Friday, June 1, 2012
Monday, June 27, 2011
While the Gaia hypothesis has been useful in clarifying ways we think about the interlinkages among complex adaptive systems, much of it remains in 1960s systems theory – the teleology, the linking of everything to everything, the inability to specify mechanisms for some of these relationships (and especially for a superorgasmic Earth with emergent consciousness). In particular, as an anthropologist, I find the models and visions for the future presented by these authors highly culture-bound. They show no understanding of the dynamics of human institutions or of the time scale of the existence of Homo sapiens, leading to a variety of contradictions and incoherencies.
Ethnocentrism is the judgment of other people by one’s own standards, imagining others as simply the opposite of ‘us.’ Hamilton, in particular seems to see the world in terms of a in a Levi-Straussian hot/cold dichotomy. Cold societies are those that are “outside of history,” retaining mythic modes of thinking. We are modern, the ones who change, progress, advance. It is a binary opposition – modern (the growth fetish, consumerism) vs. “pre-modern” (archaic, loving the Earth). These futurologists telescope the past with current adaptations; those without complex technology or bureaucracies are “archaic” and, in this dichotomy, the solution to what ails us today. This is romanticized ethnocentrism – the primitives or people of yore universally lived in harmony with the Earth, had an Earth Ethic, a love of Gaia (or, as Hamilton suggests in his big finish, a sky/climate god, pp. 219-221).
The species Homo has been around for about 2.5 million years, but these authors lump together all of the ‘pre-modern’ societies despite the range of variety in political economies from foraging bands to pre-industrial states. Hamilton pays lip-service to the ways in which our desires arise out of the consumer/commodity culture of the west, but all of these authors in fact have limited and shallow understanding of the dynamics of social formations. As a result, their suggestions for transforming the currently dominant political economy are preposterous. Many of the authors call for ‘radical democracy.’ Yet democracy is a form of political organization found in states, and by their very nature states have political elites. If our inability to address climate change is due to the vested interests of elites, then democracy might not actually resolve anything. Human history – the whole of human history, not just ancient civilizations from 3000 years ago – shows us that increased population density is closely associated with ever more complex political formations and increasingly more intensive forms of food-production. Hamilton, to his credit, specifically notes the huge numbers of poor and vulnerable around the world who are most likely to suffer in the climate crisis, but his solutions read like New Age middle-class elitism – we should all cultivate a Buddhist mind, for instance. Having lived in Buddhist societies, I can assure Mr. Hamilton that all Buddhists are not, in fact, in gentle harmony with the Earth and all of its living creatures. Like so many other religious forms, how it is practiced depends on the total configuration of political, economic and social structures, as well as cultural meaning, of the system within which people live. All of the authors in these books assert a desire to save ‘human civilization,’ but how precisely can this happen at current population densities? Consumption is not just about individual use of natural resources, but state use as well. This includes state consumption for infrastructure – hospitals, schools, roads, and libraries, for instance. Some seem unaware of the reality of the great divide in access to resources. Foresman’s Earth Operating System fails to notice that his imagined democracy will accrue to the elite (us) who have access to computers. For the poor, spatially-enabled technology can become yet another form of control by government elites, as I have noted in my study of the uses of GIS in northern Thailand. Along with the assumption of an intentional Earth, there is a pervasive sense that human systems are also purpose-driven; the implication is that we can decide to change the social systems of all people on the planet, and it will happen. Statements by these authors that Gaian thinking will be helpful in rethinking human systems (e.g., Litfin, p. 207) are manifestly untrue.
Another key theme in these assessments of the success of ecosystems and species is sustainability. This, too, this leads to logical consistencies. Microbes in a modeled flask (Lenton and William) or soil arthropods (Rinker) are judged as successful because they have ‘enhanced’ their environments for their own long-term success (see also Harding and Margulis). By these standards, humans are a successful species. The rules of nature must also apply to humans as a biological species. We are successful, and we have been successful by cooperation; we survive by living in social groups and creating meaning; we have altered our environment to suit our needs. The difference is that humans have, in the Gaian perspective, destroyed or perturbed their environment past recovery. It is a matter of sustainability. However, by what time scale do we judge sustainability? Is two and a half million years of a species an evolutionary failure?
Neither can we assume that all systems of co-evolution will match together perfectly through time. The Gaian perspective does not account for shifts, change, and open systems; it implies that each ecological community is an organism in and of itself and worthy of saving in that form and no other. The time frame by which Gaians assess the human species is a very short one, as well as ethnocentric (the three key historical points mentioned are the last 40 years, the Industrial Revolution, or ancient Greece). Yet the story of the evolution of life I teach in anthropology courses tells us about profound change and great diversity in adaptations. The Gaian perspective analytically separates humans from nature, applying the standards of judging success differently for the human and other species, possibly because of the blind spot in their perspective for the full time scale and diversity of human life around the planet. Their negative tone toward the evolutionary success of the human species is, in part, based on their perception that humans are destroying the environment for other species – counter to their argument that diverse cooperating species create a successful ecosystem – but this then shifts the discussion back to altruism. Therefore, despite their arguments, inter-species altruism is indeed a core element of the Gaian model of life.
