Monthly Archives: January 2016

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Vol. 4, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, NAKAMURA Shohei

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

The Politics of Protection Rackets in Post-New Order Indonesia: Coercive Capital, Authority and Street Politics
Ian Douglas Wilson
Oxon, NY: Routledge, 2015, xxii+198p.

Seventeen years have passed since the fall of Suharto’s New Order regime. Indonesia’s reformasi has since been lauded as a successful case of democratization. Despite the consolidation of institutional democracy, however, some critics have argued that the conventional system of power relations established by the end of New Order still persists, while others have argued that distribution of power and material resources is still under the strong influence of a small number of very wealthy individuals (Ford and Pepinsky 2014). By giving a clear account of the changing condition regarding the politics of racketeering and mass organizations in Jakarta, this book illustrates that the principle of local politics fundamentally altered after the end of the authoritarian regime.

The originality of this study is twofold: it sees Jakarta as a site of local politics rather than the center of national politics; it also sheds lights on the positive side of mass mobilization. Studies on mass mobilization in decentralizing Indonesia have been predominantly about the local politics of regions outside Jakarta, if not about politics at a national level. More importantly, they have largely disregarded the potential for mass organizations to be “advocates on issues of immediate consequence to their members and the neighborhoods in which they live” (p. 94).

In Chapter 1, “Protection, Violence and the State,” the author sets up the theoretical framework for his study. Following Charles Tilly, the author starts by denying the state’s complete monopoly over the control of coercive force within its territory. However, while Tilly identifies state as an entity “controlling the principle means of coercion within a given territory” (Tilly 1975, 62), Wilson sees the state, with Joel Migdal, as a “field of power marked by the use and threat of violence” (Migdal 2001, 15) and the aim of his study as “identifying the dynamics and contradictions of the practices and strategies of the parts making up this ‘field of power’” (ibid., 16). Thus, the boundary between state and non-state actors is essentially blurred. Furthermore, Wilson cites the criminologist Alfredo Schulte-Bockholt, who differs from Tilly in seeing the state “as the product of a particular historical period and stage of state-formation” (p. 10) in order to conceptualize the relation between regimes and the protection of rackets as “protection racket regimes.” These regimes are “formed by state and/or non-state elites in order to preserve their domination through the violent exclusion of large groups in society that experience condition of substantial social disparities” (Schulte-Bockholt 2006, 35). But unlike Schulte-Bockholt, who presumes that power elites would simply subsume sub-hegemonic groups into the dominating class “across conventional class lines” both systematically and ideologically (pp. 8–9), Wilson draws a different picture. For mass organizations in post-New Order Jakarta are “largely untethered from the direct control of the military or police,” where “the racket as a relationship of domination” operates in a “peculiar brand of populist racketeering” (p. 172).

In Chapter 2, “Reconfigured Rackets: Continuity, Change and Consolidation,” the author outlines how gangs and mass organizations adapted to the post-New Order social environment and how they transformed themselves from racketeers into “professional” protection providers. Demographic domination of the poor due to massive immigration and their spatial segregation from the upper-middle class due to a growing number of enclave residences characterize the urban space of Jakarta. These conditions gave rise to insecurity and a feeling of deprivation among the lower middle-class population in the city, including Betawi. On top of this situation was the nation-wide political trend of democratization and decentralization, which gave rise to “a particular kind of populist political agency of the urban poor,” who claim to have grass-roots relations with the urban underclass and to represent such people (p. 20).

The city administration soon sought to take advantage of this situation in order to regain control of the security over the city. For them, it seemed more reasonable to utilize Betawi groups by encouraging the consolidation of their rackets than to tackle directly the gangs originating from eastern parts of the archipelago. Local political actors were keen to establish alliances with organizations calling for the rights of the indigenous Betawi population. Thus, political alliances in Jakarta increasingly became “based upon communal identities and populist rights demands of various social groups based in critiques of the state, rather than one-way vertical lines of political patronage and defence of state ideology” (p. 29).

Chapter 3, “A New Order of Crime: Suharto’s Racket Regime,” briefly explains the relationship between state and violent entrepreneurs under the New Order regime. While the New Order state did not have a monopoly over coercive force, it forged informal alliances with non-state organizations. Such organizations were “subcontracted” and only loosely allied to the state apparatus, but they employed violence “under the guise of the state and its symbols” (p. 38). While encouraging some violent entrepreneurs to integrate under state institutions, the state eliminated others via purges. Eventually, the state created the complex and delicate mechanism of political backings “based upon contingent patronage,” which was transformed dramatically into something more unstable and opportunistic after democratization (p. 56).

Chapter 4, “The Changing of the Preman Guard” focuses on one of the biggest informal sector districts of Tanah Abang in Central Jakarta, and examines the transformation of patronage patterns during the period between 1997 and 2002. In this district, the East Timorese youths organized by Hercules took power during the 1990s. Hercules had close ties with the military figure Prabowo Subianto after cooperating with him in the fight against guerrillas in East Timor in the late 1980s. Tacit yet firm backing by Prabowo made him a prominent gang figure in Jakarta. However, the economic crisis in 1997 triggered uneasiness and resentment against harsh extortion by these “outsiders.” Upon its formation, an organization formed by the indigenous Betawi population in the district, called Family of Tanah Abang Association (IKBT), soon received an endorsement from the city administration. In pursuing anti-preman campaigns, Governor Sutiyoso strategically made use of emergent ethnic tensions based on the “native versus other” rhetoric. He recruited local Betawi gangs during the campaigns to eliminate gangs from eastern Indonesia.

It should be noted that “the stage upon which his strategies were played out was radically different” from that of New Order (p. 80). The case of Tanah Abang epitomizes the nation-wide shift in the nature of alliances between the formal administration and preman organizations. The fragmented nature of political allegiances brought about by democratization led to a shift “away from a vertical dependence upon powerful patrons” (p. 83) toward “fragmented and frequently shifting alliances” (p. 147). Now that local politics had become a contested arena for coalitions of different political interests, it was no longer a necessity for the leadership of preman organizations to gain firm support from formal authority in order to survive and prosper. To do so was now at best advantageous.

This changing political landscape engendered a highly self-conscious and often exclusivist sense of localism. In Jakarta, this typically resulted in heightened ethnic tensions and turf wars, especially until the mid- to late-2000s (p. 118). In Chapter 5, “The Rise of the Betawi,” the author highlights Jakarta’s case, taking examples from vigilante groups claiming to represent ethnic Betawi. Violent entrepreneurs who established groups like FBR (Betawi Brotherhood Forum) saw broadened opportunities to mobilize the masses by bringing ethnic symbolism in the forefront. They sought to build alliances with political elites by showcasing their ability to represent the native lower-middle class population who had long been marginalized from urban development. Such violent entrepreneurs were in that sense Janus-faced: at times they became “advocates on issues of immediate consequence to their members and the neighborhoods in which they live,” and at other times they could be subcontracted to political elites on their demand for violent protests (p. 94). As such, groups like FBR were initially very offensive in character, provoking clashes over turf and violent protests through the use of ethnicized class tensions. The consequences were often disadvantageous to and exploitative of lower-middle class kampung residents who were supposed to be the very objective of their mobilization.

From the onset of its expansion, however, FBR went well beyond the domain of violent racketeering. In Chapter 6, “Jakarta’s Political Economy of Rackets,” the author traces the transformation of FBR since the mid-2000s. During this time the city administration and Jakarta Police Department strategically (and implicitly) backed up Betawi mass organizations in the hope that the urban security would be more orderly and predictable. The consequences were a substantial expansion of the organization’s territorial boundaries and a radical transformation of its working principle. The primary concern for FBR quickly shifted from “the turf wars of East Jakarta” (p. 136), to something more common to the urban working-class across the city. This was due in part to the rapid expansion in its constituency and the subsequent emergence of a city-wide network of lower-middle class neighborhoods. As FBR expanded itself through “a city-wide network of branch franchises” (p. 120), activities of newly established branches were deeply embedded in the social world of respective neighborhoods. This process of expansion led to less restraint and more autonomy for the branches, hence mass mobilization becoming increasingly populist in character.

Results from 2014 presidential election were indicative of a further reinforcement of these trends, as is detailed in Chapter 7, “Coercive Capital, Political Entrepreneurship and Electoral Democracy.” During the campaign, most leaders of mass organizations in Jakarta publicly supported Prabowo Subianto, the former military figure and one of the most powerful oligarchs during and after the New Order. This happened in spite of his support for Hercules, the once powerful East Timorese gang leader, because Prabowo “appeared most likely to deliver concrete material returns” (p. 174). Robust continuity from the former authoritarian regime was once again brought to the fore. However, Prabowo’s defeat by Joko Widodo, the symbol of Indonesia’s popularizing democracy, together with the precedent elimination of Hercules by the Police Department and national political elites, were signs that the populist political trend was to be further reinforced.

Overall, this book is an intriguing work that provides a comprehensive and detailed picture of a changing political landscape full of diverse actors ranging from state to non-state actors including violent entrepreneurs in post-New Order Jakarta. This study is especially insightful in that the author sees mass organizations’ appeal to political elites not in terms of their actual ability to mobilize people for voting or the grass-roots relations that they establish in local neighborhoods, but in terms of their sheer ability to bolster or demonstrate such an image. Only on this basis is it possible to understand why organizations like FBR can gain support from formal political actors despite the fluidity of political allegiances from the members.

It is regrettable, however, that the book does not go beyond depicting the political relationship between formal actors and the leadership of mass organizations. The author’s detailed investigations on neighborhood-level activities in two of the huge market districts (the case of Tanah Abang in Chapter 4 and that of Pasar Minggu in Chapter 6) are fundamentally about the economy of racketeering and turf politics pursued by violent entrepreneurs, whose activities often turn out to be inconsistent with, if not contradictory to, the will of local residents. His investigations do not clearly present a picture of neighborhood residents actively engaging in or making use of organizational activities for their own sake. Such a perspective is important if the current political trend were (as the author hopes) to “move beyond populist rhetoric,” to tackle “the structural conditions reproducing poverty and social and political exclusion,” and to “be transformed into more directly representative social movements of the street” (p. 174). Nevertheless, this does not reduce the significance of this study. By offering a careful examination of the changing dynamics of local politics concerning diverse actors ranging from politicians to violent entrepreneurs, Wilson successfully reveals how and why the mode of mass mobilization and political alliances became increasingly fluid and populist in Jakarta.

Nakamura Shohei 中村昇平
Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University


Ford, Michele; and Pepinsky, Thomas B., eds. 2014. Beyond Oligarchy: Wealth, Power, and Contemporary Indonesian Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Migdal, Joel S. 2001. State in Society: Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute One Another. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schulte-Bockholt, Alfredo. 2006. The Politics of Organized Crime and the Organized Crime of Politics: A Study in Criminal Power. Maryland: Lexington Books.

