15 posts

Vol. 6, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Taomo ZHOU


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

Indonesian Notebook: A Sourcebook on Richard Wright and the Bandung Conference
Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher, eds.
Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, xxiv+262pp.

The Color Curtain, The Colored Glasses

In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 novel Americanah, the protagonist, a strong-willed young woman named Ifemelu, leaves military-ruled Nigeria for the United States, where she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. “I came from a country where race was not an issue,” Ifemelu reflects. “I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.” She later achieves academic success and is recognized for her thought-provoking blog about race in America. In this space she announces: “Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.”

This fictional figure’s observation in the digital world of the 2000s echoes a number of Indonesian cultural elites’ reaction to an encounter with the renowned African American writer Richard Wright in 1955. Author of the critically acclaimed novels Black Boy and Native Son, Wright traveled to Indonesia to attend the Afro-Asian Conference held in Bandung as a freelance reporter. During his three-week stay in Indonesia he exchanged ideas with a small group of the archipelago’s leading intellectuals, the majority of whom were liberal minded with a cosmopolitan outlook. An important part of this cross-cultural dialogue took place at a mountain retreat north of Jakarta, where Wright and his Indonesian hosts had in-depth discussions over a weekend stay. Yet instead of being drawn to Wright by a shared sense of embitterment caused by white domination of people of color, the Indonesian literati felt bitterly misunderstood. They felt that instead of opening his eyes to the vibrant social landscape of the newborn republic of Indonesia, Wright held a vision that was confined to an overseas projection of America’s internal racial politics. Lubis Mochtar, a journalist and novelist who was the leader of the group, expressed his disapproval: “It is wrong that this ‘racial business’ has become a way of life in Asia. Color or racial problems are just not our problems” (p. 10).

Another significant figure in the circle, the Dutch-Indonesian writer Beb Vuyk, recalled the furious protests by the poet, essayist, and novelist Sitor Situmorang: “I do not feel inferior to whites. I was born a ‘native,’ and I’ve lived with racial discrimination. But we are free now. I’m no longer a ‘native’ but an Indonesian” (p. 199). In 1956 Wright published his Indonesian travelogue, The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference, which became a prominent firsthand account of the Afro-Asian Conference. But the modern Indonesian writers and intellectuals Wright interacted with were gravely disappointed. Mochtar lamented:

I am afraid while [Wright] was here in Indonesia he had been looking through ‘colored glasses’ and had sought behind every attitude he met color and racial feelings. The majority of the people with whom Mr. Wright had come into contact in Indonesia belong to the new generation in Indonesia, and are the best racial and color conscious of the various groups in Indonesia. They are all amazed to read Mr. Wright’s notebook in which Mr. Wright quotes them saying things which they never had said, or to which they did not put meaning as accepted by Mr. Wright. (p. 146)

The disagreements between Wright and his Indonesian interlocutors as well as the discrepancies between their recollections lie at the center of Indonesian Notebook: A Sourcebook on Richard Wright and the Bandung Conference. The book is the fruit of transnational and interdisciplinary collaboration between Brian Russell Roberts, a scholar of African-American literature based at Brigham Young University, and Keith Foulcher, an expert in modern Indonesian literature and culture at the University of Sydney. While in the English-language world Wright’s own account had been the sole source surrounding his visit to Indonesia, the two editors excavate, organize, translate, and contextualize records in Bahasa Indonesia and Dutch, aiming not to reconstruct a monolithic narrative but to instead offer their readers a “rich polyvocality of narratives regarding Wright’s interactions with modern Indonesia and the Bandung Conference” (p. 26). The introduction and conclusion of the book reveal the origins of their collaboration and situate it among several interrelated fields: comparative literature, postcolonial studies, global history, African-American studies, Southeast Asian studies, and Cold War history. The main body of the book is divided into three parts that respectively discuss the background, experience, and aftereffects of Wright’s visit to Indonesia. Each part contains five to seven primary sources that were assiduously collected, carefully selected, and meticulously translated by the two editors. Accompanying every primary source are extensive and insightful essay-length analyses.

As 2015 marked the 60th anniversary of the first large-scale political congregation among the newly independent countries, there has been increasing scholarly attention on the broader impact of Bandung on the global South. The scholarly approach varies from that of diplomatic history represented by Tan See Seng and Amitav Acharya’s edited volume Bandung Revisited (2008), to cultural history epitomized by Shimazu Naoko’s theorization of “Diplomacy as Theatre” (2011); from Vijay Prashad’s globalized narratives in The Darker Nations (2007), to region-specific research on local political and social dynamics in the volume edited by Christopher J. Lee, Making a World after Empire (2010). The transnational turn and the coming of the digital age in the humanities have facilitated ongoing collaborative research projects such as the theoretically grounded “Bandung Humanisms” workshops co-organized by Columbia University, UCLA, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, as well as the visually vibrant online publication Afro-Asian Visions ( The book under review is an important and unique contribution to this growing body of scholarship. It is important because it challenges the romanticization of Bandung by showing complex connections within the global South. Through highlighting the gaps and contradictions in a constellation of written records, the editors examine the heterogeneities of the Afro-Asian world and investigate the fragility endemic to a cultural project and geopolitical movement that was multilingual and multifaceted.

Roberts and Foulcher have made a somewhat unusual decision, at least from my disciplinary perspective as a historian, to deliver their findings in the form of a sourcebook. The reprinting and translation of original documents serve the editors’ goal of presenting “multiple and sometimes conflicting and competing perspectives” (p. 26). The masterfully compiled primary sources and the well-crafted secondary sources open up a space for dialogue between the editors and their readers. This particular approach reflects the editors’ sense of moral responsibility as scholars in the age of “alternative facts” to “acknowledge multiple perspectives and narratives while still evincing a dedication to drawing circumspectly from the available historical evidence” (Roberts and Foulcher 2017, 107). Technically, this format increases the utility of the book within academic circles—it lays a foundation for future research and can be used for undergraduate-level teaching. However, this approach inevitably makes the book fragmented. As a historian who probably has a biased preference for smooth narratives, notwithstanding my appreciation for the editors’ deliberate choices and elaborate interpretations of the primary sources, I cannot help but imagine the materials the editors spent years collecting being used in another way. The editors could have consolidated their findings into one coherent monograph on the immensely interesting and intriguing story of Wright’s sojourn in Indonesia. As many historic works have shown, streamlined storytelling is well equipped to demonstrate simultaneous and conflicting perspectives. This alternative would appeal to an educated general readership beyond academia. While the editors’ attention to detail is marvelous, a reader may begin to experience fatigue or become inundated by too many particulars. Moreover, for a non-specialist reader, more contextualization of the political and cultural milieu of mid-twentieth-century Indonesia would be helpful.

The editors successfully destabilize previous knowledge about Wright’s interactions with modern Indonesia and, more broadly, the idealized conceptualization of Afro-Asian commonality throughout the book. But their analyses of the larger Cold War environment and US cultural diplomacy in Southeast Asia, which are critical to our understanding of the discord between Wright and his Indonesian interlocutors, seem to be less thorough. The editors make observations on potential CIA involvement in orchestrating Wright’s visit to foster pro-Western sentiment among the educated elites in Indonesia. Many among the Indonesian intellectual circle that welcomed Wright were universal humanists, whose openness to Western influence increasingly antagonized LEKRA (Lembaga Kebudajaan Rakjat, or Institute for the People’s Culture), a literary and social movement associated with the Indonesian Communist Party, and attracted the participation of the foremost prominent Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer. The divergence between the two literary groups against the broader background of Indonesia’s wavering between the US-led capitalist bloc and Soviet-led socialist bloc helps explain Pramoedya’s bewildering silence when Wright—whom Pramoedya greatly admired—visited. On the other hand, despite their supposedly shared non-white identities, Wright and the universal humanists failed to forge a mutual understanding. Vuyk confessed her distrust of Wright, as she felt he was American first and Negro second. Despite Wright’s self-imposed exile from his home country, Vuyk found his ties to the Afro-Asian world frail compared to his American cultural upbringing (pp. 147–148). The universal humanists perceived Wright’s application of color labels to Indonesians as an imposition of American definitions onto the Afro-Asian world. Moreover, while Wright evidently delivered a lecture to the universal humanists that was later published in White Man, Listen! he does not mention Indonesia at all in this book (p. 111), though “the tragic, Westernized elites” in the dedication appear to reference his earlier Indonesian audience. When put together, all these moments before, during, and after Wright’s visit constitute a story about the irony of US cultural intervention in a newly independent country and raise interesting questions about intellectuals’ agency during the Cold War. However, Roberts and Foulcher’s decision to present these moments by intermixing primary and secondary sources makes it difficult to connect their brilliant observations.

That being said, the book is rigorously researched and beautifully composed. Through vivid retelling of the “little histories” of brief encounters within a small elite circle in the span of three weeks, Roberts and Foulcher successfully construct a framework of “planetary history” by complicating the cultural traffic in the global South. Any future work on Wright’s The Color Curtain can hardly go without reference to the “colored glasses” through which he viewed Indonesia, as recovered and reexamined by the two editors.

Taomo Zhou 周陶沫
School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University


Lee, Christopher J., ed. 2010. Making a World after Empire: The Bandung Moment and Its Political Afterlives. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Prashad, Vijay. 2007. The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. New York and London: The New Press.

Roberts, Brian Russell; and Foulcher, Keith. 2017. Indonesian Notebook Reprised: On Historical Accuracy, Multiple Perspectives, and Alternative Facts. Indonesia 103: 103–107.

Shimazu, Naoko. 2011. Diplomacy as Theatre: Recasting the Bandung Conference of 1955 as Cultural History. Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Vol. 164 of Working Papers Series.

Tan, See Seng; and Acharya, Amitav, eds. 2008. Bandung Revisited: The Legacy of the 1955 Asian-African Conference for International Order. Singapore: NUS Press.


Vol. 6, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Nishaant CHOKSI


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

Language, Migration, and Identity: Neighborhood Talk in Indonesia
Zane Goebel
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, xvii+221pp.

