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Space and the Production of Cultural Difference among the Akha Prior to Globalization

Space and the Production of Cultural Difference among the Akha Prior to Globalization: Channeling the Flow of Life

Deborah E. Tooker
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  • Book Info
    Space and the Production of Cultural Difference among the Akha Prior to Globalization
    Book Description:

    Based on the author's extensive fieldwork among the Akha people prior to full nation-state integration, this illuminating study critically re-examines assumptions about space, power, and the politics of identity, so often based on modern, western contexts. Tooker explores the active role that spatial practices (and their indigenous link to a 'life force') have played in maintaining cultural autonomy in an historically migratory, multiethnic context. Space and the Production of Cultural Difference Among the Akha Prior to Globalization: Channeling the Flow of Life expands current debates about power relations in the region from a mostly political and economic framework into the domains of ritual, cosmology, and indigenous meaning and social systems.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1438-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. List of Maps, Tables, Figures and Illustrations
    (pp. 11-12)
  2. Preface
    (pp. 13-14)
    Deborah E. Tooker
  3. Note on Akha Transcription, Akha Pronunciation Guide, and CAW Comparison chart
    (pp. 17-20)
  4. 1 Bearings
    (pp. 21-46)

    This book investigates the meaning of spatial practices in a non-state society, and their significance in the formation of a distinctive collective identity that developed in a regional context. The society is that of the Akha (phon.Àkà), a minority upland group found in Northern Thailand and surrounding countries with whom I have conducted long-term, participant-observational fieldwork between the years 1982 and 2010. This book, however, focuses on the time period 1982-1985. I discuss this case study in relation to three interpretive frameworks: 1) the cultural meaning of space in Akha society during the time period studied (and how it...

  5. 2 Moving Through History
    (pp. 47-64)

    The point of this chapter is to look at how the set of spatial practices discussed in this book is part of what I call a ‘nonmodern cultural complex’ that developed historically and in a multi-ethnic context of uneven power relationships. I use the term of a ‘nonmodern cultural complex’ both because this complex has a remarkable distribution across Akha groups and because it seems to have had a long history of continuity, possibly over six or seven centuries. The history of the Akha prior to this century is not well known and future findings may indicate that I am...

  6. 3 Space and the Flow of Life
    (pp. 65-72)

    Space provides a rich repertoire of signifiers universally, and has meanings that may be universally recognized, especially as they relate to human status indexing. However, here I specify the particular cultural meanings of space for the Akha case. Many of these contrast dramatically with western conceptions of space. The single most important characteristic to recognize is that, for the Akha, space has importantqualitativedimensions so it is not uniform as in a western quantitative sense of space. This qualitative dimension links space to ‘power’ or ‘potency’ , the ‘life force’ (gỳlàn).

    The Akha termgỳlànhas been variously translated...

  7. 4 Spatializing the Upland Village Polity and its Alter, the Lowland Muang
    (pp. 73-116)

    Any discussion of a ‘village polity’ needs to be linked to what that polity has historically been posed against and contrastively defined by. For the Akha, this is the Tai lowlandmuang(town/kingdom)[Akha:], a recognition by the Akha that they are and have been in a continuing interac- tion with more powerful lowland groups. The Akha polity itself (and one could say Akha identity as well) has come into existence, and is reproduced, through this dialectical relationship with the lowlands (see Chapter 2; see also Alting 1983). This chapter discusses that relationship but also includes spatial tactics (such as...

  8. 5 Space and Fertility in House and Field
    (pp. 117-156)

    In this chapter, we see that spatial practices and patterns in the construction of the village have parallels in the construction of fields and households. While some of these practices serve to incorporate the household into the village, others allow the household (and its fields) to have an independent access to potency and fertility (through its patrilineal ancestral line), and thus resistance to full incorporation in the village. This gives the household a degree of autonomy that articulates with an egalitarian ethos. Thus, ‘spatial tactics’ are not monolithic and are actively used in different contexts to produce different social domains...

  9. 6 Chanting to Produce the Inside and Outside
    (pp. 157-214)

    In the village chapter we have seen how the Akha separate and valuate uplanders (themselves) and lowlanders (others). Through spatial and other forms of totalization, the Akha village becomes a microcosmic totality that accesses cosmic forces of the universe. Being hierarchical in nature, this totality can be viewed as a political technology, supplying ranked positions both within Akha society and between the Akha and outsiders. In a sense the autonomy and superiority of the Akha way of life over that of outsiders rests on an insider collaboration: those within must follow the hierarchical patterns laid down by the ancestors.


  10. 7 Rethinking the Cosmic Polity
    (pp. 215-238)

    In this chapter I focus on the Akha construction of spatio-political totalities in a regional context, especially in relation to discussions of the ‘cosmic polity’ in lowland Southeast Asia.¹ I bring rarely drawn attention to the similarities in upland and lowland spatial practices. I claim that a similar set of spatial codes can be used in alternative and resistant ways to index different political interests and to construct alternative polity forms, including nonstate forms. I return us to the examples of Akha reversals of lowland hierarchies that we have seen in both the village and inside/outside spirit chanting chapters, and...

  11. 8 Space, Life, and Identity
    (pp. 239-244)

    As a cultural anthropologist, my beginning framework is the cultural meaning of space in Akha society at the time of fieldwork (Chapter 3). Akha concepts of space differ from western concepts in that spatial directions have a different cultural significance and space has a dynamic nature:gỳlàn, the life force, flows through it and has a direction. To oppose this direction is to go against the life force. This life force – of crops, people and animals –, and the continuity of their lines, are of central concern to the Akha. The means to tap into that life force has been...

  12. Appendix A: Spirit Chanting of the Inside: Types of Ceremonies
    (pp. 245-248)
  13. Appendix B: Spirit Chanting of the Outside: Types of Ceremonies
    (pp. 249-270)
  14. Biographical Note about the Author
    (pp. 339-340)