Tilly, Charles. 1975. Reflections on the History of European State-Making. In The Formation of Nation States in Western Europe, edited by Charles Tilly, pp. 3–83. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Vol. 4, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Caroline GRILLOT

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

Beyond Borders: Stories of Yunnanese Chinese Migrants of Burma
Wen-Chin Chang
Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2014, xiii+278p.

Responding to a call for studies on the varied ethnic Chinese societies in host countries around the world, Wen-Chin Chang’s Beyond Borders explores the whereabouts of the Yunnanese Chinese who migrated to Burma before and around the Chinese Communist Party’s access to power in 1949, and addresses the issue of their consequent socio-political marginality.

General scholarly approaches consider migration as a flow of anonymous people, taken within a historico-political context that leaves them with little choice. They respond more or less effectively to impulsive economic ambitions and mercantile nature and are driven by despair and/or hope for a different life. In her account, Chang sketches a more subtle picture. Here, building on long-term relationships established within a community scattered over an extended territory that includes Yunnan, Burma, Thailand, and Taiwan and with some characters particular to the past two decades, Chang succeeds in bringing back faces, names, stories, anecdotes, and the individual experiences of these people. Anonymous heroes of forgotten struggles, incredible families, and motivated entrepreneurs all come to life through their stories. Chang’s work sheds light on the fundamental entanglement of this community with unstable foreign and risky contexts that have compelled individuals to constantly redefine their very conditions of survival.

The book is organized into two main sections that each includes four chapters: the history of Yunnanese migrants’ mobility in Burma, and their involvement in cross-border trade. Each of the chapters starts with a description of the author’s field site and her approach to her informants through connections that echo throughout the whole book. This provides the reader with a sense of the importance of the community network. Chang also presents personal narratives that in their own way shed light on migrant’s experiences in Burma. The eight chapters are dedicated to one community of this group, in turn represented by one or several individuals or by one theme that reveals a specific aspect of the history and the economic strategies that framed their settlement.

Be they refugees, soldiers, cross-border smugglers, caravans’ muleteers, or jade traders, all have experienced extraordinary journeys that have led them and their families from Yunnan to Taiwan via Burma and Thailand over several generations. Chang approaches the success and failures of these groups which are characterized by their economic activity (with the exception of the Muslim Yunnanese and women) through several themes that emerge recurrently in most narratives: military conflicts, illegal trade, an underground banking system, drug addiction, constant displacement, the scattering of families, and social networks. In this specific context, the lives of Yunnanese migrants in Burma particularly enlighten Chinese diaspora diversity and struggles that sustain the laboring capacity that one more generally attribute them.

Beyond Borders provides insights on the ways different groups of Chinese refugees from Yunnan, their families, and the subsequent generations established themselves in Burma and transcended their socio-political marginality. As refugees they lacked state recognition and protection and thus relied heavily on the support of the remaining Kuomintang army. Still, the accounts provided by Chang’s informants give the impression that collecting the life story of any Yunnanese migrant in Burma can disclose a series of fascinating and challenging adventures. First of all, they show how trade and migration trajectories are intertwined with local politics, ethnic conflicts, and a balance of power that, according to the period, could favor or ostracize the presence of Chinese and their activities. Indeed, despite this uneven context, life stories also reveal how the constant interconnection between Yunnanese ethnic groups—be they social or military—and Burmese ethnic groups led to business collaborations that benefited many. Several informants emphasized how relationships with local groups (ethnic minorities and Burmese) can fluctuate, vacillating between, on the one hand, kindness and good neighborhood milieus with ethnic groups such as the Shan, and, on the other hand, contempt and avoidance of the Burmese. Nonetheless the book offers an alternative depiction of the bond that Han Chinese can establish with other ethnic groups once they escape the dominant political propaganda emanating from China.

In the framework of a context that reveals the fragility of imposed ethnic categories and boundaries, Chang’s analysis explores two specific aspects of this very mobile community: initial marginality and transnationalism. What could be perceived as contradictory characteristics actually constitute a driving force for families determined to not only survive but to go beyond the structural limits that their mobility and status inflicted upon them in pursuit of a better life. The book praises the Yunnanese spirit, resistance, strength, and networking ability, as well as their mercantile consciousness. For many of the first-generation Yunnanese who settled in Burma, migration was the only option to escape their socio-political position in China (be that the Kuomintang army, or any of the “black categories,” as defined during the Cultural Revolution, i.e. landlords, rich farmers, anti-revolutionaries, bad-influencers, and right-wingers) but it also entailed switching their position in the social hierarchy by taking whatever jobs are available in their new surroundings to make a living.

To endure marginality in the first period of settlement, Yunnanese migrants relied on both their intragroup behavior and external support. Most life stories emphasize the importance given to maintaining their identity in a foreign country, i.e. their cultural roots (food, language, and religion education), and transmitting their values (solidarity, anti-communism, and religion), in a distinctive way separate from the Fujianese and Cantonese Chinese settled in south Burma who are, according to the Yunnanese, more acculturated. To survive, the Yunnanese Chinese have demonstrated a strong sense of initiative and creativity, using all their potential skills to overcome challenges and frictions in an insecure environment. To support them, the Kuomintang army based in Burma since their escape from China resettled in northern Thailand in the 1960s. Their incomes came from controlling drug trafficking trade in jade stones and the protection of caravans. This provided Yunnanese migrants with an informal economic surrounding to reconstruct their lives in Burmese society despite their vulnerable status and allowed them to develop a form of community coherence and solidarity.

Thanks to their fascinating ability to rely on and extend their families and their ethnic and religious networks, these migrants were able to tackle their marginal status. On several levels, the strength of these networks has allowed them to undertake and sustain individual risk-taking projects. Chang calls these national and transnational networks the “intragroup nexuses,” or connections based on references rather than familiarity (in the context of mobility). The life stories of this book clearly demonstrate how social and economic survival depends on mobility, opportunities, and connections. Still, they also stress that serendipity and unexpected encounters can lead to different paths. The intimate dimension of migration disclosed in some accounts (see Guoguang’s story, chapter 3) emphasizes that individual’s destinies rely as much on unhappy circumstances as on fortunate encounters. Transnationalism, as experienced by the Yunnanese migrants in Burma, is about maintaining social connections between their home society Yunnan and the societies of settlement such as Burma, followed by Thailand and Taiwan. Particularly inspiring is the case of the Yunnanese Muslims (chapter 4), a closely tied group within the Chinese community. Because of their religious links with Muslim countries, their mobility takes them beyond Asia. They adjust to their host societies either through their cultural roots (while studying in Arab countries, they connect with other Asians) or their religious faith (after migrating to Taiwan, they connect with other Muslims), according to their needs. Therefore, the Muslim Yunnanese are an example of dynamism and flexibility. Despite unavoidable sacrifices, these two qualities have helped them transcend their double marginality (Chinese and Muslim) within the frame of a double transnational network: the regional Chinese diaspora and the international Islamic community.

The strength of this book is the space the author gives to personal narratives. In this refreshing ethnography, Chang demonstrates how the vivid descriptions of life trajectories and intimate relationships of ordinary people, supported by clear explanations on the chaotic historical political circumstances in which they are grounded, can be more revealing than reconstituted realities inspired by scarce documentation available to foreign observers. This is precisely the value of Chang’s work. Her perspective steps around the economic performance of the Chinese diaspora and concentrates on linking national history with people’s lives in a very enlightening and lively way.

This is definitely a richly documented account of the historical roots of Yunnanese settlements in Burmese borderlands, their influence, and their involvement with trade. Banned by the Burmese government and only protected by armed ethnic groups, Yunnanese cross-border trade with Thailand supported the Burmese economy during its socialist regime. During the dictatorial military regime, trade with China became prominent but was still a risky business until the new democratic regime allowed more flexibility and new influx of Chinese. Chang delivers a rich analysis of this complex context through the words of those once involved in this underground yet dynamic economy. She provides reliable figures on the ground realities that were difficult to investigate when they were taking place. Doing so draws out how transnationalism has been practiced by Yunnanese migrants and how it has partially transformed the region. Chang also questions the usual understanding of borders as remote areas negatively labelled as “wasteland, backward and lawless” (p. 174) with a limited perspective. Even though Yunnanese migrants have been living on the margins of the Burmese state, they have contributed to opening the country to the outside world, and participated in its economic survival, revealing the double nature of borderlands as “peripheral and central, separate and connected” (p. 174).

Less convincing maybe is the section related to gender roles and women’s involvement in the economic sphere. Chang draws on her informants’ life trajectories, their plight, and their struggle to overcome fatalism driven by commitment to their family well-being. Although the author’s analysis of these stories is convincing, it is not specific to this particular group and would have become more interesting if she had adopted a comparative perspective. Regarding the issue of gender roles and expectations, many of the Yunnanese women’s narratives challenge the usual stereotypes on hardworking and responsible Chinese men, and highlight the contrasting and unusual image of brave and strong women compelled to take on the breadwinning role of the family. In this case, one can observe similar strategies in several societies in Southeast Asia where women who find themselves trapped between their traditional duty and their unreliable husbands are constrained to find ways to ensure their family’s survival. Furthermore, the author’s arguments could have benefited from further comparison with the difficult position of other mobile diaspora in the region, such as Chinese in Northern Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos (Nyíri 2012; Tan 2012), or ethnic groups in Yunnan related to Burmese ethnic guerrillas for instance.

Besides the fascinating stories that nourish this account of a largely ignored Chinese diaspora, and the rigorous historical approach to their contemporary situation, this book is also a real pleasure to read. It distinguishes itself from other academic works that often tend to overload ethnographic accounts with excessive references and global perspectives that sometimes seem artificially developed. Moreover, the author shares her ethnographer experiences with a confounding honesty and vivid descriptions (with the occasional doubts), recalling her feelings in the process of collecting life stories. In a sense we are able to feel the closeness that she has cultivated with her informants and their families who gave her privileged insights into their lives. Simultaneously this has exposed the limits of her objectivity. Chang questions the boundaries of the anthropologist with humility, adding a personal touch that is rare, while providing a sense of the ethnographer’s proximity to her informants, and the degree of mutual trust and expectations such fragile relationships implicitly entail (chapters 2, 3).

Despite the lack of comparative perspective that would have enhanced further the unique specificities of Yunnanese migrants in Burma, Beyond Borders remains an academic achievement and a very relevant addition to the literature on diasporas in Southeast Asia. Works like this inevitably improve our understanding of the socioeconomic and political changes currently occurring in this strategic country.

Caroline Grillot
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology


Nyíri, Pál. 2012. Investors, Managers, Brokers, and Culture Workers: How the “New” Chinese Are Changing the Meaning of Chineseness in Cambodia. Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 4: 93–117.

Tan, Danielle. 2012. “Small Is Beautiful”: Lessons from Laos for the Study of Chinese Overseas. Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 41(2): 61–94.



Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

Champions of Buddhism: Weikza Cults in Contemporary Burma
Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière, Guillaume Rozenberg, and Alicia Turner, eds.
Singapore: NUS Press, 2014, xxvii+261p.

Exciting things are happening in the study of Burmese Buddhism. Recent years have seen the publication of very important contributions to our understanding of this field. In particular, investigations of the roots of the “mindfulness” meditation phenomenon as a Burmese reaction to colonialism have garnered attention far beyond a scholarly audience concerned with Burma exclusively (for example, Braun 2013). Though fascinating, this focus on the origins and spread of the so-called vipassanā meditation movement has neglected what Kate Crosby, in the preface to Champions of Buddhism, calls “the Other Burmese Buddhism,” by which she means the popular yet politically marginal set of practices belonging to the so-called weikza-path. It is to examining this path that Champions of Buddhism is devoted, both as an introduction to this under-investigated phenomenon and as a stimulus to further inquiries into the nature of Buddhism in Burma and Buddhist global modernity in general. In both respects, it succeeds marvelously.

Unless they are experts in Burmese Buddhism, readers may at this point wonder what exactly is meant by the term weikza. In the foreword to the volume, the editors give a good idea by describing weikza as “a religious virtuoso” (p. ix). Because of his behavior, meditation skills, and expertise in the magical arts, a weikza attains the ability to live very long, with the purpose of being present when the next Buddha, Maitreya, appears in our world. Though the usage of magic with the explicit purpose of lengthening one’s life may not sound very “Buddhist” to some, one argument that this volume forcefully makes is that such practices are as Buddhist as monks singing sutras or meditating in temples. In her preface (the book has both a foreword and a preface, but—puzzlingly—no introduction), Crosby explores this alternative Burmese Buddhism by sketching the practical, political, and ideological motivations that have kept it in obscurity for so long. Together with Steven Collins’ postscript, Crosby’s piece connects the materials in the volume to a larger context, a context that is sometimes lost in the detailed accounts collected here.

The main body of the volume is divided into three thematic parts. In the first, the weikza phenomenon is further defined by contrasting it to a number of other Burmese Buddhist and non-Buddhist indigenous practices. In chapter 1, Patrick Pranke distinguishes weikza from another, better known ideal, that of the arahant (Sanskrit: arhat). Whereas the latter are the ultimate goal of practitioners in the vipassanā tradition, the former belong to a different, esoteric path. Nevertheless, both arhats and weikza are revered after their physical body has disappeared (which does not mean that they are considered “dead”). In the course of his description, Pranke provides a useful history of Buddhism in colonial and postcolonial Burma, serving to orient the reader for the chapters to come. In the next chapter, Juliane Schober expands this comparison between vipassanā and weikza practices by affirming that, although weikza are certainly marginalized politically (not having strong connections with the Burmese leaders), doctrinally they are firmly Theravāda Buddhist. In the last chapter of the first part, Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière introduces a final distinction, namely between different types of spirit mediums: on the one hand, there are the nat gadaw, who contact the spirits of dead Burmese kings. On the other, there are the bodaw or medaw, who contact the spirits of physically departed weikza. Brac de la Perrière’s discussion is interesting for several reasons, not in the least because the division she describes is gendered: whereas weikza mediums tend to be male, nat gadaw tend to be female.

The second part of the book then details the role of weikza as protectors of Buddhism. In what I found the most stimulating contribution to the volume, Niklas Foxeus shows that the ariya-weikza organization, a millenarian group centered around a historical person who claimed to be a weikza, can be adequately characterized as a Buddhist fundamentalist group with an anti-Western and anti-colonial agenda. Though the group does not itself perpetrate violence, adherents claim their meditation efforts and rituals lead to the demise of many who threaten Burmese Buddhism. Recently, this group’s primary targets have become Muslims who mass-migrated to Burma under British colonial rule. The group’s stance reminds one of the combative Burmese monks whom we have seen appear in the news headlines more and more often. Foxeus concludes his fascinating treatment with a consideration of how these Buddhists justify violence doctrinally, in other words, how bringing about someone’s death is not a violation of the Buddhist precept of non-violence. In the next contribution to the second part, Keiko Tosa provides a detailed overview of how weikza are called upon to ensure the successful completion of pagodas. In the process, weikza can often steer the construction of such pagodas to reflect their personal viewpoints.

The last part of the book continues the trend of Tosa’s examination by detailing other weikza practices. Thomas Patton documents how sacred diagrams are constructed and used. This focus on non-canonical material allows him to criticize conventional approaches to Buddhism, which tend to be normative in trying to discern the “real” Buddhism. Patton shows that such approaches are not only misguided; they also play into the hands of those who would cast Burma as a protector of such a “pure” Buddhism. The last two chapters of the volume, by Céline Coderey and Guillaume Rozenberg, both address the roles of weikza as healers of non-conventional diseases. Coderey does this within Arakan, a province located in the periphery of Burma. Despite being located at the fringes, Arakan healers nevertheless utilize the prestige of weikza to boost the power and prestige of their healing practices. Finally, Guillaume Rozenberg further explores one specific healing practice, namely exorcism. He is concerned mainly with how weikza exorcists see their own practice, which he situates between active and passive: on the one hand, the exorcist lets another power act through him. On the other, the manifestation of this power depends on his personal virtues.

In exploring a phenomenon about which we know comparatively little, Champions of Buddhism does a superb job. The volume is very well organized, beautifully illustrated, and the contributions are consistently of high quality. My criticisms stem mostly from my position as neither an expert on Burma nor an anthropologist. Since this material is in dialogue with the larger theme of Buddhism and modernity, it could have provided interested readers from different fields a better way in by providing a comprehensive glossary. Such a glossary is included, but at merely three pages it is wholly insufficient for a reader for whom many of the Burmese and Pāli terms will be unfamiliar. For example, in the opening essay sentences like the following caused me pause: “Waya-zawta [a monk] promised his followers sotāpanna through anāgāmī status if they would follow his teachings” (p. 4). Another problem is that the preoccupation with documenting phenomena that were previously not described (such as the building of pagodas, how magical inscriptions work, and so on) prevents many of the contributors in the book from making more solid connections with the socio-political realities of post-colonial Burma. For example, though we are consistently told that weikza are politically marginalized, a consistent analysis of why this is the case is not provided. As I said before, the preface and postscript partly address this problem, but it would have been better had such connections been integrated throughout the volume. However, these are minor objections to a work that both continues exciting conversations and breaks new ground.

Ben Van Overmeire
Literature Department, University of California, San Diego


Braun, Erik. 2013. The Birth of Insight: Meditation, Modern Buddhism, and the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Vol. 4, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Faizah ZAKARIA

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier
Tania Murray Li
Durham: Duke University Press, 2014, 240p.

Land’s End is an intimate analysis of the effects of capitalist relations and a fascinating complement to Li’s previous work The Will to Improve (see Murray Li 2007). While the latter critiques well-intentioned, top-down, large-scale development programs in the Indonesian province of Sulawesi, this new monograph places the spotlight on small-scale farmers in the same province and the insidious effects of capitalism in foreclosing their choices. These indigenous highland peoples, she argues, have plugged into global capitalist circuits of their own volition through their everyday decisions such as the choice of crops to plant and this eventually alienated them from their own lands and each other. Furthermore, while some modernization theories had previously contended that the impact on people so adversely displaced could be mitigated by opportunities for wage work, Li demonstrates that such options were severely limited. “Land’s End” does not refer simply to the ending of access to common land but also to the dead end in employment prospects for thousands of landless highlanders even as some of their neighbors prospered.

Li’s case study is a window for observing the workings of market competition in a society that had been insulated from such circuits until as late as the 1990s. The setting of the study highlights the incursion of almost perfect market competition, a case of free market success rather than market failure. Although Sulawesi had once been colonized, Dutch rule there had been fairly light, especially in the inaccessible highlands, and the Lauje—Li’s subjects—were not compelled to sell either their produce or their labor at that time. It is arguably this element of compulsion that distinguished capitalist relations from pre-capitalist ones. Li defines “capitalist relations” as “the ensemble of relations characterized by private and unequal ownership of the means of production (land, capital), a group of unequal non-owners compelled to sell their labor and the use of capital to generate profit under competitive conditions” (p. 8). Such a definition places the spotlight on the uneven impact of capitalist relations on the actors within the Sulawesi community and these relations become the central focus of this book.

Her argument is structured in five parts. The first chapter elucidates the spatial, social, and trade positions between the highlands and the coast. The villages (desas) tended to be positioned perpendicular to the coast and each group of desas is striated into a hierarchy where power and opportunities increase the closer it is to the coast. The most powerless—socially and politically—were the bela who lived at the highest gradient. Unlike scholars such as Scott (2009) who theorized that the highlands in mainland Southeast Asia were a refuge from state-like polities on the lowlands, Li depicts the Lauje’s relationship with the coast as more vexed than that captured by the coercion-resistance model. While the Lauje tended to keep their distance from state power in the lowlands, they “were marginalized by a discursive regime that saw them as backward” and “came to see themselves in the same light” (p. 56). They were thus simultaneously attracted to the coastal idea of progress while also valuing their autonomy, as evidenced by the fact the highlanders engaged with trade at the coast and paid taxes voluntarily during the colonial period although they retained autonomy in food production.

In general, until the 1990s, the highland economy runs on a dense network of intra-personal relationships. Li shows in the second chapter that the Lauje have a strong recognition of individual autonomy that is based on acknowledging the link between work and ownership. Working the land is a way of staking ownership to it. Even children are awarded the right to earn from the crops that they planted themselves. Along with this implicit recognition to reward individual efforts comes the parallel obligation to care for others. Care and concern are expressed through a network of reciprocity such as communal work parties in which neighbors work for each other for free, and the practice of modagang—buying food from kin and neighbors at cheaper prices, the preference for referring to paid service as a “gift” rather than employment.

These practices began to change as the Lauje started planting cacao. In her third chapter, Li explained how cacao led to the enclosure of common land and paved the way for land accumulation for those who had the capital at this crucial juncture. Cacao as a standing tree crop required extensive land but less effort in cultivation, challenging the equitability of customary associations between work, reward, and ownership that had previously obtained for the Lauje. Lokasi, an awkwardly adopted term for private land, entered the vocabulary of a people whose language previously had no English equivalent for the word “land” (p. 84). Where ownership of land could once be rotated as people took turns to work it, enclosure now became the norm. These enclosures were rarely resisted on the basis of customary laws partly because the cacao crop signposted ownership. Such laws, in any case, have little authority, as they are informal and illegible to the state. These voluntary moves into planting cacao for sale thus tended to have the effect of concentrating land into a few, making it difficult to get it back to grow food.

