EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Moving Southeast Asia: circulations, mobilities, and their contemporary entanglements
Location U6-24
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Resto Cruz (University of Manchester) email
  • Mark Johnson (Goldsmiths, University of London) email
  • Giacomo Tabacco (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Mark Johnson (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Johan Lindquist (Stockholm University)

Short Abstract

A critical examination of circulation and mobility, and how these lenses have been deployed in understanding Southeast Asia, and how these may be fruitfully used in relation to contemporary issues; a platform for exploring new opportunities generated by the EU's renewed interest in the region.

Long Abstract

Both within and outwith social anthropology, there has been a history of examining the Southeast Asian region and its societies through the lenses of circulation and mobility. This panel seeks to build on this history by bringing these lenses to bear on contemporary issues, as well as by reflecting on the potentials, limits, and consequences of deploying these lenses within, and beyond, social anthropology. Our aim in doing so is twofold. The first is to extend the notion of 'critical regionalities' that have been developed in gender and sexual diversity studies. The second is to provide a platform for identifying how anthropologists might respond to opportunities created by the EU's renewed policy interest in the Asia Pacific region generally and Southeast Asia in particular (Horizon 2020 forthcoming calls).

Papers that address any of the themes below are most welcome:

• The intersection and mutual implication of varied forms of circulation and mobility in the region, as well as the frictions that may arise between and amongst these movements;

• How attending to these movements may lead to an understanding of the entanglements between humans and non-humans, including the environment;

• The potential of circulations and mobilities for a rethinking of the domaining practices that have structured anthropological work, and for bringing together enquiries into disparate fields such as: kinship; politics; economy, work, and labour; religion and ritual; and gender and personhood;

• The ways in which movements are interwoven with temporalities, including memories, biographies, intergenerational relations, futurities, waiting, and ruptures and continuities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The romance of 'nag-aabroad': geography, temporality and mobility in Batangas and beyond

Author: Chris Martin (London School of Economics & Political Science)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how Filipino youths' imaginations of contemporary international labour migration intersect with wider repertoires of practice related to travel, sexuality and constructions of the exotic. It draws upon anthropological analyses of ritual, mobility and the life course.

Long Abstract

In Batangas province, in the Philippines, the possibility of international labour migration, or 'nag-aabroad' (going abroad), greatly influences the worldview and imagined futures of young people in secondary and tertiary education. While students emphasise the financial security that working overseas might bring, this motivation sits alongside a number of other attractions associated with mobility and movement. These include understandings of maturity and progression through the life course that are articulated by migration away from the natal home; the allure of sexual liaisons and romantic attachments facilitated by travel; and associations between movement from rural to urban settings and perceptions of social mobility and 'modernisation'.

This paper is based on extended fieldwork in two schools in western Batangas province with students aged 12-22, their teachers and their families, and with a number of young people who practiced migration within the Philippines for both schooling and labour. By engaging with young people's varied and contested experiences of mobility and migration, the paper aims to contextualise well-documented practices of international labour migration from the Philippines, and to question dominant narratives surrounding the motivation for such migrations.

The analysis incorporates a range of perspectives on dynamics of power and geography in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and engages with current anthropological debates surrounding mobility and temporality. The paper argues that the dynamics of space and time identified in anthropological analysis of ritual return offer an alternative reading of the interplay between mobility and 'rootedness'.

Reimagining Southeast Asia in everyday spaces of care

Author: Megha Amrith (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity )  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the circulation and exchange of cultural ideas and practices in the Southeast Asian region. It draws upon ethnographic research with migrants working in institutions of care in Singapore, examining how everyday cultural encounters reshape migrants’ understandings of the region.

