Hello. I need you to write me a discussion answer for the discussion question. You only can answer the Dis question from the reading that i uploaded for you. Pleas read it and then provide the answer based in the information that in the reading. Here is the professor question. [125-250 words limit]Discussion Question:In Steedly’s (1999) reading, the author stated, “As much as Southeast Asia has been the place to look for culture, it has also been a place seemingly marked by violence.” (p. 444). How is the author interpreting the change in culture for Southeast Asian countries? What influenced this change for Southeast Asian countries (e.g., Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, etc.)? When responding to the discussion question, in addition to referencing this week’s reading, please use at least one additional external source (ex: online articles, websites, books, etc.) to elaborate on your response. You may focus on one or more countries within the Southeast Asian countries.When commenting on one of your classmates’ posts, it is optional for you to include an external source in your own response. However, should you believe that adding one additional external source can help you elaborate on your response, please feel free to cite an external source. No need to provide a long list of the historical context. Focus more on what kinds of historical contexts do you think the author was referring to when the author stated the above statement and why.You DO NOT need to provide a reference page. However, please cite your external source at least once by providing the author’s last name & year of publication. If it’s from an online website, you can state the name of the website once (see below for an example).Example) If this is the website , you can state the following: In “Asia Society,” it talked about the history of Southeast Asian countries….Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 1999. 28:431–54
Copyright © 1999 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved
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THE STATE OF CULTURE THEORY IN THE
ANTHROPOLOGY OF SOUTHEAST ASIA
Mary Margaret Steedly
Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138;
e-mail: msteed@wjh.harvard.edu
Key Words: gender, marginality, violence, the state
n Abstract Southeast Asia is probably the part of the world most closely
associated by anthropologists with an interpretive concept of culture. Yet do
such ideas as culture areas or local cultures retain their analytical salience when
our attention turns to processes of domination, displacement, and diaspora?
This article considers the state of culture theory in the anthropology of Southeast Asia today, focusing on the themes of gender, marginality, violence, and
the state. Culture is increasingly viewed as an attribute of the state—an object of
state policy, an ideological zone for the exercise of state power, or literally a
creation of the state—whereas the state itself is comprehended in ways analogous to totalizing models of culture.
CONTENTS
Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Southeast Asia as a World Region . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gender and Power: Regional Perspectives. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The State of Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Scenes of Violence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
431
433
437
440
444
INTRODUCTION
Is there a place for area studies in an era of global culture, international conglomerates, and transnational flows of people, goods, information, and capital? In a
time of border crossings, fragmented identities (Kipp 1990), and cyborg subjects,
what—as Ortner (1997) asks regarding the writings of Clifford Geertz—is the
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“fate of culture”? As anthropologists turn their attention to processes of domination, displacement, and diasporic imagination, can the concepts of culture areas or
of local cultures retain their analytical salience? Or are they too deeply implicated
in colonial and neocolonial structures of knowledge to provide any alternative
intellectual purchase (Rafael 1994)? With hybridity, fragmentation, mobility, and
marginality celebrated, and continuity and coherence rendered suspect, can one
still speak with confidence of “culture” as a relatively discrete system of shared
meanings?
These questions are especially germane to the anthropology of Southeast Asia.
The extraordinary diversity of aesthetic traditions has made Southeast Asia, for
anthropologists, arguably the best place to look for culture. The writings of Clifford Geertz (e.g. 1973b, 1980), among others, have thoroughly associated this
part of the world, and Indonesia in particular, with a meaning-based, interpretive
concept of culture. Indeed, the prominence of the region in the discipline’s dominant cultural paradigm has led one anthropologist to characterize Indonesia as
being for us what the French Revolution is for historians—the area that every
scholar, whatever his or her specialization, must know something about (Segal
1999).
But for many of us who have maintained long associations with one or more
parts of Southeast Asia, this is a time of uncertainty. There is a growing sense of
confusion, as if we had somehow lost our ethnographic footing. Interpretive
frameworks developed to enable us to read cultural texts “over the shoulders of
those to whom they properly belong” (C Geertz 1973a:452) seem unable to explicate the things we most wish to understand. This is not just because of the cascading political and economic crises that have followed the 1997 collapse of the Thai
baht. Even before then, the ethnographic ground had shifted in ways unsettling to
anthropology’s culturalist sensibility. In the 1990s, the Southeast Asian “economic miracle” made computers, satellite dishes, cell phones, and fax machines
commonplace. Air-conditioned shopping malls replaced street markets; Kentucky Fried Chicken and its like-named clones were a fast-food vanguard for culinary Americanization, soon to be followed by McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Planet
Hollywood. Isolated villages tuned in to CNN or MTV or StarTV. For middleclass city dwellers, having a car or a computer was no longer a sign of social
prominence but an ordinary necessity of life. Moneymaking schemes, of varying
levels of grandiosity (and legality), were on most everyone’s minds, from the
nouveau yuppies of Jakarta and Bangkok to the coffee- and cocoa-growing peasants of the interior highlands. Governments seemed intent on demonstrating that
the grotesque mode of power, which Mbembe identified as characteristic of the
new states of Africa, also characterized the postcolonies of Southeast Asia
(Mbembe 1992). The exploitation of natural resources reached new levels of
rapaciousness and environmental disregard. Nature seemingly returned the favor,
as El Niño brought droughts to eastern Indonesia and exacerbated the effects of
forest burning in Kalimantan and Sumatra. Smoke from the fires made the air virtually unbreathable in parts of Malaysia and Singapore, and in Indonesia at least
one major plane crash was blamed on the thick haze. Sex tourism flourished in
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STATE OF CULTURE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
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Thailand and the Philippines, golf courses abutted temple complexes in Bali,
Vietnam was targeted as the next Newly Industrialized Country (NIC), and the
spread of AIDS and “ecstasy” made news everywhere. American tabloids headlined the playboy lifestyle of the Sultan of Brunei and the Singaporean penchant
for corporal punishment. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge’s show trial of Pol Pot
promised, but did not deliver, a new peace. In Indonesia, the resignation of President Soeharto likewise failed to deliver the long-anticipated end of his New Order
regime. Instead, it left the nation economically crippled, the military discredited,
and the population struggling in a backwash of ethnic and religiously inspired
violence, military and paramilitary reprisals, street riots, looting, arson, rapes,
and thuggery. In Malaysia, the arrest and trial of finance minister Anwar Ibrahim
rivaled in absurdity, if not in prurient detail, the impeachment of President Clinton. In all this, it was hard to find a place for “culture.”