As a result, Li explains in Chapter four, the ratio between the price of cacao and the price of rice became crucial in determining whether these farmers could survive. In the decade 1998–2009, inequality in the highlands intensified, with some highlanders having no access to land at all. At the same time, other options to survive a crisis, for example, by turning to kin for food or land narrowed dramatically as few grew enough food to sell. It was at this juncture that capitalist relations emerged in earnest since the desperation of farmers and the “erosion of non-commoditized relations” worked in concert (p. 116). The competition that characterized this form of relations meant that the highlanders lost their land, not through land grabs by faceless corporations, but to their neighbors through mechanisms as mundane as land sales or even gambling games where small-scale farmers wagered their meager land in a last bid for fairer fortune.

A lack of jobs in other sectors of the economy exacerbated the problem as Li shows in her final two chapters. There are essentially three strategies for highlanders trapped without land or jobs—loyalty, voice, and exit (p. 150). None of the three offers a true way out since tolerance to inequality led peasants to work harder without seeing results, their isolation made it difficult for them to seek allies to voice out their concerns, and Indonesia’s high but jobless growth trajectory precluded an easy exit. It is on this basis that Li concludes, “progressive settlements aren’t tied to growth but to a commitment for distribution fought for on political terrain” (p. 185).

Li’s study resonates with a growing literature by scholars concerned with growing income inequality and concerns over the potential for the market to self-correct. Economists currently dominate the debate on precisely what these corrective measures should be. Most notably, French economist Piketty (2014) recently advocated for a global system of progressive taxes to prevent wealth from being concentrated in the hands of a few on the basis that such concentration is an inevitable long-term outcome when the rate of return of capital is larger than the rate of economic growth. Li’s ethnographic contribution, however, seems reluctant to join in the search for generalized solutions. It does not advocate for specific policies beyond pointing to a need for direct cash transfers to dispossessed highlanders and a fostering of greater political will among local communities.

The biggest question mark left by this study is where to situate the Lauje within the global economy. Unlike scholars such as Tsing (2005) who focused on global interconnections forged by capitalist networks in remote areas, Li takes a resolutely localized approach. Capital, in her study, appears to flow within an internal circuit; between neighbors and villages within the province. There is perhaps room for future scholars to investigate the potential for change through external capital inflows. Cacao as cash crop had proved disastrous for some Lauje highlanders, but would capital flowing in from other, non-agricultural enterprises break the cycle of land-dispossession or further entrench it? At the end of Li’s study, the economy in the Lauje highlands is undergoing yet another transition—this time away from cacao—and it is unclear what will replace it. Infusions of external capital that had been negligible in this study might yet play a bigger role in Sulawesi in the future.

Overall, this book is a valuable addition to the interrogation into the nature of capitalist relations and its attendant impact. The significance of Li’s contribution lies in connecting a global pattern of inequality to a set of circumstances that is peculiarly Lauje-an, while giving human faces to a trend that has been quiet and insidious. Any system will have its winners and losers; what Li’s book highlights is that the line separating the former from the latter is a thin one indeed. Hard work makes little difference in improving the circumstances of the structurally dispossessed. How could we mitigate the iniquities of the market? Should we? The audience of this monograph—largely winners in the system—will be confronting these issues for years to come.

Faizah Zakaria
History Department, Yale University


Murray Li, Tania. 2007. The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connections. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Vol. 4, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Craig A. LOCKARD

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

The Eurasian Core and Its Edges: Dialogues with Wang Gungwu on the History of the World
Ooi Kee Beng
Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2014, 254p.

Scholars from, or based in, Europe, North America, or Australia have shaped most of the writing on world history over the past half century. Few Asians have taken up the challenge of examining the forces and developments, contacts and collisions, connecting and shaping the world’s societies over the centuries. Although it has a somewhat limited focus (mostly Eurasia) and emphasizes the Big Picture rather than details, this innovative book illuminates the always interesting thoughts of a prominent Singapore-based Malaysian scholar, Wang Gungwu, and adds a new and largely Asian perspective through a dialogue with a younger Malaysian historian also working in Singapore, Ooi Kee Beng. In a series of interviews in 2013 the author, Ooi, skillfully posed thoughtful questions to Wang and compiled their extended conversations into this unconventional but intriguing book. The collaboration, which is loosely organized thematically rather than chronologically, should be of interest to specialists on world, European, Indian, Southeast Asian, and especially Central Asian and Chinese history. The result is like a rewarding and intellectually exciting graduate school seminar with a master historian bringing together his vast knowledge to ponder the broad structure of world history over several millennia.

Few historians are more qualified to explore and identify some of the main themes of such a vast topic. Wang Gungwu is one of the most outstanding, prolific, and wide-ranging historians of our generation. His life and career have spanned the tumultuous transition from Western colonialism through World War II, decolonization, the Cold War, and the multipolar globalized world of today. His background is exceptionally cosmopolitan. Born in 1930 in colonial Indonesia to an ethnic Chinese family and raised in British Malaya, Wang was educated at the University of Malaya in Singapore (BA, MA) and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London (Ph.D.) before his highly successful academic and administrative career at the University of Malaya (History Department Head), Australian National University (Professor and Head of Far Eastern History and Director, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies), Hong Kong University (Vice Chancellor), and National University of Singapore (University Professor). His travels and sojourns have also taken him to many countries around the world. This reviewer first met Wang in the mid-1960s at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, where Wang had helped build a “globalized” History Department with a multinational faculty offering courses on both Southeast Asia and various world regions, a harbinger of the cosmopolitan approach he would demonstrate in some of his writings, including this book. Wang’s numerous books and articles examine diverse topics but especially China’s pre-modern and modern history and politics, Chinese migrations and the resulting diaspora (a concept he dislikes), Malaysian and Singapore history and society, political and economic relations among Asian societies, and Asia’s role in world history.

The book is structured around several key themes that Wang believes were major factors in the broader history of Eurasia, which he identifies (along with North Africa) as the canvas where most of world history was made. This view does not conflict with a lot of Western historical writing on the subject, which also (in the reviewer’s mind, wrongly) devalues Africa and the Americas prior to the past few centuries, but Wang places stronger emphasis on Central Asia and China. Wang views Eurasia as a vast core of irrepressible power and several coastal edges (some historians might use the term fringes)—the agrarian-based west (Europe), south (India), and east (China)—connected by Central Asian horse-riding pastoral nomadic societies whose interaction, friendly or hostile, with inland-looking states to the west and east fostered the emergence of European and Chinese civilizations. He might have said more about the role of Central Asian migrants and invaders in shaping Indian civilization. The conflicts between the core and the edges, especially Atlantic Europe, led to Western mastery of the seas and the Global Age of today. In Wang’s conception, Central Asians were not supplementary to world history but the key factor, which contrasts with the views of many Western historians for whom the region’s role is peripheral and does not extend much beyond the Silk Road, Mongols, and possibly Turks. Central Asia was oriented largely to overland exchange but over time lost power and influence to the coastal edges—Western Europe and China. Wang asserts that only in modern times did the expansion of the Russian Empire destroy the Central Asian core.

In common with many Western scholars, Wang also emphasizes that in more recent centuries “the global is maritime” (p. xiv). The advent of maritime skills and technology made global travel, trade, resource extraction, military conquest, religious spread—indeed, a whole new world—possible. It also undermined the influence of land-oriented continental powers like China and Russia and helped seagoing nations like Britain. As Wang puts it, “No doubt the West was an outlier as well in the face of Eurasian clout, but thanks to its maritime power, it created its own globality. They could not have become a global power were it not for the sea. Mastery of the sea and ruling the waves is the secret of becoming a global power. Now, the Chinese don’t know how to do that” (p. 142). Hence, he concludes, powered by the Industrial Revolution, the maritime global economy closed a chapter in human history. The United States, both a continental and maritime power, moved to the forefront, invulnerable on land and sea, in contrast to China. In his account the Cold War becomes a conflict largely between maritime (U.S., Britain, France) and continental (Russia, China) powers. Some scholars would portray a more complex situation.

Wang claims that the dominance of continental power kept much of Southeast Asia, in his view never a cohesive region, peripheral to continental dynamics, hence, as he oddly puts it, enjoying “a relatively beautiful and peaceful time” (p. 62). One suspects that local peoples may not have perceived their world as lacking conflict, threats, and challenges. Furthermore, he suggests, sea power was never developed on the basis of a very powerful state with the possible exception of Indianized Java. The Malay world was left alone, Wang believes, because the continental powers had little interest in the oceanic peoples. This approach downplays the maritime tradition, albeit largely a commercial but sometimes a military one, in parts of the region (especially the Indonesian archipelago). Wang tends to view maritime power as largely of military rather than economic importance, despite the considerable amount of trade within Southeast Asia as well as with East Asia, South Asia, and even the Middle East.

The eastern Asian and Indian Ocean maritime worlds probably deserve more attention in his account. In other writings he has expressed reservations about the “Asian Mediterranean” concept (Wang 2008; 2012) but does not say much about it here. To Wang the Southeast Asian waters were at best a “semi-Mediterranean” since China made little effort to exercise power there, a Sinocentric view. Nor does he pay much attention to the “Maritime Silk Road” via the Malay Peninsula, Straits of Melaka, and Indian Ocean as a counterpart to the overland Silk Road. Some recent scholarship (Andaya and Andaya 2015; Gunn 2011; Hall 2011; Lockard 2010; Miksic 2013; Paine 2013) suggests the maritime trade route was more significant than earlier studies, mostly focused on the overland route, concluded. Today China, seeking to assert itself and become a maritime power, builds a navy and claims vast stretches of the South China Sea.

Given Wang’s long interest in China, the reader will find many interesting side trips into Chinese history and comparisons between Chinese and Western traditions and mindsets, especially the Confucian legacy which Wang sees as very powerful today and a stark contrast with Western thinking. Western thought, he suggests, is analytical and categorizes everything; religion, philosophy, etc. are all defined and bordered. The Chinese mix and match Confucianism and Buddhism (one might add here Daoism and ancestor worship), making Chinese thought a bit of everything but not a philosophy. It would have been interesting to get his take on the “Great Divergence” debate concerning when and why the West took the lead over China (Pomeranz 2000; Wong 1997). But Chinese have learned to adapt. “Becoming the [world’s] second economic power is the product of the fact that the Chinese have mastered everything that has made Japan and the U.S. wealthy and powerful. What’s left is the question, where is the heart, where is the soul” (p. 192). China’s rise, including growing naval power, shows that they have the latecomer’s advantage. Besides the South China Sea, to maintain its rise China needs to keep the Straits of Melaka, Sunda Straight, and Indonesia neutral and hence open to Chinese shipping. Still, he believes that the United States has better long-term prospects because its continental and maritime reach is secure and because it possesses cyber and air power. “Together, this makes you quite unbeatable. The Chinese are vulnerable on all these fronts” (p. 226).

