speeches—both in support of and in opposition to the new city—fixed demonstrators’ demands in the status of the region’s “real farmer” (လယ်သမားစစ်စစ် or lay-thama sit-sit), a figure both hyper-visible and simultaneously obscured in the popular protest movements of Myanmar and Southeast Asian history. Tracing contested claims about Southwest Yangon’s farmers circulating in the popular press and in state propaganda, this presentation explores the political and pragmatic tactics of future-making amid authoritarian resurgence, rapid urbanization, and the pressures of a changing climate. At stake is a broader politics of visibility, wherein the boundary between the seen and unseen becomes a site through which what is “real” in contemporary Myanmar is questioned.

February 24 | A Jurisprudence Against Coups in Thailand

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

Watch the video of the talk here.

On the first anniversary of the coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the junta that launched the 22 May 2014 coup in Thailand, Resistant Citizen, a coalition of sixteen activists, lawyers, artists, and survivors of state violence filed charges of treason and rebellion against the NCPO. This first half of this talk places Resistant Citizen’s struggle in the seventy-year history of attempts to hold coupmakers to account. Despite amnesty laws passed with each coup to foreclose accountability, Resistant Citizen and others who have brought cases advance an idea of the people’s sovereignty that refuses its destruction by an illegal seizure of power by a handful of military generals. The protection of state officials from being impugned, never the protection or even recognition of the people as equal members of the polity, remains constant across the decisions. In this case, too, the Supreme Court adhered to historical precedent and dismissed Resistant Citizen’s charges against the NCPO. In contrast, a jurisprudence of accountability would center the people and accord weight to the damage sustained by individuals and the polity by coups. Drawing on feminist judgment methodology, the second half of this talk offers a new decision rendered in the name of a Court by and for the People that reverses precedent and writes towards a different future in which sovereignty is not reduced to brute force, but is a shared project between the rulers and the ruled.

March 3 | Qhuab Ke as Method: Rethinking Southeast Asian History through the Historiography of the HMoob Diaspora

Alexander Hopp
Ph.D. Candidate in History
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
Lecturer in Asian American Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Watch the video of the talk here.

In January 1961 at the 1st International Conference of Southeast Asian Historians, John R. W. Smail posed a critical question for the field: is it possible to develop an autonomous history of Southeast Asia? And if so, what might such a history entail? But while Smail looked to the burgeoning community of scholars for his answer, this presentation will turn instead to the indigenous epistemology of the HMoob diaspora to reconsider the stakes and the applications of an autonomous history of Southeast Asia. Qhuab ke, a traditional funerary ritual, offers a fertile starting point from which to explore the powerful anti-imperial potential of HMoob historiography. The practice of qhuab ke, or showing the way, involves a ritual expert guiding the soul of the deceased backwards through the places they have called home, stopping briefly in their birthplace before continuing on to join their ancestors as they stand guard over an imagined homeland. Prioritizing connection and movement over boundaries and, by moving backwards in time, emphasizing individual agency in the midst of the grand currents of history, the historiography represented in qhuab ke is a fundamentally different spatial and temporal approach to the field. The HMoob diaspora thus offers a powerful critique of Southeast Asian Studies as a segmented area studies discipline, showing that the autonomous history of Southeast Asia might be found not only by zooming in to the local, as Smail suggests, but by challenging the margins and borders of the field. To illustrate the anti-imperial potential of this framing, this presentation will use HMoob refugee history to argue that the future of Southeast Asian Studies lies not in clinging to the colonial legacy of area studies scholarship, but instead in a flexible approach that embraces the intertwined and intimate histories of Southeast Asians themselves-wherever (and whenever) they might be.

March 10 | Mainline Islam: Islamic Associational Life in Indonesia

*The University Lectures Committee in partnership with The Center for Southeast Asian Studies, The Department of History, & The Southeast Asian Research Group*

Kevin W. Fogg
Associate Director, Carolina Asia Center
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Watch the video of the talk here.