This article is a reflection on the state of culture theory in Southeast Asia in
these uncertain times. My reading is necessarily a partial one, limited by space
and by my own expertise and interests as an Indonesianist. Emphasizing the
American tradition of cultural anthropology, I have little to say about European, Australian, Japanese, and Southeast Asian scholarship on the region. Some
topics receive less attention than they deserve: among them, political ecology, development and migration studies, analyses of kinship, and social structure. Other topics—Islam, scriptural traditions, language, ritual, performance,
and ethnicity—have recently been well covered elsewhere (Bowen 1995). I do
not repeat that coverage here. Instead, I focus on some of the themes that are central to culture theory in Southeast Asia today: gender, marginality, violence, and
the state.
I begin with a consideration of Southeast Asia as a culture area, in the double
sense of a region marked by certain shared values and practices and a place profoundly identified with the anthropological idea of culture. I then examine the
interrelation of regional approaches and cultural analysis in studies of gender in
Southeast Asia. Third, I consider the impact of orientations toward agency,
power, nationalism, and locality on the concept of culture. My argument is that
culture is increasingly viewed by Southeast Asianist anthropologists as an attribute of the state—as an object of state policy, an ideological zone for the exercise
of state power, or literally a creation of the state—whereas the state itself is comprehended in ways analogous to totalizing or superorganic models of culture. I
conclude by turning to the matter of violence.
SOUTHEAST ASIA AS A WORLD REGION
In making a case for a “regional anthropology” of Southeast Asia, O’Connor
complains that in recent years “empirical generalizations have given way to an
anthropology of discrete cases” (1995:968–69). Ethnographers of Southeast
Asian societies, he asserts, “dote on the people or village they study” without
much concern either for comparative analysis or for logical modeling. This reverence for local particularities and case-by-case description, combined with the pre-
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sentist orientation built into ethnographic fieldwork, makes it increasingly
difficult to conceive of Southeast Asia, or even a regional subset of it, as a unified
field of ethnological study. Although O’Connor is correct in noting the recent
intensification of ethnographic particularism in Southeast Asia, the question of
whether Southeast Asia can—or should—be comprehended as a bounded field of
study remains more open than these remarks suggest.
As Anderson has pointed out, Southeast Asian studies “has never been able to
take itself calmly for granted” as an academic discipline. It has always been necessary “to argue, with varying degrees of plausibility and sincerity, for its contemporary utility and future relevance” (Anderson 1992:30). Arguably the most
insubstantial of world areas, “Southeast Asia” is at once territorially porous, historically shallow, inherently hybrid, and conceptually implicated in the global
realpolitik of US foreign policy interests. The term itself only came into common
use during World War II, to designate the Allied theater of operations under the
command of Lord Louis Mountbatten. It was appropriated after the war by US
foreign policy specialists and scholars and remapped—Ceylon was dropped,
Indonesia and the Philippines added—to cover the Asian subregion where the US
strategically supported first decolonization and later the political and military
containment of communism (Emmerson 1984). Southeast Asia could thus be
characterized as an area united mainly by the “domino theory” of communist
expansion and by the Cold War creation of academic Area Centers devoted to its
study (Anderson 1992, Keyes 1992, Wolters 1999, McVey 1998).
That most anthropologists working in Southeast Asia identify themselves primarily as national or subnational specialists—as Thai scholars or Indonesianists,
say, or Javanists, orang asli, or hill tribe specialists—is a sign of the region’s wide
cultural span as much as a symptom of the fragmentation that O’Connor decries.
It would surely be difficult to envision an area of greater socioaesthetic range, or
one that has been more profoundly shaped by exogenous forces. All the world’s
great religions originated elsewhere, but with the exception of Judaism, all are
prominently represented here. The same diversity of origins and breadth of dispersal can be seen in Southeast Asian art styles and techniques, technological
innovations, languages and lexical elements, forms of knowledge and political
authority, legal codes, and the like (Hutterer 1992, Keyes 1992). What, then,
could provide the basis for either comparison or generalization?
Characterizations of an indigenous Southeast Asian “cultural matrix” often
start from a bilateral or cognatic system of kinship found in premodern Southeast
Asian states and their heritors, as well as in some (but not all) upland groups
(Wolters 1999). From this kinship system several secondary features are derived,
including the tendency to downplay lineage and inherited rank, fairly egalitarian
gender relations, a presentist orientation, and political leadership by charismatic
“men of prowess.” Combined with often-noted tendencies toward the public display of power in the form of sacred objects and regalia, religious and secular rituals, monumental architecture, and the like, these features were thought to provide
the basis for distinctive forms of political organization (Geertz 1997, Mabbett
1985), variously described as the “exemplary center” (Heine-Geldern 1956),
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STATE OF CULTURE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
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“mandala” (Wolters 1999), “galactic polity” (Tambiah 1977), or “theater state”
(Geertz 1980).
More recently, population mobility and an attraction to the foreign have been
identified as characteristic features of some upland societies of insular Southeast
Asia (Atkinson 1990, Rutherford 1996, Tsing 1993a). Historians and other scholars of precolonial Southeast Asia have posited a similar outward orientation and
ease of movement in the early maritime states of the region’s coastal lowlands.
