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Centering the Margin

Centering the Margin: Agency and Narrative in Southeast Asian Borderlands

Alexander Horstmann
Reed L. Wadley
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Centering the Margin
    Book Description:

    In a completely new approach to borders and border crossing, this volume suggests a re-conceptualization of the nation in Southeast Asia. Choosing an actor approach, the individual chapters in this volume capture the narratives of minorities, migrants and refugees who inhabit and cross borders as part of their everyday life. They show that people are not only constrained by borders; the crossing of borders also opens up new options of agency. Making active use of these, border-crossing actors construct their own live projects on the border in multiple ways against the original intention of the nation-state. Based on their intimate knowledge of the interaction of communities, anthropologists from Europe, the USA, Japan and Southeast Asia provide a vivid picture of the effects of state policies at the borders on these communities.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-439-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Figures and Tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction: Centering the Margin in Southeast Asia
    (pp. 1-24)
    Alexander Horstmann and Reed L. Wadley

    ALTHOUGH BORDERS AND BORDER CROSSING are by now familiar terms in anthropology, few ethnographic projects take up the crucial development of research questions. This volume on agency and narrative in the borderlands of Southeast Asia is a first attempt in doing just that, by bringing together the imminent work of borderland studies through a comparative framework. In a reversal of perspective, the focus of this collection is on the experiences of border people with the state, at the local level of state borders (e.g., Tokoro 1999). Borders are matrixes of social and cultural change, dynamic in identity and space, in...

  6. Centering the Margin I:: Center and Periphery in Southeast Asian Borderlands

    • 1 “Once were Burmese Shans”: Reinventing Ethnic Identity in Northwestern Thailand
      (pp. 27-52)
      Niti Pawakapan

      THIS IS AN ESSAY ON ASMALLTOWN in Thailand named Khun Yuam, which was established by migrants from Burma’s southern Shan States in the nineteenth century. It focuses on the political economic developments in recent years that have led to changes in local culture and self-awareness. It is also about the narratives contested within a nation-local memories versus national history and the success of the official narrative in overcoming all other narratives. The prevalence of the Thai nation, however, is not solely based on the creation of a consensual belief that the people in this remote northwestern corner are living in...

    • 2 Would-Be Centers: The Texture of Historical Discourse in Makassar
      (pp. 53-66)
      William Cummings

      THIS CHAPTER EXPLORES THE MULTIPLE ways in which marginality is both created and challenged through the medium of historical discourse in Makassar, South Sulawesi. In Makassar, as in much of Southeast Asia, claims of status and identity are predicated on claims about heritage from the past. Would-be centers use a variety of subaltern strategies—most notably imitation—in order to press their claims for relevance and assert that their voice too is worthy of being heard.

      The challenges to marginality that emerge from Makassar encourage us to recognize that border regions may be found throughout the geographical space of the...

    • 3 Political Periphery, Cosmological Center: The Reproduction of Rmeet Sociocosmic Order and the Laos-Thailand Border
      (pp. 67-84)
      Guido Sprenger

      CREATION MYTHS ARE NOT SOMETHING THAT immediately springs to mind when the topic of crossing borders between modern nation-states is broached. Yet, as a form of narrative, they mirror valorizations and perceptions of the relations particular societies maintain with forces outside their domain. Even though the following myth makes no mention of nation-states, it provides a focal text for the understanding of Rmeet conceptions of the Laos-Thailand border.

      Two orphan boys catch ajalookbird in a trap. They take it home and keep it, but their father’s sister (al) tricks them: They walk to the well together, but half...

  7. Centering the Margin II:: Ethnic Minorities in Southeast Asian Borderlands

    • 4 Premodern Flows in Postmodern China: Globalization and the Sipsongpanna Tais
      (pp. 87-110)
      Sara Davis

      AT THIS TIME, WORD ARRIVED that the Lord Buddha had descended from the heavens to live among people, and that he had brought with him good fortune, wisdom, and a written alphabet. Thereupon, everyone went to the Lord Buddha to request the written alphabet. The different ethnic groups each took their own tools for preserving the alphabet: Hans took paper, Tais took palm leaves, and Akhas took buffalo hides. They followed the same route, climbing mountains and fording rivers, traveling many months and years before they finally arrived at the sacred mountain where the Lord Buddha preached to the people....

