Organizer and Chair: Craig J. Reynolds, Australian National University
Discussant: Aihwa Ong, University of California, Berkeley
In most history writing about Southeast Asian states and societies "the state" is not problematized and is simply taken for granted, as Adrian Vickers has noted in a recent critique of a project called "The Last Stand of Autonomous States" (Vickers, Asian Studies Review, July 1994). This comment holds for the standard histories of Southeast Asia (Steinberg, In Search of Southeast Asia, 1987; Tarling, Cambridge History of SEA, 1992) as much as for the journal literature. Some of the disquiet felt by one of the reviewers of The Cambridge History, when he rues "the general state of thinking about Southeast Asian history," doubtless has to do with the absence of healthy and constructive debate about such issues as state-society relations.
This interdisciplinary panel has been put together in order to address in a broad, comparative perspective the effect of certain constructions of the state on the way histories of the region have been written. The four papers strive to deal with questions of agency, identity, globalization, and relations of power as these relate to the way Southeast Asia is represented in the historical and social scientific literature. While it would be impossible to cover the region as a whole, we have taken care to look at case studies from across the region, both the mainland and the archipelago.
Nationalism, Revolutionary Socialism, and Post-Socialist Reform: Comparative
Reflections on State-Society Relations in Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos
Thaveeporn Vasavakul, Australian National University
This paper proposes to examine the state, society, and their political, economic, and cultural relations in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia from the period of revolution to the period of reform. Writings on socialist revolutions, revolutionary change, and post-socialist reform in Southeast Asia have hardly used the concept "state" as an analytical tool to discuss state-society relations in these countries from a comparative perspective.
The paper compares and contrasts the two generations of socialist regimes in Indochina, the 1945 generation, mainly consisting of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, and the 1975 generation consisting of the Republic of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. It focuses on the following aspects. First, it discusses revolutionary crises in these four cases, addressing both international and domestic factors which caused the collapse of the old regime and the outbreak of the revolution. Second, it examines state-building and nation-building during the post-revolutionary period in these countries focusing on the redefinition of economic, political, and cultural relations between the state and society. Third, it discusses post-socialist reform, comparing and contrasting problems related to state/nation-building and their impact on the sequences of reform.
Overseas Filipinos and Other Spectral Presences
Vincente L. Rafael, University of California, San Diego
This paper inquires into the ways by which the growing numbers of overseas Filipinos-both immigrants and overseas contract workers-have exerted new pressures in the articulation of nationalist discourse in the Philippines in recent years. Comprising an army of flexible workers, Filipinos abroad simultaneously signify the failure of the nation-state to contain its excess population and the seeming success of global capitalism in absorbing and accommodating this failure. As important sources of "foreign aid" in the wake of the dismantling of the U.S. bases, overseas Filipinos come to occupy ambiguous positions in the nationalist imaginary. Neither inside nor wholly outside the nation-state, they hover on the edges of its consciousness, rendering its boundaries porous and fluid with their dollar-driven comings and goings. In this sense, they take on a spectral presence whose labor takes place somewhere else but whose effects command, by virtue of their association with money, a place in the nation-state. For this reason, overseas Filipinos now increasingly represent novel elements in local understandings of "national development." Their absence become integral features of vernacular narratives regarding what it means to be "modern."
This essay then asks: how is the modernity of overseas Filipinos understood in the Philippines? How do the differentially articulated locations of "Filipino-ness" pose limits to the particularizing reach of a Filipino's nationalist imaginary at the close of the 20th century? And how do specific events-for example, the spectacularly conveyed execution of a Filipina domestic, Flor Contemplacion in Singapore-shape the course and tenor of nationalist debates in the post-EDSA period?
Locating the Dominant
Anthony Day, University of Sydney
Taking as a point of departure an essay which I wrote with Craig Reynolds on peasant revolt in Southeast Asia, in which we attempted to move beyond the binarism of James Scott's critique of Gramsci's concept of hegemony, I want to examine the question of "dominance" and its representations in premodern, colonial and postmodern Southeast Asia. Following Foucault's decentering strategy, whereby attention shifts from centers and institutions of power, and the "resistance" to these by the peripheral and subordinate, to the manifold relations of power, I want to characterize the nature and identify the plural sources of dominance in a number of instances.
In considering possible reactions to dominance, I want to pay particular attention to the "pleasures of conformity" ( John Fiske) and to " the dynamics of domesticity and familiarity, which inscribe the dominant and the dominated in the same epistemological field" (Achille Mbembe). My examples will come from Old Javanese and Angkorean inscriptions, eighteenth and nineteenth-century Javanese literature, colonial documents and contemporary Indonesian newspapers, novels, rituals, theatre and films.
Knowledge and the State in Southeast Asian History
Craig J. Reynolds, Australian National University
This paper arises from a joint research project with Anthony Day in which we are investigating the way the state has been used as a conceptual category in Southeast Asian historical writing. Our theoretical interests center on questions of agency, relations of power, gender, cultural identity, and globalization as these relate to the representation of Southeast Asia in historiography.
Apart from statecraft and history, bodies of knowledge in which the state historically had a vested interest include medicine, religion, astrology, invulnerability and warfare, and grammar. Yet there were also popular versions of this knowledge that circulated widely and were shared at many social levels. Through the codification and dissemination of these bodies of knowledge the historian can analyze state-society relations.
I want to set out a schema for analyzing the production and dissemination of knowledge in the premodern, colonial, and postcolonial periods by addressing the following questions. What were the formats in which knowledge was coded and how have these formats coped with the introduction of foreign knowledge in various historical periods? What role did formal and informal educational institutions play in articulating the state's needs? What was the relationship between the state's agents (e. g. court scholars) and producers of knowledge outside the state's control? In each of these periods what kinds of knowledge were considered by states to be dangerous or unsettling? How important was control over knowledge for relationship between states?