Indonesian Islam has a unique structure in its associational life, in the form of mass Islamic organizations. The most well-known of these, NU and Muhammadiyah, are frequently heralded by politicians and scholars as pillars of religious life and civil society in Indonesia, but there are many similar organizations that function on a provincial or regional level in a similar capacity. This project draws in a comparative study of three regional mass Islamic organizations—Jamiyatul Washliyah founded in Medan, Nahdlatul Ulama based on Lombok, and Alkhairaat headquartered in Palu—to draw broader conclusions about the nature of Islamic associational life in Indonesia, how Indonesian organizations differ from Islamic groups in other countries, and how Islamic organizations in Indonesia have changed over the last century. The project also uses a comparison with American Protestantism, the so-called “Mainline Protestant Denominations,” to articulate a category of organization that is normative in Indonesia but unknown elsewhere in the Islamic world: “mainline” Islamic organizations.

March 24 | The Making of Pa Chay Company and the Hmong Communist Revolution

Mai Na M. Lee
Professor of History and Asian American Studies
University of Minnesota

Watch the video of the talk here.

The role of the Hmong in the communist revolutionary struggle for independence largely remains unarticulated in the historical records even though the current Communist Lao state recognizes Hmong contributions by according the descendants of Hmong communist leaders high honors in their governing system. This paper examines the heroic actions of Thao Tou Yang, a highly decorated revolutionary nationalist leader, and his crucial role as an important nexus between the Pathet Lao and Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh. I will analyze the historical genesis of how and why Thao Tou rallied one third of the Hmong population of Laos on to the Communist side as well as his politics of establishing personal ties to communist cadres sent by Ho Chi Minh.

March 31 | Mobilizing for Elections: Patronage and Political Machines in Southeast Asia

Paul D. Hutchcroft
Professor of Political and Social Change
Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs
Australian National University

No video available for this talk.

Across Southeast Asia, as in many other regions of the world, politicians seek to win elections by distributing cash, goods, jobs, projects, and other material benefits to supporters. But they do so in ways that vary tremendously—both across and within countries. In this talk, Paul Hutchcroft of the Australian National University will discuss Mobilizing for Elections: Patronage and Political Machines in Southeast Asia, published last year by Cambridge University Press and co-authored with Edward Aspinall (ANU), Meredith Weiss (the University at Albany, SUNY), and Allen Hicken (Michigan). The book presents a new framework for analyzing variation in patronage democracies, focusing on distinct forms of patronage and different networks through which it is distributed. These insights draw on a large-scale, multi-country, multi-year research effort involving interactions with hundreds of politicians and vote brokers, as well as surveys of voters and political campaigners across the region. At the core of the analysis is the concept of electoral mobilization regimes, used to describe how key types of patronage interact with the networks that politicians use to organize and distribute these material resources: political parties in Malaysia, local machines in the Philippines, and ad hoc election teams in Indonesia. In doing so, the book shows how and why patronage politics varies, and how it works on the ground.

April 7 | Colonial States and their Legacies across Southeast Asia: Through the Lens of Japan’s Wartime Empire

*This talk was also the keynote address for the Justice in Southeast Lab (JSEALab) Dissertation Proposal Workshop*

Diana S. Kim
Assistant Professor
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

No video available for this talk.

What are the institutional legacies of European colonial rule across Southeast Asia? This talk addresses this question through the lens of Japan’s wartime empire, which occupied the region during the 1940s. It explores the vast array of formal and informal institutions that the Japanese variably inherited from the Europeans, repurposed, destroyed, or built anew, to consider more broadly, what constitutes a meaningful rupture when narrating colonial legacies of historical continuity.

April 14 | Cost-cutting vs. Community: The Challenges and Opportunities of Teaching Southeast Asia at a Community College

Dr. Jonathan Z. S. Pollack
Chair of the Department of History

Coordinator of the Arts and Humanities Pre-Major
Madison Area Technical College

Watch the video of the talk here.

Federal financial-aid programs have imposed increasingly strict guidelines for courses that are part of students’ academic programs and therefore aidable. Students at two-year colleges often need significant remediation in math, English, and science. As a result, courses in Southeast Asian history are defined as “non-program” courses for a growing number of students, and enrollments are falling as a result. Concurrently, the Madison area’s growing Hmong community is a natural audience for courses in the history and culture of this area. This talk will describe how UW—Madison and Madison Area Technical College can navigate these challenges to create more opportunities for education in Southeast Asia at the community-college level.

