Organizers: Saya S. Shiraishi and Michael J. Montesano, Cornell University
Chair: Nancy Melissa Lutz, Southern Illinois University
Discussants: Oliver W. Wolters and Hjorleifur R. Jonsson, Cornell University
In arguing that the peoples of pre-modern Southeast Asia "localized" foreign cultural influences, Oliver Wolters forever changed the way that we look at the region. At the heart of localization lay the ability to "read" religious and political ideas from outside the region in ways that suited local realities. These readings became, in their own right, local cultural statements.
By the 1990s global consumer culture and the global media reached Southeast Asia with greater diversity, intensity, and constancy than ever before. Exposure not only to Europe/North America but also to East Asia has made much more complex the process of fashioning local readings. Technological change and the development of local media have brought unprecedented intensity to that exposure. And the growing affluence of many of the region's people has made truly routine their access to international material.
This panel examines the interaction between global cultures and local readings of those cultures. In some cases, foreign materials have stimulated the emergence of unprecedented cultural expression. Often too, agency in this interaction has lay at the receiving end. In some such cases, local agency has used global forms to reinforce or reinvigorate long-standing social and cultural patterns. In still a third variation, the sheer scale and scope of interaction appear to have swept away the landmarks that defined this dichotomy. This panel addresses the causes and implications of these varied readings of twentieth-century media and consumer culture in Indonesia and Thailand.
Material Women, Material Men: Constructing Consumer Culture in Indonesia's
Nancy Melissa Lutz, Southern Illinois University
"I'm a material girl," declares Madonna from the distant nearness of videotape and compact disc. Indonesian women's magazines, like American women's magazines, present materially-based images of possibility and desire. Such images suggest lifestyles other than "housewife" or "mother," the two roles for women most encouraged by the Indonesian government. The focus on the "career woman" suggests an interest by Indonesian women themselves in at least a "career" period before becoming a mother, or possibly even continuing a career while also running a household.
For Indonesia's upper and middle-class women, especially in urban areas, some of these lifestyle images may be approximated if not attained. But what of the other Indonesians, most of whom live outside the major urban centers? How do women's magazines, and the media more generally, play in Indonesia's peripheries?
This paper will examine the contrasts and contradictions between the images of women presented in the media and in the lives of people in Nusa Tenggara Timur. Based on anthropological fieldwork over a fifteen-year period in Kupang, Flores, and Adonara, I examine the development of consumer culture and the impact on local women and the ways in which consumer culture affects and is imagined by people of different gender, age, socio-economic, and geographical vantage points. While media images may be singular, their interpretations are multiple, and it is the imaginations in response that are potentially as important as the media images themselves.
"It's a Mall World After All": Shopping Centers, Materialism and
Discourses of Cultural Panic in Thailand's Age of Globalization
Erick D. White, Cornell University
Thailand's recent development strategy of export-lead industrial growth and political economic integration with the world economy has increased the status and presence of a wide variety of current globally ascendent political, economic and sociocultural institutions, ideologies, practices and products. In the wake of the unprecedented breadth and depth of this encounter between the global and the local, an extensive, nuanced and sustained debate over globalization has emerged among Thailand's various elites, both in terms of the opportunities and challenges this situation presents, as well as the proper response that it requires. As a prominent urban spatial form and landscape teeming with these new global activities, services and commodities, modern shopping malls not only provide easy access to the global, they themselves represent one prominent institution of global culture. After describing Thailand's general socioeconomic background and current discourse about globalization, this paper will examine the rhetorical role shopping centers play in one strand of this debate which centers on consumerism and materialism. It will then proceed to elucidate how these issues are further tied to other prominent contemporary concerns regarding just and sustainable development, the decay and collapse of traditional social institutions and, by further implication, the loss of cultural identity. The contest among local readings of modern Thai shopping centers, therefore, will point not only to differing attempts at articulating the relationship between the local and the global, but to the contested production, simultaneously, of new redefinitions of the meaning and value ascribed to the "local" and the "global."