Reading Responses

          In the chapter “Beauty and the Idea of ‘America’,” anthropologist Fenella Cannell explores the act of imitation in secular performances in Filipino lowland cultures. Cannell’s argument is primarily rooted in her fieldwork in Bicol, Philippines, analyzing cinema, talent contests, and most centrally the Miss Gay Naga City beauty pageant of 1988 to reveal how “preoccupations [with the art of making oneself (or others) beautiful]… frame...

Post date: December 10, 2020 - 1:24am

     Nora Taylor’s “’Pho’ Phai and Faux Phais: The Market for Fakes and the Appropriation of a Vietnamese National Symbol” utilizes a trend of forgeries on a famous Vietnamese artist’s works to make a broader argument about the power of Vietnamese art to uphold both Orientalist and nationalist narratives. Bui Xuan Phai (1920-1988) was a Vietnamese artist trained in the early 20th century French Modernist schools whose tragic censorship throughout most of his living career made him an icon in...

Post date: November 16, 2020 - 10:19pm

Jan Mrazek’s piece “More than a Picture: The Instrumental Quality of the Shadow Puppet” discusses the ways in which Javanese shadow puppets (wayang) can be seen as an instrument of performance, rather than just a pictorial representation of a character. Mrazek argues that to properly understand puppets, one must look at the way it’s made, used, and played with, in addition to who it is meant to represent. They provide evidence through the...

Post date: November 16, 2020 - 8:06pm

In the chapter “Thailand: Songs for Life, Songs for Struggle” from his 1998 book Dance of Life Lockard examines the interplay between politics, culture, and music in Thailand’s past and present. Noting the common focus in Thai scholarship on elites and “top-down” modes of social construction, Lockard instead privileges what he sees as an overlooked “bottom-up” perspective—one which looks at diverse forms of popular cultural expression and resistance (page 163). In particular, his focus is...

Post date: November 16, 2020 - 7:40pm

Ho Anh Thai is a prolific contemporary Vietnamese writer. Born in 1960, he’s part of Vietnam’s post-war generation – too young to fight in the war but old enough to remember it – and obviously this identity shapes his literary perspective, voice, and motives. The Goat Meal Special is found in Behind the Red Mist, a collection of stories. A New York Times review describes the theme of this collection as, “the ‘continuous border conflict’ between values, times and ideologies that...

Post date: November 12, 2020 - 3:32am

Aihwa Ong’s Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia explores how the public sphere and leisure time become sites of surveillance and scrutiny for Malaysian factory women in the face of greater economic freedom. Ong examines the morality politics that police these women and the way a deeply ambivalent Malay Kampung society confronts the encroachment of the corporation. Chapter 8 demonstrates how the Malay encounter...

Post date: November 11, 2020 - 7:29pm

          In Erik Harms’ “Beauty as control in the new Saigon: Eviction, new urban zones and atomized dissent in a Southeast Asian city”, he scrutinizes the long-term resettlement procedures for residents impacted by the Thu Thiem New Urban Zone, a project that aims to build a more beautiful, breathable, and orderly neighborhood in Saigon. By enforcing these ideas of beautification, governmental authorities and urban planners utilize beauty as a mechanism of control to justify the...

Post date: November 10, 2020 - 11:32am

In Andrew Carruthers’ piece “Policing Intensity,” he examines the social politics of an island bisected by the Malaysia/Indonesia border and how its residents discern visible and invisible concepts of boundaries and belonging. He focuses on the island of Sebatik, where the Dutch and British Empires drew a border that persists to this day in the postcolonial states that share the island. Carruthers notes that the arbitrary nature of the border — as...

Post date: October 28, 2020 - 10:55pm

   The article “Stigma on a spectrum: differentiated stigmatization of migrant domestic workers’ romantic relationships in Singapore,” provides insight of the international labor migration from various Southeast Asian countries to Singapore, where foreign workers make up 37.6% of the total labor force. The simplicity and directness of  the first line provides the seemingly top-down origins of these issues: “In Singapore, migrant domestic workers are...

Post date: October 28, 2020 - 2:44pm

In her article “Attack of the Widow Ghosts: Gender, Death, and Modernity in Northeast Thailand,” anthropologist Mary Beth Mills explores reactions and expressions of modernity in Northeast Thailand through the lens of a period of widespread anxiety and defensive action against “widow ghosts.” Through her exploration of this period, she further explored the changes that have occurred coinciding with shifts towards “modernity” in Thailand, especially as it relates to changing gender relations...

Post date: October 26, 2020 - 9:21pm

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