Reid, in his overview of maritime Southeast Asia in the early modern “age of
commerce,” points out that although Southeast Asian societies have historically
been open to overseas trade, there has also been a “high degree of commercial
intercourse” within the region itself (Reid 1988:5). If the former tendency
accounts for the pervasiveness and diversity of foreign influences, the latter, Reid
argues, explains the ubiquity of certain traits (betel chewing, cockfighting, gongbased musical systems, tattooing, penis pins, fermented fish products, games such
as chess and takraw) and organizing concepts (i.e. bilateral kinship, female prestige, charismatic leadership).
By the first century common era (CE), Southeast Asian polities were important
sites of international commerce because of their rich natural resources as well as
their intermediate location on monsoon routes between China and India. Goods,
ideas, populations, institutions, terms, and technologies flowed along these
routes, spreading inland from port cities to the hinterlands. These trade circuits
also fostered more intimate connections, both symbiotic and adversarial, among
neighboring and distant communities (Bronson 1977, Drakard 1990). Political
authority was grounded in personalistic relationships; political boundaries, insofar as they existed, were flexible, sometimes overlapping and plural, and thoroughly permeable. Rather than being inscribed in fixed territorial domains, the
legitimacy and expanse of rule was measured in the impermanent, personal quality of sovereignty and displayed in royal regalia and titles, often of foreign origin,
in elaborate ceremonies, and in the giving and receiving of gifts.
This “relaxed” state of political affairs in the region (Wolters 1999) was profoundly transformed by the experience of colonialism. No other part of the world
has suffered so wide a range of foreign rulers. These include China, Japan, and the
United States, as well as most of the major European imperial powers. Only Thailand has remained formally independent, and even there Western powers—England, France, and later the United States—occupying neighboring countries had a
significant impact on the nation’s “geo-body” (Thongchai 1994). Under Western
colonial rule, fluid boundaries became fixed, and power was gradually extended
(in theory if not in practice) uniformly throughout each realm, stopping abruptly
at the colonies’ borders. In a process that Scott (1998) refers to as “state simplification,” colonial soldiers and administrators clarified genealogies of rule and
hierarchies of authority or, where none existed, invented them (Steedly 1993,
Henley 1996). New legal codes and juridical structures were established, sometimes based on existing customary precedents and sometimes on European legal
models, whose applicability established relatively invariant categories of colonial
subjects (Stoler 1989, 1992b). As colonial cartographic practices scanned and
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delimited territories of control, censuses and ethnographic atlases firmed up ethnic identities (Anderson 1983, Rafael 1993). In some places, Christian missionaries forged a kind of denominational ethnicity based on mission fields of exclusive
influence; these formed the prototypes for contemporary vernacular or ethnic
churches (Keane 1996, Kipp 1990). Administrative and educational circuits
established and confirmed special relationships of interest between colonies and
their Western metropoles, so that, for instance, Paris might seem closer—and certainly more important—to Hanoi than Rangoon might seem, and Washington
might seem closer to Manila than either Jakarta or Singapore might seem (Anderson 1983).
Some of the parochialism that affects the field of Southeast Asian studies can
be traced back to this state of affairs. Colonial scholarship was driven for the most
part by the local interests of scholar-administrators and the practical concerns of
governance. It thus tended to be descriptive rather than theoretical, “provincial”
in its scope, and fragmented by “imperial rivalries” (Anderson 1992:27). The
postwar “new states” of Southeast Asia retained the cultural categories and conceptual horizons of their colonial predecessors. Western researchers, influenced
by the scholarly traditions in which they were trained, by the pragmatics of Cold
War funding initiatives, and by the practical difficulties of language training,
archival access, and research permits, largely followed suit. As a result, countrybased or even subregional specialties developed as relatively autonomous fields,
each associated with certain privileged topical and theoretical orientations. One
effect of this has been the difficulty in establishing a common intellectual ground
for conversation among Southeast Asianists (McVey 1998).
Another divisive inheritance of colonial scholarship on Southeast Asia was the
conceptual separation of “great” and “little” traditions. The former category covered the precolonial agrarian kingdoms of the Southeast Asian mainland, Java,
and Bali, which were understood as profoundly influenced by the civilizations of
India, China, and to a lesser degree the Islamic world. The latter class was composed of small, non-state societies in which expressions of an indigenous cultural
substrate, elsewhere obliterated by the impact of foreign influences, could, presumably, still be found. The polarized distinction between “advanced” but culturally degenerate state societies and “primitive” but authentic exemplars of a local
genius has been translated in the postcolonial context to a conceptual separation
between an “urban superculture” (Geertz 1963), part national and part transnational in its makeup, and small-scale communities outside or marginal to the
supercultural projects of the modern nation-state. Bringing together notions of
nationalism, modernization, and globalization, the new “great traditions” were
understood as both exogenous and fundamentally inauthentic “imagined communities” (Anderson 1983). Insofar as the superculture is understood as coinciding
with the political projects and territorial expanse of the nation-state, its recent
conceptual prominence has reinforced the “country studies” tendency among
Southeast Asianists.
One of the few topics in Southeast Asian studies for which a comparative
regional approach has consistently been applied is the study of gender. Between
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1982 and 1998, a number of edited volumes of essays on gender in Southeast Asia
appeared (Atkinson & Errington 1990, Locher-Scholten & Niehof 1992, Ong &
Peletz 1995a, Sears 1996, Sen & Stivens 1998, Stivens 1991, Van Esterik 1996).
These collections cross national borders and historical periods, juxtapose “great”
and “little” traditions, and sometimes transcend the grand regional binaries of
upland and lowland, “island” and “mainland” Southeast Asia. A review of this literature illustrates the problems and possibilities inherent in a comparativist
“regional anthropology.”