Zane Goebel’s monograph detailing the face-to-face encounters between residents in the ethnically and linguistically diverse town of Semarang (Central Java) provides an excellent case study of the way linguistic ethnographic methods illuminate larger questions of urban transformation, social incorporation and exclusion, and patterns of migration in Southeast Asia. In fact, with the exception of a few dated studies done in Java (Errington 1988) and on the island of Sumba (Kuipers 1990; 1998; Keane 1997), very few linguistic ethnographic-oriented monographs have been written about Indonesia, and even fewer about other parts of Southeast Asia. Goebel’s book, therefore, which takes care to explain and highlight some of the more technical concepts used in the field, serves as an introduction to the field while also advancing social theory.

The title of the book, Language, Migration, and Identity, is rather straightforward but also somewhat deceptive. In fact, the book takes care to complicate each of these terms in ways that can only be accomplished through detailed analysis of face-to-face interaction and a familiarity with semiotic theory. Rather than going through a chapter-by-chapter analysis, I will touch on each of these aspects in turn, noting how Goebel complicates them in order to provide a more nuanced picture of daily life in Semarang.

First I touch on what should be the main focus of linguistic ethnography, which is the concept of “language.” Goebel begins the book by outlining what is a supposed binary between “Indonesian” and what he calls LOTI, or “languages other than Indonesian.” In official discourse, Indonesian—as the national language—is supposed to represent national and interethnic unity, truth, objectivity, and also the ethnic “Other,” the opposite of place-based LOTI, such as Javanese, Balinese, Sundanese, etc. Thus, within this ideology, codes such as Indonesian and Javanese form what Goebel calls “semiotic registers,” communicative assemblages in which language is associated with personality traits and types of personhood.

However, while these semiotic registers permeate official state institutions, they are not hegemonic within the local ward meetings of Semarang town, where Indonesian and, in this case, Javanese (which itself has multiple registers, such as the more familiar ngoko register and the more formal krama) are creatively deployed by participants to accomplish different ends. In fact, Goebel shows how in multilingual settings, language use cannot be neatly mapped onto social function (as is often done in naïve discussions of “code-switching”). Therefore, instead of the word “language,” Goebel opts for “medium,” demonstrating how particular linguistic tokens mediate social relations. For instance, in the excellent discussion in Chapter 5 of the conversations of female residents in Ward 8, who more frequently attended ward meetings than their male counterparts, he shows how many non-Javanese speakers, many of whom had low overall competence in Javanese, would sprinkle their talk with ngoko Javanese words or particles, creating a sense of both familiarity and belonging in the ward. This kind of practice is the same for non-ethnically Javanese male residents of the working-class Ward 5 (Chapter 9). Even though these residents may not have been fluent in Javanese, their use of the ngoko register, together with their perceived familiarity and ease of interaction, created an impression to Javanese-speaking counterparts as if they were competent in Javanese (this is called, in linguistic ethnographic terminology, “adequation”). This differed from the non-Javanese male residents in Ward 8, who rarely used Javanese tokens at all, while the male Javanese used krama forms to each other (Chapter 7). Thus, the difference in linguistic code (Indonesian vs. Javanese) or ethnic identity (Javanese vs. non-Javanese) did not structure interaction as much as distinctions between familiarity and unfamiliarity.

This leads to the second concept of “identity.” Analyses of face-to-face interaction usually tend to avoid talking about identity in “attributive” terms, in which a person’s social position (i.e., ethnic or religious affiliation, class, gender, etc.) leads to certain social behavior. Instead, Goebel, like many linguistic ethnographers, prefers the term “processes of social identification” (p. 82), which focuses more closely on the means by which participants classify people and what categories are relevant at any given instance of interaction. For instance, in most of the ward meetings, which determined the finances of the ward and where dues were collected, the category of “payer” vs. “non-payer” was more important than ethnic or class identity. Those who then were classified as non-payer became stigmatized as socially deviant, or irresponsible, and talk about these categories of persons often occurred in the Indonesian language, even among Javanese (Chapter 5). While ethnic identity was not the primary factor, in some cases, such as among male participants in Ward 8, the association of non-payer and deviant was mediated through New Order discourses that targeted Chinese-descent Indonesians, and thus some Chinese-origin residents in Ward 8 were considered “deviant” (Chapter 8). Notice, however, how ethnic identity forms part of a larger semiotic register of exclusion that includes participation in ward activities, language use, and national-level discourses of discrimination.

Finally there is the issue of migration. This concept is not explicitly discussed much in the book, though it is implied, since residents are made up of both locals and those from the outside, and there is quite a lot of movement of people in and out of the wards. However, the book offers some analytic tools that help with the study of how migrants may be incorporated into or excluded from the neighborhoods where they live—for instance, the important point that “learning Javanese” (or what is called Javanese) does not depend on where one comes from or how long one has lived in the ward, but rather on one’s level of activity and involvement in ward meetings. Each person therefore has a “trajectory of socialization” (p. 41) into the community, and this trajectory is affected by language use, participation, individual biography, and, in some cases, ethnic or religious affiliation. Examining these trajectories is important to understand the actual social processes by which migrants are incorporated into or excluded from the community.

The book, as Goebel mentions in the preface, is challenging. However, it is to be lauded that the analysis does not shy away from the important, though rather technical, theories and concepts of linguistic ethnography so that we can better understand the complexities of social life in diverse, transient, and multilingual settings. Despite his use of technical terms, Goebel attempts to make these concepts as clear as possible for the non-expert (by defining and bold-facing the terms, for instance). Hopefully, in doing so, books such as this will make linguistic ethnography more accessible and inspire more scholars of Southeast Asia to take up its tools in order to further complicate issues of language, identity, or migration.

Nishaant Choksi
Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University


Errington, James Joseph. 1988. Structure and Style in Javanese: A Semiotic View of Linguistic Etiquette. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Keane, Webb. 1997. Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kuipers, Joel C. 1998. Language, Identity, and Marginality in Indonesia: The Changing Nature of Ritual Speech on the Island of Sumba. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

―. 1990. Power in Performance: The Creation of Textual Authority in Weyewa Ritual Speech. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Vol. 6, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Vincenz SERRANO


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation
Vicente L. Rafael
Durham: Duke University Press; Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2016, xii+255pp.

Vicente L. Rafael’s Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation examines the ways in which translation—its processes, politics, contradictions, and possibilities—works in various social, historical, and cultural contexts. Motherless Tongues is preoccupied with “a set of questions held together by recurring obsessions about the politics of language and the ethics and pragmatics of translation” (p. 9). As such, Motherless Tongues both extends and departs from Rafael’s Contracting Colonialism (1993), White Love (2000), and The Promise of the Foreign (2005): translation serves as a pivot around which all these books move, but in Motherless Tongues a number of the topics are new terrain for Rafael. The questions in Motherless Tongues are explored with respect to examples that range from late nineteenth-century Philippines to the war on terror in the United States as well as the country’s subsequent occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and narratives of the development of various academic fields. The three parts of the book indicate the areas in which translation is at play: the first part—“Vernacularizing the Political”—considers the importance of translation in historical junctures such as the transition of the Philippines from American colonial to postcolonial status. The second part—“Weaponizing Babel”—examines the role of translation in the attempts of the United States to turn its occupying soldiers—through training, technology, and protocols—into language-enabled forces. The third part—“Translating Lives”—looks at the ways in which translation figures in the development of academic fields such as area studies, Philippine anthropology, and Philippine history, with emphasis on the intellectual trajectories of Benedict Anderson, Arjun Appadurai, Renato Rosaldo, Reynaldo Ileto, and Rafael himself.

In his introduction, Rafael presents an overview of the personal circumstances, as well as the theoretical and methodological armature of Motherless Tongues. He offers “a condensed inventory of [his] linguistic legacy” (p. 5): in a household where Rafael’s father spoke Ilonggo and his mother spoke Kapampangan, “English [became] their lingua franca” (p. 2). Growing up, Rafael would read Hiligaynon, the Ilonggo-language magazine, and hung out with the children of Chinese neighbors who spoke Tagalog and English with Hokkien cuss words occasionally mixed in. Rafael’s father spoke to the household in Ilonggo. Rafael’s maternal grandfather was fluent in Spanish—the language of Philippine law until 1941—and spoke to Rafael in Tagalog and English; with Rafael’s mother and aunts, Rafael’s grandfather would speak in Kapampangan, Tagalog, and English. Code switching was also prevalent in private schools: “conyo-speak, collegiala talk, Arneo accents.” Gay lingo also emerged during the 1960s, mixing vernaculars, bending English and Spanish grammars, and time and again using “bastardized words from French and German” (p. 4). In high school Rafael was introduced, by way of left-wing activism, to Marxist-Leninist-Maoist literature in English translation; moreover, Tagalog was used by activists in ways that were “lively, innovative, and full of trenchant humor critical of authority” (p. 4). This plural linguistic environment engenders the condition of having “no mother tongue” or, conversely, having “many mother tongues.” A multilingual context (for Rafael and other Filipinos inside and outside the Philippines) implies the need for “inter- and intralinguistic translation”: the ability to translate “across different languages” and “within the same language” when used in various ways in various situations (p. 5). This linguistic mash-up—suggestive of the confluences and conflicts of political ideologies, subcultures, and regions in the Philippines—becomes the starting point for Rafael’s reflections on the politics and practices in contemporary translation.

For Rafael, communication is made possible when there is a “reciprocal, translative relationship between I and you” (p. 4). But, as his personal narrative and individual chapters show, these relationships between I and you are constituted within multiple languages, engendering what Rafael calls, following Roman Jakobson, “metalinguistic operations”: participants in situations that call for translations recognize that translations are unable to offer “the exact equivalence of the substance and style of one language in another” (p. 8). The resulting condition is “aporetic”—a linguistic impasse—and it is precisely these situations of aporia that Rafael considers in Motherless Tongues. For Rafael, the impasse, put generatively, is a zone of insurgency and play; he recognizes the “capacity [of language] to resist reduction and conversion into definitive meanings and authoritative intentions” (p. 14).