April 21 | The Legacies of War: Physical Scars and Invisible Wounds, Past, Present & Future

Sera Koulabdara
CEO of Legacies of War and
Chair of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions Coalition

Watch the video of the talk here.

Sera will share a brief history of the Secret War in Laos and its lingering impact on the people of Laos, Americans and the global community 50 years later. As a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions Coalition, Sera will examine what society has learned from the use of indiscriminate weapons like cluster bombs and landmines during the Secret War and examine their use and impacts on Ukraine. She will also discuss the work of Legacies of War and its contributions to the Mine Action Sector.

April 28 | Unmasking a Dictator: Amnesty International Mission to the Philippines (1975)

Tom Jones
Poet, Photographer, Human Rights Activist

Watch the video of the talk here.

The Amnesty International mission consisted of Asia Researcher Wen-hsien Huang, a member of Amnesty International’s International Secretariat, and the American lawyer, Thomas C. Jones, a member of the board of directors of Amnesty International USA.

On 21 September 1972, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr., barred by the Philippines Constitution from running for a 3rd term, with 14 months left in his 2nd term, had declared martial law, at the same time ordering the immediate arrest and detention of thousands of students, workers, peasants, intellectuals, journalists as well as hundreds of his political rivals. The first person arrested and imprisoned was popular Senator Benigno Aquino, leader of the opposition who had been favored to win the next presidential election, Marcos’ most feared rival.  The delegates interviewed him in solitary confinement in maximum security prison in Fort Bonifacio.

The number of political prisoners was unprecedented.  In an interview with the mission delegates in Manila on November 25, 1975, President Marcos admitted that altogether some 50,000 people had been arrested and detained in the three years since the imposition of martial law. The “detention centers” were more like concentration camps, wretched, overcrowded, and unsanitary, and the further away from Manila, the worse the conditions.

In sending a mission to The Philippines, AI had not anticipated the extent to which torture had been used against martial law detainees.  The delegates were deeply concerned by the harshness of such torture and the evidence of its widespread use.  Almost 70% of those interviewed by the mission reported that they had been tortured.

The People’s Power Revolution finally overthrew Marcos in 1986: he and his family were flown in US Army planes to exile in Hawaii.  Corazon Aquino, widow of the martyred Senator Benigno (who was murdered returning from medical care in the U.S. on the tarmac of Manila International Airport), succeeded Marcos.

This drama continues with the election in 2022 of the Dictator’s son and namesake, President Fernando E. “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., who has refused to admit his father’s crimes.

May 5 | Panel Discussion on Indigeneity in Thailand: Challenges and Opportunities

Ian Baird, Micah Morton, Po-Tao Chang, and TouSaiko Lee

Watch the video of the talk here.

In 2007, Thailand was one of the many countries that signed the historic United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). However, despite its apparent support for Indigenous peoples, the reality is that Thailand has adopted what is commonly referred to as the “salt-water theory”. That is, Thailand recognizes the existence of Indigenous peoples and the need to protect them, but only in the Americas, New Zealand and Australia, places where high-levels of European settler-colonialism occurred. For Thailand itself, the vast majority of inhabitants are of Asian descent (they did not cross salt-water oceans), and therefore the government does not consider the concept of Indigenous peoples to be relevant. Some upland minorities are imagined to be illegal newcomers, with uncertain citizenship. However, since the 1980s ideas about Indigenous peoples and Indigenous rights have come to Thailand, and today there are many different Indigenous peoples advocates from different minority ethnic groups in Thailand, advocating for the recognition and rights of Indigenous peoples in Thailand. When will the government of Thailand come to recognize the existence of Indigenous peoples? What are the obstacles to great recognition of Indigenous rights in Thailand? This panel discussion will address the complex nature of understandings about Indigeneity in Thailand, Indigenous rights, and Indigenous activism in Thailand.

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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.

December 2 | The Afterlife of the Vietnam War Era: U.S. Army uniforms in Thailand

Chaiyaporn Singdee
Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology
Chiang Mai University

Watch the video of the talk here.