Despite Hamilton’s and others’ points about how the culture of rationalistic science has bounded understanding of holistic linkages in ecosystems, they fail to understand that all humans live within cultural systems of meaning and social relations that create the parameters of a ‘known’ universe. They do not see that their own individualism is culturally-constructed. Hamilton, Thomashow, and others set out from individual psychology (including attribution of motivation to climate deniers) to understand human relationships with the environment (most commonly citing works from journals such as Journal of Environmental Psychology), but they are unable to make the linkages between individuals and the social systems in which they live. Foragers such as the !Kung San or the Mbuti have strong community identities because community identity is produced by specific social relations, rights, and obligations to each other. Imagining a future means we need to comprehensively understand how humans live. When Hamilton says the climate crisis is not the ‘fault’ of individuals, and that individual choices will not change the coming crisis, but then argues that the solution is a change in personal attitude toward humility, compassion, and selflessness, his argument is contradictory.
Finally, these authors argue that the Gaia hypothesis provides us with a powerful metaphor (see, for instance, Volk, who is otherwise quite critical of Gaia for science) that will help us to avert the looming climate crisis by personalizing our relationship with the biosphere. This personification, they say, is a useful metaphor for learning to respect the earth, to take better care of it, to be humble about our place in it and the limits to our consumption. Is this a valid statement?
We all use metaphors – that’s what language and modeling are. To say that science is rooted in metaphor is not to question the validity of science. It is a matter, however, of recognizing that metaphors not only make a positive model (what things are) but also blind us to assumptions and possibilities (Lakoff and Johnson 2003). However, as scientists, we need to constantly question these, just as we verify our results. Our goal is, ultimately, to come to a greater verisimilitude with the world. Metaphors are useful in this; they can also be a hindrance if the metaphor does not fit with the phenomena we seek to explain. This makes the Gaia metaphor is invalid and even dangerous. The metaphor places humans outside of nature, while making a super-organism out of the Earth as a whole. Gaians have performed a reversal of a dichotomy inherently built into their model, as if they can only envision a vague, utopian opposite in which we are all subject to a new moral ontology, similar to what they imagine “pre-modern” people to have had. The metaphor also leads scientists to assert that Gaia has consciousness and intentionality. In so doing, these thinkers are trapped by the individualism of Western social life. This is the Animate Fallacy, the inability to perceive communities outside of an (implicitly) intentional life force of the superorganism itself. Ironically, these authors in fact extensively demonstrate that they are people of their own cultural system, the western culture of individualism, in their obsessive focus on Gaia as a living entity.
Ultimately, what do we need Gaia Theory for? Clearly, Gaian influenced science has come a long way, e.g., the forest and water studies, the study of nutrient and carbon flows. The Gaia hypothesis inspires us to love and respect the wonderful processes that created this living planet. And an amazing thing Earth is, indeed, as are the processes of life and multiple levels of complex adaptive systems. But I do not need to think Gaia is a living presence to be overwhelmed with the wonder of the web of life and feel a heightened sense of despair and outrage over what humans have done to the planet.
Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson (2003). Metaphors We Live By, second edition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Reader that I am, I still finished it by virtue of rapid skimming. Which is probably how a lot of things ought to be read.
Leviathan Rising by Jonathan Green
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I love scifi and alternative histories, so I thought I had a winner when I started this book. The prologue is set on a tramp ship smuggling opium TO Britain (google "steps to opium production" to see why this thrilled me!).
If you read because you like good writing, then avoid this book. After the promising prologue, you'll be dropped into a world of writing in which characterizations consist of the hero going around the dinner table listing key points of each character to himself, and the author has never met an adjective he didn't like and use. For instance, at the height of a scene in which the horrible monster - perhaps a Kraken, perhaps the result of horrible scientific experiments - is being attacked by giant sharks, Green writes: "There wasn't one thought to the contrary in his mind that the sharks' attack against the Kraken was a happy accident as far as those on board the Nemo were concerned but then serendipity was playing its part quite nicely nonetheless, and suddenly the facility was a viable objective again, the open hole of its docking gate within reach." In the first 1/5 of the book, Green repeatedly refers to the shadow of the cleavage of the female romantic's lead about 5 times. She is, by the way, svelte AND curvaceous. And a range of discriminatory comments about people who are not Anglo flow out of character's mouths or the hero's internal dialogue. Historically accurate? Ironic? Perhaps, the way Green writes it seems that these are simply acceptable ways to refer to Indians, Chinese, and so on.
I haven't read the earlier book in Green's series, which means that in my reading experience of this book there was no world-building whatsoever. Darwinists of some sort are bad, and Queen Victoria has been ruling for 160 years. Green might want to spend a little more of his words on showing his world, and far fewer passages like: "The other more senior ladies of the party had wisely kept to more traditional, and therefore, restrained designs."
View all my reviews
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Monday, April 13, 2009
But this level of on-going street violence is unprecedented as far as I can see.
