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Organizer and Chair: Janet Sturgeon, Yale University
Discussant: J. Peter Brosius, University of Georgia
This panel brings together recent ethnographic fieldwork from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and China to explore questions of state and local power, identity, and resource control. Our work examines local and trans-local actors in projects constituting local communitiesas "citizens," as "indigenous people," as "nomads"and consequences for changing access to resources and constructions of locality and "self."
Harwell examines explanations of ethnic violence in Indonesian Borneo as reflecting equivocal discourses of indigenousness. Analyzing conversations between local and extra-local speakers on rights, violence, and community, she interrogates local and non-local visions of indigenous vulnerability. Lowe looks at the intersection of conservation, representation, and identity in Sulawesi. Arguing that the term "nomad" inaccurately describes the practices of Sama peoplethe so-called "sea nomads"Lowe asserts that by foregrounding the mobility of the "other," vastly greater travels of the "self" are made oblique. Sturgeon analyzes the contrasting state constructions of Akha peoples in Thailand and China under capitalist and socialist modernization ideologies. She examines how local conflicts reflect both the incomplete hegemony of modern geography, and differing state practices toward the "other." Doolittle explores the ideological context of rural development in Sabah, Malaysia, showing how, under the rubric of poverty alleviation, rural development facilitates the expansion of the national ideology of the ruling elites, an "unintended consequence" Doolittle argues is intentional.
Rather than waves of homogenization, our work reveals myriad ways that "globalizing" concepts (development, conservation, indigenousness, free markets) are received and deployed. Peter Brosius will serve as the discussant.
Explaining Violence: Cultural Politics of Headhunting in Borneo
Emily Harwell, Yale University
In January 1998, a brutal ethnic war exploded between the indigenous Dayaks and immigrant Madurese people in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, which made use of cultural idioms of revenge, honor, and community, as well as black magic, headhunting, and cannibalism. The two primary explanations for the bloodletting reflect competing (and conversing) discourses of what it means to be Indigenous. One explanation, put forth by academics and NGO advocates of indigenous rights, represents the violence as the inevitable consequence of resource struggles and marginalization produced by state commercial forestry policies. In contrast, many Dayaks maintain that the violence was essentially a "clash of cultures," a consequence of irreconcilable differences in moral values and behavioral norms.
These explanations each assert leadership and constitute a unified "Dayak community" in particular ways. The aim of this paper is not to evaluate the "Truth" of these explanations, or to portray "the" Dayak perspective, but rather to examine how each articulates with particular political and social movements, to investigate the intended audience, and the implications and risks of each. The paper specifically examines the relationship between identity and resources, and how and why the relationship can turn violent. While the cultural and material explanations are represented initially as a dichotomy, reality is much more equivocal. By drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, I outline the ambiguity of multiple urges (and pressures) on who to be, as Dayaks struggle to create their own identities during times of rapid political and social change.
Sama Senses of Place and Conservationist Nomadology: Some Meanings of Movement
Celia Lowe, Yale University
This paper addresses questions of movement and settlement for Sama (Bajau) peoples, an ethnic group introduced into Southeast Asian literature by Sophers The Sea Nomads. Multiple representations of Sama people coalesce around a "nomad" idea. Along with anthropologists and colonial explorers, conservationists who want to save marine environments have found representations of Sama as mobile and rootless deeply alluring. How will people who are just passing through care to protect biodiversity? Doesnt human mobility threaten a locally fixed and immobile nature?
Representations of Sama as "nomad" suggest tropes of movement which lie beyond Sama experience, however. For example, Deluze and Guittaris post-structuralist "nomadology," which adopts the "nomad" as a utopian space of otherness, points to an enduring elite Northern fascination with independence and escape from the nation-state. Likewise, states and conservationists, seeking to control borders and citizens, have viewed putatively mobile lifestyles as threatening and unruly. And anthropologists, historians, and conservationists, whose folk notion of the nomad is "migratory," both imagine their nomad as lacking a "homeland." In foregrounding the mobility of the "other," vastly greater travels and impermanent lifestyles of the "self" are made oblique.
Ethnographic material from the Togean Islands of Sulawesi, Indonesia, destabilizes the meaning of "nomad" when applied to Sama people, whose patterned movement between sea cucumber collecting sites, or work in permanent named sago palm gardens, suggest strong attachments to place. As with other examples of marginal Southeast Asian peoples, "movement" and "settlement" reflect observers categories more than detailed knowledge of peoples lived lives.
Power on the Periphery: Local Leaders and Access to Resources Among Akha in Thailand and China
Janet Sturgeon, Yale University
State approaches to peripheral ethnic minority groups and heavily forested border areas have differed sharply in Thailand and China, causing divergent trajectories for minority villagers access to resources as well as local leaders strategies for gaining power. Exploring Thongchais argument that the hegemony of modern geography is never complete (Siam Mapped), this paper examines the role of Akha local leaders in one village in Thailand and one in China in implementing state policies, engaging in illicit border trade, and protecting local interests in ways that benefit themselves.
In Thailand, where only the village head has full Thai citizenship, villagers must access most resources, including new land and labor opportunities, through the local leader, enabling the village head to exploit development for his own ends. In China, where state policies have granted land and forests to all local residents, as citizens of China, villagers are not dependent on the local leader for access to subsistence resources, although the village head may try, with varying success, to monopolize on benefits from development projects. Local conflicts reveal both complicities and contests with state agents, as well as contested local visions of Akha identity and the meaning of resources. While border Akha villages in China are securely anchored within the state, border villages in Thailand may use practices of premodern small border powers in protecting their turf while currying favor with dominant neighboring regimes.
The Politics of Development in Post-Colonial Malaysia
Amity Doolittle, Yale University
This paper explores the ideological context of rural development in Sabah, Malaysia. Drawing on ethnographic data of state practice and discourse, as well as data on local reaction to state policies, I discuss the events surrounding a rural development initiative in Sabah. I conclude that development in Sabah serves as the primary point of entry for the Federal government into village politics. Thus, the effect of development is not necessarily to raise the standard of living; it also facilitates the expansion and entrenchment of the ruling elitethe United Malaysia National Organization (UMNO). In effect development serves to consolidate the power of the Malay-Muslim elite over Sabahs indigenous population and promotes the governments ideological commitment to a nation united by "one language, one culture and one religion."
Building on Fergusons radical critique of development (The Anti-Politics Machine), I look for the instrument-effects of development that occur behind the rhetoric of poverty alleviation. However, contrary to Ferguson, I argue that in the context of development in Malaysia, these instrument-effects are not unintended. Instead, development is knowingly deployed by representatives of the state to expand bureaucratic power. Furthermore, villagers are also aware that access to development funds is contingent on their support of UMNO political candidates, and use this knowledge to manipulate the political machinery to their advantage. Resisting state authority in some circumstances and accepting it in other circumstances, individuals attitudes toward state development initiatives, far from being uniform or consistent, depend on the material-political interests of the individuals involved.