The economic power and global appeal of the second-hand clothing industry has skyrocketed since the 1990s. Before the 1990s, secondhand clothing was primarily consumed because of its affordability. A sharp increase in the appeal of secondhand clothing happened due to a new set of cosmopolitan consumers who seek out secondhand clothing despite their ability to afford new clothes. Globally, secondhand clothing often begins as donated goods from developed countries that find their way to the Global South through charitable organizations. Then, these objects go through various stages of market-based transformation in several locations before reaching consumers. These cosmopolitan specialists look for “vintage” and rare pieces. Market-savvy consumers in the Global South seek out vintage secondhand clothing as a way of connecting with the past and memories in the process. In Thailand, one of the most sought-after vintage categories is military clothing of the U.S. Army, especially from the Vietnam War period. Pursuing and purchasing original and authentic US military uniforms and insignias of the units engaged in combat are highly desirable for Thai collectors. Using social media and internet-based research, these specialist-consumers obtain detailed and specific information on various U.S. army divisions and how insignias once were exhibited by military personnel during the war. Through collecting and trading, they learn and make sense of the Cold War events on their own and create memory through their experience and relationships with the materials to construct new preferred identities and possibilities. These consumers thus establish ways of engaging with memories and materials of war in manners that are distinct from dominant Western views of the war. Attending to the role of collectors’ networks in negotiating, acquiring, and trading cold war materials, this paper aims to understand the motivations behind U.S. military vintage clothing collectors, and how they have come to treasure and recreate memories of the cold war through hybrid relationships.

Fall 2023

September 8 | Local Anti-Crime Campaigns and the Emergence of Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’ in the Philippines

Sol Iglesias
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

Watch the video of the talk here.

The national anti-crime campaign under former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte killed an estimated 6,200 people, based on official estimates, to as many as 30,000 people, according to human rights groups and the International Criminal Court prosecutor. This level of mass violence was unprecedented in the country’s postwar independence, yet its origins need to be better understood. Why did it emerge as a dominant form of political violence? I trace the emergence of anti-crime violence in former President Duterte’s bailiwick of Davao City, as well as in nearby Tagum City in Southern Mindanao and in urban areas of Central Luzon, prior to the national “war on drugs.” I argue that the weak Philippine state, unable to monopolize the use of force and constrained by particularistic interests, regulates violence using tactics that include accommodation with local political bosses. The violence thus scaled up with the endorsement and collusion of national elites, in Davao City. In the absence of such accommodation, the state was able to crack down on local armed groups, eliminating the Tagum City Death Squad (similarly linked to the local mayor) and the Red Vigilante Group operating in the cities of Gapan and Bulacan. I account for relative shifts in the use of violence, illuminating the central-local dynamics of anti-crime campaigns—a new, pernicious form of state terror. This presentation is part of a larger book project that uses new and unused source material in a novel dataset of violence in six regions throughout the country, from 2001 to 2016.

September 15 | Fact and Fiction on the
Advent of Buddhism in the ‘Golden Land’

Nicholas Revire

Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Postdoctoral Fellow, Arts of Asia
Curatorial Documentation and Research, The Art Institute of Chicago

Sponsored by the Archaeology Brownbag Series and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies

Watch the video of the talk here.

Most scholars think that the generic name “Golden Land” (Skt, Suvarṇabhūmi; P., Suvaṇṇabhūmi) was first used by Indian traders as a vague designation for an extensive offshore region, presumably in Southeast Asia. Some Pali sources even specifically link Suvaṇṇabhūmi with the introduction of Buddhism to the region. The locus classicus is the Sri Lankan Mahāvaṃsa chronicle (5th or 6th century CE) which states that two monks, Soṇa and Uttara, were sent there for missionary activities in the time of King Asoka (3rd century BCE). No Southeast Asian textual or epigraphic sources, however, refer to this Pali legend before the second millennium CE. Conversely, what hard archeological evidence is there for the advent of Buddhism in mainland Southeast Asia? This lecture will reexamine and carefully confront the literary evidence and the earliest epigraphic and archeological data, dissociating material discoveries from legendary accounts, with special references to the Mon country of Rāmaññadesa (lower Myanmar) and Dvāravatī (central Thailand).