The "Yellow Shirts" (royalist or traditional military/aristocratic elite) claim that Thaksin and his party had to be thrown out (even if legally elected) because of corruption. That’s the pot calling the kettle black. There is the high level, systemic, deep-seated, highly secretive corruption of upper class controlled governments. For fear of lese majeste laws (no matter how far-fetched the accusations), I'll say no more.
Then there’s Thaksin’s populist movement, also horribly corrupt — but less well-hidden, and probably of much smaller scale as not built into the system of government and understandings of ’superiors’ and ‘inferiors.’
So, you’ve got royalists vs. republicans, although all call themselves pro-King given political discourse in Thailand; you’ve got the working and middle classes, long cut out of any political power, and the elites; you’ve got people for the legally elected political party vs. those who define the legally elected party as inherently illegal.
And all argue that their perspective is the only true one because they are the only true Thais. To say that your perception is more accurate because you are a Thai person is to say that all Thai people must have your perspective to be truly Thai.
I'm reading Penny Edwards' Cambodge and perhaps it's this intersection that brings me to this observation: This kind of political discourse is veering dangerously close to that of the ‘year zero’ party in Cambodia. The independence and nationalist movements in Cambodia wrote in a discourse of 'true' Khmer culture. "The Original Khmer" was an early pen name of Pol Pot!. How far will this go?
The genie is out of the bottle and the land of smiles is not even a facade any more.
Good luck to ALL the Thai people in the continuing crisis.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
But now I have been hired as a Southeast Asianist at Parkside, and I am in position to return to my first love. It was such a pleasure to be back in the world of SE Asia for this weekend.
These are my notes on the panels I attended at the AAS. They're notes, folks! They might not be all that readable to all! They are simply meant to fill in the gaps on the tweets I sent out during some (not all) of the panels. I find that I sometimes space out on all the wonderful things I learned and thought about at good meetings. The process of writing up and posting these notes is meant to help me remember and integrate that information.
The Contribution of Pop Culture to Foreign Language and Culture Competency: Examples from Thailand and Cambodia - Sponsored by COTSEAL
Chaired by John F. Hartmann, Northern Illinois University
Very interesting, I twittered on this a fair bit – the instigation was Yuphaphann referring to people my age as ‘digital immigrants.’ I just had to prove her wrong! I told her afterwards that I’d twittered about her talk and she was delighted, but had no idea how to access that.
But it seems to be a continuation of the absolutely fantastic Thai language program at Hawaii. That’s where I first studied Thai, under Phongsuwan Bilmes (nee Thongdii), and Dr. Haigh Roop.
Thai Pop Songs and Tools to Manage Them for Language and Culture Competency
Theodora H. Bofman, Northeastern Illinois University
Thai emusic site for Thai pop and language learning – they make a song available each week to allow students of the Thai language to provide English language translation. Go to http://www.ethaimusic.com to listen to Thai music and read the translations!
Integrating Pop Culture and Digital Media in Language Learning for Gen-Y, the “Digital Natives”
Yuphaphann Hoonchamlong, University of Hawaii, Manoa
Presentation on digital info & Thai language teaching. Apparently my age makes me a "digital immigrant" compared 2 Gen Y!
She's now showing the KU digital anthro video.
The language learner is the most impt factor in language learning. So we need to use digital tools - but what about the digital divide?
Interesting service: Thai 4 lovers on yr cell phone!
Thai Comics: Pop Culture Themes for Learner Competency
Payungsak Kaenchan, Northern Illinois University
Presenter on Thai comics in language ed is using prezi.com, zooming, non-linear, so cool.
The Korean Craze among Thai Urban Youth: Thai Culture in Transition
Piyathida Sereebenjapol, Northern Illinois University
Summarized as Kim Chee to Kim Chic. The presenter was quite enamored of Korean pop culture. The genealogy is Korean melodramas (those serialized soaps on Thai night-time TV). One, about a love triangle in which the girl dies. The big problem I saw was that she started with this brief discussion of Thai-Korean relations, like from the 14th century – but those relations were truncated by the sinking of the ship of Thai diplomats traveling to Korea. Can we really say this is significant in today’s pop fascination with Korea? Better to have looked at more immediate drivers. I suspect it has to do with identification with Korea as a “tiger,” “like Thailand.” I heard people say in the 1990s that they felt they could learn more from Korean than other countries, that they were alike, but Korea had jumped ahead economically while Thailand stagnated; so ‘we should learn from them.’ There’s also the economics of centers of pop culture, where it’s cheap to produce, which t.v. shows and ads get spread around SE Asia.
Ninjas, Ladyboys, and Seven-word Meter Using Western Pop Culture and Khmer Popular Theater to Teach the Modern Cambodian Novel
Frank J. Smith, University of California, Berkeley
The inestimable Frank Smith, showing us the successive plays his students have put on in SEASSI. Among the best scenes: a rap version of Khmer poetry.
Discussants: Rosarin Adulseranee, Northern Illinois University
I went to this in part to see Carol Compton, someone I admire and haven’t seen for a long time. However, she had taken ill so she did not come to the AAS.