GENDER AND POWER: REGIONAL PERSPECTIVES
Although it is currently one of the field’s primary growth areas, studies of gender
in Southeast Asia had a slow takeoff. This may be because, as Atkinson noted,
feminist anthropologists found it “more compelling and perhaps easier to dwell
on the dichotomization of gender and the devaluation of women” in societies with
highly developed, elaborate systems of gender distinctions than it was to “unravel
the intricacies of gender in a culture that downplays it” (Atkinson 1982, 1990).
Theoretical efforts to account for the presumed universal second-class status of
women provided little purchase in a region where gender forms were subdued and
women were said to have a good deal of personal autonomy and prestige.
In the feminist literature of the 1970s, Southeast Asian societies appeared
mostly as exceptions to the general rule of male dominance. One of the most
influential early essays on the anthropology of gender was Rosaldo’s introductory
theoretical overview (Rosaldo 1974b). Rosaldo proposed that the association of
women with the domestic sphere and men with more socially encompassing public arenas was the basis for the universal denigration of women’s activities and
thus for the second-class status of women. Her own fieldwork among Ilongot
hunter-horticulturalists of the Philippines yielded at most a partial counterexample. The blurring of distinctions such as domestic/public in egalitarian or “simple” societies such as the Ilongot could, she argued, engender a more favorable
(though still secondary) social position for women. In the same volume, Tanner
(1974) likewise described Indonesian societies—the matrilineal Minangkabau,
patrilineal Acehnese, and bilateral Javanese—as instances of “matrifocality”
(prominence of mothers) associated with generally egalitarian gender relations.
Because of the universalizing and implicitly evolutionary assumptions that
underlay much feminist scholarship in the 1970s, gender studies tended to focus
on stages of societal development rather than on regionally specific gender styles
or systems. Thus Rosaldo found similarities between the Ilongots and Mbuti pigmies, and Tanner’s comparative cases ranged among African and AfricanAmerican as well as Indonesian societies. The first volume of essays to address
gender in a specifically regional Southeast Asian perspective was published in
1982 (Van Esterik 1996). In its introduction, Van Esterik suggested that an
examination of Southeast Asian gender systems could reorient a field more
attuned to the overt forms of gender discrimination encountered elsewhere in the
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world. Yet she also warned that there was still little evidence to confirm the oftenrepeated cliché that women in Southeast Asia enjoyed a relatively high status.
The second major collection of essays on gender in Southeast Asian societies
(Atkinson & Errington 1990) was the outcome of a 1983 conference on “The Cultural Construction of Gender in Island Southeast Asia.” Western feminists, Atkinson & Errington argued, “should look to cultural worlds in which the rules are
different . . . . [L]ocal constructions of gender relations demand understanding on
their own terms” (1990:viii). These essays aimed to identify and delineate a
regionally salient “gender system,” i.e. a “cultural system of practices and symbols implicating both women and men” throughout (island) Southeast Asia (Errington 1990:3).
In seeking to break the hold of universalizing theories of gender based in the
particularities of Western experience, the essays (Atkinson & Errington 1990)
asserted a regional pattern of gender relations (with subsidiary variations) and
stressed the symbolic-classificatory aspects of gender systems. This meant minimizing the impact of exogenous factors on local gender systems. Nor was much
attention paid to possibilities of resistance “from below” or to disruptive or
anomalous cultural elements, such as transgressive sexuality (but see Atkinson
1990). Scant regard was given to Islam or Christianity, European colonialism,
global capitalism, or governmental institutions and agencies. These themes,
which have since come to the fore as key areas of gender analysis, are the focus of
attention in the third major volume on gender in Southeast Asia (Ong & Peletz
1995a).
As Ong & Peletz (1995b) assert, gender is not a static, regionally consistent
cultural system but rather a fluid, contested, and negotiable conceptual field,
characterized by multiplicity, ambiguity, and improvisatory reinvention. Modernization and global capitalism have profoundly affected indigenous gender
concepts and practices; thus oppression of women in Southeast Asia cannot today
be viewed separately from global capitalist expansion and development. These
essays consider the actual and potential power that women may have, how they
can use it to resist or support male authority, and in what ways women’s power or
autonomy may be drained away by “specific historical and political economic
forces shaping various postcolonial milieux” (Ong & Peletz 1995b:2).
Two more recent collections of essays, in which Western anthropologists and
historians are in dialogue with feminist scholars from Southeast Asia, have gone
even further in these directions. In a collection by Sears (1996), gender is framed
in oppositional terms. On the one hand, it is a set of powerful representations and
institutions constructed by the Indonesian state to constrain female agency and to
control and coerce the population as a whole (Saraswati Sunindyo 1996, Suryakusuma 1996, Tiwon 1996). On the other hand, it is a site of playfully ambiguous
sexual pleasure, fictively imagined in Rabelaisian scenes of marketplace
debauchery in nineteenth century Java (Florida 1996); in colonial fantasies of
submissive, refined native mistresses (Taylor 1996) or dangerously contaminating nursemaids (Stoler 1995); or in the comic misadventures of a thoroughly
modern, gender-bending hero/ine (Anderson 1996). In the collection by Stivens
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STATE OF CULTURE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
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(1998b), the impact of global capitalism on women of the “new middle class” in
Asia is considered. Essays reflect on advertising images (Stivens 1998a), consumerism (PuruShotam 1998), and social ideals and images (Spyer 1998, Roces
1998). A more complex relation between sexuality and subjection is asserted, in
which desire is what draws individuals into a coercive political-economic order,
rather than being that which escapes the regulative efforts of that order. As Robinson writes, “[r]omantic love, although apparently arising not from the external
force of state power, but from the individual’s own desire, would seem to be
securely located in the economic and cultural imperatives of the global order”
(Robinson 1998:83).