The book is full of arguments for other historians to consider. Given its genesis in conversations rather than a well-researched manuscript, the structure is not very tight and the narrative sometimes wanders off into often interesting tangents. Wang and Ooi do not explore the detailed history of the wider world; the focus throughout remains on Eurasia although Wang also makes some interesting observations about the United States in the world. There is very little attention to regions such as Africa or Latin America or even South Asia, with most of the examples coming from East Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and Europe. Wang also says surprisingly little about Southwest Asia (the Middle East) and Islam, and tends to downplay Arab and Persian maritime trade. Many historians would place a stronger emphasis on Islam as a major factor in Afro-Eurasian history. There are some other problems with this ambitious effort, including a few questionable assertions or perhaps just slips of the tongue in recorded conversations. For example, it was the Mughal Empire rather than the Sultanate of Delhi that finally collapsed in 1857. Borobodur was a Buddhist temple complex, not a kingdom, in tenth century Java. Wang credits Hindus with destroying Buddhism in India but this is too simple; Muslims, White Huns, and even severe problems and divisions within the Buddhist establishment were also contributing factors. Despite the flaws and some debatable points, this is a stimulating book that may interest academic historians and can be used in a graduate seminar but not a survey course on world history, more a way of thinking about history rather than presenting it. Wang remains an active scholar and role model for many of us. Ooi and Wang should be congratulated for this book, which gives us access to Wang’s learned and provocative thought late in his much-respected and influential career.

Craig A. Lockard
History Department, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay


Andaya, Barbara Watson; and Andaya, Leonard Y. 2015. A History of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 1400–1830. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gunn, Geoffrey C. 2011. History without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000–1800. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Hall, Kenneth R. 2011. A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100–1500. Lanham, MD.: Rowman and Littlefield.

Lockard, Craig A. 2010. “The Sea Common to All”: Maritime Frontiers, Port Cities, and Chinese Traders in the Southeast Asian Age of Commerce, ca. 1400–1750. Journal of World History 21 (2): 219–247.

Miksic, John N. 2013. Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea 1300–1800. Singapore: NUS Press.

Paine, Lincoln. 2013. The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Pomeranz, Kenneth. 2000. The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Wang Gungwu. 2012. A Two-Ocean Mediterranean. In Anthony Reid and the Study of the Southeast Asian Past, edited by Geoff Wade and Li Tana, pp. 69–84. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

. 2008. The China Seas: Becoming an Enlarged Mediterranean. In The East Asian “Mediterranean”: Maritime Crossroads of Culture, Commerce and Human Migration, edited by Angela Schottenhammer, pp. 7–22. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Wong, R. Bin. 1997. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


Vol. 4, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Fiona-Katharina SEIGER

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

Migration Revolution: Philippine Nationhood and Class Relations in a Globalized Age
Filomeno V. Aguilar Jr.
Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 2014, xii+293p.

The central argument made by Filomeno Aguilar in Migration Revolution is that overseas migration, as it is occurring since the 1960s, has brought about important social, cultural, and institutional changes in Philippine society. The migration of Filipinos overseas has become a crucial economic factor because of the enormous remittances that they have generated every year. Migration has accordingly reconfigured class structure, transnationalized social relations, and engendered legal and discursive shifts pertaining to migrants’ political participation and inclusion in the Philippine state. It has also rekindled a sense of nationhood and national identity among migrant Filipinos, contributing to a profound reinterpretation of the national narrative. Migration Revolution offers us a thorough examination of these changes and their consequences.

Contemporary cross-border migration has enabled the Philippine nation to envision itself within a plurality of nations, pushing the Philippine state to reorient its foreign policy and redefined the boundaries of both citizenship and the nation across borders. It has also important emotive implications. The public outcry caused by the execution of Flor Contemplacion in 1995, for example, marked not only a traumatic moment pointing at the vulnerability of overseas labor migrants, but also produced unprecedented surges in Filipino transnationalism.

The book is a collection of essays written by Aguilar over the past decade and a half, mostly during his sojourns outside the Philippines. He focused on Filipino migrants because “the situations described here1) are somehow internal to, albeit not identical with, my own life experiences as one of them” (p. 174). An important strength of the book—and of Aguilar’s scholarship in general—lies in his positionality as an itinerant scholar. Aguilar has generated precious data from his field research among migrant laborers and professionals in Southeast Asia as well as the United States throughout his academic career. This research enabled him to draw important comparisons and analyze migrant transnationalism in its various manifestations. The result is an empirically grounded work that has greatly contributed to the exploration and discussion of migrant transnationalism, challenging some of the findings in academic work on migrant transnationalism that emerged in the early 1990s. For instance Aguilar notes that the same group of migrants is either considered as reneging on patriotism and thus “lost” to the nation, or described as the newfound transnationalists, thus identifying an academic discourse in the South that runs counter to that in the North (p. 175).

The tensions generated by the execution of Contemplacion in Singapore in 1995, where Aguilar was employed at the time, led him to the study of Philippine labor migration. His empathy for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is strongly evident in his writings, and his interest in labor migration from the angles of social class and nationhood reveals his concerns for questions of status, belonging, and place as they relate to sentiments of nationhood and shame. In exploring these relationships, Aguilar looks back to the nascent nationalism among young ilustrados2) in Europe, drawing an interesting parallel between Jose Rizal’s and his comrades’ reaction to colonial racism and its shaming of the nation-cum-race, and today’s sense of shame experienced by educated middle- and upper-class Filipinos for the nationality they share with low-status OFWs. Underpinning these sentiments is not merely exasperation over being stereotyped, but also the Filipino elite’s discontent with having lost control over the international image of the nation.

While labor migrants are being labeled as “shameful export” (p. 87) by the more privileged segments of the Philippine diaspora, they have been lauded as the nation’s new heroes by the state by virtue of their enormous economic contributions to the national economy. Forming a pool of affordable, flexible labor and filling in the needs for care in advanced economies, OFWs have enabled the expansion and subsistence of a middle-class in both receiving and sending countries. Despite their low status origins, numerous OFWs have turned into petty capitalist landowners and entrepreneurs back home because of their savings and investments.

This “progress” has led OFWs to simultaneously occupy two contradictory class positions: that of migrant proletarians overseas, and petty capitalists back home. Thus, Aguilar argues that class structures and class relations in a globalized world cannot be understood without reference to state borders and national frames. Rather, the social structures of societies are intertwined, with the migrant worker entangled in these transnational class relations.

While the class structures of migrant sending and migrant receiving societies connect beyond borders, citizenship regimes continue to regulate individuals’ legal status and access to various rights and privileges within a given territory. Receiving societies have made use of the presence of the immigrant “Other” to underscore the boundaries of the nation and to reinforce sentiments of national belonging among their citizens.

Simultaneously, globalization has profoundly transformed the concept of citizenship, and thereby also the rules defining formal membership in a given state. The criteria for categorizing people as either “aliens” or citizens have changed over time, due to mutable ideas of who belongs to the nation but also because of pragmatic state interests. State pragmatism has enabled overseas Filipinos to hold dual-citizenship, and the variability of categories has considerably changed to ideologically validate the formal inclusion of overseas Filipinos.

Mass migration has thus led to the reconceptualization of the nation beyond territorial borders, but also allowed the state to bring overseas Filipinos back into its fold by granting them dual citizenship. The discursive and formal inclusion of overseas Filipinos also contained hopes and assumptions about their economic investments and participation in the politics of their “homeland.” Unfortunately, the invitation to become politically involved has had very few takers ever since voting rights were granted to OFWs in early 2003.

As a result of this, Aguilar argues that the assumption that all migrants engage in transnational practices or maintain transnational ties is a fallacy. Rather, transnationalism still needs to be proven. In investigating this, scholars must note that transnational ties vary in nature, with numerous migrants disinterested in political participation from afar. It is better to examine the issue by recognizing that there exist multiple and contradictory visions of the nation among migrants and non-migrants. One of Aguilar’s original contributions in this book is thus the discussion and comparison of elite-nationalism and the discourses by public intellectuals over the transnationalism of different groups of Filipino migrants overseas.

However, the book says very little about the impact of technological advancement in communications, and the improved availability of devices that enable real-time updates and information exchange though the World Wide Web. Online media has become an important element in the study of migrant transnationalism as it introduces new possibilities for negotiating family relationships across borders (cf. Madianou and Miller 2012), and provides new ways of constructing and reinforcing a sense of national identity among migrants (cf. Ignacio 2004).

Moreover, Aguilar’s brief examination of Filipino-foreign offspring remains limited to a particular group of Filipino descendants, many of whom have North-American or European parents, and who seem to epitomize today’s mestizo and his/her association with modernity and privileged lives. However, Philippine state policies and individual initiatives have led to affective and sexual relationships which produced offspring who are regarded with greater ambivalence. For example, children of Filipina entertainers and Japanese men have been condescendingly called “the products of summer flings and mostly out of wedlock relations . . .” (Amor 1992) when their births were first picked up as an issue by journalists, or “one-night babies” by the director of one NGO (Kyodo News Int. 1992). Since 2005, the migration of Filipina entertainers to Japan has starkly declined. However, the lingering association of this migration with sex-work continues to affect a number of Japanese-Filipinos who report about scathing comments by classmates and about being bullied for having a Japanese father (DAWN 2010).

These reactions go back to the issue of shame that Aguilar explores in chapter 3. The children born of this “shameful” migration (to Filipinas who worked in Japan’s entertainment districts) are viewed as evidence of the nation’s feebleness to foreign money and power. The children of former entertainers and Japanese men also “haunt the nation” (p. 197), but in ways far different from how Filipino-foreign offspring born under other circumstances are regarded.

A singular achievement of this well-organized work is it’s synthesizing of the many strands arising from the profound changes that followed from the massive emigration of Filipinos. To someone who has studied these issues, some of its arguments are not entirely new. But for readers with limited familiarity with the Philippines, Migration Revolution is a major introductory text to deepen their understanding of the complicated relationship between migration and nationalism.

Fiona-Katharina Seiger


Amor, P. 1992. ‘Japinos’- Emerging Social Problem in RP. Manila Standard, October 18, 1992, S. 4.

Development Action for Women Network (DAWN). 2010. We Are Your Children, Too. Creative Journeys of DAWN’s Japanese-Filipino Children Members, edited by C. G. Nuqui and C. R. Arboleda. Manila: DAWN.

Ignacio, Emily Noelle. 2004. Building Diaspora: Filipino Cultural Community Formation on the Internet. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Kyodo News Int. 1992. Program for Abandoned ‘Japinos’ Launched. June 29, 1992.

Madianou, Mirca; and Miller, Daniel. 2012. Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

1) Here, Aguilar writes about migrant Filipinos in the United States and Filipino contract workers in the Asia-Pacific region.

2) The ilustrados were a group of Filipino intellectuals during the Spanish colonial period in the late nineteenth century.



Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

Indonesian Women and Local Politics: Islam, Gender and Networks in Post-Suharto Indonesia
Kurniawati Hastuti Dewi
Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 2015, xxi+246p.

Indonesia began its political reform almost 15 years ago following the collapse of Suharto’s authoritarian administration in 1998. As in many other democratizing countries, increasing gender equality in government became an important reform agenda in Indonesia and greater democratic freedom and increased demand for gender equality were believed to move women’s issues to the center of social policymaking. The newly democratic Indonesian government introduced Law No. 31/2002 on Political Parties and Law No. 12/2003 on General Elections, as part of an “affirmative action” policy which set quotas for women’s representation. These two laws were later revised into Law No. 2/2008 and Law No. 10/2008 regulating women’s wider participation in politics and obliging political parties to nominate at least one woman in every three candidates to run in legislative elections.

To date, women’s representation in the national legislature has increased from only 8.8% during the Suharto administration to 17.3% in 2014. This means there are now 97 women out of a total of 560 members in the national parliament. In addition, Law No. 32/2004 on Direct Elections has lifted structural barriers to women running for leadership positions in local elections. This Law has helped a number of women to become district Mayors (Regent), Vice Governors, and Governors. In Java, the most populated island in Indonesia, there were five women elected as Regent, one Vice-Governor, and one Governor as the result of the 2005 direct election (p. 18).

Yet, regardless of the increase in women’s representation in government, Indonesian women continue to receive unfair treatment and are discriminated against in many social policies and practices. To name a few, the introduction of sharia-based regional regulations in the Province of Aceh and in 52 districts and municipalities since 2001 has expanded discrimination against women and limited women’s freedom of expression (Bush 2008, 176). Misogynist policies continue to be put in place. In 2013, the National Ulama Council (MUI), for example, supported the initiative of some Regents to require female students to undertake a virginity test in order to get into high schools (Kompas 2013). Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Military and the National Police continue to require female candidates to pass virginity tests before joining (Russin 2015). It was only recently that Indonesia’s Constitutional court rejected an application made by women activists to increase the marriageable age for girls from 16 years old, as stated in Article 7(1) of the 1974 Marriage Law, to 18 (Sciortino 2015). The legislative review was initiated due to the increasing risks of unwanted pregnancies, sexual disease, maternal health hazards, and violence as girls at the age of 16 are not mentally and physically ready to enter marriages. Women and human rights activists argue that this continuing discrimination against women is the result of many contributing factors, from Indonesia’s misogynist socio-cultural tradition and poor gender-based policy making to a lack of women’s representation in government.

The issue of whether or not an increase in women’s representation in government will lead to the advancement of women’s issues, in fact, has become a subject of scholarly debate among political scientists. The debate centers on the role of democracy in improving women’s access to political positions, thereby enabling the women elected to pass more women-friendly policies (Fallon et al. 2012). Researching women’s representation in the legislature and its impact on advancing women’s issues into women’s friendly policies in the United States, Osborn (2012, 1, 6) argues that while many people expect women elected to public office to address women’s policy concerns and represent women’s needs, it is, in fact, political parties that work in shaping and influencing women legislators in addressing their agenda and producing policies that affect them positively.

Indonesian Women and Local Politics: Islam, Gender and Networks in Post-Suharto Indonesia discusses at length Javanese Muslim women’s ascendency to power in post-Suharto Indonesia. The book is a product of the author’s PhD research and is an attempt to contribute to the scholarly discussion on the place of women in the public sphere and women’s rights in Muslim societies. In particular, it attempts to contribute to the wider discussion on women’s political leadership. It tries to unpack the cultural, structural, and institutional barriers that hinder women in gaining public office. With the majority of Indonesia’s population being Muslim, the author argues that Islamization and modernization have changed Indonesian society’s gender perception towards women. The author choses to focus her research on Java because a considerable number of Javanese Muslim women, she argues, have been successful in taking public offices by becoming Regents and Vice-Governor between the period of 2005 to 2010 (p. 18).

Given the broader context of democratization and issues surrounding Islamization, the book’s attempt at answering important questions around the role of Islam and gender under the victory of female Javanese politicians is a timely and valuable contribution to Indonesian scholarship. The author uses the Javanese concept of power and the local conception of women’s role in public life when explaining women’s ascendency to power in a Javanese context. Apart from Islam and gender, the book also scrutinizes how female politicians use their male networks and their familial ties with male authority to help them win elections (p. 16). This book uses four constructs to explore women’s increase political participation at local level: Islam, gender, networks, and familial ties.

The book consists of seven chapters. The first three provide overviews of the research background, methodology, and the theoretical framework on Islamization, democratization, and cultural conceptions of gender and leadership. Chapter 2 discusses Indonesia’s political reform, including the introduction of national legislation that favors women’s participation in politics, and explores the socio-political context of the emergence of women’s leadership at the local level. In Chapter 3 the author considers the role of Islamization and democratization in changing societal attitudes towards women’s public roles. It discusses how two mainstream Muslim organizations, the Nahdlhatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, have continued to shape public discussion and perception of the role of women in public and in leadership. It highlights the different public responses towards female leadership at local and national levels by looking at the debate over, and rejection of, the nomination of Megawati Sukarnoputri as Indonesia’s first female President in 1999 (pp. 62–63, 177).

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 discuss specifically three female leaders: Rustriningsih and Siti Qomariyah in Central Java, and Ratna Ani Lestari in East Java. Each chapter reviews the particular socio-religious and political landscapes that shape the political opportunities for these women to gain power. The discussion demonstrates how female candidates use Islam and their identity as women to gain popular support. There is also lengthy discussion of the socio-educational background of the women, their level of religiosity, networks with male politicians and religious leaders, their attachment to women’s organizations, and their agenda on advancing women’s issues. Each chapter also provides an overview on the particularity of the pressing issues that confront women in the respective regions.

Chapter 4 on Rustriningsih highlights the candidate’s strong family background in politics and her close attachment with the nationalist and secular political party, the PDIP. The chapter demonstrates that Rustriningsih won and became the Vice-Governor due to strong PDIP support. It also details how “religious symbols” such as the headscarf and the tactic of approaching religious leaders from the Nahdlhatul Ulama were used in order to win Muslim support.

Chapter 5 on Siti Qomariyah presents the interesting story of how a woman with no previous political background and experience became Regent. Her status as the daughter of a respected NU Kyai led the Muslimat NU, the women’s wing of NU, to nominate Siti Qomariyah to run in the election for district Major in Pekalongan. The fact that she gained her higher education from an Islamic higher educational institution increased her religious profile, thus securing the nomination of PKB, an Islamic political party that is strongly affiliated with the Nahdlhatul Ulama and the majority party in the local parliament. Her family’s strong affiliation with NU helped her to win the full support of NU Kyais.

Chapter 6 on Ratna Ani Lestari shows that her rise to power was due to the support she received from her husband, who is a member of PDIP and was a former Regent in the Province of Bali. Despite having no religious background, Lestari made efforts to use Islamic symbols such as wearing a headscarf and approaching religious leaders to gain support.

Interestingly, the author reveals that none of these female leaders had any previous attachment to women’s organizations and had no knowledge about issues that women face at the local level. As a result, none of these female leaders had a clear social policy agenda to advance women’s interests. In the case of Siti Qomariyah, the author argues that her nomination was mainly because the Nahdlhatul Ulama wanted to take control of both the legislature and the executive branch of the local government (p. 114).

Generally speaking, the book provides an in-depth analysis of the changing political landscape, Islam’s view on women, and changing perceptions on gender. These aspects, the author argues, provide women the opportunity to take up public roles. The changing public mood towards male leadership is also a factor that leads voters to look for alternative candidates. The appeal that women would be less corrupt and could make better local leaders also helped women candidates to win votes.

The book demonstrates that getting women into local leadership positions may be claimed as an achievement in Indonesia’s process of democratization. But the book clearly demonstrates that getting women candidates into public offices does not necessarily mean that women’s interests receive better policy attention. It possibly raises the question as to whether putting women who have no previous engagement with women’s issues into power may have contributed to the government’s ongoing failure in addressing women’s issues and in introducing women-friendly policies.

The book clearly demonstrates that the political success of these women was due to their political affiliation and support from political parties, however, the author does not make any attempt to discuss the political parties’ platform regarding women’s issues. It would be helpful if the book also unpacked the platform of PDIP and PKB, the two parties mentioned that strongly supported two of the subjects, in regards to women’s issues. Further discussion about political parties’ platforms on women’s issues might help deter readers from feeling that women and religion are merely being hijacked by male politicians, in a country where the majority of the population are Muslims and where women constitute 55% of Indonesian voters. This book forces us to think that Indonesia’s democracy should not only able to put women in power but should also enable women leaders to exercise authority to advance more women-friendly policies so that Indonesia will progress towards gender equality in education, health care, work, the family, and the public sphere.

Dina Afrianty
Institute for Religion, Politics, and Society, Australian Catholic University


Bush, Robin. 2008. Regional Sharia Regulations in Indonesia: Anomaly or Symptom? In Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics in Indonesia, edited by Greg Fealy and Sally White, pp. 174–191. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Fallon, Kathleen M.; Swiss, Liam; and Viterna, Jocelyn. 2012. Resolving the Democracy Paradox: Democratization and Women’s Legislative Representation in Developing Nations, 1975 to 2009. American Sociological Review 77(3): 380–408.

Kompas. 2013. MUI: Tes Keperawanan Perlu Masuk Undang-undang [Indonesia Ulama Council: Virginity test needs to be regulated into law]. Regional, August 20, 2013, accessed June 22, 2015,

Osborn, Tracy L. 2012. How Women Represent Women: Political Parties, Gender, and Representation in the State Legislatures. Oxford University Press Scholarship Online.

Russin, Markus. 2015. Virginity Test: Indonesia’s Institutionalized Misogyny. The Jakarta Post: Opinion, May 30, 2015.

Sciortino, Rosalia. 2015. Insight: Constitutional Court Fails to Give Girls Better Protection. The Jakarta Post, June 20, 2015, accessed June 22, 2015,



Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

Taming People’s Power: The EDSA Revolutions and Their Contradictions
Lisandro E. Claudio
Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2013, 240p.

People power is the foundationalist myth of the ruling Aquino regime which began with the presidency of Corazon (“Cory”) C. Aquino who replaced the fallen dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986 and which continues under the presidency of her son, Benigno (“Noynoy”) S. Aquino, III, which will end in mid-2016. The Aquinos and their “yellow” crowd elite supporters claim legitimacy based on a divinely sanctioned popular uprising against an evil dictator re-establishing a righteous democracy. “People power” also gained international prominence as one of the first televised revolutions, with the plucky Cory Aquino defeating the wily dictator Marcos, leading to a heroic transition to democracy. That this piece of political folklore has lost appeal for most Filipinos who remain poor and are now often disillusioned with this once new political order is evidenced by the dwindling crowds at the annual official celebration of people power. The people themselves seem to have abandoned the idea of “people power.”