Friday am Panel on Ditch-diggers, Steel-drivers, and the CIA: Border-crossing Perspectives on Asian Environmental History
Chaired by Sing Chew, Humboldt State University
Now isn’t that a cool title? Wouldn’t you want to attend this?
Engineering Empire: The Dujiangyan Waterworks and the Persistence of Water Management in West China * Ruth Mostern, University of California, Merced
Americans and Counterinsurgency Warfare in the Vietnamese Landscape
David A. Biggs, University of California, Riverside
Ways in which the Vietnamese landscape was successfully or unsuccessfully controlled by Americans in attempting to carry out the war in Vietnam.
Discussant: Sing Chew, Humboldt State University
I only heard the end of the last one (I ended up in the wrong session, but that was interesting, too, and allowed me to clarify my abstract for the AAAs, due in just a day or two). Envtl history re: Vietnam, French vocabulary of gardens. Technical & environmental specifics rarely discussed. This historian says he is better loking at snapshots, he's not comfortable with the longe duree because of the rapid pace of change. However, the Indian historian (geographer?) thinks scale is really important to see how it is all linked. Most of them were taking a world systems approach, which Mostern thought was a great theory for grounding the theory in the local, plus it was ‘politically actionable.’ Obviously, a different sort of world systems theory than I was familiar with in the 1980s!
The discussion by Sing Chew, but Sing Chew, was, of course, really interesting. His work on China’s footprint and deforestation of SW China in the Ming dynasty was very important in the way I conceptualized Lisu relationships to states and empires.
Ruth Mostern’s was interesting as an example of how ‘traditional’ religious practices can serve as a means of communicating environmental information. For instance, a large statue of the Buddha is marked to indicate water levels – so, if only to the base and not to the feet, there’s a drought; if water levels are above the feet, there’s flood. She also talked a little bit about use of silt from erosion and flooding, how that might have been used in the fields. Keep an eye on this work, it could be quite interesting?
Friday am Panel on Monastic Labor
Monastic Labor: Thinking about the Activities of Monastics in Twentieth and Twenty-first Century Theravada Societies
Chaired by Thomas A. Borchert, University of Vermont
The Politics of Monastic Labor in Thailand
Monastic Labor and Lay Support in a Chinese Theravada Society
Thomas A. Borchert, University of Vermont
Discussant: Steven Collins, University of Chicago
The Politics of Monastic Labor in Thailand, Michael Jerryson
Monastic labor, he’s using a Marxist def of social labor
North, environmental monks. Profitable tangerine business in northern Thailand diverted water to the orchard, infiltrated community protected forest, pesticides cause illness & kill natural resources. Villagers turned to monks for environmental protection; used rituals. Community is core of dhamma practice. Ajarn Anek.
Community, monks as social developers, this is monastic labor.
Militant monastic labor in the south.
In both cases, monks become viewed as political agents.
How to justify their labor in terms of Buddhist Dhamma?
Forest monks see ecology as core to Buddhism. Some have been killed because of their actions against big business and local powers.
Militant monks see their actions as worth doing in terms of protection of Buddhist soldiers & Buddhism as a religion. This is controversial; they violate their monastic vows to some extent, but disagree w/ most assessments. (Supported by government, I suspect.)
I liked Jerryson’s but felt he left too many points unanswered, as Kris Lehman and Steve Collins pointed out. He was talking about the labor of northern environmental monks and that of monks in the south who worked to protect soldiers or even took up arms themselves to protect monasteries from Muslim rebels in the Muslim/Malay South. I think there’s a fundamental difference between environmental monks who find support for their activities in the sutras, and Buddhist monks in the highly polarized South who take up arms to “protect Buddhism.” This latter case struck me as both highly nationalistic, jingoistic even, and by no means legitimately supported in Buddhist texts.
Monastic labor and lay support in a Chinese Theravada Society by Thomas Borchert was wonderful.
Of course, it was Sipsongpanna, so what’s not to like? Very interesting, and many layers of understanding possible – for instance, the genealogies of investing abbots, especially since the Tai Lue Buddhist monasteries would have been shut down in the Cultural Revolution.
A theme of this talk: the ways things escape or attention because they don’t look religious.
These monks have rubber trees that they regularly harvested and the laity liked this because it took a burden off of them. Rubber trees initiated by a Shan monk from Burma in the 1980s.
Labor as work that is seen as supportive of the sangha in general, of the monastery in particular, this is appropriate labor.
Appropriate labor: Education, learning and teaching their culture is significant work; translation of Tai Lue literature, even contract translation of restaurant menus. Especially, ritual work (chanting) for the laity, some sermons. But also physical labor, upkeep of the temple, building stages for festivals, paperwork (time-consuming!) and they do run small businesses such as bookshops. And monasteries own land, rent it out! Finally, administration, abbots as CEOs, and organizational work (nested hierarchy of Buddhist associations across these Theravada / Tai groups, also imbricated into Communist party and government agencies).