    • 5 Borders and Multiple Realities: The Orang Suku Laut of Riau, Indonesia
      (pp. 111-134)
      Cynthia Chou

      IN THIS ERA OF REVOLUTIONARY changes, processes of globalization, internationalization, and supranationalization are seen as rearranging and restructuring spatial relations to form a borderless world or “space of flows” (Castells 1989, 1993, 1996). The prime purpose of this chapter is to argue that such processes may not necessarily lead to the advent of a system of “variegated citizenship” (Ong 1999: 215) in a more global world of “multinational” (1999: 221) and “graduated sovereignty” (1999: 215). Instead, state borders are, in fact, gaining in importance. Most importantly, this essay argues for the need to move to a comprehensive analysis of the...

    • 6 In the Margin of a Borderland: The Florenese Community between Nunukan and Tawau
      (pp. 135-152)
      Riwanto Tirtosudarmo

      THIS IS AN ACCOUNT OF THE FLORENESE migrant community, a Catholic minority group, living in the Nunukan-Tawau area on the borderland of East Kalimantan, Indonesia and Sabah, Malaysia.¹ Nunukan is a small island located in the northeast of East Kalimantan province, whereas Tawau is a major port town in the southeastern part of Sabah. Although Nunukan and Tawau are separated by an international boundary, they constitute a transnational social space that integrates these two borderlands into a single social and economic complex. The everyday lives of peoples in this border area are linked through economic and transport networks, most evident...

  8. Centering the Margin III:: Political Economy of Southeast Asian Borderlands

    • 7 Deconstructing Citizenship from the Border: Dual Ethnic Minorities and Local Reworking of Citizenship at the Thailand–Malaysian Frontier
      (pp. 155-176)
      Alexander Horstmann

      FOR THAI-SPEAKING MUSLIMS in Satun on the west coast of southern Thailand and Thai Buddhist monks in Kelantan on the east coast of northern Malaysia, the local reworking of citizenship constitutes an important strategy to deal with the constraints that have been designed by the state to control the populations at the border. Holders of dual citizenship on the Thai-Malaysian border use state documents to their personal advantage. This essay examines border crossing practices as a way of life for ethnic minorities partitioned between two or more countries. Border communities resent their inferior position within the nation-state. By joining Buddhist...

    • 8 Sex and the Sacred: Sojourners and Visitors in the Making of the Southern Thai Borderland
      (pp. 177-206)
      Marc Askew

      EACH DAY, THE BORDER ENTRY POINTS of Thailand’s southernmost provinces at Sadao, Pedang Besar, Betong, and Sungai-Kolok witness a continuous flow of people and goods moving across the frontier check points bordering the Malaysian states of Perlis, Kedah, Perak, and Kelantan.¹ By far the greater number of these people are Malaysians crossing into Thailand on short-term visits. For people of the Chinese and Malay Muslim communities of neighboring localities, such border crossing is a routine that has been incorporated into the patterns of their everyday lives. The formal borders inscribed less than a century ago by British imperial authorities (with...

    • 9 Narrating the Border: Perspectives from the Kelabit Highlands of Borneo
      (pp. 207-228)
      Matthew H. Amster

      THIS CHAPTER OFFERS A DISCUSSION of local perceptions of the international border from the perspective of the Kelabit people of Sarawak, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. My main purpose is to explore the moral geography of the border region and the shifting social, political, economic, and military implications of the border in the everyday life of the Kelabit. I begin with a brief overview of the Kelabit people and outline the changing meanings of the political boundary line in this part of highland Borneo over the last century. The existence of the international boundary in the Kelabit Highlands has...

  9. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 229-232)
  10. Index
    (pp. 233-238)