These five collections by no means exhaust the coverage of gender in Southeast Asia, nor are they as internally consistent as my account suggests. The “relatively high status of women” continues to be cited as a pan-regional cultural trait,
but there is still no consensus as to what, if anything, this might mean in practical
terms. What, for instance, is the significance of women’s participation in economic activities? Do women’s economic activities signal a degree of personal
autonomy, or are they in fact a measure of second-class status (Brenner 1998,
Carsten 1989, Papanek & Schwede 1988)? Does gender complementarity imply a
degree at least of equality for women or is it a screen for male dominance (Sutlive
1991, Atkinson 1990, Tsing 1990, Peletz 1996, Sanday 1981)? What is the relation between gender representations and gender experience (Florida 1996;
George 1993; Siapno 1995, 1997; Steedly 1989)? How does gender imagery
affect women’s status and opportunities (Cook 1998, DjajadiningratNieuwenhuis 1987, Eberhardt 1988, Hatley 1990), and how is it used to represent
other kinds of power relations (Edwards 1998, Gouda 1998, Rutherford 1998, Sen
1994, Tiwon 1996)? What does the frequently noted downplaying of gender differences suggest regarding attitudes toward alternative sexualities (Anderson
1996, Atkinson 1990, Johnson 1998, Oetomo 1996, Peletz 1996)? How have
world religions affected local systems of gender meanings and roles (Brenner
1996, Keyes 1984a, Kipp 1998, Kirsch 1985)? Are practices such as prostitution
or veiling simply instances of gender oppression or should they also be regarded
as empowering (Brenner 1996, Muecke 1992, Murray 1991, Ong 1990b)? Do
family planning programs represent a widening or a constriction of opportunities
for women (Heng & Devan 1995, Suryakusuma 1996, Wee 1995)? How open are
gender or other social systems of meaning to strategic manipulation, contestation,
or resistance by interested actors (Atkinson 1990; Krier 1995; Kuipers 1990;
Ledgerwood 1996; Tsing 1990, 1993a). These and other questions have generated considerable debate but little agreement about the actual status of women and
the nature of gender in Southeast Asian societies.
Nevertheless, a general direction seems clear. Beginning from the critique of
universal theories of gender, anthropologists have shifted to increasingly smaller
units of generalization—regional, subregional, local, sublocal. Ethnographic
attention is directed toward the internal complexity and historical specificity of
social domains, and the variety of motives and positions of social actors and
observers. This can lead to a refusal to generalize even within a particular case.
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Brenner, for example, in describing her field work among Javanese batik traders
in a middle-class neighborhood in the city of Solo—usually thought of as the
“heart” of Javanese culture—insists that “the women about whom I write do not
constitute an undifferentiated category of ‘Javanese women’. . . . I cannot justify
making sweeping generalizations about all Javanese women based on research
undertaken primarily in one urban community, nor would I want this ethnography
to be read as a general statement about Javanese women” (Brenner 1998:19). This
orientation toward partial accounts, internal differences, and contested meanings
is by no means limited to studies of gender but seems to be one of the most significant current trends in cultural analysis.
Another important development in Southeast Asianist gender studies is the
growing attention paid to the power of encompassing forms and forces—colonial
regimes, bureaucratic states, capitalist markets, religious institutions—to influence, alter, or create altogether the social roles and identities of women and men.
As local communities are increasingly seen as sites of heterogeneity and contestation, the forces of cultural homogenization and gender oppression have been
transferred to the state, which is often equated with normative, centripetal, or
“official” forms of discourse. Particularly valuable in this regard have been studies of the “gendering” of the state itself: “state fatherhood” in Singapore (Heng &
Devan 1995; see also Shiraishi 1997) or the ideology of “ibuism” (motherhood)
and domesticity in New Order Indonesia (Djajadiningrat-Nieuwenhuis 1987,
Newberry 1999, Suryakusuma 1996). This recognition of the state’s role in creating and maintaining gender ideologies is a crucial one, but there is also a danger of
downplaying or disregarding local forms of gender oppression, of overlooking
the symbiotic interaction of local, national, and global systems of inequity—or,
conversely, of overestimating the power and coherence of state discourse, the
forces of the global market, or the institutions of organized religion.
THE STATE OF CULTURE
In a 1995 state-of-the-field essay, Bowen declared that the idea of culture was still
alive and well in the anthropology of Southeast Asia. But where once anthropologists looked at cultural forms as expressive “texts” to interpret, more recent analyses have approached interpretation from the inside. Cultural forms, he argued, are
not monologic; they give rise to a variety of meanings that are often in conflict
with each other and that are not always resolvable to an internally coherent structure. Rather than reading events, institutions, or ways of speaking as parts of a single culture “text,” anthropologists increasingly ask how social actors interpret
cultural forms, how actors change their interpretations over time, and what is
most at stake for them in their interpretations (Bowen 1995:1049–50).
By giving greater weight to questions of social and individual agency, anthropologists have come to comprehend the cultural landscapes of Southeast Asia as
open, plural, contested interpretive spaces rather than as a collection of discrete,
bounded cultural entities. At the ground level of ethnographic observation, cul-
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STATE OF CULTURE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
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tural frames were being opened up to notions of subversion, difference, porosity,
doubleness, ambiguity, and fluidity.
As the agency (or lack of agency) of social actors came to occupy a central
place in cultural analyses, anthropologists have become increasingly skeptical of
claims of order, wholeness, or stability (Keane 1997b). Gender studies have been
particularly important in establishing that cultures are never homogeneous, and
that the differences produced within and among cultures are variously weighted
with regard to power. Feminist anthropologists have tracked the workings of
power into the most intimate spaces of daily life, and in the subjective experience
of social actors. They have demonstrated both the ubiquity of domination and the
manifold strategies through which domination can be countered, evaded, or
accommodated.
