New Southeast Asia Titles from UH Press

Featured Books

* Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia
* Potent Landscapes: Place and Mobility in Eastern Indonesia
* Forest of Struggle: Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia
* The Perfect Business? Anti-Trafficking and the Sex Trade along the Mekong
* Natural Potency and Political Power: Forests and State Authority in Contemporary Laos

Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia

Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia

by L. Ayu Saraswati
UH Press, 2013

In Indonesia, light skin color has been desirable throughout recorded history. Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race explores Indonesia’s changing beauty ideals and traces them to a number of influences: first to ninth-century India and some of the oldest surviving Indonesian literary works; then, a thousand years later, to the impact of Dutch colonialism and the wartime occupation of Japan; and finally, in the post-colonial period, to the popularity of American culture. The book shows how the transnational circulation of people, images, and ideas have shaped and shifted discourses and hierarchies of race, gender, skin color, and beauty in Indonesia. The author employs “affect” theories and feminist cultural studies as a lens through which to analyze a vast range of materials, including the Old Javanese epic poem Ramayana, archival materials, magazine advertisements, commercial products, and numerous interviews with Indonesian women.

The book offers a rich repertoire of analytical and theoretical tools that allow readers to rethink issues of race and gender in a global context and understand how feelings and emotions—Western constructs as well as Indian, Javanese, and Indonesian notions such as rasa and malu—contribute to and are constitutive of transnational and gendered processes of racialization. Saraswati argues that it is how emotions come to be attached to certain objects and how they circulate that shape the “emotionscape” of white beauty in Indonesia. Her ground-breaking work is a nuanced theoretical exploration of the ways in which representations of beauty and the emotions they embody travel geographically and help shape attitudes and beliefs toward race and gender in a transnational world.

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Potent Landscapes: Place and Mobility in Eastern Indonesia

 Potent Landscapes

by Catherine Allerton
UH Press, 2013

The Manggarai people of eastern Indonesia believe their land can talk, that its appetite demands sacrificial ritual, and that its energy can kill as well as nurture. They tell their children to avoid certain streams and fields and view unusual environmental events as omens of misfortune. Yet, far from being preoccupied with the dangers of this animate landscape, Manggarai people strive to make places and pathways “lively,” re-traveling routes between houses and villages and highlighting the advantages of mobility. Through everyday and ritual activities that emphasize “liveliness,” the land gains a further potency: the power to evoke memories of birth, death, and marriage, to influence human health and fertility.

Potent Landscapes is an ethnographic investigation of the power of the landscape and the implications of that power for human needs, behavior, and emotions. Based on two years of fieldwork in rural Flores, the book situates Manggarai place-making and mobility within the larger contexts of diverse human-environment interactions as well as adat revival in postcolonial Indonesia. Although it focuses on social life in one region of eastern Indonesia, the work engages with broader theoretical discussions of landscape, travel, materiality, cultural politics, kinship, and animism.

Written in a clear and accessible style, Potent Landscapes will appeal to students and specialists of Southeast Asia as well as to those interested in the comparative anthropological study of place and environment. The analysis moves out from rooms and houses in a series of concentric circles, outlining at each successive point the broader implications of Manggarai place- and path-making. This gradual expansion of scale allows the work to build a subtle, cumulative picture of the potent landscapes within which Manggarai people raise families, forge alliances, plant crops, build houses, and engage with local state actors. Landscapes are significant, the author argues, not only as sacred or mythic realms, or as contexts for the imposition of colonial space; they are also significant as vernacular contexts shaped by daily practices. The book analyzes the power of a collective landscape shaped both by the Indonesian state’s development policies and by responses to religious change.

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Forest of Struggle: Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia 

Forest of Struggle: Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia

by Eve Monique Zucker
UH Press, 2013

In a village community in the highlands of Cambodia’s Southwest, people struggle to rebuild their lives after nearly thirty years of war and genocide. Recovery is a tenuous process as villagers attempt to shape a future while contending with the terrible rupture of the Pol Pot era. Forest of Struggle tracks the fragile progress of restoring the bonds of community in O’Thmaa and its environs, the site of a Khmer Rouge base and battlefield for nearly three decades between 1970 and 1998.