September 22 | ‘We, the Twins of the Dragons’: Indigenous Multispecies Politics and Ecotourism Political Economy in Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Dr. Cypri Jehan Paju Dale

Affiliated Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology
University of Wisconsin Madison

Watch the video of the talk here.

In Komodo National Park, Eastern Indonesia, the natural home of the largest living lizard on earth known as Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), local communities have articulated their indigenous cosmologies of an intimate relationship with the dragon to oppose the exclusionary conservation and tourism model and to claim active participation in the new tourism economy. Identified in vernacular as Sebae (meaning the other half), the dragons have been believed as the twins of the human, born from the same human mother of the Indigenous Komodo residents. Analyzing the articulation of this indigenous cosmology against the backdrop of the emerging tourism industry, this presentation shows how this Indigenous multispecies identity politics takes place in the context of new economic opportunities created by the incorporation and exploitation of wildlife and indigenous space. Through a nuanced description of Komodo’s multi-species politics and their political and economic conjuncture, this presentation shows how marginalized communities reshape their identity and pursue economic interests in an entangled capitalist world.

September 29 | Photography as Propaganda in the Indochina War (1945-1954): French and Vietnamese Perspectives

Marie-Agathe Simonetti

Ph.D. Candidate in Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The war between France and Việt Nam from 1946 to 1954 was not only fought with weapons but with photography. The internationalization of the Indochina War in 1950 brought photographs from Việt Nam to the fore. Both the French and Vietnamese armies had a photographic unit during the war, and their photographs were printed in newspapers and magazines, enhancing their political impact. This talk will consider the production of the French and Vietnamese sides. It will analyze the French Army operators’ photographs and their publications in color in the monthly Indochine Sud-Est Asiatique (Indochina South East Asian) and the Việt Minh’s production in their newspaper Cứu Quốc (National Salvation). To go beyond a binary understanding divided between the French and the Việt Minh, the presentation will include civilian photography by examining the first exhibitions dedicated to artistic photography that happened in Hà Nội in 1952, 1953, and 1954. The talk will show that photography was essential to French and Vietnamese propaganda. This resulted in an aestheticization of the war. By engaging with these three different productions, the presentation will demonstrate that despite being at war and having distinct styles, means, and ideologies, French and Vietnamese photographs avoided violent depictions of the war to impose a controlled, heroic, masculine, aestheticized representation of their side.

October 6 | Flying Brothers: The Cold War & America’s Airpower Allies in Southeast Asia

Daniel Jackson

Ph.D. Candidate in History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Watch the video of the talk here.

While most Cold War histories of airpower in Southeast Asia focus on unilateral US efforts in Indochina, America’s treaty allies in the region—Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines—not only enabled and participated in those efforts but also became sites of conflict themselves. This ongoing research for the speaker’s dissertation attempts to recenter the experiences of America’s allies in examining some of the most important effects of US policy on allied air forces—issues of sovereignty, security, and political stability. Moreover, it seeks to explain the complications of intercultural relationships and the partial failure of US security objectives. Though the United States claimed to emerge from the Cold War victorious, by the end of this global conflict, its power, prestige, and presence had suffered serious damage in Southeast Asia.

October 13 | The State of Thailand’s Human Rights and Democracy after the 2023 Election

Sirikan Charoensiri

Deputy Director and Lawyer, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)

On 14 May 2023, Thailand held its second general election after the 2014 coup d’état took over the democratically elected government. The election outcome was promising for the pro-democracy movement in Thailand. The reformist Move Forward Party (MFP) emerged as the winner of the election. Among other issues, MFP advocates for reforms of the monarchy, amendment of Section 112 (lèse-majesté) of the Criminal Code, military reforms, and other fundamental structural reforms. Despite winning the May 2023 election with the most seats in the parliament’s lower house — 151 of 500 seats, or around 37% of direct votes — the progressive Move Forward Party has officially been pushed out of the government coalition led by the runner-up Pheu Thai Party

After more than three months since the general election, a Pheu Thai candidate and real estate tycoon, Mr. Srettha Thavisin, has finally been voted in as the country’s 30th Prime Minister.