At the same time, the “historical turn” in anthropology has introduced a new
uncertainty regarding the stability of cultural forms over time. Continuity is
understood not as something that just happens in the absence of change, but rather
as something that has to be produced and reproduced in the face of change
(George 1996, Pemberton 1994a, Steedly 1993). As George argues in the case of
public rituals, “there is no ur-text, no abstract cultural schema, no basically basic
story or structure behind ritual,” but rather “an ongoing history of prior ritual
events and texts being recalled and put in productive tension with the present”
(George 1996:14). Ethnographers celebrate the hybridity of urban culture, as in
Ness’s description of the “damaged” or “polluted” culture of the Philippine port
of Cebu City: “[W]hat kind of culture could exist and endure in such a place as
this? . . . It was going to have to be a culture born and reborn in rapid succession. It
most likely would be a purely impure culture, a culture nourished by assimilation,
sustained in acts of translation and improvisation, and visible in duplication.
Irony and paradox would be its prevailing characters” (Ness 1992:31; see also
Cannell 1999, Chua 1998).
Culture contact is shown to produce genuinely “bicultural” art as well as cheap
souvenirs for tourists (Adams 1998, Geertz 1997). Traditions are portrayed as
“invented,” identities constructed, and pasts fabulated (Adams 1997a, Kahn
1993, Nagata 1981, Schiller & Martin-Schiller 1997, Spyer 1998), as in Pemberton’s study of the collaborative Dutch-Javanese creation of “Java” as an imaginary site of uncolonized consciousness in the midst of a colonial empire
(Pemberton 1994a), or Errington’s deconstruction of the idea of “authentic primitive art” (Errington 1998). In Cannell’s (1999) ethnography of lowland Filipinos,
the apparent “absence of culture” is a productive point of analytic departure.
This understanding of local cultures as inherently plural, unstable, and contested—or else aestheticized, simplified, and therefore inauthentic—has spawned
a “darker” form of culture theory, in which the desire for order, coherence, and
stability is displaced upward from society into the realm of the state (see e.g.
Hooker 1993, Trankell & Summers 1998, Kahn & Loh Kok Wah 1992, Schiller &
Martin-Schiller 1997, Kahin et al 1996). This variant of the notion of an unlocalized, and thus fundamentally inauthentic, superculture focuses on state projects of
social control, rational simplification, and the creation of “good” (i.e. acquies-
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cent) citizens through the operation of various ideological and repressive apparatuses. This approach recognizes the tendency of modern Southeast Asian states
toward the micromanagement of cultural affairs (Yampolsky 1995). Pemberton
refers to this tendency, in the case of Indonesia, as the “state of culture,” in which
the legitimacy of Soeharto’s New Order regime was cultivated through an idiom
of shared values, emphasizing consent, stasis, and acquiescence—an ideal condition, in other words, in which “nothing happens” (Pemberton 1994a; see also
Acciaioli 1985, Bowen 1986, Van Langenberg 1986).
An important influence in these developments was Anderson’s (1983) study of
nationalism. Three points in Anderson’s subtle and multilayered study have been
seized on in particular by Southeast Asianist anthropologists. The first of these is
the assertion that all communities are, in a sense, imagined rather than primordial
entities, whose identities need to be constantly reproduced through the work of
imagination (Keyes 1984b, Jonsson 1998). The second is the concept of official
nationalism, i.e. a form of communal, monumental self-imagining guided or
maintained by the state in the service of its own continuation (Adams 1997b,
Evans 1998, Van Langenberg 1986, Widodo 1995, Bourchier 1997). The third
point is the designation of certain privileged sites in these processes of collective
imagining, whether guided or relatively spontaneous: schools (Keyes 1991, Shiraishi 1997); museums, monuments, and festivals (Adams 1997b, Cunningham
1989, George 1998, Hooker 1993, Kalb 1997, Ledgerwood 1997, Rutherford
1996); and print-capitalism (Rodgers 1991, Hagen 1997). Other topics that have
been addressed in this regard are political rituals (Bowie 1997; Evans 1998; Pemberton 1994a; Sekimoto 1990, 1997), public depictions of ethnic diversity in textbooks, posters and dioramas (Kalb 1997, Rutherford 1996, Pemberton 1994b),
national arts competitions (Ness 1997, Rutherford 1996, Widodo 1995), national
heroes (Cunningham 1989, Hoskins 1987, Schreiner 1997, May 1997), language
and literacy (Keane 1997a, Kuipers 1998, Steedly 1996), religion (Hefner 1993,
Kipp 1993, Kipp & Rogers 1987, Malarney 1996, Taylor 1993), tourism and art
(Adams 1997a, 1998; Errington 1998; George 1997; George 1998; Taylor 1994;
Volkman 1990; Taylor 1997), television and films (Caldarola 1994; Charlot
1989; Heider 1991; Saraswati Sunindyo 1993, 1996; Sen 1994), music and popular entertainment (Rodgers 1986, Ubonrat Siriyuvasak 1998, Wong 1995, Yampolsky 1989), fashion systems (Brenner 1996, Spyer 1998), and mass
organizations (Bowie 1997, Ryter 1998, Suryakusuma 1996, Jones 1999, Newberry 1999).