Lay people, ways they enforce discipline. Monks don't just dominate. Criticism of monks by laity not overt, often in the form of gossip.
Rubber tapping ok, profits are used to maintain their temple. Criticism when monks try to build temples that are inappropriate for size of community.
Discussant: all culture is labor, the work of performing it (he cites French, Mondieu???)
So then the question isn't if, it's what kinds.
Regarding the monks who gardened: Monks should not garden for fear of killing small animals, but can own land and supervise servants and slaves. Therefore, the gardening monks mentioned earlier by Jerryson, and these rubber tapping monks, could be defined as going against Buddhism (which made me think of Angie and Mike, the British Buddhists I knew in the Solomons; Angie told me she quit gardening because she feared to kill worms).
Book mentioned: Buddhism and Postmodern Imaginings in Thailand, by James Taylor. From newasiabooks.org: “Discusses the significance of Thai Buddhism in a post-modern urban context, especially following the financial crisis of 1997. Defining the cultural nature of Thai 'urbanity'; the implications for local/global flows, interactions and social formations, this book opens up possibilities in understanding the specificities of everyday urban life.” I’d love to buy it, but it’s $100! So, I’ll have to get it from the library some time.
Novices at Luang Prabang, Lao PDR
Patrice Ludwig couldn't make it. Finishing diss @ Cambridge? So John Holt of of Bowdoin College, agreed to speak instead. His book: Spirits of the Place (?).
Luang Prabang, lots of wats due to royal patronage. Tourism is big here, UNESCO World Heritage site, NYT travel story.
Sammaneras = novices. You can see the novices with business cards, cell phones, trolling tourists (flirting with foreign girls!), plus construction & gardening labor, all unlike other Theravada societies such as Sri Lanka where you would not see monks or novices out @ night, for instance.
Why Disciplinary laxity? Too few senior monks to supervise?
Practical view that this is not unusual for novices, enacting roles for villagers. Novices are young, from rural settings, they can't have been prepared for this stark transition at a crossroads of globalization. Culture shock. Novices see individualism vis-a-vis villages. Important performance of Buddhism in binthabat (the monks go out each morning to collect food, giving the laity the opportunity to make merit by feeding the monks). They are a hot local commodity, it’s become a significant performance for the tourists. (Obviously they r needed, they perform Buddhism for tourists who sometimes out-number Lao on begging route.)
The novices see this as the conduit to the city, not the path to homelessness (in Buddhist sense). In Theravada, there is no stigma to disrobing, on contrary, and they gain prestige from having served at all. They plan on a future life outside of the monastery – many want to be businessmen, some to be tour guides or interpreters, musicians, etc. They use email to maintain contact with tourists and soliciting money. Some see it as alms; others just that tourists have lots of money and novices/families r poor.
A virtual monk in the future?
A great ethnography of what it is to be a novice, a young Lao male out of rural poverty – finding a whole new globalized world in Luang Prabang. I really enjoyed this talk. Holt is a wonderful writer and speaker, it felt very immediate, he did a great job of peeling apart the layers of how and why people act.
There was lively discussion following the papers. One key point is that none of the papers took full account of the different levels of commitment to the monastery. It is not just a division between novice and fully-ordained monk. There are steps to take before full and complete ordination.
Of course, I’m also aware of the fact that in Thailand, the monastery was long the route to education and opportunity for the poor (it was that or the military), especially in a fairly class-stratified society. And, of course, monasteries in Theravada societies are not like monasteries in the Western European Catholic tradition!
The City in Motion: Fluid Dynamics of Culture and Power in Urban Southeast Asia
Chaired by Rudolf Mrazek, University of Michigan
Hotels in the Colonial City: Empire, Architecture, and Travel
Maurizio Peleggi, National University of Singapore
OK, fairly standard discussion of colonial nostalgia in tourism, but pretty fun and I liked the fact that, unlike all the others, he included visuals.
Power and Motion in the Four Faces: A Colonial Aesthetics of Fluidity in Phnom Penh
Sarah Womack, University of Oxford
From this point on, things get more difficult. All of these people read their papers. They were mostly tightly integrated. Most of them did a wonderful job of creating visual images in their papers. I loved the metaphor of circulation, but to me it was just a metaphor. A very useful metaphor, but not the thing itself. These presenters were largely theory-heavy – the metaphor – and left the audience wondering about the ethnographic details.
Sarah Womack started out by stating that she knew she wasn’t giving the evidence, but that it was part of a larger project that did include the evidence. I asked her about it later – she’s defending her thesis on May 6th. I’ll want to read it when it’s done! Basically she was talking about the French appropriation of the hydraulic state, the modernist state in Cambodia. The "White Island" on Phnom Penh. The French had ‘discovered’ Angkor Wat and interpreted the pools and reservoirs as an example of hydraulic technology. They sought to replicate this in the new capital of Phnom Penh, but in line with French technological modernism – grids. Also very interesting points about how they imagined traffic to circulate without stopping, no stop signs at intersections, etc., just a continuous flow of peoples, as of water. Fascinating image and it made me think, actually, of traffic in Hanoi in the 1990s when I was there.
