Work in progress: Local aspirations in upland Southeast Asia.
Paper short abstract:
Aspirations of desirable future states of being inform local approaches to socio-economic and environmental transformation. Their moral connotations and the ways in which local aspirations are ridiculed or contested provide insights into how futures are shaped, in Southeast Asia for example.
Paper long abstract:
Similar to "hopes" and "imaginations", aspirations point to the ways in which futures are brought about rather than emerging miraculously (Appadurai 2013; Crapanzano 2014; Sneath, Holbraad and Pedersen 2009); they also point to possible anthropological engagements with "the good" and "the good life" (Robbins 2013; Fischer 2014). The notion of aspiration enables new vistas in exploring processes of socio-economic and environmental change in upland Southeast Asia beyond grand narratives (Li 2014). Local perspectives are influential in shaping patterns of change, though they might be severely constrained by larger forces; vice versa, circulating narratives, such as of development and progress embrace, in fact, multiple meanings (Bulloch 2017). Aspirations, or "desires" (High 2014), might provide insights into historically framed images of worthwhile futures: in conversations, Southeast Asian uplanders such as the Khmu of northern Laos, reason about upcoming transitions and aspirations; some of these aspirations, notably house building projects, are local yet travel across the region. Conflicts between aspirations and local values show in how far socio-moral change is reflected upon and expressed - often in talk and gossip. Aspirations that are too high and hopes of prosperity that are prone to collapse are also frequent subjects of mockery and irony. Based on my ethnographic work on the Khmu (Stolz 2017), I will show that local aspirations and the ways in which they become subject to irony or moral critique render visible how future hopes and fears are informed by past imaginaries as well as by a sense of newness.
Virtuous (im)mobilities: the good life and its discrepancies