Undoubtedly, the May 2023 election and subsequent political developments have immense implications for human rights in Thailand. Since late 2020, more than 1,900 individuals have been charged under the criminal law for exercising their right to freedom of expression or peaceful assembly. And cases against more than 1,000 people are ongoing today.

Sirikan’s lecture will provide a briefing on “Post-Election Updates and Implications for Human Rights in Thailand”. It will highlight key updates and observations about the ongoing political developments, as well as implications of the political situation on the state of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

October 20 | Bones of Contention: The Philippine Scouts and the Accounting for their Missing from World War II

Dr. Maureen Justiniano

WWII Historian (SNA International), Supporting the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA)

Watch the video of the talk here.

The Philippine Scouts, despite serving as both American colonial agents of pacification in the early 20th C Philippines and then later, a formidable U.S. Army elite ground force in the Pacific Theater during World War II, are often relegated to a mere footnote in the annals of modern U.S. history. The lack of understanding of the complex history and nature of this multifaceted organization has deprived these individuals of the recognition they deserved and their proper place in history, which is why it is more crucial than ever to focus on the accounting for their missing. However, such noble mission poses unique challenges that this paper will strive to address.

To appreciate the complexity of such an endeavor and why the accounting for the missing Philippine Scouts is such a unique case, this paper first examines their background, particularly, their induction into the U.S. Army. Notably, this distinction placed the Philippine Scouts in a unique position during and after the war, when accounting efforts for the missing were well underway. The usual challenges of post-war recovery operations in the Philippines, such as loss of burial records and the destruction of graves owing to indiscriminate enemy bombings, are compounded by the incomplete records not only of those enlisted men who served in the Philippine Scouts but also in the Philippine Army, and the haphazard investigations by the American Graves Registration Services (AGRS), resulting in a paucity of information. These challenges, along with the difficulty of finding and collecting DNA family reference samples, only make present-day accounting efforts for missing Philippine Scouts a more daunting task to undertake.

October 27 | Impacts of the 2020-2021 Youth Movement
on the 2023 Thai Election and Beyond

Kanokrat Lertchoosakul

Visiting Scholar,(Harvard-Yenching Institute), Associate Professor of Political Science (Chulalongkorn University)

Watch the video of the talk here.

Amidst the chaotic Thai political situation during the past few decades, the result of the 2023 election and its aftermath amazed many of those who followed it. In understanding the election result and potential future political scenarios, this talk focuses on the role and impacts of younger people and the consequences of the 2020-2021 youth movement on the current political situation. It starts with recapitulating the rise and dynamic of the youth movement between 2020 and 2021. Then, the talk illustrates the post-protest activism and its impact on later political situation. Finally, it proposes the possibilities and potential scenarios of the youth and people movement after the 2023 election and the new governments.

November 3 | Exchange and Solidarity: Exploring Civic Health and the Third Sector and in Timor-Leste from the UW-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies

Mary Beth Collins

Executive Director of the Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (the “CommNS”), University of Wisconsin-Madison

Watch the video of the talk here.

Through an ACYPL (American Council of Young Political Leaders) YSEALI (Youth Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) Reciprocal Exchange, Mary Beth, Executive Director of the UW-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (the “CommNS”), traveled to Timor-Leste in March 2023. With the support of a remarkable team of past and aspiring YSEALI program fellows, Mary Beth, along with her co-delegate Dr. Kwasi Obeng, participated in a full week of activities to share, learn, and exchange about key themes relevant in Wisconsin and in Timor-Leste, one of the world’s youngest democracies. Key themes explored included the Timorese struggle for independence, colonial history and influence, youth engagement, sustainable economies, natural resource stewardship, civic health, and the role of nongovernmental organizations/nonprofits in a healthy civil society and in meeting basic needs, and higher education programming to nurture the next generation of leaders. This rich exchange opportunity forged understanding, meaningful relationships, possible project concepts for future collaboration, and deeper appreciation for the solidarity we share across seemingly disparate contexts in supporting and sustaining pro-democratic communities and nations where all can thrive.

