Threatening Discourses and State Anxieties in Southeast Asia, Past and Present

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Threatening Discourses and State Anxieties in Southeast Asia, Past and Present
Stream: Anthropology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Matthew Reeder, National University of Singapore, Singapore (organizer, chair, presenter)
Chu Paing, University of Colorado Boulder, United States (presenter)
Kankan Xie, Peking University, China (presenter)
Eva Danayanti, University of Colorado Boulder, United States (presenter)


In the heyday of Marxist and nationalist scholarship on Southeast Asia, writers of the 1970s and 1980s revelled in recounting histories of overt resistance to colonial or state authority such as riots, rebellions, and revolutions (Kerkvliet 1977, Chatthip 1984, U Maung Maung 1990). However, since the publication of James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak (1985), historians, anthropologists, and other scholars have turned our attention from actions to speech. We have become increasingly interested in patterns of complaining, critiquing, and mockery. We have begun to notice the ways in which subaltern histories and narratives subvert dominant ones, and how these “discourses of resistance” have provoked fierce responses from authorities and elites. Still underexplored, however, is the range of forms these discourses have taken and the grave concerns among state authorities they have caused. This panel examines a range of discursive attempts to challenge conventional frameworks of power, and the anxieties they have engendered. By posting anonymous letters, attacking government mouthpieces, corresponding across borders, and circulating online petitions, such “weapons of the weak” are revealed to be surprisingly influential modes of resistance. Throughout Southeast Asia, from past to present, they have stoked anxieties that authorities find difficult to overcome.