The first part—“Vernacularizing the Political”—looks at three instances in colonial and postcolonial Philippines and examines how the plurality of languages, as conditioned by discrepant social formations, helped constitute (and, at times, tear asunder) an emerging Philippine nation. Chapter 1, “Welcoming What Comes: Translating Sovereignty in the Revolutionary Philippines,” examines three competing notions of sovereignty. The first is Spanish imperial sovereignty, which, although typified by “absolute power . . . free of any obligation and conditions” (p. 22), nevertheless had to be manifested through “mediating institutions” such as bureaucracy, law, armies, collection of tribute, among others (p. 23). Second, for Apolinario Mabini, fighting for national sovereignty was “the most compelling evidence of the people’s enlightenment” (p. 30), and yet, as seen in the Philippine Proclamation of Independence, “the Revolution restor[ed] the people’s lost sovereignty” while at the same time reinstituted a social hierarchy that placed ilustrados above the Filipino masses who comprised the “overwhelming majority” of the emerging nation (p. 28). The third notion of sovereignty is seen in the Tagalog term kalayaan—a “vernacular experience of freedom” (p. 35). Rafael closely reads accounts of the Philippine Revolution by Santiago Alvarez and Emilio Aguinaldo and proposes that kalayaan is “contingent on everyday acts of damayan,” which is “an ethic of compassion” that “generates the radical identification of one with the other, implicating each in the other’s deeds and sentiments” (p. 39).

Chapter 2, “Wars of Translation: American English, Colonial Schooling, and Tagalog Slang,” looks at educational policies and practices during the American colonial period in the Philippines, which Rafael characterizes as “fraught with contradiction” (p. 44). Filipinos were “incorporated” into the “emergent colonial regime” and yet were “[kept] at a distance from the metropolitan center” (p. 44). Moreover, the use of English magnified already existing social and economic inequalities. English produced a “linguistic hierarchy that roughly corresponded to a social hierarchy” (p. 45). Rafael then describes the nationalist response to this situation: for Renato Constantino, the moribund national situation was a consequence of miseducation, and English was its main instrument; Filipinos subscribed to American notions of modernity and aspired to become Americans themselves. For Constantino, remaining a vassal to the United States was one of the reasons why the Philippines stayed “economically underdeveloped, socially divided, politically corrupt, and culturally bankrupt” (p. 46). Hence, Constantino, in Rafael’s estimation, considers English as having “fatal consequences” for the nation: its history was fraught with amnesia, and its discourse—with respect to both foreigners and fellow Filipinos alike—was typified by inarticulacies and infelicities (p. 49). For Rafael, contra Constantino, Nick Joaquin does not oppose debasement (expressed in slang, the language of the streets) but rather considers it as a possible basis of a national language. This, to be sure, is qualified by Rafael: “[slang] cannot be seen to form the firm bedrock on which the national language is built; rather it is a shifting and protean node linking various languages as in a network” (p. 64). In this light, slang is both an expression of the playful possibilities of language as well as a glimpse of the past as “fractured, inconclusive moments [rendered by] a series of linguistic associations” (p. 65).

Chapter 3, “The Cell Phone and the Crowd,” considers both cell phone and crowd as forms of media. The cell phone—with its capacity to send and receive text messages and calls—“was invested with the power to overcome the crowded conditions and congested surroundings brought about by the state’s inability to order everyday life” (p. 73). Moreover, for Rafael, the crowd also functions like a medium, “a way of gathering and transforming elements, objects, people, and things mixing them up and converting them into other than what they were” (p. 85). In this sense the crowd can be viewed as a “site for the articulation of fantasies and the circulation of messages,” “a kind of technology itself” (p. 85). But as Rafael points out, in a hierarchical Philippine society even crowds have class distinctions: the predominantly middle-class crowd of EDSA II, which overthrew Joseph Estrada in January 2001, had for its obverse the predominantly urban poor crowd, which in April 2001 called for Estrada’s reinstatement (p. 93).

The next part—comprising Chapters 4 and 5—looks at American empire critique from the vantage point of translation history and practice in the United States. Chapter 4, “Translation, American English, and the National Insecurities of Empire,” demonstrates that the makings of the American empire—a process that began when Americans gained independence from the British—was grounded on a nationalist idea of language: that to be American, one must be monolingual. Rafael describes the ways in which monolingualism was attained by the United States, pointing out its relation to democracy and national identity: “we sense how the work of translation was geared to go only in one direction: toward the transformation of the foreign into an aspect of the domestic, and thus the plurality of native tongues into the imperious singularity of a national tongue” (p. 110). However, becoming monolingual was at the expense of other languages, which were repressed; Rafael cites examples such as the process of compiling Webster’s dictionary as well as government policies as instrumental in repressing linguistic multiplicity. Finally, the complications of language are brought to bear on America’s involvement in Iraq: in particular, the ways in which the figure of the translator occupies an ambivalent position. Translators were “stranded between languages and societies [and] were also exiled from both,” eliciting respect and suspicion among US military personnel, and derision from their fellow Iraqis who considered them as mercenaries (p. 117).

Chapter 5, “Targeting Translation: Counterinsurgency and the Weaponization of Language,” outlines the various attempts of the US military to weaponize language. For instance, the US military attempted to train soldiers to become “language-enabled” (p. 124) and thus be capable of tasks such as regulating traffic through checkpoints, eavesdropping during patrols, interacting with children, and being “ideal substitutes for native interpreters” (p. 125). The military also developed translation systems; devices such as the Phraselator and the Speechalator used automatic speech recognition technology. Finally, protocols codified the ways in which native interpreters related with civilians and the US military. Since the position of the translator was ambivalent—“weaponized, [the translator] can target but also be targeted, fire as well as backfire” (p. 133)—protocols ensured that the translator would stay unobstrusive: to become a “visible invisibility . . . an active collaborator in the task [of counterinsurgency]” (p. 134). However, these attempts at weaponizing language have limitations. For example, the automatic translation systems remain crude and unable to discern social and cultural contexts in which translation practices are done.

The third part considers the ways in which disciplinal directions can be seen alongside personal trajectories, and how translation plays a part in the formation of each. Accidental encounters—contingencies, unexpected situations, among others—occasion the transformation of a person, disciplinary field, research area, into something else. This transformation—a passage into something other—is for Rafael a form of translation: a process, however uneven and unfinished, in which the self engages with the foreign and hence becomes converted into something else.

In Chapter 6, “The Accidents of Area Studies,” Rafael considers the accidents that serve as entry points to academic disciplines. For Rafael, to have an accident means to “come in contact with the radically foreign, a kind of otherness that resists assimilation” (p. 153). The encounter with the foreign leads the emergent scholar to an area whose significance has yet to be discovered, revealing itself only after long immersion in the field. The area studies scholar is seen as a Janus-faced figure: on the one hand, the scholar “comes home and writes about alien places”; on the other hand, the scholar is also a foreigner to these places, “provoking curiosity, irritation, and suspicion at times, and commanding authority at other times from those he or she encounters” (p. 156). Rafael explores these motifs using two examples: Benedict Anderson and Arjun Appadurai. In the case of Anderson, Rafael observes the fortuities that shaped his career, from going to Cornell University and meeting his mentors, to moving from Indonesia to Thailand on account of the volatile situation in the former country, and having the good fortune of meeting like-minded intellectuals in the latter. Rafael moreover notes that it was Appadurai’s early encounters with Western commodities that piqued his abiding interest in globalization and culture: “he becomes an agent of desire whose satisfaction is forever strung out into a potentially endless series of objects: books, movies, blue jeans, deodorants, American social science” (p. 159).

Chapter 7, “Contracting Nostalgia,” considers the career of the anthropologist Renato Rosaldo, whose main work was on Ilongot headhunting. Rafael examines the various inflections of nostalgia, as manifested in Rosaldo’s work. For example, Rafael mentions that Rosaldo tried to expunge imperialist nostalgia: Rosaldo knew that “nostalgia in the service of imperialism memorializes the death of the other’s culture while sanctifying the perpetrators of the latter’s demise” (p. 163). Imperialist nostalgia was also connected to ethnographic nostalgia—a condition wherein postcolonial ethnographers “signal[ed] their unavoidable complicity” (p. 165) to the emergence and dominance of empire, while keeping an ironic distance from its effects. Rafael also considers Rosaldo’s notion that for the Ilongots—Rosaldo’s abiding informants and friends—nostalgia “is . . . a recent development”: while undergoing significant, often irreversible, social and cultural change, the Ilongots “found themselves infected with nostalgia, or at least ‘something like it’” (p. 168).

Chapter 8, “Language, History, and Autobiography,” examines the “discrepant effects” of translation in the work of Reynaldo Ileto. Rafael observes that in Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution (1979) while linguistic hierarchy between English and Tagalog is “leveled,” class inequality becomes more pronounced: the book addresses modern, middle- to upper-class Filipino readers who are in a position to understand the masses’ traditional ways of thinking. These tendencies, which are “at once contradictory and productive of certain possibilities” (p. 176), typify, for Rafael, Ileto’s autobiographical writings.

Chapter 9 features Rafael’s interview with Translation: A Transdisciplinary Journal, conducted in 2013 at the Nida School of Translation Studies (Italy). Rafael’s conversation with Siri Nergaard, editor of Translation, offers a compact articulation of the key concepts in Motherless Tongues: the war of and on translation, the weaponization of translation, counterinsurgent elements in language, and translation as play. Moreover, Rafael elaborates on his abiding interest in the mutually constitutive areas of history and translation, in view more particularly of his long-standing work in Philippine studies and emerging work in American empire critique.

Motherless Tongues demonstrates Rafael’s sharp, substantive, and capacious understanding of the possibilities and limits of translation. With translation as his main optic, Rafael offers timely and cogent interventions in Philippine studies, American empire critique, area studies, literary studies, media studies, and history. With respect to his approach, Rafael’s methods are rigorous and sound. He is able to historicize concisely and substantively the various issues. Moreover, Rafael analyzes textual evidence, cultural phenomena, and translation practices with clarity and intelligence; his style uses a range of registers: aphoristic, descriptive, wryly ironic, and philosophical. Rafael is also keenly aware of the contentious and historically charged politics of the events he considers, and the ambivalences they generate.

Rafael’s materials include US military manuals; concepts from Jacques Derrida, Roman Jakobson, and Emile Benveniste; songs and accounts from the Philippine Revolution; documents from the Spanish and American colonial periods; narratives from his fellow scholars; and eyewitness reports from events such as EDSA II. The plurality of these materials demonstrates Rafael’s extensive grasp of various archives, as well as his capability to read his sources against and alongside each other. There are rare occasions, though, when Rafael could have added some more substance: in Chapter 3, for example, his reading of middle-class politics in EDSA II (“the utopian side of bourgeois nationalist wishfulness: the abolition of social hierarchy” [p. 86]) is buttressed by just one account of a participant. My sense is that the account Rafael closely reads, although compelling and visceral, may need other complementary sources: one story does not make it into a metonym for the middle class.