Anthropologist Eve Zucker’s ethnographic fieldwork (2001–2003, 2010) uncovers the experiences of the people of O’Thmaa in the early days of the revolution, when some villagers turned on each other with lethal results. She examines memories of violence and considers the means by which relatedness and moral order are re-established, comparing O’Thmaa with villages in a neighboring commune that suffered similar but not identical trauma. Zucker argues that those differing experiences shape present ways of healing and making the future. Events had a devastating effect on the social and moral order at the time and continue to impair the remaking of sociality and civil society today, impacting villagers’ responses to changes in recent years.

More positively, Zucker persuasively illustrates how Cambodians employ indigenous means to reconcile their painful memories of loss and devastation. This point is noteworthy given current debates on recovery surrounding the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Forest of Struggle offers a compelling case study that is relevant to anyone interested in post-conflict recovery, social memory, the anthropology of morality and violence, and Cambodia studies.

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The Perfect Business? Anti-Trafficking and the Sex Trade along the Mekong 

The Perfect Business?

by Sverre Molland
UH Press, 2012

For those at the high end of the trafficking chain, the sex trade is an alluring and lucrative business: the supply of girls is constant, the costs of operations are low, and interference from law enforcement is weak to non-existent. Anti-trafficking organizations and governments commonly appropriate such market metaphors of supply and demand as they struggle with the moral-political dimensions of a business involving trade, labor, prostitution, migration, and national borders. But how apt are they? Is the sex trade really the perfect business? This provocative new book examines the social worlds and interrelationships of traffickers, victims, and trafficking activists along the Thai-Lao border. It explores local efforts to reconcile international legal concepts, the bureaucratic prescriptions of aid organizations, and global development ideologies with on-the-ground realities of sexual commerce.

Author Sverre Molland provides an insider’s view of recruitment and sex commerce gleaned from countless conversations and interviews in bars and brothels—a view that complicates popular stereotypes of women forced or duped into prostitution by organized crime. Molland’s fine-grained ethnography shows a much more varied picture of friends recruiting friends, and families helping relatives. A recruiter rationalizes her act as a benefit or favor to a village friend; relationships between prostitutes and bar owners are cloaked in kin terms and familial metaphors. Sex work in the Mekong region follows patron-client cultural scripts about mutual help and obligation, which makes distinguishing the victims from the traffickers difficult. Molland’s research illuminates the methods and motivations of recruiters as well as the economic incentives and predicaments of victims.

The Perfect Business? is the first book to go beyond the usual focus on migrants and sex commerce to explore the institutional context of anti-trafficking. Its author, himself a former advisor for a United Nations anti-trafficking project, raises crucial questions about how an increasingly globalized development aid sector responds to what might more accurately be described as an extraterritorial development challenge of human mobility. His book will offer insights to students and scholars in anthropology, gender studies, and human geography, as well as anyone interested in one of the most controversial issues of development policy.

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Natural Potency and Political Power: Forests and State Authority in Contemporary Laos

Natural Potency and Political Power

by Sarinda Singh
UH Press, 2012

Forests, as physical entities, have received considerable scholarly attention in political studies of Asia and beyond. Much less notice has been paid to the significance of forests as symbols that enable commentary on identity, aspirations, and authority. Natural Potency and Political Power, an innovative exploration of the social and political importance of forests in contemporary Laos, challenges common views of the rural countryside as isolated and disconnected from national social debates and politics under an authoritarian regime. It offers instead a novel understanding of local perspectives under authoritarianism, demonstrating that Lao people make implicit political statements in their commentary on forests and wildlife; and showing that, in addition to being vital material resources, forests (and their natural potency) are linked in the minds of many Lao to the social and political power of the state.

Sarinda Singh explores the intertwining of symbolic and material concerns in local debates over conservation and development, the popularity of wildlife consumption, the particular importance of elephants, and forest loss and mismanagement. In doing so, she draws on ethnographic fieldwork around Vientiane, the capital, and Nakai, site of the contentious Nam Theun 2 hydropower project—places that are broadly reflective of the divide between urban prosperity and rural poverty. Nam Theun 2, supported by the World Bank, highlights the local, regional, and global dynamics that influence discussions of forest resources in Laos. Government officials, rural villagers, and foreign consultants all contribute to competing ideas about forests and wildlife.

Singh advances research on forest politics by rethinking how ideas about nature influence social life. Her work refutes the tendency to see modern social life as independent of historical influences, and her attention to viewpoints both inside and outside the state prompts an understanding of authoritarian regimes as not only sources of repression, but also sites of negotiation, engagement, and debate about the legitimacy of social inequalities.

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