Cars and Carts: Marketing, Circulation, and Fluidity in Bangkok’s CBD
Name not in the program, didn’t get the addendum, and he didn’t announce himself. Heavy-ish accent made this rather difficult to understand.
He was talking about the people mover, how the public transportation system is spatially/socially different. He mentioned, as did Erik Harms later, the importance of movement in the modern city. He talked about vendors, and I think he was saying that the stops of the transport system are connected with department stores. He said something about the experience (from an interview) of waking up, going out to the noodle vendor, looking forward to the air-conditioning of the elevated.
Could so have used pictures with this!
Sandra Cates told me that night that the elevated has made a huge difference in Bangkok life, at least for her and people doing business. She used to be able to make only one interview/gallery/museum a day because of the long, slow traffic jams. Now, she can move efficiently all around and get lots more done. Obviously, I need to visit Bangkok again!
Removing People and Keeping Things Moving in the Demolition and Reconstruction of Vietnamese Cities
Erik L. Harms, Yale University
Marx on circulation, capitalism constantly seeks to speed exchange up. Road as site of circulation, road building as speeding up of circulation. Minimize stoppage, reduce that by forbidding actual business on the roads. In conclusion, after discussing a Saigon suburbanite’s attempt to keep his business from being taken for the Highway 1 revamp, he notes: It’s a battle between small capital and big capital. Big capital has bulldozers and a theory of aesthetics on its side.
And this was a key element of all of these papers – the theory of aesthetics that underlies all of these attempts to re-structure, re-build, re-form the city. However, most of us criticized these papers for 1. Lack of ethnographic information; 2. Particularly, I questioned the tabula rasa assumed, that these colonial/government plans took place on an empty field, and I talked about riding in traffic in Hanoi in the 1990s; 3. Mary Steedly suggested they needed a theory of slow, not just of circulation.
Discussant: Rudolf Mrazek, University of Michigan
Harms particularly mentioned Allison Truitt, 2008, “On the back of a motorbike: middle-class mobility in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. American Ethnologist 35 (1): 3-19.
"Mobility" is a key concept in understanding processes of globalization and class formation. In this article, I examine motorbike mobility in Ho Chi Minh City and its role in reordering social stratification in urban Vietnam. In the years following trade liberalization, motorbikes emerged as exemplary symbols of purchasing power, displaying both monetized and motorized power. In response to the exponential increase in the number of motorbikes, Vietnamese state agencies inscribed streets with divisions to separate different classes of vehicles and regulate the flow of traffic. Motorbikes, I argue, elude attempts to regulate their movement precisely because they embody the very mobility promised by economic reforms. [Vietnam, traffic, commodity, circulation, public space, mobility]
Kate to write about the marriage decisions of teenagers among the Lisu for EDLSEA.
Saturday a.m. Panel Individual Papers: Contemporary Issues in Thailand and Laos
Negotiating the Meaning of Gender Equality within Bangkok Marriages
Pilapa Esara, State University of New York, Brockport
Interesting talk, very survey/interview and quantitative methods oriented. I think it lacked meaning.
What does it mean? Conjugal contract, Moore 1993:104. The conjugal contract structures hh division of labor; Informed by & perpetuates gender ideology
Also, a final point: Interesting point she makes is that male & female ideas of 'equality' differ – again, I’m seeing polyvalence! Polyvalence sure allows things to work.
My question: What pronouns do they use? If talking about discourse, need to address their talk.
That question engendered (!) a lot of discussion at this point AND with people I met afterwards.
The New City and Its Shadows: Past and Present City Planning, Anxiety, and Fear in Northern Thailand
Andrew Johnson, Cornell University
Billboards mark beginning of town
Older gated communities abandoned, 1997
Haunted by ghosts, often killed in drug trade, nameless, young, female
Alternative explanation: These sites come from lack of wattanakham
Lack culture, protection, financial stability.
Urban decay & spirit mediums
The abandoned high rises/hotels never had occupants but they have ghosts
One take on why people wouldn’t live in these condos, even if re-built: where are the feet pointed? What are they doing in there?
High rises & suicide, death, alerted by smell (dying alone)
Empty spaces hold the traces of someone else
City not ordered, now chaos & murder
Thai Nationalism and Cinematic Superheroes in the Time of Thaksin
Adam Knee, Nanyang Technological University
Nationalism at Thai film, talking about these attempts to create globally marketable Thai/local films. Foreign baddies, incompetent English, good guys are v violent.
Inept, incomprehensible English belies international goals, true/underlying goal is dealing w/ chaos by presenting self to the world.
Great talk, very engaging, and very difficult to take notes on! One key point is that the films he discusses were attempts to enter the global marketplace, but the themes and stories were very Thai (young, compassionate, merit-filled, orphaned boy takes on the baddies, not just farang but Australian Chinese with a khatoey as their leader); and with insanely bad English dialogue spoken by actors who clearly did not know how to speak English.
