Accepted Paper:

Ethnicity in upland Southeast Asia: a systems theory approach  


Guido Sprenger (Heidelberg University)

Paper short abstract:

A concept of ethnicity based on the system-environment divide, with systems consisting of communications, not persons, is tested for Upland Southeast Asia to the aim of locating ethnicity among other socio-cultural differences, both in modern and non-modern settings.

Paper long abstract:

Since Leach and Lehman, scholars are aware of the relationality of ethnic boundaries in upland Southeast Asia, both in states and minority areas. This resulted in attempts to replace the notion of structure with system. Yet, this notion needs further elaboration to become a valid analytical tool. The present talk attempts at modifying and applying approaches from Luhmann's theory of social systems. Ethnicity is seen as a type of system that does not classify persons, but communications. These systems and their reproduction are based on particular semantics that establish what kind of difference is marked as "ethnic". The reproduction of systems of ethnicity thus depends on the processing of information from other systems. The type of difference marked as "ethnic" depends on the other types of difference (in particular local vs. national, class, political affiliation etc.) and their respective valorization in relation to each other.

Panel W062
Challenges of local and regional cultural politics in Southeast Asia