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Mega-Plantations in Southeast Asia

Landscapes of Displacement

Miles Kenney-Lazar and Noboru Ishikawa

This article reviews a wide body of literature on the emergence and expansion of agro-industrial, monoculture plantations across Southeast Asia through the lens of megaprojects. Following the characterization of megaprojects as displacement, we define mega-plantations as plantation development that rapidly and radically transforms landscapes in ways that displace and replace preexisting human and nonhuman communities. Mega-plantations require the application of large amounts of capital and political power and the transnational organization of labor, capital, and material. They emerged in Southeast Asia under European colonialism in the nineteenth century and have expanded again since the 1980s at an unprecedented scale and scope to feed global appetites for agro-industrial commodities such as palm oil and rubber. While they have been contested by customary land users, smallholders, civil society organizations, and even government regulators, their displacement and transformation of Southeast Asia’s rural landscapes will likely endure for quite some time.

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Jonathan Friedman

James Scott, The art of not being governed: An anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 464, ISBN 0300152280.

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Kenneth Christie

The emergence of an ‘Asian’ form of democracy in distinction to a liberal Western one has called into question longstanding assumptions that economic development leads to democracy, which was a mainstay of modernisation theory from the early 1960s to the present day (i.e. Lipset 1959; Diamond 1992).2 This article will examine some of the assumptions behind Asian democracy (sometimes called ‘illiberal democracy’), its relationship with economic development and the difficulties and tensions between these propositions in Southeast Asia in relation to modernisation and political change.

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James F. Eder

English abstract: Degradation and reconfiguration of natural resources in coastal and upland Southeast Asia have set in motion a characteristic process of rural livelihood diversification with significant implications for gender roles and economic well-being. Drawing primarily on case material from the Philippines, this paper explores the transformations in household economies that have accompanied the search for more profitable and sustainable livelihoods and suggests how state and NGO interventions might encourage an entrepreneurial and economically desirable pattern of household-level diversification instead of a debilitating and wage-labor based pattern of individual-level diversification. These interventions include an expanded role for credit; skills training and related forms of support, particularly for women; protection of newly developing household enterprises from competition from large commercial operations; and more consensual and socially equitable forms of environmental governance.

Spanish abstract: La degradación y la reconfiguración de los recursos naturales en zonas costeras y tierras altas del sudeste asiático han impulsado un proceso particular de diversificación de los medios de vida rurales, con significativas consecuencias para los roles de género y el bienestar económico. A partir de una investigación realizada por el autor en las Filipinas, este trabajo explora las transformaciones de la economía de los hogares que han acompañado la búsqueda de medios de vida más rentables y sostenibles. Además, sugiere que las intervenciones del gobierno y de las ONG pueden fomentar un proceso de diversificación de ingresos en la economía de los hogares (household economies), emprendedor y económicamente deseable, en lugar de un modelo de diversificación individual debilitante basado en la relación entre salario y empleo. Estas intervenciones incluyen un rol ampliado de las formas de crédito, capacitacion y otras formas de apoyo, específicos para mujeres, protección de las nacientes empresas familiares frente a la competencia de grandes granjas comerciales, y formas de gobernanza medioambiental más consensuales y socialmente responsables.

French abstract: La dégradation et la reconfiguration des ressources naturelles sur les côtes et les hautes terres de l'Asie du Sud Est ont entamé un processus caractéristique de la diversification des moyens de subsistance en milieu rural, avec des implications considérables pour les rôles de genre et le bien-être économique. Se basant principalement sur des données venant des Philippines, cet article examine les transformations des revenus des ménages qui ont accompagné la recherche de moyens de subsistance plus durables et plus profitables. En outre, l'article suggère de quelle façon les interventions de l'État et des ONG peuvent encourager un modèle audacieux et économiquement souhaitable de diversification au niveau des ménages, au lieu d'un modèle de diversification au niveau de l'individu, débilitant et basé sur la relation salaire/travail. Ces interventions comprennent un rôle accru du crédit, des formations professionnelles et des formes de soutien apparentées (en particulier pour les femmes), la protection des entreprises des ménages tout juste en développement vis à vis de la compétition avec les grandes exploitations commerciales, ainsi que des formes de gouvernance environnementale plus consensuelles et socialement équitables.

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Variants of Frontier Mimesis

Colonial Encounter and Intercultural Interaction in the Lao-Vietnamese Uplands

Oliver Tappe

At the turn of the twentieth century, the French colonial administration adopted various strategies and tactics to ‘pacify’ and control the culturally heterogeneous regions dividing the lowland realms of the Lao and Vietnamese courts, while upland powerbrokers aimed to forge strategic alliances with the new colonial power. This article takes the concept of mimesis as a means to explore the interplay of alterity and identity. With reference to the work of Michael Taussig, along with other theories of imitation, I will discuss processes of mutual appropriation and differentiation within the precarious relationship between colonizers and colonized. Mimesis here provides an alternative reading of upland Southeast Asian history beyond the binaries of dominance and resistance prevalent in James C. Scott’s recent work on the anarchist history of zomia.

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Delta Ontologies

Infrastructural Transformations in the Chao Phraya Delta, Thailand

Atsuro Morita and Casper Bruun Jensen

In this article, we explore a contrast between terrestrial and amphibious ways of imagining and intervening in deltas, which have given rise to contrasting delta ontologies. Whereas the former originated in Europe and focused on removing water for agriculture, the latter conceived of deltas as extending water flows. In Thailand’s Chao Phraya Delta these incongruent approaches have inspired very different forms of infrastructural development over the last century. Examining the entwined histories of agency of people—engineers, scientists, traders, and kingdoms—and non-humans, such as canals, dikes, and landscapes, we trace how the delta’s ontology was transformed by the gradual layering of partly incompatible infrastructures. In light of increasing floods, the continued sustainability of Bangkok may now depend on amphibious infrastructures lying half-forgotten within this ontological palimpsest.

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Garry Rodan, Participation Without Democracy

Containing Conflict in Southeast Asia

Matthew David Ordoñez

Garry Rodan, Participation Without Democracy: Containing Conflict in Southeast Asia (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2018), 281pp., ISBN: 9781501720109.

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Introduction

Identifying with Freedom

Tony Day

The essays in this forum offer sharply focused and critical perspectives on the consequences, both intended and unforeseen, of reform in Indonesia since the resignation of President Suharto on 21 May 1998. Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, a huge archipelago of fascinating diversity and complexity, is now poised to assume a leadership role in Southeast Asia, with China on the rise and the moribund Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) coming back to life (Sheridan 2005).

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Naila Maier-Knapp

In December 2015, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) celebrated the official establishment of the ASEAN Community. Having emerged in 1967 as a regional grouping of developing countries with minimal shared interests—beyond the common concern of economic growth and national resilience, ASEAN now has established regional structures which have been vital in enhancing development and dialogue on a broad range of issues across the Southeast Asian region. Over the years, the institutional development at the regional level has been accompanied by various efforts to promote regional unity and identity. The more recent years have also displayed that the international community has been supporting these efforts for ASEAN unity and identity by showing greater recognition of ASEAN as an international actor in its own right, for example, through the establishment of numerous country delegations to ASEAN.

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Michael D. Pante

A paradigm shift has occurred in the historiography of mobility in the Philippines and Southeast Asia in the past decade. Many of the recent works deal with social history, such as accounts of transport workers and analyses of colonial modernity, and thus reveal the influence of the broader historiographical revolution that began in the 1970s. Slowly but surely, the history of mobility is carving out a discursive space for itself within the wider area of mobility studies, which, in the Philippines, has heretofore focused only on planning and policy.