Agrarian Land Use Transformation in Northern Laos
Luang Namtha Province
Long history of regional trade, ethnically diverse, displaced in Indochina War.
Upland people to lowlands, concentration of villages along the road.
Policy of village consolidation in 1990s. Ruth Schumacher. Paul Cohen. But abandoned policy to avoid growing ethnic tension, now people want to come down, so moving down anyhow.
Hh w/ assets, capital, adapted new cash crops. Also converted long fallow land to permanent cash ag, others no land, the latecomers.
First to convert, now advantage. One converted comunal land, forbidden by ghost; he says his conversion drove the ghost away.
Yield of rice is low. Rubber grows well in fallow forest (forest rent!). If we don't plant now, others will - military encroached communal forest w/ rubber.
Rubber boom in 2003. Formal contract farming, small inputs from kin networks, local politicians invest.
This was great for me – it contextualized Chris Lyttleton’s chapter in Everyday Life in Southeast Asia fantastically. Some of this is published, and I’ll need to read it for the introductions we’re writing.
Religious Welfare Activism and State Social Security in Thailand
Manuel Litalien, McGill University
Skipped, interesting, but I was worn out. Came back for discussion, which was active.
Saturday mid-day, on Food & Markets
Food, Markets, and Culture in Southeast Asia
Chaired by Amy E. Singer, Knox College
Makan – Singapore’s National Pastime: Nation-building and the Construction of a National Food Industry
Janine Chi, Muhlenberg College
A talk about Singapore 'foodies' and constructing identity as a place of great, diverse food, food tourism. Singaporeans constructing their national identity through identity as foodies, showing attachment to place through knowledge of the best foods, where they are made, where to get them in Singapore.
You Are What You Eat: The Changing Relationships among Food, Ethnicity, and Identity in Northwestern Thailand
Nicola Tannenbaum, Lehigh University
Nikki out saying that this panel is kind of a treat. She did change her topic. Garlic crisis in Mae Hong Son. She’s looking at food & markets on a broader scale. Why were there no buyers at all this year? What are the Shan doing?
Cookbooks and Food Markets in Colonial Vietnam
Erica J. Peters, Culinary Historians of Northern California
Great fun, she is a historian looking at accounts of markets, gender in markets, the gender of cooks for colonial families, a cookbook on ‘the foods of the petit bourgeoisie of Indochina’ written mostly in Vietnamese with some distinctly French foods and some distinctly not. Examining the ways in which the French reacted to the phenomenon of female controlled markets, ways in which markets transformed from the rural take stuff in/come back with other stuff form, to the more urban sale.
Organic, Artisinal, Fancy, Salty: How Balinese Sea Salt Is Marketed, Packaged, and Understood by Consumers in the US and Indonesia
Amy E. Singer, Knox College
This paper was a big hit. It was especially hard to hear when we could have been at lunch! She looked at ‘aspirational’ kitchen items and foods, the way that the ‘romance’ of sea salt from Bali is packaged. Not sure she said anything theoretically significant (i.e., expanding our knowledge of social processes), but she’s doing a fascinating thing in examining the market linkages of food. And, she was very funny.
Made me think about how wine tasting has become the template for demonstrating cultural capital. Her descriptions of the texts of the peppercorns and sea salts, lots of text for tiny packages, paint a picture of location [leaving out the producers! Again! I am always amazed at that and meant to ask her what she thought of it, but there was too much lively discussion afterwards to do so. It’s the “Traffic” phenomenon again], how to use the item through descriptions of tasty foods you could make, and the wonderful taste – hints of raspberry, a full taste, etc. etc. It really did strike me that wine could serve as the foundational metaphor for this; think about how wine tasting classes were the rage in the 1980s, knowledge of wine is something that must be cultivated, and so, now we see with sea salts and peppercorns. Quite fascinating.
Also note the importance of a personal element in this, sense that we want to feel connected to the people who produce (even if in only a romanticized, distanced way); one of the audience members talked about this in relation to the rise of ‘direct marketing’ as the hot new thing. And of course, I thought about Charles’ being so excited by the Hand-Crafted Java web site. It’s the romance of travel without traveling (a point which has been made in much recent writing, I believe).
Saturday afternoon: Sovereignty and Its Exceptions: Making and Unmaking Impunity in South and Southeast Asia
Chaired by Ken MacLean, Clark University
Many other interesting papers, including one on arbitrary detention in Thailand since 1958, and forced labor in Burma. But I was falling asleep and so I went off home for a nap, since there was the TLC meeting that night.
Normalizing Impunity: The Militarization of Everyday Life in Kashmir Valley
Haley Duschinski, Ohio University
Normal state of power affairs in Kashmir
State violence against citizenry as necessary to order, security
Importance of wartime project
Mapped by official and unofficial sites of torture and detention all to protect 'the homeland'
Ruled by combination civil-military authoritarianism
The Shan State(less) of Exception: Ethnic Categories, Cold War Histories, and Shan Seekers of Refuge in Thailand
Jane M. Ferguson, Australian National University
Shan 'red shirts' for Thaksin – why? They were paid far more than they could legally make in months.