No recent book captures the ambiguous legacy of people power better than the work of the young Ateneo historian Lisandro E. Claudio. What Claudio has done in this book is quite extraordinary. He systematically distinguishes two “discursive formations,” the official, “yellow” narrative and the anti-people power “National Democratic” discourse of the communist left (later in the study it becomes evident that he analyzes a third discursive alternative as well: the subaltern perspective of laborers on the Aquino-Cojuangco owned Hacienda Luisita). Claudio then examines how these discourses are literally “monumentalized” and the message this political architecture is trying to convey. These “material commemorations” of the anti-Marcos struggle culminating in the mass uprising against Marcos that he examines are, on the one hand, the quasi-official shrine of the Shrine of Mary Queen of Peace, popularly known as the “Our Lady EDSA shrine” and the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) of the left.

Beyond this Claudio then undertakes an ambitious and revealing case study of how “people power” is viewed in Hacienda Luisita, the great plantation of the landlord-politician Aquino-Cojuangco dynasty. But he also shows how the role of the communist left is viewed ambivalently by the sugar plantation workers, many of whom were caught up in violence initiated by the strike breaking landlords but also instrumentalized by the left.

The book is well written in a sophisticated, but intelligible “post-modern” style, with key theoretical insights effectively used to clarify Claudio’s discursive approach to recent Philippine history. The result is a study full of more insights about recent Philippine politics than any other I have read in past decade. Claudio constructs a theoretical framework for the book drawn from “memory studies” to reconstruct the “people power narrative.” He invokes Foucault’s “regime of truth,” a “provisional . . . product of the capillary movement of knowledge-power—but may nevertheless coalesce into identifiable discursive formations” (pp. 5–6). Not a mere top-down ideology like the authoritarian developmentalist one of the Marcos era, the mainstream people power discourse was created by the Church hierarchy, middle class activists, big business, and traditional politicians. But Claudio is not content with just analyzing the “official story” which deemphasizes the role played by ordinary Filipinos who overthrew Marcos in favor of the God-given-miracle explanation of EDSA (the major Manila street after which “people power” is often known in the Philippines). Rather, he employs a “multivocal” approach to this narrative, focusing in particular on the relationship with class interests and the way the popular uprising against the Marcos regime is narrated. Not a static approach, Claudio shows the people power narrative evolved from a symbol of national unity seen to have overcome class differences to a divisive elitist discourse that justified the elite-led overthrow of the populist president Joseph Estrada in 2001 in what was dubbed “EDSA dos” or “people power II.” Estrada was an elected president loved by poor voters who rallied to his cause after his overthrow by what was essentially an elitist putsch. This led to a third people power event that nearly overthrew the government of president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who had replaced the deposed Estrada.

It is not surprising that Claudio concludes competing narratives of people power are shaped by class interests. The ruling Aquino regime and the strategic groups that generally back it—big business, the Church, “civil society” activists, and the military hierarchy—have turned the popular uprising against Marcos into a “ruling state ideology,” as Claudio shows. By contrast, the exploited plantation workers in Hacienda Luisita have challenged this elite narrative with a counter-hegemonic discourse which usually goes unnoticed both because it is localized and from the lower classes. Claudio, who very frankly explores his own biographical ties to the left, shows how difficult it is to classify the leftist discourse in class terms. While clearly aimed at achieving social liberation, it is also a discourse which obscures the poor as actors independent of a communist party that always claims to know what is in their best interest, revealing the left’s own hegemonic ambitions. This emphasis on class position makes Claudio’s contribution to memory studies generally and our understanding of the people power narrative in the Philippines in particular unusually valuable.

When one considers the major contributions to post-Marcos understandings of Philippine politics, the predominance of interpretations which stress what Benedict Anderson famously called “cacique democracy” is striking. On the first reading, Claudio’s study appears to be part of this genre (and he does defend Anderson’s categorization against elite Philippine critics who mythologize people power as a symbol of national unity). But Claudio’s position goes beyond this anti-oligarchical perspective by pointing to the evolving nature of an elite discourse that sometimes very effectively “covers up” class interests, capable of winning widespread popular support for its project of democratic and anti-corruption reforms. This was of course evident in not only Cory Aquino’s defeat of Marcos, but also in her son, Noynoy Aquino’s easy victory in the 2010 presidential election in which he effectively revived the people power narrative. Claudio shows why subaltern perspectives such as those of the workers of Hacienda Luisita are so easily ignored. But he also points to the limits of a left discourse which has its own agenda. (One limitation of the study is the relative neglect of a fourth discourse—the “national populist” appeals made by movie star politicians Estrada in the 1998 and his close Fernando Poe, Jr. in the 2004 election.) Philippine politics is more complex than the “elites versus the masses” dichotomy of the left and the “national unity” narrative of the rightist pro-Aquino forces, with a discursive “truth” to be sought somewhere in between. There is no recent better guide to these ambiguities than this excellent study.

Mark R. Thompson
Southeast Asia Research Centre (SEARC), City University of Hong Kong


Vol. 4, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Duncan McCARGO

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

“Good Coup” Gone Bad: Thailand’s Political Developments since Thaksin’s Downfall
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, ed.
Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2014, xv+290p.

Come back, General Sonthi—all is forgiven! The 2006 coup may have turned bad, but compared with the 2014 coup it now looks positively benign. This useful edited volume appeared just in time to serve as a primer for what went wrong in the wake of the previous military seizure of power. But apart from one chapter on the military, the focus of the book is not on the coup itself, but on a range of related actors and issues. The book is divided into four sections of two or three chapters: the impact of the coup on Thailand’s political landscape; the military and the monarchy; the emergence of yellow and red politics; and crises of legitimacy. In a sparse field, the volume is an invaluable addition to reading lists (I have already assigned it to my students), but some chapters are stronger than others, and several of them go over ground that the same authors have already covered in previous writings. To my mind the first two sections are much the most useful, and Thongchai Winichakul’s chapter on monarchy and anti-monarchy stands out as the centerpiece of the book.

Thongchai’s argument can be distilled into one provocative and important assertion: the Thai monarchy, far from serving as a source of stability, lies at the core of the country’s persistent instability and regular recourse to mass bloodshed, as seen in the four violent crackdowns of 1973, 1976, 1992, and 2010. Offering a brilliant exegesis of a provocative speech by redshirt leader Nattawut Saikua in 2008 about the contrast between the earth and the sky, Thongchai demonstrates how a combination of hyper-royalism and suppression has helped produce a large-scale “awakening” of anti-monarchist sentiments. Most dangerously of all, widespread popular denial about the problematic role of the monarchy and the impending succession means that many Thais are living in a kind of alternate reality. However dark the period since September 2006 has been for Thailand’s politics, worse is yet to come.

Thongchai’s paper is bookended by two others: James Ockey on the military, and David Streckfuss on Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws (on which Streckfuss is the world’s leading authority). Streckfuss provides detailed evidence of the steep climb in Article 112 cases brought since the coup, and especially since the arrival of the unelected Abhisit Vejjajiva government in late 2008. Citing historical examples from France and Germany, Streckfuss argues that heavy-handed use of such laws undermines the legitimacy of the monarchy and so runs precisely counter to their stated aim of protecting the royal institution. The chapter should whet readers’ appetites to tackle Streckfuss’s 2011 book Truth on Trial in Thailand, in which he explores these arguments at much greater length. Ockey’s chapter argues that developments such as the assassination by a fellow soldier of pro-Thaksin Major General Khattiya Sawasdiphol at the height of the 2010 redshirt demonstrations illustrated deep-seated divisions in the Royal Thai Army. Ockey asserts that the politicization of the military into color-coded factions has left the institution “broken, divided and dangerous both to itself and to others” (p. 72). This is a bold claim: to date, the latest coup has shown the capacity of the Eastern Tigers/Queen’s Guard faction to dominate the army and subordinate internal contestation to the will of the top brass. Ockey’s calls for the “restoration of military corporateness” suggest that such corporateness genuinely existed in earlier decades. It might instead be argued that the Thai military has always been profoundly politicized—in other words, that it was broken from birth.

Federico Ferrara offers some historical context for the arguments advanced in these chapters. In a highly persuasive article, he suggests that “the recent recourse to bullets and emergency rule” (p. 38) and the associated rise in Article 112 cases are signs of desperation, as the yet-to-be ancien regime experiences a sharply declining moral authority. As of this writing, the themes of Thainess, Thai-style democracy, and unity in hierarchy are very much back in fashion—at least among the alarming numerous supporters of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha and the current junta. That Thailand is, in Ferrara’s words, “running on empty” can scarcely be disputed. But I remain to be convinced that the future of the monarchy itself hangs in the balance.

The later chapters of the book address various additional perspectives on Thailand’s politics. Michael Nelson’s discussion of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the “Vote No” campaign makes a couple of important points: the anti-Thaksin movement was not synonymous with the PAD, and with or without the PAD, the “societal infrastructure and its political culture” (p. 160) was still in place for a resurgence of anti-Yingluck Shinawatra protests. The emergence of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) in late 2013 proved Nelson completely correct, and was to prove the undoing of the Yingluck government. Nick Nostitz’s chapter on the redshirt movement provides a useful summary of his views, though there are few surprises for those who follow his regular online commentary pieces on these issues. Andrew Walker’s article “Is Peasant Politics in Thailand Civil?” answers its own question in his second sentence: “No.” He goes on to provide a helpful sketch of the arguments he has made at greater length in his important 2012 book Thailand’s Political Peasants.

The book concludes with two chapters ostensibly focused on crises of legitimacy. In his discussion of the bloody Southern border conflict, Marc Askew fails to engage with the arguments of those who see the decade-long violence as a legitimacy crisis for the Thai state, and omits to state his own position on this central debate. He rightly concludes that “the South is still an insecure place” (p. 246), but neglects to explain exactly why. Pavin Chachavalpongpun offers a final chapter on Thai-Cambodia relations, but does not add a great deal to his brilliant earlier essay on Preah Vihear as “Temple of Doom,” which remains the seminal account of that tragi-comic inter-state conflict.

I would have liked more gender balance among the contributors: there are a number of female scholars who could and should have been included. Overall, this is an extremely valuable book which will be widely read and assigned to students.

Duncan McCargo
School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds


Vol. 4, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Faisal CHAUDHRY

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3



Between Dissent and Power: The Transformation of Islamic Politics in the Middle East and Asia
Khoo Boo Teik, Vedi Hadiz, and Yoshihiro Nakanishi, eds.
London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, xv+298p., index.