All told, Rafael’s Motherless Tongues is a valuable contribution to translation studies, especially in relation to Philippine history and culture, American empire critique, and area studies. The flow of the chapters is well considered: the book attends to the Philippines, then focuses its attention on the United States, and concludes with accounts of various individuals whose lives are embedded in—and critique—these mutually enfolded contexts. Rafael’s gifts as an essayist are on full display: his prose is typified by equal parts charge and clarity; the gravity of colonization and empire is counterpointed by the lucidity and brio of his prose.

Vincenz Serrano
Department of English, Ateneo de Manila University




Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

The Dance That Makes You Vanish: Cultural Reconstruction in Post-Genocide Indonesia
Rachmi Diyah Larasati
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013, xxii+196pp.

In the decades following the violent mass annihilation of suspected Communist sympathizers and members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI, Partai Komunis Indonesia) during Suharto’s coup d’état (1965–66) and subsequent New Order regime (1965–98), there was a systematic suppression of information concerning the events and killings surrounding this period. Rachmi Diyah Larasati’s The Dance That Makes You Vanish: Cultural Reconstruction in Post-Genocide Indonesia is one of the several recent accounts of these events surfacing after decades of silence. Larasati provides an intensely personal testimony of the indoctrination and erasure that defined Suharto’s regime, one that violently stamped out “unclean” bodies that were seen as conflicting with the New Order while propping up dogmatic actors in the state’s nationalist agenda. The author’s positionality provides a unique account of these events and the role that Indonesian traditional dance and wider arts culture played in the process. Larasati’s own family is full of artists who disappeared during the New Order, many of whom were killed for their vague connections to leftist ideology, especially those affiliated with the feminist organization known as Gerwani. The value of the insight provided by Larasati’s firsthand experience as a member of this artistic family, as a dancer, and as a state-sponsored cultural ambassador herself cannot be overstated.

During the New Order years, state-sponsored censorship was employed to closely monitor the arts, with government officials hired to oversee and mandate guidelines on approved performance characteristics that would erase any association of Communism. Many of these performance guidelines reflected a Javanese hegemony, patriarchy, and exoticized promotion of a unified Indonesia, especially with regard to the image of the female dancing body. The government routinely spread propaganda stories of non-government-approved female dancers performing for the pleasure of male Communist organizers, thus claiming that many of the female dancers were morally depraved. According to Larasati, female dancers became convenient scapegoats, sensationalized as part of a justification for the perpetuation of violence against supposed left-aligned individuals.

Throughout the book, Larasati presents the state-sanctioned female dancing body as a paradox, one that replicates a culturally reconstructed version of the ideal Indonesian citizen while simultaneously providing a potential platform for subversion, as the dancers become cultural ambassadors of Indonesia on the international stage. She considers those who occupy this post-national space as having a “third body,” where “women in alliance with the state are more likely to be granted access to negotiate their mobility, in some sense because of their ‘usefulness’ within the system that co-opts them” (p. 133). As these individuals transcend the national context, they “embrace the global stage” and in turn gain a new position to resist the co-optative force that elevated them to such a status (p. 133). Larasati herself enjoys such a platform that allows her to transcend New Order politics as an academic working in the United States in the post-Suharto years. While she acknowledges her own position as trading one hegemonic force for another, her appointment in Western academia continues to provide her with the ability to raise awareness concerning not only the atrocities in Indonesia, but of the United States’ support for the Indonesian government during the Cold War—and thus its complicity in the violence that killed a “minimum of hundreds of thousands of citizens” (p. 163).

This book is presented with a fast-paced and condensed urgency, leaving the reader wanting more from the captivating ethnographic data. However, many of Larasati’s research participants were wary to discuss the events in question for fear of retaliation even many years after the fall of the New Order regime. As she notes, during interviews, some participants “simply refused to respond or react in any way at all” (p. xx). Furthermore, each chapter has the potential for significant expansion, but presenting the analysis in such a concise manner provides an emergent account that is accessible and ripe to inspire further work on the subject.

The introductory chapter frames the state’s patronage of court dances such as bedhaya as a perpetuation of an Indonesian patriarchy, as most of the dancers were female and the choreographers male, as well as fulfilling the “West’s desire for Indonesian exoticism” during international performances. The author also argues that folk dances, such as gandrung, tayub, and jathilan, were silenced in favor of elevated forms of court dance that unified Indonesia under an imagined Javanese hegemonic identity situated in ancient court traditions. The author frames her work around the idea that these reconstructed versions of dance traditions silenced important village traditions, many practitioners of which were killed during the anti-Communist purge. This chapter’s subtitle is “Dancing on the Mass Grave,” referring to state-sponsored performers dancing on the graves of those traditions silenced and individuals killed.

In Chapter 1, “To Remember Differently: Paradoxical Statehood and Preserved Value,” Larasati describes the state’s use of the female body to present a peaceful, exoticized image of Indonesia to the world. She notes that “[m]any of those affected by the New Order’s massive societal recategorization were artists, a large percentage of whom were female” (p. 5). Many of these women were identified with Gerwani and the artists’ guild known as Lekra (the People’s Cultural Institution) and were thus considered Communist enemies of the state. These groups were considered leftist because of their feminist and socialist leanings. Artists deemed acceptable by the New Order were recruited to perform state-sanctioned versions of dances. Strikingly, through a vague familial connection to the air force, Larasati herself was able to gain “clean” status as a state dancer despite her wider familial connections to leftist organizations.

Larasati begins Chapter 2 with a sensationalized military report of sexual misconduct by dancers and male patrons during a Communist meeting, revealing the degree to which the government was willing to exploit female dancers in order to promote its agenda. This chapter, “What Is Left: The Fabricated and the Illicit,” discusses ways that the Suharto government propagated anti-Communist attitudes among citizens by turning “unruly” bodies, such as the female dancing body, into scapegoats (p. 32). The author argues that these bodies were “made into convenient, corporeal symbols of the ongoing ‘evil’ against which the New Order claimed its legitimacy as protector and representative of the idealized nation” (p. 32). She recalls propaganda films shown to her as a school-age child, those intended to fabricate a cultural memory to justify the actions by the government and to cover up the extent of the mass atrocities perpetuated by the Suharto regime. This cultural reconstruction was intended to exert a dominance over cultural identity formation, a reforming of cultural memory that included the performance of specific kinds of dance traditions. The author reveals how the female dancing body was used as a way to demonstrate the difference between an ideal Indonesian citizen and an unruly one.

In Chapter 3, “Historicizing Violence: Memory and the Transmission of the Aesthetic,” Larasati describes ways that dancers circumvented the state’s ideological gerrymandering through state-sponsored dance, not by overt political protest but through small-scale, village, and family-oriented transmission that “implanted fragments of unrestrained ‘memory’ in the minds and movements of many young dancers” (p. 61). These practices are especially important given the significant risk of violence that taking such a stance could elicit. In this chapter I was left wanting more details concerning Larasati’s family members who risked their lives to transmit important cultural expression. With this book as an important beginning, perhaps more ethnographic details of these courageous individuals will surface as the years since the New Order progress and such testimonies become safer to expose.

The next chapter, “Staging Alliances: Cambodia as Cultural Mirror,” switches geographic locations from Java to Cambodia, where the author compares the “relationship of aesthetic projects to the construction of the nation-state identity” between Indonesia and Cambodia (p. 105). Since both countries contain histories of politically motivated violence toward their citizens, the comparison of national cultural expression such as official state-sponsored dance performances appears apt for critical analysis. Larasati argues that because the violence in Cambodia’s political history is well acknowledged by the current government, the public, and the international community, the replication of traditional dances helps to commemorate the violence and its victims while asserting socio-psychological control over the unfortunate history by dictating the national narrative that acknowledges Cambodia’s complex, albeit exoticized, history. By contrast, the replication of national dances in Indonesia today serves as a platform to subtly react to the oppression and silent narratives of historical violence while simultaneously reinforcing a historical silence regarding these atrocities.

Within the book’s final chapter, the author turns more directly to her own positionality. In Chapter 5, “Violence and Mobility: Autoethnography of Coming and Going,” Larasati grapples with one of the paradoxes with which she begins the book: the dissonant realization that through research she simultaneously pursues a “critical, politicized line of discourse and thought while continuing to reap the benefits of civil service to an authoritarian state (and those of scholarship and performance within the often-rigid Western academic and arts establishments)” (p. 130). Reading this last chapter reminds me of a recent work by Jacqueline Siapno, Gender, Islam, Nationalism and the State in Aceh, which “provides an analysis of the different ways in which women have created spaces beyond the conventional and institutionalized practices of doing politics” (2016, x). Larasati contributes to this kind of discourse by directly engaging with institutionalized practices, but those that are fluid and expressive, i.e., state-sponsored dance. She examines dance as one of these “spaces beyond” while also demonstrating that dance performances are themselves simultaneously conventionalized and institutionalized. Larasati reveals that working from within these institutions through the expressive capacities of dance is a productive way to subvert hegemonic forces from within.

The book concludes with the author expressing her frustration that the UN convention of 1948 still does not recognize mass violence against a political group, however loosely defined, as “genocide.” She ends by advocating for the position that the events of 1965–66 should indeed be considered genocide, a conclusion well argued throughout the book. The Dance That Makes You Vanish is an effective—and affective—introduction to a subject not sufficiently addressed in the past several decades of studies in Southeast Asia and world politics. Paired with other recent accounts, such as the 2012 documentary film The Act of Killing, this book is ideal for introducing discussions of genocide and political violence in undergraduate coursework. Furthermore, this book will be of interest to graduate students and scholars in many fields, including ethnomusicology, anthropology, and history, functioning well in advanced-level courses when paired with lengthier works on the subject of genocide and its historical ramifications and definitions throughout Southeast Asia and the world.

Joe Kinzer
Ethnomusicology Division, University of Washington


Oppenheimer, Joshua, Dir. 2012. The Act of Killing. Perf. Herman Koto, Adi Zulkadry, Ibrahim Sinik, Safit Pardede Herman Koto, Adi Zulkadry, Ibrahim Sinik, Safit Pardede.