Long Abstract

The lenses of circulation and mobility have been important in the anthropological study of migration in Southeast Asia, as well in understanding how cultural ideas and practices in the region are exchanged and contested. This paper advances the conversation on inter-Asian encounters by foregrounding the narratives of migrants themselves on their shifting understandings of the region, how it is imagined, where its limits lie and the unexpected possibilities they find within this category. It draws upon ethnographic research with migrants in Singapore's institutions of medical care, where a wide range of inter-Asian cultural encounters take place between migrants and the culturally diverse range of people they work with and care for. While there are opportunities for cultivating new cosmopolitan and affective relationships across cultural boundaries, migrants frequently come up against barriers of misrecognition and prejudice, and divisive categories such as 'backward' and 'modern', 'Third World' and 'First World', 'provincial' and 'global'. Diverse Asian citizens discover shared and divergent cultural understandings about care, intimacy and wellbeing, and develop ethical reflections on how one ought to live as Asia's relationship to the rest of the world shifts. At the heart of these cultural encounters lie conflicting understandings of what constitutes 'Asian values', and how they are expressed in everyday urban spaces among nurses and domestic workers from the Philippines, construction workers from South Asia and Singapore residents of different backgrounds. This specific case sheds light on wider debates on mobility, its continuities and ruptures, in contemporary Southeast Asia.

The burdens of care: immobility, siblingship, and unequal responsibilities in the Central Philippines

Author: Resto Cruz (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

An account of immobility and stillness in relation to questions of power, gender, and hierarchy; examines the interrelationship between mobility and its absence in a context where mobility is both pervasive and valorised, and their consequences on persons and relations, particularly siblingship.

Long Abstract

If, as has been suggested in the past, movement and mobility are traditionally gendered routes to power, how might immobility figure in relation to power, gender, and hierarchy? How, too, might we grasp the interrelationship between mobility and its absence, particularly in contexts where mobility is both pervasive and valorised? And how might a consideration of this interrelationship yield insights on persons and relations? Drawing from a 14-month ethnographic study of memories of becoming middle class in the central Philippines, I seek in this paper to apprehend these questions from the perspective of siblingship, which has been characterised as central to social organisation and personhood in the region. I focus on the story of Tita Amy, the ninth in a brood of ten, who against her wishes was forced to stay behind and care for their mother and other elderly kin. As her siblings' mobility depended on Tita Amy's immobility, I examine how this dependence was articulated, recognised, and repaid. At the same time, I attend to the repercussions of immobility for Tita Amy's own aspirations and those of her children. I also foreground how becoming middle class, which in many ways was about crafting a different future, was interwoven with responsibilities and promises rooted in the past, and which came to be assigned to Tita Amy as a confluence of gender, generation, age order, and personal and familial histories. Finally, by examining immobility from within sibling relations, I consider how one may contest, but also live with, sibling inequalities.

Rethinking rural educated youth within a connected world

Author: Thijs Schut (University of Western Australia)  email

Short Abstract

Instead of seeing rural educated young people as failing to live up to their urban modern potential, we need to acknowledge that they, too, are actively navigating the constraints they face, and contribute in shaping their own, and their community’s futures.

Long Abstract

In Indonesia, education is a dominant in contemporary development discourse. This discourse is associated with processes of deagrarianisation and urbanisation, in which educated youth are considered to be the vanguard. During their education, they are inculcated with their potential and responsibility to develop their country. They are bombarded with images of the good life as modern urban consumers. For rural youth, their education implies mobility: not only in spatial terms (i.e. urbanisation), but also in socioeconomic status. They expect upward social mobility; an expectation fuelled by the rapid circulation of images and ideas of modernity and consumption.

Based on long-term fieldwork with educated youth in a rural area on the island of Flores (East Indonesia), I critique this discourse. I argue that despite ongoing deagrarianisation, many educated youth return from their urban-based studies to their rural natal communities. However, due to limited job opportunities in these communities, they experience so-called troubled education-to-work transitions. Often, this is referred to as them 'being stuck'. This depicts these young people as passive, isolated and immobile. In contrast, I argue that they exhibit remarkable resilience and creativity in dealing with their situation. Moreover, they manage to be truly part of global flows of images and ideas. This thus means we have to rethink rural educated youth: instead of seeing them as failing to live up to their urban modern potential, we need to acknowledge that they, too, are actively navigating the constraints they face, and contribute in shaping their own, and their community's futures.