In all these areas, the idea of the fake seems to have become as central to our
cultural discourse as “authenticity” once was (see Siegel 1998:52–65). Nevertheless, against the “inauthentic” supercultures of nation-states, anthropologists continue to keep an eye on the local, which is, Brenner (1998:23) suggests, “what
anthropologists still seem to do best.” As Keane (1997b:6) has noted, “[s]uspicion
of the normative, the official, and the verbalized has opened up new vistas as
anthropologists seek out the marginal, the everyday, and the contested.” Some
addressed the survival of indigenous cultures literally “on the road to tribal
extinction” (Eder 1987) as a result of state policies, economic exploitation, and
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STATE OF CULTURE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
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ecological degradation (Anderson 1987, Sutlive 1991, Brosius 1997). Others
celebrated marginality and resistance in a variety of locales and contexts—in
urban neighborhoods (Brenner 1998, Murray 1991, Ness 1992) and on shop
floors (Ong 1990a, Wolf 1992), at funeral seances and curing rites (Cannell 1999;
Kessler 1977; Pemberton 1994a; Steedly 1988; 1993; Tsing 1990, 1993a)—
which were seen as sites of diversity, carnivalesque resistance, and subversive
disorder. Some found coherence in the lives of individuals, in the form of memoirs, paintings, or other “biographical objects,” or in stories of personal experience (George 1997; Hoskins 1998; Rodgers 1995; Rosaldo 1980, 1986; Steedly
1993; Tsing 1993b). A few pointed out that this sense of the local, whether understood as a congeries of cultural shreds and patches, as a “pure product” of ethnographic regard, or as a figment of the national imagination, was itself constructed
(Keane 1997a, Rafael 1988, Steedly 1996).
If it is no longer possible to overlook the state, then has also become virtually
impossible to look past it, even in the case of diasporic communities or
“ungrounded empires” (Dusenberry 1997, Ong & Nonini 1997). The idea of marginality offered an important corrective to the anthropological yearning for a
bounded, autonomous place for culture, outside the circuits of global capitalism
and state power. It insisted that even the most isolated locales were shot through
with—indeed, one might say constituted by—power and influence emanating
from dominant centers located elsewhere. But the idea of marginality also ensures
that small-scale communities are relegated to minority or subsidiary status; it
allow us to see them only in relation to an external force to which they stand as
conceptual or actual limits. If marginal communities retain in the ethnographic
imaginary some residual cast of authenticity, then theories of the “state of culture” insist that there is no unmediated approach to it: everything comes through
the state or its subsidiaries/surrogates.
There is a tendency to think of states as transcendant agents, guided as if by a
single will, either Oz-like, in the person of the head of government (Lee Kuan
Yew, Soeharto), or by a kind of uniform animating spirit (Indonesia’s “New
Order,” the Khmer Rouge, or the State Law and Order Restoration Council of
“Myanmar”), with overwhelming power to enforce its ideological vision or to
construct knowledge as it sees fit. But state operations are not just ideological,
and neither are they ubiquitous. Any appearance of popular consent is undergirded by the possibility (and often the actuality) of force, as well as by opportunities for advantage to some. Moreover, state programs are not necessarily of a
piece; they are also heterogeneous, fractured, contentious, contradictory, sometimes unsuccessful, often transient, and open to subversion both from within and
without. Stoler and others have shown that what has been easily generalized as
“colonialism,” or “the colonial establishment,” is crosscut with internal differences and contradictions (Kipp 1990, Stoler 1989, Stoler 1992a, Taylor 1983); a
similar point needs to be made with regard to Southeast Asia’s “new states.”
Anthropologists may, as Bowie suggests, have at one time “preferred to leave the
study of the state and nation to political scientists” because of an unwillingness to
generalize beyond the domain of their field studies (Bowie 1997:6–7); but now it
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seems that the state has taken culture’s place as the generalized and generalizing
superorganic center of our theories of meaning.
Without underestimating the control that states (or other centers of institutionalized power) can exert on isolated enclaves, nomadic populations, or socially
denigrated groups, might it not be worthwhile to reflect on the internal mechanisms, limits, contradictions, and failures of state power? Might we not find ways
of thinking about the local that do not reduce it entirely to a manifestation of
something else, something “false?” Might we not move away from the binaries of
national/local or change/continuity, which position small or “stateless” communities as besieged relics of bygone times? Might we not also localize the state?
One might, for instance, want to consider the complicity of local (gendered)
agents with state programs and agendas, or the intersection of state and local
forms of political authority (Tsing 1993a). It would be useful to track the weaknesses and failures of states in enacting policies (Li 1999), to explore the tactics
and practices of state corruption or family connections, or even to think about
ways in which states can open up and proliferate opportunities—legal and illegal—for its subjects (Hefner 1993, McCoy 1993, Shiraishi 1997, Sidel 1998). We
might track historical shifts in state policy (Yampolsky 1995, Bourchier 1997) or
look at regional differences in policy implementation. To think of states as
“weak” or fragmented is not to deny the pervasiveness of power, but rather to
understand it as dispersed and polyvalent rather than emanating as a unitary force
from exemplary centers in Jakarta, Hanoi, or Bangkok.