The key intervention this timely volume makes is to question whether political agitation that speaks in the name of Islam is best understood in terms of the Islamic content its exponents profess. In this respect, the titular choice to describe the volume as being about “Islamic” politics is no coincidence. To the contrary, it splits the difference between assuming that no more than a politics of actors who happen to be “Muslim” merits attention and assuming that their politics are overdetermined by Islamist predilections/pronouncements. At the same time, as the editors’ fine introductory chapter makes clear, the choice is also meant to provoke. This is because the collection prioritizes what the editors suggest are heretofore neglected political economy and institutional (political, sociological) perspectives on understanding recent events in the Muslim majority countries the volume surveys. Those countries—which include Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Malaysia, Pakistan, Algeria, and Indonesia—comprise the basis for the volume’s nine case study chapters. The choice of case studies is governed by the volume’s concern with tracing how Islamic politics has oscillated between “dissent” and “power,” especially in the aftermath of the Arab spring.

After making requisite mention of the fact that the volume is intended to treat the Islamic character of politics in the places it surveys neither as “an epiphenomenon of economics” nor “the mere expression of religion,” in their introductory chapter the editors instead proceed to highlight a series of so-called institutional factors. These include, first, capitalist development, economic crises, and their social consequences; second, the relative strengths of regimes, parties, and social movements; and, third, the shifting bases and constituencies of support and opposition (p. 4). Before proceeding to the nine case studies, the two chapters following the editors’ introduction helpfully elaborate on the key crosscutting perspectives the volume seeks to use to illuminate relevant patterns and contrasts. In Chapter 2 (“Political Economy and the Explanation of the Islamic Politics in the Contemporary World”) Richard Robison contrasts cultural and ideological approaches to understanding “politics and society in Islamic countries” with several others (p. 21). Most important among these are the various strands of the political economy perspective Robison advocates. According to Robison, whether in its radicalized or party electoral form Islamic politics is thus best viewed in light of the confluence between class dynamics (e.g. by paying attention to phenomena like the “declining petty bourgeoisie”) and shifting state structures (e.g. by paying attention to the move from “market authoritarian rule” to “the embrace of modern market”). Chapter 3 by Vedi Hadiz (“The Organizational Vehicles of Islamic Political Dissent: Social Bases, Genealogies and Strategies”) complements Robison’s chapter nicely. Not only does it bring the volume closer to the ground of how Islamic politics is actually undertaken, it also still focuses on developing a set of generalized explanatory resources to clarify the particular approach the volume as a whole means to pursue. Noting that the titular “organizational vehicles” the chapter is focused on vary greatly from full fledged political parties to small and isolated cells engaged in terrorist activity, Hadiz emphasizes that the vehicles of “Islamic dissent” must be understood in relation to “transformations in the social bases of Islamic politics” over the last half century. Hadiz contrasts the shared desire expressed by many parties for “a variant of capitalism” (p. 47) with the rise of “organizing from the fringes” when such mainstream Islamic forces “fail to build coalitions that can plausibly challenge for state power through the formal political arena” (p. 50).

Yasuyuki Matsunaga’s fourth chapter turns to the first case study on Iran (“Islamic Dissent in Iran’s Full-Fledged Islamic Revolutionary State”). Matsunaga’s main goal is to treat political dissent “relationally” as a form “of adversary relations between sets of contending actors” (p. 66). More specifically his focus is on what he calls “post-revivalist” forms of Islamic dissent that were highly visible in Iran before the end of the Islamic Revolution’s second decade (in the late 1990s). After providing relevant context, he looks especially closely at Mohsen Kadivar’s brand of post-revivalist Islamic dissent and its rejection of the connection between politics and religion. Chapter 5 by Jenny White is entitled “Muslimhood and Post-Islamist Power: The Turkish Example.” Like most of the country studies White’s is also principally a narrative-based account of contemporary Islamic political agitators (in Turkey) as told from the standpoint of recent events, with a healthy dose of broader contextualizing discussion of earlier periods as well. The main analytical intervention of the chapter is to draw out several “principles” from the Turkish case that may be relevant to Arab countries as well. These include the following: a) that Islam undergoes a transformation as a defining identity once “enmeshed in the democratic process in the context of a globalized economy”; b) that parties embracing a “privatized Islam” are best able to expand constituencies; c) that gaining official power tends to involve “the loss of the social movement aspect of earlier party incarnations”; and d) that the introduction of greater conservatism or religiosity into government and secular state institutions is not inevitable due to the “anxiety and push-back” it inspires among secularists (pp. 90–91).

Housam Darwisheh’s contribution in Chapter 6 looks at the “The Political Transformation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.” The chapter’s informative narrative takes the reader up to the present. Analytically, the chapter is connected to the volume’s wider themes through its conclusion that revolutionary forces in Egypt did not ultimately sour against the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood after the Tahrir Square uprising due to the fear that it would institute an “Islamic state.” Rather it was the Brotherhood’s “tendency to act unilaterally” and its perceived attempt to create “a shift form pluralist, inclusive politics towards a monopoly of power” that made its regime suspect (p. 130). Chapter 7 by Nadia Marzouki looks at “Islamist Ideals and Governing Realities” through examining “Nahda’s Project and the Constraint of Adaptation in Post-Revolution Tunisia.” Over and above the narrative survey Marzouki provides, the chapter focuses on the ideas of Rached Ghannouchi, Nahda’s leader, emphasizing the concept of the civil state (dawla madaniyya) through which he has argued for a compatibility between Islam and democracy. The chapter takes the reader up to the end of Nahda’s first coalition government in 2013.

Shoko Watanabe’s chapter comes next and is entitled “Reforming the Regime or Reforming the Dissidents? The Gradualist Dissent of Islamic Movements in Morocco.” Observing that Morocco’s Islamic movements have been distinguished by their “gradualist’ nature” (p. 154), Watanabe’s looks at events over the last several decades draw attention to the resilience of the so-called Makhzan structure of Morocco’s deep state. Watanabe emphasizes how the central state has thus remained the dominant player in Moroccan politics through a “divide and conquer” approach to Islamic movements. The state’s use of strategic “inclusion” and “exclusion” of such forces, Watanabe argues, is more significant than any dichotomy between “moderate” and “radical” Islamic forces (p. 171).

Khoo Boo Teik’s chapter is the first of the case studies that takes the reader outside of the worlds of the Middle East and North Africa and looks at “Social Transformation and the Reinventions of Parti Islam in Malaysia.” The first main topic he considers is the political economic forces underlying social transformation in Malaysia, here emphasizing that the Parti Islam SeMalyasia (PAS) did not arise as a response to “failed developmentalism” as in many other Muslim majority countries. From here the chapter goes on to consider the social origins of Islamic politics and provides a narrative of the PAS’s oscillation from the early 1980s between “strident Islamism and fortuitous religiosity.” The author emphasizes that it was only after the early 2000s—after the retirement of Prime Minister Mahathir—that anger at the ruling party and oligarchic character of the country’s politics allowed the PAS to finally break through (by 2006–07). As Khoo details, this breakthrough took place through a “confluence of dissent” and a larger ethos of Reformasi that the PAS was then able to capitalize on.

The last three chapters both continue to keep us outside of the Middle East and North Africa with discussion of Pakistan and Indonesia and also bring us back to the region with the chapter on Algeria. Chapter 10 by Yoshihiro Nakanishi is entitled “Political Fragmentation and Islamic Politics in Pakistan.” Nakanishi starts by providing a primarily contextualizing historical survey of the genesis of contemporary Islamic politics in Pakistan. The chapter then proceeds to focus most intently on the period since 2000, while also including a section elaborating on “the weakness” of Islamic parties that brings the reader back to Pakistan’s origins in 1947. Other sections consider the role of Islam as both security tool and threat after the coup of General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 and the ensuing war on terror years as well as a consideration of the relationship between social change, Islam, and political dissent. The chapter concludes open-endedly, noting that “current Islamization” will not necessarily bring about a radical transformation into a state wholly governed by “Islamic principles like Shariah” even if, at the same time, the potency of Islamic militant groups is likely only to increase.

The chapter bringing us back westward is Alejandro Colás’ and is entitled “A Perverse Symbiosis: The State, Islam and Political Dissent in Contemporary Algeria.” Colás frames the country’s experience as exceptional given the “circular quality to” its history of Islam and political dissent. Colás thus emphasizes how Algeria continues to be run by “a narrow military-bureaucratic oligarchy which has staked its survival on the distribution of hydrocarbon wealth to curry political favor form supporters and contenders alike” (p. 244). It is for these reasons that Colás suggests the regime has been able to “snuff out” the ripple effects of the Arab Spring. In keeping with these claims, the chapter’s narrative focuses on the last 20 years of Algeria’s history, in the wake of the defeat of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). In the wake of the FIS’ suppression, Colás argues that the Bouteflika regime has been able to successfully deploy “co-option strategies” to “incorporate aspects of the Islamist programme and some of its ‘accomodationist’ personnel into the bricolage of the regime itself” (p. 244).

Ian Wilson’s final chapter brings us back eastward, turning to Indonesia, and is entitled “Morality Racketeering: Vigilantism and Populist Islamic Militancy in Indonesia.” Wilson discusses “Islamic vigilante groups” in the country and emphasizes how rather than seeking to overturn or radically transform the state they have pursued “a socially conservative ‘anti-vice’ and ‘anti-apostasy’ agenda against perceived liberal excesses” (p. 248). The chapter’s empirical focus is on the Defenders of Islam Front (FPI) as well as certain other vigilante groups in Jakarta. Wilson argues that theirs is a “pragmatic Islamic militancy” that appeals to the urban poor as its most active membership (p. 249). Wilson’s narrative reviews the rise of vigilantism by situating it in the local contexts of post-authoritarian Indonesia after the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998. The chapter goes on to discuss the FPI’s history, relationship to other Islamic organizations, and the class tensions that it has been able to feed on.

As a closing chapter, Wilson’s is another that gives voice to the volume’s overall concern with questioning how important normative Islamic ideas (or, simply, ideas adverting to be drawn from the normative Islamic tradition) are to real politics. Certainly, there can be no doubt that such a view is refreshing and even necessary when considered relative to so much popular and even academic discussion. Clearly, it is untenable (and, perhaps, suspect in still other ways) for commentators to become as selectively idealist as they often do when it comes to understanding politics and politicized violence in the Muslim world. That said, as vital as any such corrective must be, it is also limited by its own will to correct. After all, there would be nothing to correct if Islamic politics was, indeed, no more than the politics of Muslim actors. A more head-on interrogation of how the practice of dissent and power in the Muslim-majority world has, does, and will likely continue to be “determined” also by the Islamic or purportedly Islamic content of its practitioners’ ideas remains necessary. While no single edited volume can address all issues, it would be a mistake to imagine that the volume under review—as valuable as it is—suffers only from the limits of space. So too, the reader should remain aware, are certain limits imposed, and relevant questions that are unlikely to go away obscured by its preferred explanatory approach.

Faisal Chaudhry
Department of South Asia Studies, University of Pennsylvania