Blue cards restrict rights, mobility to a person’s border district; denied medical care; might be able to go as far as high school, but not allowed a graduation certificate.
She speaks of the Shan as paying an extreme state tax.
Subjects but not citizens, theme of panel doesn't work for her
KMT got unique white residency card for fighting communism; Shan typically denied card, legitimacy. Lucky to get id card.
21 different kinds of id/citizenahip cards. Confusing, forgery, travel docs being denied. I have to admit I had no idea how complicated this was. It adds to my consideration of the marriage situation in Mae Phraem. And it adds to my understanding of the discussion among the youth of being “issara,” and envy of my ability to travel. And, the power of the project, which protected peoples’ travel (or, could deny it).
Govt checkpoints along the 200 k of roads
When did these checkpoints start? I don't remember any, many, in the early 1990s. Ferguson doesn’t say this, but I think it’s more recent. When I visited Thailand in 2001, I didn’t go to Mae Phraem because of the police checkpoints, which I understood to have been established in the context of the amphetamine trade.
Graduated citizenship, Aihwa Ong
Shadow taxation, feeds state and sub-state institutions
Agamban on states of exception. Doesn't work so well here.
Book is State of Exception, and it seems to be the theme for this panel. However, I did not hear the author’s name very clearly. Ferguson concludes that this analysis is not that useful for the Shan case.
Creation of Shan quasi-outsider, note idea they are Thai so assumed to be assimilable. Their own self surveillance to try to avoid detection by authorities.
To clarify: Here’s the abstract for the session:
Sovereignty, Agamben reminds us, resides in the exception – a double-movement that establishes the norm though its definition of those categories of humanity that can be stripped of rights and excluded from the arena of political citizenship. This paradoxically enables the sovereign to proclaim a state of emergency and thus suspend the limits placed on its authority in order to protect the law. A significant body of scholarship has emerged around this provocative re-definition of sovereignty; however, questions remain about the applicability of Agamben's insights in non-western contexts, especially in light of the impacts of globalization upon diverse state forms. This panel turns an anthropological eye towards the making and unmaking of impunity in South and Southeast Asia, with special attention to sites of ongoing and unprosecuted state violence against specific categories of citizens identified as unworthy or undeserving of human rights. At the same time, these papers move beyond narrow rights-based approaches by exploring how cultural beliefs and practices shape the lines of inclusion and exclusion that establish and maintain “states of exception” in India, Burma, and Thailand. This ethnographic attention to the everyday realities of sovereign practice opens up examination of how international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee frameworks structurally produce or reproduce regimes of impunity at sub-national and transnational scales. Such close readings of politics and power in particular local worlds shed light on how contemporary efforts to assert regulatory authority over states challenge us to rethink formations of sovereignty in contemporary cross-cultural contexts.
Saturday night, TLC talk and meeting
Dr. Walters on Sukhothai in Thai history, how it’s been used, and the Ramkhamhaeng inscriptions.
First, talks about the transfer of large Buddha images from Sukhothai to Bangkok in the early Bangkok regime. It’s not like they couldn’t have built their own huge statues! So what are they doing and why? Refers to a future in which hierarchical relations would be reversed. Purposeful quest for images, concentration of sacred power. Family lineage of kings traced back to central Thailand and images that protected founders.
Emerald Buddha. The butterfly soul of the mueang in Laos, taken by the Bangkok regime as, again, a concentration of power, control of a long lineage of power.
Discusses the translation and exegesis of the poem, The world of lady (naang) Nopamaat.
Veiled criticism of regime, or a book of etiquette?
Smooth transitions from king's personal qualities to good governance to his care of the inner palace (wives, servants). No external enemies mentioned (nor image of king as father of the people).
10 royal virtues, so key here, not in Buddhist texts, now patriarchy inherent.
The king and the virtues are one and the same
N.b., difference between inscriptions, one cites 10 RV as move to transmigration and the king contributing to his peoples’ opportunities for transmigration (cakravartin), other simply that ruler who does not uphold the ten 'won't last long.'
Now to 1920s nationalism: A historical story that Thai love freedom, that's why Thai left China. Now king as father (father metaphor permeates). Sukhothai constructed as first Thai state.
The right of the people to laugh is fundamental and despots will take it away first - Kukrit 1960s
Dr. Piriyaa was the scholar who said the Ramkhanhaeng inscription was writen in the 19th century.
Walters - the inscription does not have a fixed meaning, it should still be in the political discourse. He’s not examining it in terms of it being a fraud, a cynical creation by 19th century royalty of Bangkok of a ‘founding’ and legitimating text. He finds it more interesting that the ways in which the inscription is understood tells us about political ideas of the time.
In post-talk discussion, people try to pin him down on the conflict re: Vickery’s claims, and he pretty much says he doesn’t care about the dating of the inscription. See it in the total context of how history is used in the present issues [construction] of the state.
Bowie asks about interment of Queen's ashes as we'll as King's. Only Walters has written about this, see Crossroads.