SCENES OF VIOLENCE
As much as Southeast Asia has been the place to look for culture, it has also been a
place seemingly marked by violence. The Vietnam War, and its journalistic and
fictional representations, enhanced this image, especially for Americans. Incidents of extraordinary brutality, such as the 1965 slaughter of communists in
Indonesia, the Cambodian “killing fields,” or even the massacre of Vietnamese
civilians by American soldiers at My Lai, seem to define Southeast Asia in popular consciousness. So too has the anthropology of Southeast Asia been haunted by
figures of violence. In studies of headhunting (Hoskins 1987, 1989, 1996;
Rosaldo 1980), mass suicide (Wiener 1995), violent forms of trance behavior
(Belo 1960), sorcery and witchcraft (Geertz 1997, Watson & Ellen 1993, Wikan
1990), as well as such sublimated acts of violence as cockfighting (Geertz 1973a)
and headhunting songs and oratory (George 1996; Rosaldo 1974b, 1980), violence is placed within a cultural frame. This can be disturbing, as is Rosaldo’s culturalist conclusion regarding Ilongot headhunting: “to understand why killing
could give rise to celebrations of collective life, I had to understand its sense
within lives ultimately constrained by the relational forms of Ilongot society”
(Rosaldo 1980:234; for a culturalist interpretation of the Cambodian holocaust,
see Hinton 1998). Equally disturbing, however, is the opposite approach,
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STATE OF CULTURE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
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whereby less exotic forms of violence—the US involvement in Vietnam, the
Indonesian massacres of 1965–1966 (Cribb 1991, Robinson 1995, Shiraishi
1997, Tiwon 1996, Vickers 1998), the Cambodian holocaust (Ablin & Hood
1990, Fein 1993, Kiernan 1996, Ledgerwood 1997, French 1994), military and
paramilitary attacks on student demonstrators (Thongchai Winichakul, unpublished data), the Indonesian occupation of East Timor (Franke 1981), along with
outbreaks of communal violence, the brutality of revolution or insurrection or
even the cruelty of daily life (Dumont 1992, H Geertz 1991, McKenna 1998,
Stoler 1992a)—are seen as comprising a “counterpoint to culture,” being both
from the perspective of the observer and from that of the victims incomprehensible, inexpressible, “uncivilized,” indeed inhuman acts (Daniel 1998). These and
other incidents, such as race riots and other attacks on ethnic Chinese, and
“Petrus,” the so-called mysterious shootings in Indonesia in the early 1980s, continue—as they should—to haunt our ethnographies (Ita Nadia 1999; Pemberton
1994a; Siegel 1986, 1998; Steedly 1993).
Whether we regard violence as something to be explained by culture or as
something antithetical to it, we run the risk of primordializing it—making it
appear as inherent in and distinctive to Southeast Asia as a world region. This is
especially dangerous at a time when the media would seem to be making precisely
that point. Across Southeast Asia in the past decade, increased population mobility and the expansion of information technology has generated an explosion of
inter- and extra-regional communication. This has made violence visible in dramatic new ways. Not only can researchers in the United States or Europe stay in
touch with Southeast Asian colleagues, friends, and informants by phone or email, they can also keep up with breaking news, political debates, and current
issues of interest through a variety of online news services and discussion groups.
Ironically, this has heightened our sense of a continual crisis. Inside jokes,
rumors, political manifestos, news reports, scandals, and eyewitness accounts of
protests, reprisals, and riots are reproduced, repeated, enhanced, and proliferated
electronically, in new, often unpredictable, and usually uncontrollable forms, via
internet cafés, photocopied broadsheets, and cell phones. These messages reach
us with the immediacy of the spoken word, and the authority of the photographic
image. I recall, for instance, the minute-by-minute accounts of the 1998 student
demonstrations in Jakarta, and more recently the horrifying color photos, Webcirculated, of a decapitated “ninja” victim of mass violence in East Java. Because
of its tendency to highlight these elements of danger, violence, novelty, and terror, internet communication can obscure the ordinary aspects of life—things that
go on even in a state of emergency. Moreover, by plugging us in so directly to the
experiences and views of individuals in Southeast Asia’s cosmopolitan centers, it
may lead us to disregard the nonurban, non-online majority—people living in villages, farmsteads, hill settlements, slums, and even “middling” neighborhoods—
except for those moments when violence flares.
The alternative to essentializing or to culturalizing violence is not to disregard
it but rather to localize it. By this I mean exploring the full particularity of its multifarious occasions: how it is produced in certain circumstances; how it is
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deployed, represented, limited, imagined, ignored, or instigated; how it is identified, disciplined, interrogated, and, of course, punished. Recent work on the topic
of criminality begins this project. In areas as diverse as political assassination in
Thailand (Anderson 1998), criminal law in Indonesia (Lev 1999), the history of
the prison in colonial Vietnam (Zinoman 1999), the organization (and disorganization) of Indonesian youth gangs (Ryter 1998), gangsterism, nationalism, and
democracy (Cribb 1991, Trocki 1998), the appropriation of local forms of violence and security by the state (Barker 1998, 1999), and the place of the criminal
in popular imagination (Schulte Nordholt & van Till 1999, Siegel 1998), Southeast Asianists have begun to disturb such clear binaries as local and national,
legality and illegality, order and disorder, subjection and resistance, freedom and
authority, culture and violence. But in continuing this line of inquiry we should
also reflect on the partialities of our electronically enhanced consciousness: what
is obscured, neglected, or erased by our attention to the cruel and the unusual.
What we miss is the landscape of the banal—the ordinary routines of everyday
life, in cities and in the countryside, the times when things don’t fall apart, when
expectations hold, when people get by or get on with their lives, however difficult
or oppressive or violent the circumstances of those lives might be. We miss the
regularities, the taken-for-granted, the business-as-usual aspects of human experience, the sense of how things should ordinarily be and where they might be
going. What we miss, in other words, is culture, which might now be worth
another look.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This paper grew out of conversations with many Southeast Asianist colleagues,
among them Kathleen Adams, Suzanne Brenner, Sue Darlington, Steve
Ferezacca, Nancy Florida, Lindsay French, Ken George, Byron and Mary-Jo
Good, Leif Jonsson, Webb Keane, Rita Kipp, Ann Marie Leshkowich, Jan Newberry, Susan Rodgers, Laurie Sears, Patsy Spyer, Anna Tsing, Gigi Weix, and
Philip Yampolsky. I thank them all for their interest and inspiration as well as
their suggestions and criticisms. Some of the latter I have taken on board in this
article; others I will continue to think about in the future. The views expressed in
this article are my own, as are all mistakes and infelicities herein. In preparing this
article, I was assisted by Amy Farber, who did the initial bibliographic work, and
by Amy Young, who ably saw it through to completion.
Visit the Annual Reviews home page at www.AnnualReviews.org.
STATE OF CULTURE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
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