Learning from past migrations: the opportunities and anxieties of mobility among Tai Vat (Laos)

Author: Pierre Petit (Université libre de Bruxelles)  email

Short Abstract

The Tai Vat of Laos present their own history as an on-going succession of migrations. The paper analyses (1) the use of these narratives to frame the local debates on mobilities, especially of the youth; (2) the relation of these processes to issues of gender, generation, and imagined futures.

Long Abstract

The Tai Vat living in the mountainous areas of Houaphan (Laos) present themselves as « unsettled people », basing on a popular etymology of their ethnonym. Their ancestors came from Northeast Vietnam in the 19th century, fleeing the warfare engendered in the wake of the Taiping rebellion in China. The first Indochina War, in the early 1950s, triggered a new important wave of migration to Laos. At the end of the 20th century, Lao State policies sometimes urged, sometimes induced, resettlement to the lowlands. And for a decade now, youth leave massively the village to work in the capital city, Vientiane.

Based on a multisite ethnography (Vietnam/Laos, home place/lowland new settlements, villages/capital city), this paper will discuss two issues. The first one is the interconnection between those successive displacements, against the chronocentric focus on recent movements only. The current situation can only be grasped taking into account the theories Tai Dam have developed on their own peregrinations, where values of mobility and stability are both at stake. Accounts of yesteryear's migrations are used to discuss the current ones, and to gear today's familial/individual decisions to move or not. The second issue is the anthropological opportunity brought about by these movements to analyse the evolving relations between generations and between genders; the imaginations of, and aspirations to, modernity by youth and adults alike; and the promises and anxieties of inclusion into the national Lao space.

Circulations, access to work and informal mining in Aceh (Indonesia)

Author: Giacomo Tabacco (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I juxtapose the world views and the circulations of a group of Javanese migrant workers and of a cohort of young Acehnese men who have been involved in the exploitation of semi-precious gemstones and gold in the post-tsunami and post-conflict district of Aceh Jaya (Indonesia).

Long Abstract

In this paper I juxtapose the world views and the circulations of a group of Javanese migrant workers and of a cohort of young Acehnese men who have been involved in the exploitation of semi-precious gemstones and gold in the post-tsunami and post-conflict district of Aceh Jaya (Indonesia). The Acehnese informal mining pattern and its cyclical downturns encourage divergent paths of circulation, are supported by antithetical views about work and underpin uneven contingencies among individuals. For instance, the Javanese miners' pre-existing skills infuse adaptability to the bitterness of work, proficiency in handling the ore body, perseverance in achieving prosperity through gold and resilience to the decline in the mineral recovering, that is, macro-mobility to other gold rushes across Indonesia. Yet the Acehnese gold attracts many unskilled men living in the surroundings of the mineshafts, who can't afford to sink a gold mine on their own and join the inland communities of the established migrant staff. To cope with the precariousness of their condition, they zigzag between farming rice and other crops (the Acehnese moral and economic foundation) and hunting for minerals, following trajectories of micro-circulation around the region and regarding their position amid the mining system as temporary and disposable. Accordingly, they envision to free themselves from the entanglements of the natural resources and to become wealthier with the help of civil service or wage labour. Besides, they are also ready to be moved to Malaysia, joining the established Acehnese diaspora across the Strait.