November 10 | In Defense of Liberal Democracy, Anti-Communism and the Lao Race:
The Second Indochina War as a Lao War

Ryan Wolfson-Ford

Southeast Asian Reference Librarian, Library of Congress Asian Division

Watch the video of the talk here.

On the night of May 18, 1959 as fighting erupted between Royal Lao Army (RLA) and Pathet Lao forces no one knew that this would be the start of a 16-year war that would only end with the bloody demise of the first post-colonial state of Laos, the Royal Lao Government (1945-1975). Scholars remain unaware of key points about the Second Indochina War in Laos (e.g., casualty figures), but its origins remain shrouded and murky. What were the origins of this war? This talk examines the little-known role of the RLG in initiating the largest war in Lao history. From the RLG perspective, the war was fought to defend liberal democracy, independence and anti-communism, which each had been developing more independently and organically since 1945-46 than scholars realize. RLG civilian and military officials were also blinkered by a potent new post-colonial Lao nationalism that viewed Vietnamese as a bitter racial enemy. Amid the Cold War they sought to settle scores from the French colonial-era when Vietnamese dominated Lao cities, schools, the indigenous guard and the colonial administration. The Vietnamese in Laos had even tried to seize power in August 1945 before the Lao independence movement could gain momentum. And the communist movement in Laos was almost entirely Vietnamese. To RLG leaders, the Second Indochina War was not just about defending democracy and anti-communism, but about saving Laos from Vietnamese colonialism and the Lao race from extinction at the hands of the Vietnamese.

This was further compounded by additional factors. In the lead up to war, there was a highly contentious election in 1958 that led to the outbreak of violence. There was also a new rightwing, anti-communist nationalist government that included military officers in the cabinet for the first time. And many Lao elites were infuriated by the PRC invasion of Tibet in April 1959, which led some Lao to call for a “holy war.” Finally, when the Pathet Lao refused to integrate into the RLA war returned, but why did the RLG refuse peace talks when facing a far more power foe — the DRV — before which the RLA was clearly outmatched? RLG leaders were blinded by their own anti-communist nationalism seeking to liberate the country from Vietnamese domination in an apocalyptic fight of a Lao race against a Red Sino-Vietnamese race; just as commentators spoke of saving the country from the Chinese who forced Lao out of southern China thousands of years ago. Laos has too often been seen as little more than a pawn or victim of foreign powers during the Cold War, but the RLG had its own complex, multifaceted, equally flawed and valid reasons to go to war. The Second Indochina War in Laos was a Lao war. And to fully understand the Second Indochina War in Laos we must understand the RLG role in events.

November 17 | Making ‘Kinds of People’: Subject Formation through Nationalism and Activism

Ei Thin Zar

Ph.D. Candidate in Curriculum and Instruction
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Nation-building projects produce and reproduce the kind of citizens that the nation desires in a double gesture of hope and fear: with the hope to hold the responsibility and obligation to make government possible and with the fear of difference and dangerous populations that would prevent its ability to govern. While nation-building projects of the state create certain “kinds of people” that the state requires, activism opens up spaces of resistance to create conditions for social change and make social action possible. Activism is a space of action, where social movements can be formed, in which judgments are made, types of objects are recognized and conclusions are drawn in the present as an effect of an anticipated future. Thus, it creates a curriculum in action along the path of forming new subjectivities.

December 1 | Beyond Heavy Metal: Revisiting the Prehistory of Caravan Routes in Zomia

Alice Yao

Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Chicago

Control over copper and tin ores are often considered to be significant drivers of wealth production and political stratification in early states. This is perhaps nowhere better demonstrated than in the Southeast Asian tin and copper belt. An archaeological view from the northern extent of the belt in Yunnan, China finds that metal ores are but only one piece of the political economy puzzle. This talk examines the prospects of thinking about an archaeology of finance by thinking about other sources of value in a Bronze Age economics. Can we use finance, credit, and risk as generalizable categories in the absence of markets and money? Combining recent archaeological findings from chiefly centers in the Dian basin of Yunnan and a “return” to the foundational classics of political anthropology of highland Southeast Asia, I outline some of the empirical problems of this approach to value production.