Siapno, Jacqueline Aquino. 2016. Gender, Islam, Nationalism and the State in Aceh: The Paradox of Power, Co-optation and Resistance. New York and London: Routledge.


Vol. 6, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, YAMANE Yumi


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

Asian Tigers, African Lions: Comparing the Development Performance of Southeast Asia and Africa
Bernard Berendsen, Ton Dietz, Henk Schulte Nordholt, and Roel van der Veen, eds.
Leiden: Brill, 2013, xiv+524pp.

The title “Asian Tigers, African Lions” is exactly the issue addressed by this monograph. The tiger and the lion are viewed as the kings of beasts in Asia and Africa respectively; even people who are not interested in fauna find this to be a metaphor they can relate to. However, the two creatures have a vital difference: the lion, with his admirable mane, waits for the lioness to bring back the prey without doing anything himself; by contrast, the tiger is solitary and both males and females go hunting alone.

The Netherlands played a significant part in the reduction of poverty in Indonesia for 50 years (1949–99). From this successful experience, the Netherlands developed a poverty reduction project in Africa. It looked into agricultural development for 50 years in both Asia and Africa to identify the main reasons why Asian countries became richer while African countries remain poor.

Asian Tigers, African Lions: Comparing the Development Performance of Southeast Asia and Africa is the outcome of a research project financed by the Netherlands Minister for Development Cooperation in 2006. Eight countries were selected from Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia) and Sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda). The project set-up was innovative, with both African and Asian researchers being included to conduct research that was strictly comparative.

The monograph starts with an introduction to the project. The main part of the monograph consists of comparisons between four Southeast Asian and four African countries in diverse stages of development. The eight countries are divided into four pairs and compared. Each pair was selected such that the two countries have some similarities.

In Part 1, Chapter 1, “Tracking Development,” Bernard Berendsen and Roel van der Veen note that Sub-Saharan African countries have not become richer after independence while countries in Southeast Asia have. Why are there Asian tigers but no African lions? This monograph focuses on the bifurcation point between Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa in their development trajectories. With both regions still substantially under European rule in the middle of the twentieth century, they have some historical similarities. However, Africa was strongly affected by the slave trade; and the economy and proprietary industries did not develop as a result of their losing labor (Fukui et al. 1999). The authors point out that the most remarkable difference between the two regions was the strong emphasis on agriculture in Southeast Asia.

In Chapter 2 David Henley and Jan Kees van Donge analyze the diverging paths of the two regions’ development. Southeast Asia and Africa have some historical and geographical similarities: since the 1960s both regions have been characterized by corruption and a lack of “good governance.” However, their development has followed different paths. This chapter analyzes development issues in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Governments in Southeast Asia are growing faster, and the economies have sustained macroeconomic stability. African regimes have been far less effective in macroeconomic oversight.

In his study of cross-regional development comparisons, Peter Lewis considers a historical approach, structural approach, policy choice, institutional approach, and political context. On the African continent, national borders were created by colonial countries without consideration of geography, demography, social groups, and composition of the economy. Even after the colonial era ended, many of the large enterprises in Africa were under foreign control. Foreign investment, while crucial, can also have unwelcome effects. In many circumstances, transnational companies create few linkages within host economies and crowd out local entrepreneurship. Geographically, since many African countries have no access to the sea they have limited channels for trade. That limitation can be mitigated through the government’s provision of public goods: transportation infrastructure, health programs, agricultural research, extension services, and irrigation.

Policy choices and institutional development depend on the preferences of political leaders. For example, most African governments fixed their exchange rates and encouraged protectionist trade and investment regimes. Because of this, African economies were severely buffeted by external shocks, especially during the oil spikes and international recession of the 1970s. This chapter concludes that leadership, consensus, coordination problems, and coalition building are integral to the politics of development. Southeast Asia is more successful in its political development, while Africa continues to face political challenges.

Ton Dietz notes that differences in the performance of the agricultural sector help to explain “Southeast Asia’s economic miracle” and “Africa’s economic stagnation.” He compares the performance of agriculture and livestock against population growth in the eight countries between 1961 and 2009, as well as the speed of demographic and agricultural change in the eight countries. Dietz’s chapter compares yields of cereal, root, and tubers as well as the number of livestock within the eight countries. The top three countries in overall rank among the eight are in South Asia. There are a few reasons why Africa has lagged in agricultural development. Africa is the only place where livestock rearing has overtaken agricultural development. Due to the dryness of the land there, the continent has a history of pastoralism rather than agriculture (Kitagawa and Takahashi 2004, Ch. 1). Compared to Asian countries, Africa may have an environment in which agriculture is difficult to develop.

Parts 2 to 5 of this monograph are comparative studies, with countries formed into pairs based on certain similarities between them. The first pair is Nigeria and Indonesia. They have both experienced long periods of military rule, are similarly ranked in the Corruption Perceptions Index, and are large and densely populated. They are also rich in natural resources, such as oil. The second pair is Kenya and Malaysia, both of which have gone down the capitalist road, relying on private ownership. The next pair is Tanzania and Vietnam, which rely on state ownership and direct government intervention. The last pair is Uganda and Cambodia, two cases of post-conflict reconstruction.

In the case of Nigeria and Indonesia, there is a discussion on the impact of corruption on economic development. From the studies, it is clear that corruption is harmful to development. The majority of poor countries face high levels of corruption in politics. Capital, influential politicians, and local entrepreneurs are inseparable especially in countries with low GDP.

The country pair of Kenya and Malaysia is discussed with respect to foreign direct investment. Both countries have a long history of reliance on FDI in economic development. However, two questions are significant: First, what are the determinants of FDI? Second, what is the economic impact of FDI on economic growth? FDI was an important trigger for the development of the Malaysian economy; by contrast, in Kenya it did not have a significant effect. J. B. Ang (2008) finds a positive and significant impact of FDI on infrastructure in Malaysia in the long term. On the other hand, Kenya neglected its infrastructure over the years, and this has been a concern to many foreign investors. This problem is not unique to Kenya but is found in Sub-Saharan Africa generally. Most of the Asian success models are not applicable to Africa. Kitagawa Katsuhiko and Takahashi Motoki (2004) remark that the African continent keeps evolving its own history.

Vietnam and Tanzania both put a great effort into cashew marketing as well as their textile industry. Cashew cultivation is an important source of income and employment in both Vietnam and Tanzania. Unlike the many literature reviews in this monograph, the chapter on these two countries is based on fieldwork. Blandina Kilama explains that cashew production is responsible for the economic disparity between the two countries. Vietnam has a higher yield per hectare than Tanzania because its density of cashew trees is much higher.

In the case of Cambodia and Uganda, Kheang Un discusses their road networks, especially in rural areas. He says that road development is directly linked to poverty reduction. With most Southeast countries having coastal access, development of the road network from the sea is an important factor in economic development due to trade. However, since many African countries do not have direct access to the sea, they are at a disadvantage in terms of distribution (Obayashi 2003). Kheang Un points out that the condition of the rural road network is better in Cambodia than in Uganda. Cambodia appears to have placed a much higher priority on investing in its rural road network. In addition, the road development patterns in Uganda and Cambodia are different because Cambodia is ethnically homogenous while Uganda is ethnically diverse; Uganda’s diversity makes for more difficult financial planning and decision making.

This monograph considers and discusses the economic development of Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa over 50 years. The contributors describe the situation in these two regions from the point of view of historical leaders, law enforcement, agriculture policies, primary education, and infrastructure development against an economic paradigm. Abundant case studies and details are summarized well. It is regrettable that I was left with the strong impression that Southeast Asia is a developmental success while Africa is not. Why have many African countries been unable to utilize foreign aid successfully for their own development? Probably the potential of Africa is beyond the range of our understanding.

Even though the colonial era ended a few decades ago, the idea persists—often unintentionally—among those who try to impose something upon the continent that African people are still underdeveloped or inferior (Shigeta 2001). I wonder whether such thoughts interfere with the development of African countries. With the advent of new leaders, and well-formed governance and policies, once African countries find their own way they have the potential to develop dramatically.

Although they belong to different species, Asian tigers and African lions are classified in the same family and genus, as well as being at the vertex of the food chain in their respective region. But their habitat, behavior, and ecological history are different. It is not impossible for African countries to be African lions. African lions have their own life history that is different from that of Asian tigers.

Yamane Yumi 山根裕美
Graduate School of Urban Environmental Science, Tokyo Metropolitan University; Kenya Wildlife Service


Ang, J. B. 2008. Determinants of Foreign Direct Investment in Malaysia. Journal of Policy Modeling 30(1): 195–189.

Fukui Katsuyoshi 福井勝義; Akasaka Ken 赤阪賢; and Otsuka Kazuo 大塚和夫. 1999. Afurika no minzoku to shakai “Sekai no rekishi 24” アフリカの民族と社会(世界の歴史24)[African people and society “History of the world 24”]. Tokyo: Chuokoron-sha.

Kitagawa Katsuhiko 北川勝彦; and Takahashi Motoki 高橋基樹, eds. 2004. Afurika keizairon アフリカ経済論 [African economic theory]. Kyoto: Minerubua-shobo.

Obayashi Minoru 大林稔, ed. 2003. Afurika no chosen: NEPAD (Afurika kaihatsu no tameno shin patonashippu) アフリカの挑戦―NEPAD(アフリカ開発のための新パートナーシップ)[Challenge of Africa: NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development)]. Kyoto: Showado.

Shigeta Masayoshi 重田眞義. 2001. African Studies in Japan and “Development”: Seeking the Substantial Relationships between Research and Practice. Journal of African Studies 59: 23–28.


Vol. 6, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Sarah MOSER


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

The Other Kuala Lumpur: Living in the Shadows of a Globalising Southeast Asian City
Yeoh Seng Guan, ed.
London and New York: Routledge, 2014, xiii+220pp.