The cause of women labor migration in Southeast Asia: the case study in My Loc commune, Can Loc district, Hatinh Province, Vietnam

Author: Lap Thu Nguyen Thi (LAMC- Laboratoire d’anthropologie Des Mondes Contemporains)  email

Short Abstract

The article shows that individuals may migrate out of desire for a better life, or to escape poverty, political persecution, or social or family pressures. Besides, the gender roles, relations and inequalities affect on sending areas and on receiving areas in Southeast Asia

Long Abstract

The article discusses the cause of women migration from My Loc commune, Can Loc district, Hatinh Province to Laos and Thailand to work. The research shows that main causes of migration is that desire for a better life, or to escape poverty, political persecution, or social or family pressures. The migration can provide new opportunities to improve women's lives and change oppressive gender relations - even displacement as a result of conflict can lead to shifts in gender roles and responsibilities to women's benefit. However, migration can also entrench traditional roles and inequalities and expose women to new vulnerabilities as the result of precarious legal status, exclusion and isolation. Moreover, the migration can provide a vital source of income for migrant women and their families, and earn them greater autonomy, self-confidence and social status

Circulation and mobility in Filipino migrants' disaster response

Author: Karina Dalgas (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

Circulation and mobility in Filipino migrants’ disaster response. Focusing on obligations, exchange and solidarity in personal relief networks, it is suggested that local forms of organizing in situations of limited state intervention serves fruitful for intra-regional comparison.

Long Abstract

Migration and disasters are central features in Southeast Asia. Both display the region's economic heterogeneity and shape local socio-cultural practices. Migration, for example, is a central aspect of Philippine village life. This presentation explores Filipino migrants' response to the Bohol earthquake of 2013. It employs the lenses of circulation and mobility, in terms of circulations of favors, obligations and the movements of people and goods. Disasters create an intensive transnationalism in which the migrants not only provide relief to an imagined community of co-nationals, but also make use of their social networks to transform donations into goods, and to distribute relief directly in their neighborhoods of origin. These relief channels entail various forms of solidarity and exchange, and work outside the realm of formal institutions and humanitarian organizations. This externalized aspect of relief derives from the character of the personal network ties that both oblige the migrants to intervene and make the interventions possible. However, in the long-term recovery process private relief networks also become necessitated by the fact that migrant sending households often are exempt from receiving reconstruction aid from the Philippine state and humanitarian organizations.

The circulation of goods tied to migrants' role in disaster response thus becomes an example on the various forms of organizing from below that grows in situations of limited state intervention. I suggest that such forms of organizing can prove fruitful for intra-regional comparison. The presentation is based on ethnographic fieldwork on Bohol and in Copenhagen.

The changing face of migration: socialist fraternity, wild capitalism and human mobility between Vietnam and Eastern European countries

Author: Grazyna Szymanska-Matusiewicz (University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

Basing on multi-sited fieldwork conducted in Poland and Vietnam, I analyze changing patterns of human mobility between Vietnam and other countries of former Soviet Bloc during the past 60 years, focusing on the case of Poland.

Long Abstract

Basing on multi-sited fieldwork conducted in Poland and Vietnam, I analyze changing patterns of human mobility between Vietnam and other countries of former Soviet Bloc during the past 60 years, focusing on the case of Poland. During the Cold War Era, there was intense, state-regulated movement of people between Northern Vietnam and other socialist countries. This movement involved diverse kinds of mobility: educational migration of students, labor migration of workers and circulation of highly-trained professionals.

After the collapse of Soviet Union and reshaping of geopolitical framework, "wild capitalism" replaced the communist regime, offering new possibilities which attracted tens of thousands of Vietnamese migrants who arrived to Poland the early 1990s. Economic possibilities from transformation Era in Poland involved import of goods (mainly textiles) from Asia and wholesale trade on bazaars (markets), often conducted in the sphere of "shadow economy".

However, currently Poland as a member of European Union have gone far from the "wild capitalism" model. The new geopolitical emplacement of former Soviet Bloc members poses a serious challenge for migrant communities, forcing them to adapt new economic strategies. On the other hand, participation of such countries as Poland, Czech Republic or Hungary in the European Union and Schengen area created new possibilities of mobility for post-socialist migrant communities. In my presentation, I intend to examine the links between the geopolitical emplacement of Vietnam and Poland and changes of migration patterns between the two countries.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.