The rapid growth of Asian cities in recent decades, fueled by neoliberal policies, the accelerating production of real estate, and the global circulation of unprecedented amounts of capital, has received a great deal of scholarly attention over the past two decades. Scholarship has focused particularly on the political elites and their urban policies, the command and control centers of global capital, and the movers and shakers who circulate ideas. As a counter to the study of top-down urban processes and urban spectacles, there have been growing calls for empirical studies that examine how “regular” or marginalized urban residents are affected by these sudden urban changes, how they negotiate fragmentary spaces, and the survival strategies they develop in an environment that is hostile to their presence. The Other Kuala Lumpur: Living in the Shadows of a Globalising Southeast Asian City is a valuable contribution to this literature. Edited by Yeoh Seng Guan, the collection seeks to illuminate the Kuala Lumpur beyond its ambitious development agenda and “world-class” aspirations. Eight essays document the lives of residents—both citizens and non-citizens—who live in the “other Kuala Lumpur,” on the fringes and in the shadows of a city undergoing massive urban change.

The Other Kuala Lumpur takes a similar approach to Yasser Elsheshtawy’s insightful work on the United Arab Emirates, particularly in Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle (2010), a book that also seeks to illuminate the lives of subaltern residents in a city that aspires to be a world-class global city. A key difference between the contexts of Dubai and Kuala Lumpur lies in the composition of residents who are marginalized from developmentalist growth agendas. Residents of Dubai who hold Emirati citizenship are overwhelmingly Arab Muslims, while multireligious and multiethnic non-citizens are socially and spatially segregated from the Emirati population, with no path to citizenship.

In contrast, Kuala Lumpur is a far messier and more complex social milieu than Dubai. Malaysia is a highly diverse country consisting of people with a variety of ancestral origins (China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia), varied claims to the land, different legal statuses, and multiple religions (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Sikh). The highly uneven distribution of resources and opportunities introduced during the colonial era has been maintained and reproduced decades after independence, a dynamic that has been challenged through controversial preferential affirmative action (Bumiputra) policies intended to redistribute power and wealth to Malays and away from ethnic Chinese. Against the backdrop of massive urban and economic changes and brewing racial, religious, and socioeconomic tension, The Other Kuala Lumpur provides excellent insight into the lives of those left behind by a state hungry to gain recognition as a developed nation. The collection explores the multiple competing forces that serve to marginalize and exclude particular residents of Kuala Lumpur and provides insight into the creative and unexpected ways in which minority communities find ways to work around or resist dominant forces.

Yeoh provides a strong introduction that ties the investigation of marginalized residents to broader scholarly work on capital cities in Southeast Asia, rapid urban development in Asia, and “multiple modernities” beyond the Euro-American framework. Eight empirical chapters each examine a different marginalized group (including street vendors, refugees, and religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities) and illuminate their alterity, while highlighting the disjuncture between state-driven aspirations and residents’ lived realities as Kuala Lumpur tries to “keep up with the moving target of modernity and the ‘developed world’” (p. 2).

Chapter 2 examines street vending in two of Kuala Lumpur’s most important historic districts for tourism: Chinatown and Masjid India (India Mosque). In the context of “upgrading” in the districts to invigorate tourism, more regulations have been imposed on vendors. Josh Lepawsky and Rodney C. Jubilado provide an excellent analysis of how City Hall has marketed each place to accentuate a legible and largely invented mono-ethnic character of each district through iconic architecture, thus materializing notions of “tradition” and “authenticity.” At the same time, City Hall has sought to regulate street vendors’ behavior in a way that conforms to official understandings of heritage identity and is recognizable to tourists. Through an examination of street vendors, the chapter argues that globalization is not solely an external force imposed from the outside. While globalization is a driving force shaping “heritage” districts, street vendors have subaltern agency and also function as globalizers with connections to other countries through their transnational entrepreneurial activities.

Chapters 3 and 7 focus on vulnerable residents of Kuala Lumpur whose status is precarious or illegal. Richard Baxstrom investigates Brickfields, a historic working-class district generally identified (inaccurately) to be dominated by South Asians. As a consequence of the large-scale redevelopment of a rail hub and monorail located in and adjacent to Brickfields, many residents have been forced to move out or to live in uncertainty about their futures. The chapter traces the complex relationships between city planning and development, the state, the law, and everyday experiences of Brickfields residents in order to reveal the gap between the promise of the law as a set of regulations and the experience of the law by local subjects. As a vulnerable population of mainly renters and unregistered occupants of their land, residents could make no formal claims on the state to resist its development plans for their neighborhood. While most residents supported the techno-rational logic of the state’s modernization projects, they are frustrated that as non-owners they were never informed about when or how their land would be taken, a situation that, while legal, violates their sense of justice and due process.

In Chapter 7 Alice Nah investigates how asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless people live, adapt, and cope in a securitized urban landscape designed for their exclusion. She explores the various strategies that refugees take to reduce their vulnerability, including seeking to obtain identity documents, attempting to “blend in” with the cityscape, and forming self-help groups and community organizations. Nah demonstrates how they creatively and resourcefully negotiate their precarious and unsettled position and how they become entwined in various power relations.

Chapter 4 turns to examine the Petronas Towers, the iconic twin skyscrapers that were the tallest in the world and are an integral part of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline and the national imaginary. Julian Lee argues that the spectacle of the world’s tallest towers and their Muslim designs carry an important ideological message about the country’s global aspirations and economic achievement, while excluding non-Muslim/Malay Malaysians from a powerful symbol of national progress. Despite the power of the state to project its vision onto the urban landscape, the author argues that Malaysian citizens have not passively accepted this vision. While the state attempts to smother all forms of dissent, the author documents how Malaysians have contested the state’s vision in a variety of ways, particularly through graffiti and street demonstrations.

Chapters 5 and 6 explore the varied interpretations of religion by Muslims and Hindus and illustrate the ways in which this variation is reflected in the practice of worshipers. In Chapter 5 Johan Fischer examines how Muslims interpret their religious beliefs and obligations, and how this is embedded in consumption patterns among Muslims in Malaysia. Fischer suggests that Islam in Malaysia has increasingly become a “discursive tradition” with the “capability to construct, maintain and identify ‘proper Islamic’ practices” (p. 94). For some Muslims, consuming halal food becomes an important way to enact patriotic nationalism, foster a sense of authenticity, and engage in public performances of religious beliefs. In Chapter 6 Vineeta Sinha provides a fascinating look into how Hindus have responded to the recent destruction of urban temples in a variety of ways: the construction of informal, non-registered “jungle temples,” the creation of temples in private apartments and homes, temples that exist only in cyberspace, and through formal legal attempts to negotiate and resist destruction. Both chapters illustrate the wide variety of practices and beliefs among religious communities and highlight the futility of making generalizations about them.

Chapter 8, by Julian Lee, analyzes a now-canceled annual event for sexual minorities called Seksualiti Merdeka (Sexuality independence) within the context of Malaysia’s increasingly heteronormative laws, policies, and cultural norms. Lee provides a useful historical background on the culture of sexual diversity in the region that underscores Malaysia’s recent troubling steps toward intolerance and fundamentalism. The chapter documents how Seksualiti Merdeka engaged in advocacy and community strengthening, and promoted survival tactics for sexual minorities and explained the circumstances that led to its ban, while contextualizing the event within the broader socio-political climate and wider activities of the civil society movement.

In the final chapter, S. Nagarajan and Andrew Willford examine residents of Bukit Jalil, the last plantation in Kuala Lumpur, which was destroyed around the turn of the millennium. The authors document the struggle of the rubber tappers to save their homes, Tamil primary school, and century-old Hindu temple and suggest that this struggle is representative of many silenced claims upon a contested landscape that are largely ignored in the state’s narrative of national development. The residents’ struggles are compounded by the perception that Indonesian migrants squatting nearby and in a similarly precarious living situation receive preferential treatment based on their racial identification with Malays and will eventually be considered Bumiputra, while Tamil Malaysians feel trapped without rights or recourse at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy solely because of their race.

A common thread that connects the chapters is the focus on the variety of creative ways in which marginalized, vulnerable, or minority communities adapt and cope. At the same time, the collection does not glamorize their struggles as “weapons of the weak” or overstate their agency in the context of deeply unequal power relations. One minor quibble I have with the collection is with the dichotomy constructed between those living “in the shadows” in the “other Kuala Lumpur” versus those living “in the light,” who ostensibly enjoy power, stability, and safety. Given the intersectionality of all social identities, one does not necessarily need to be poor, a refugee, or a religious or sexual minority to experience vulnerability. Even those living mainstream lives can be marginalized in particular aspects of their lives (e.g., spousal/elder/child abuse, addiction, gender discrimination, and so on).

The Other Kuala Lumpur is a valuable reminder of the unique power of edited collections to engage in sustained exploration of a topic through multiple points of view and disciplinary perspectives, and in a variety of empirical contexts. The collection’s cohesive theme and nuanced and rigorous empirical contributions make The Other Kuala Lumpur an excellent and highly readable addition to the scholarship on those negatively affected by urban renewal, ethno-religious nationalism, and state aspirations of globalization and modernization in Malaysia and Southeast Asia more broadly.

Sarah Moser
Department of Geography, McGill University


Elsheshtawy, Yasser. 2010. Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle. London and New York: Routledge.


Vol. 6, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Francis A. GEALOGO


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850–1945
Daniel F. Doeppers
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016, xvii+443pp.

How does one feed a primary colonial city in a span of a century, given its complex social, political, ecological, demographic, and cultural dimensions? Daniel F. Doeppers’s most recent book, Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850–1945, is able to successfully weave a narrative to the multilayered history of provisioning the colonial city of Manila. The book covers a century of the urban history of Manila as the city experienced a series of colonial transitions between its three major colonizers. It discusses the urban experience of Manila during periods of peace, revolutionary war, anticolonial resistance, epidemic and epizootic outbreaks, and demographic change.

Doeppers divides the history of provisioning Manila through the complex web of trade and social networks related to the subject matter. The first part deals with rice as a major staple in the diet of the majority of inhabitants in the city. The second deals with the many different forms of ulam (viands) that are usually eaten with rice. The third part deals with the conditions related to water and other drinks, as well as the introduction of different food and drink “novelty” items. Lastly, the book discusses the disruption of the established provisioning system that occurred during the Japanese occupation. During the Second World War trade and production patterns were interrupted, which changed most of the existing provisioning system in the city. The war also had a negative impact on the local population, especially the resultant mass starvation that characterized the period.

Because of the complexity of the topic covered by the book, Doeppers employs the methodological tools of different disciplines to create his narrative. Provisioning a city should include a narrative of population movements, of international and local (temporary or permanent) migration patterns, of the impact of food on the epidemiological transition of the urban center, as well as mortality and morbidity figures. Through his appreciation of the demographic impact of provisioning the city, Doeppers discusses the role of ethnic Chinese traders not only from China but also from among the Chinese who eventually settled in the Philippines to participate in the network of trade and commerce that provisioning entailed. He also discusses the role of Spanish, American, Japanese, and other European and Southeast Asian peoples in defining the contours of food and trade in Manila. Most important, the author is able to highlight the role of the local population of Manila and other parts of the archipelago as they form part of the core population that not only consumed the food being brought to the city but also took part in its multifaceted system of exchange.

The narrative is also one of social relations and urban class structure in colonial Manila. The author discusses the formation of local and national elites as they engaged in activities related to provisioning the city’s growing population. He narrates the experiences of investors, traders, landowners, storehouse managers, and other emerging elites who were engaged in food production, exchange, and distribution. The discussion of the growth and decline of oligarchic families, shifts and splits in the entrepreneurial history of a number of Philippine-based firms, and the history of emerging corporations is one of the most interesting portions of the book.

Doeppers also discusses details regarding the history of everyday life of ordinary tenderas/os (vendors), peasant farmers, salt producers, carabao hustlers and tulisanes (bandits), urban and rural poor, women workers, and, during periods of famine, starvation, wars, and revolution, the history of the experiences of local internal refugees, of those who were suffering from mass starvation resulting from human-made and natural calamities in history. He employs various historiographical tools, such as oral history interviews (some collected from as far back as 40 years ago), memoirs, recollections from other scholars and colleagues, and published family histories and biographies that were cleverly used to provide the story of personal experiences of individual participants that form part of the historical narrative.

While Doeppers’s history is focused primarily on the human experience in relation to food, the geographer in the author is able to successfully integrate the ecological dimensions of food provisioning. In this regard, Doeppers discusses not only the urban geography of Manila but also the maritime and riverine networks, the mountain ranges, the agricultural plains, and the different islands that supported the enterprise of provisioning the city. Even non-human elements that affected the provisioning of the city—such as the impact of the rinderpest epidemic on meat and milk consumption; the cholera epidemic and the unsuccessful attempts at introducing prohibitions on vegetable and water consumption; the cyclical blight that affected the production of certain cash crops like coffee; and the influenza pandemic’s impact on betel nut chewing—are all combined to provide a unified picture of the city in the throes of epidemics, epizootics, and plant disease outbreaks. Moreover, the changing ecology of Manila and its environs is cleverly discussed by the author in relation to shifts in transportation systems, food technology, food preservation and distribution networks, and the use of emerging technologies with new products that altered the course of provisioning the city within a century.

Another important feature of the book is its clever use of maps, charts, graphs, and tables that not only assist the reader with a visual break in the long, detailed, and very interesting historical narrative of Manila’s social history but also provide the necessary tools for readers to appreciate the conditions of the different periods covered by the book.

Although Manila was originally a Tagalog community, the nineteenth century evidently made the city more cosmopolitan and indeed the center of trade for the archipelago. Hence, the history of provisioning the city is naturally appreciated through the support network provided by the other Philippine provinces and international commerce. The importance of rice coming from Central and Northern Luzon, as well as Vietnam and Burma; of fish and fish products from Manila Bay, Laguna de Bay, and the Luzon and Visayas coasts; of coffee from Batangas and Indonesia; of vegetables from the Cordillera and China; and the histories of the many different products that fed the city become an integral part of the narrative. It is therefore not only a book about the urban history of Manila but also a history of the different localities as they responded to, and were affected by, the demands of the growing city for its provisions. This also provides the opportunity for the author to discuss the dynamic transformation of the diet of the population—as they became not only consumers of products coming from different places, but also recipients of complex and dynamic culinary traditions from different localities that affected their taste buds and cuisine.

Doeppers is correct in identifying the primacy and centrality of rice in the history of feeding Manila. The first and most extensive elaboration of a food product found in the book is devoted to rice. It is to be noted that even in linguistic terms, rice occupied a central, complex web of expression that can be further elaborated. As a matter of fact, the word for cooked rice (kanin) is the same term that Tagalogs use to refer to the very act of eating. Hence, Kanin mo ito may mean both “This is your cooked rice” and “Eat this.” Moreover, the need to utilize different terms for the different stages of rice production and preparation signifies the importance of the staple in the culinary vocabulary of rice in Tagalog. Hence, the need to distinguish palay (unhusked rice), bigas (husked, but uncooked rice), kanin (newly cooked rice), saing/sinaing (steamed rice), tutong (burnt rice at the bottom of the palayok); malata (cooked rice, but with more rice water in it); malagat/maligat (cooked rice, but with less rice water in it); malagkit (sticky rice); bahaw (rice cooked hours or the day before, best for sinangag); sinangag (fried rice, usually using bahaw but not kanin); and the many other varieties of food using rice, generically called kakanin (dessert, but also derived from kanin) either in pounded or sticky form (bibingka, biko, sapin sapin, puto, putobumbong, kalamay, etc.). The impact of foreign influences on rice consumption led to the development of new forms of rice preparation, with lugao (porridge) and champorado (chocolate rice porridge) becoming popular and, as Doeppers mentions, localized in Manila and Philippine cuisine.

While the notion of ulam may be appreciated in the Philippines as the generic term for anything that is eaten with rice, as the author correctly notes, it should be pointed out that for most of the Tagalog communities, everyday ulam is always fish or fish based. As a matter of fact, other Philippine languages are more explicit in this regard, as the terms for ulam and fish are identical and interchangeable, an indication that fish and fish product consumption is always done to complement kanin and therefore is always the everyday ulam. The terms for ulam and fish are the same for Ilocano (sida), Bicol (sira), Kapampangan (asan), and Pangasinan (sira). Meat and meat product consumption, therefore, is often appreciated as feast food; vegetables and fruit are usually cooked with fish for everyday consumption, or with meat for feast days.

Toponymic renderings of historical interpretations also provide some clues that Doeppers uses to describe the conditions of supplying and provisioning food for the city. Thus, Bauan is correctly identified as historically a good source of garlic, and Pangasinan is well known for salt production. Other possibilities to expand this interpretation of the importance of place names to provisioning can further add to Doeppers’s narrative of provisioning Manila. Fish pens were naturally found in Manila Bay, with Baclaran as one of its major locations (baklad, fish pens). Other traditional place names also reveal similar information; thus, plant names, wood products, and tree species such as Indang (Artocarpus cumingianus Trec. Moraceae); Cauayan (Bambusa blumeana J. A. & J. A. Schult); Dao (Dracontomelon dao [Blco.] Merr & Rolfe; Talisay (Terminalia catappa L.); Sampalok (Tamarindus indica L.), to name a few, were also place names in the Philippines.

Theoretically grounded, methodologically sophisticated, and written in outstanding scholarly narrative, the book is able to integrate different elements of the history of Manila, the archipelago, and the region in a thought-provoking, remarkable account that spans the history of an entire century. The book is a solid contribution to historical scholarship and paves the way for other scholars of Southeast Asian studies, urban history, Philippine studies, and social history to follow the academic rigor that the author clearly manifests in this outstanding work.

Francis A. Gealogo
Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University


Madulid, Domingo. 2001. Dictionary of Philippine Plant Names. 2 vols. Manila: Bookmark.


Vol. 6, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Robert TAYLOR


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

Mapping Chinese Rangoon: Place and Nation among the Sino-Burmese
Jayde Lin Roberts
Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2016, xvii+200pp.

Chinese immigration into Myanmar from Yunnan existed before the colonization of Myanmar in the eighteenth century. However, the trickle of Chinese traders from southern China via Malaya and Singapore grew in number after the British takeover. Thus, there developed in Yangon—or Rangoon, the former Romanization—a small but economically and politically significant Chinatown in the western reaches of the new city the British built on the site of a small Burmese fishing village. Prior to then, Yangon, meaning “end of strife,” contained its own China wharf at the foot of the main road up to the fabled Shwe Dagon Pagoda. The author of Mapping Chinese Rangoon, Dr. Jayde Lin Roberts, who describes herself as an “interdisciplinary scholar of the built environment,” provides a contemporary impression of how descendants of those immigrants have coped in what was to their ancestors a new home but one by now in which they are an integral, if sometimes distinctive, part.

As with many younger scholars these days, the author of Mapping Chinese Rangoon tends to lean in the direction of the autobiographical. Similarly, she takes a dim view of efforts by governments to manage their affairs in an orderly and rational fashion, seeing these as “strong constraints” to be “maneuvered around.” For example, she sees the grid layout of downtown Yangon, the western part of which is Chinatown, as an effort to control the population rather than an effort to raise capital for the city’s hygienic development and a failed attempt to construct a self-cleaning drainage system based on the tides of the Yangon River. Similarly, she tends to accept uncritically commonly heard criticisms of more recent Myanmar governments, such as the accusation that a singular Myanmar national identity is promoted even though in public cultural performances and the country’s citizenship legislation, the multiethnic nature of the indigenous Myanmar society is celebrated and made real. Nor does she note the irony that it was an army-owned television station that the Chinese community chose to publicize its New Year celebrations.

Roberts rightly draws attention to the internal divisions within Yangon’s Chinatown, the northern part being largely Cantonese and the southern Hokkien, each with its respective temples, clan houses, and associations. The book gives rather more attention to the Hokkien community than to the Cantonese, and the author makes little reference to the Yunnanese Chinese population that has entered Myanmar over many years and is centered on Mandalay and other northern cities. Unlike Dr. Li Yi in her Chinese in Colonial Burma: A Migrant Community in a Multiethnic State (2017) and Yunnanese Chinese in Myanmar: Past and Present (2015), Mapping Chinese Rangoon emphasizes what divides the different Chinese linguistic communities rather than noting the logic of the state in censuses and forms, commerce and trade, and popular stereotypes that ignore the different origins of people who identify themselves as Chinese in the country.

Missing from Mapping Chinese Rangoon is any serious discussion of the political role of the Chinese community in the country’s politics. Given that many of them were long-term residents in what was the nation’s capital until 2006, with strong interests in Chinese as well as Burmese politics, and key roles in business, this oversight is a serious weakness in the author’s account. Roberts, for example, states that certain claims are unsubstantiated, such as that it was a member of the Myanmar Chinese community that assisted Thakin Aung San on his journey to Amoy to seek support in 1940 from the Chinese Communist Party or that a Chinese society provided financial support for the anti-Japanese resistance in 1944. A little research on her part would have easily verified the claims. Many anti-Japanese and pro-Communist Chinese saw themselves as both Chinese patriots and Myanmar nationalists and acted accordingly, while others had no compunction in financially supporting Myanmar politicians into positions where favors could be reciprocated.

Also missing from Mapping Chinese Rangoon is a complete account of the economic role of the Chinese community. While perhaps the author is correct in her claim that the majority of Chinese in the capital were primarily traders, often serving as middlemen between Indian and British suppliers and the ubiquitous Chinese shopkeepers found in every village and town in the Ayeyarwady Delta, some attention might have been given to the many Chinese who worked as dock laborers or carpenters; or, at the other end of the social scale, the extremely wealthy Chinese who were once stalwarts of the Oriental Club and the Turf Club and mixed and mingled both before and after independence with the upper reaches of Yangon’s multiracial high society. While the author does mention Chin Tsong Palace and its prominent and extremely wealthy builder, Lim Chin Tsong, several times, the irony that it became under General Ne Win’s military government the Myanmar minister of culture’s office passes her by.

Other voids in the volume would seem apparent. There is no discussion of the presence or absence of the Chinese community in crime despite the long-term stereotyping of Rangoon’s Chinatown as being a center of vice, including opium dens and illegal gambling parlors and drinking venues. Nor is there any account of the importance that Chinese restaurants had—and continue to have—on the city’s eating habits. Before 1988, if you wanted to eat out in the evening in the city, almost the only restaurants available were Chinese; there, black marketers would gather with bottles of brandy and whiskey to while away the evening. Some of these restaurants, several miles from Chinatown—demonstrating that the Chinese community was not as geographically concentrated as Mapping Chinese Rangoon implies—are now gone, but their memories live on. Others persist, such as the famous Fushan Si, which was renovated while Roberts was conducting her research.

Mapping Chinese Rangoon is rich in ethnographic vignettes, and that is one of its strengths. However, the research is far from exhaustive; and much of what is important to understanding the place of Chinese and of Chinese descendants now intermarried with Burmese and others in the polyglot city of Yangon is missing from the book. It has its virtues, however, as it is nicely illustrated from the author’s collection of personal photographs. Her description of the multiethnic nature of contemporary dragon dance competitions during Chinese New Year is fascinating. While the author rightly draws attention to the travails faced by Chinese in Yangon as descendants of the greater China in a country inherently suspicious of China, it is obvious from her account that actually life for many, if not most, of Yangon’s Chinese and Chinese-descended residents has its moments of joy and contentment, perhaps more than she recognizes. The volume is an introduction, almost a guide, to parts of the life of Chinese in Yangon in the very recent past, but we await a more detailed and analytical definitive statement.

Robert Taylor
ISEAS—Yusof Ishak Institute


Li Yi. 2017. Chinese in Colonial Burma: A Migrant Community in a Multiethnic State. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

―. 2015. Yunnanese Chinese in Myanmar: Past and Present. Trends in Southeast Asia, No. 12. Singapore: ISEAS.


Vol. 6, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Kevin HEWISON


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

Siam’s New Detectives: Visualizing Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand
Samson Lim
Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016, viii+213pp.

Bearing the hallmarks of a fine PhD thesis, Samson Lim’s Siam’s New Detectives: Visualizing Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand contributes fresh perspectives, information, and analysis on the still under-studied police force in Thailand. The police play an important role in Thailand, not just in managing crime but as political actors. From the police force’s early days as a Bangkok-based constabulary, established in 1860, Lim tells of a reorganization, the founding of a provincial gendarmerie, and expansion and modernization (pp. 24–33). His book takes us through an account of the police and its investigative techniques as it became the CIA’s preferred agency and armed to the teeth in the early 1950s, while also discussing some aspects of the police up to the early twenty-first century. His attention is largely on the investigative methods learned and adopted by the police and how they “visualized” crime and, in some cases, manufactured crimes, suspects, and confessions. The book is organized into five chapters, together with an introduction and conclusion.

In the introduction Lim begins with the story of Sherry Ann Duncan, a Thai-American teenager abducted and murdered in 1986. Four men were arrested, pressed to “reenact” their “crime,” and convicted in 1990, on the evidence of a witness. Sentenced to death, the four were eventually released in 1993 by a Supreme Court that ruled on the lack of corroborating evidence. While in prison one defendant died, another was crippled, and a third contracted a disease that would eventually kill him. Then, in 1996, a court convicted another three men of Duncan’s murder. They, too, were made to reenact the crime based on the evidence of the very same witness used by the police in the first trial. This time, the witness gave details about a completely different crime scene. Before each trial this witness was tutored by the police, who decided what his statement should say (pp. 1–2). As Lim notes, this is not a particularly unusual case (p. 2). Indeed, while I was reading Lim’s book, there were similar cases reported in the Bangkok media. For example, in March 2017 it was widely reported that a man had been sentenced to 21 years in jail for a robbery where the police “witnesses” were 7- and 11-year-old boys. More than a decade after the crime, fellow prison inmates confessed to being the real robbers. Clearly, the police had manufactured this unfortunate man’s conviction.

The book concentrates on explaining how the police are trained to investigate crimes and is focused on the various investigative methods used, concentrating on visual representations, including fingerprints, maps, and sketches to photographs and reenactments (p. 3). Lim engages in a postmodern assessment of this, replete with questions of how “facts” are created—he argues that they gain their “facticity [sic] from aesthetic rules . . .” (p. 3)—and how these visual representations become a means for generating “new information” as the police contemplate these representations (p. 4). Lim argues that by “acknowledging the productive nature of images, in addition to their symbolic functions, one can see that policing is fundamentally an interactive, creative endeavor as much as a disciplinary one” (pp. 8–9). This interaction and its manipulation mean the “deployment of state violence is seen as justified, desirable, and necessary” in society (p. 9).

Chapter 1 discusses the historical development of policing. The author argues that the inauguration and growth of the police force was in response to elite concerns about crime in a rapidly developing Bangkok that was a “ramshackle, transient place” (p. 12) where crime was identified as a “problem” (pp. 16–24). He shows that the police and bureaucracy were ill prepared to deal with rising crime, and this resulted in bureaucratic reform and increased training for the police. As the force developed, the public got to know it, and the police and public developed “a set of routines to help them make sense of the noise of daily life, to come to grips with the violence and crime that plague Thai society” (p. 33).

Yet, as the author observes, although force was outlawed in 1895, it was not unusual for police officers and civilian officials to use force in extracting confessions. Lim says that beating confessions from suspects “was still employed well into the 1920s and 1930s (and some would say is still today)” (p. 29). The parenthetic comment is unnecessary ambivalent; numerous authoritative reports have shown that the police and military regularly use beatings and torture against detainees and suspects.

Chapter 2 is an account of how the police force began to modernize and develop its “sets of routines” for investigating crimes, mainly examining the early part of the twentieth century. This is a story of the development of an “ostensibly scientific” approach to investigation (p. 35), involving statistics, photography, fingerprints, crime and crime scene reports, and other scientific investigation techniques. All these techniques needed to be taught to police and trainees, and Lim carefully details the ways in which this was handled, relying mainly on the manuals developed for the purpose. This chapter is insightful and carefully developed. My lingering question relates to the relationship between the police and the broader justice system, including the judiciary and the prison system, which is not addressed by the author.

In Chapter 3 Lim turns to “mapping,” relating the ways in which the police were trained not just to delineate space but how to constantly monitor and surveil it. While Lim introduces the chapter with a promise to indicate how preemptive violence by the state is justified, he does not fully deliver, being sidetracked into a discussion of cosmology.

Chapter 4 sees the author returning to the reenactment of crimes, first mentioned in the discussion of the Duncan murder. While these probably began in the 1920s (p. 89), Lim focuses on the relationship that developed between the police and the press, mediated by these performances. Lim dates the relationship to the early 1950s, involving photographs and later film and video coverage of crime reenactments. Given that these usually take place after a suspect’s confession has been obtained, both the police and public tend to view reenactments as accurate and perhaps even cathartic. In this relationship, the police can also manipulate perceptions. The current military regime in Bangkok has been especially manipulative. It is no surprise to see police parade the regime’s political opponents, dressing them up and telling them how to behave, pointing weapons, and so on (see Bangkok Post, September 14, 2014). The confession and reenactment are mutually reinforcing “evidence” when suspects are taken to trial. A “freely given” confession more or less guarantees a conviction (p. 93). So important is the confession that courts provide an incentive to suspects, tending to halve jail time for those who confess. For the police, the way to demonstrate to the court that a confession was not coerced is to have the suspect reenact the crime (p. 95). That the press likes a good crime story means that reenactments are mutually beneficial for media and police (p. 105).

This attention to the public naming and shaming of those who have confessed accords with other efforts to maintain the impunity enjoyed by the authorities when they are involved in extrajudicial killings. It is not uncommon for such murders to be waved away as a “bad person” getting their “proper” punishment (p. 103). In recent years, southern Malay Muslims and alleged drug users and traffickers have met this fate, with the authorities smearing the disappeared and those who die in custody as “violent separatists” or “drug traffickers” (see Wassana 2017).

Lim begins Chapter 5 with the observation that “conspiracy theory” has become a “governing rubric or narrative architecture” that “endures to shape the way in which Thais interpret current events” (p. 114). In this chapter Lim argues that this “unfortunate situation,” an “entrenched cynicism and general air of suspicion,” is directly linked to the Cold War and the “brutal deployment of physical force by competing agents of the Thai state” (p. 114). He details the aid to police provided by the United States and has data on the huge expansion of numbers and weaponry this permitted as the police developed paramilitary capabilities. Lim details several events that he considers conspiracies, from the shooting death of King Ananda in 1946, on the wrong end of a US-supplied weapon, to recent “visualizations” of alleged anti-monarchy conspiracies. Lim concludes that the conspiracies were neither spontaneous nor natural. Rather, he says, they resulted from a “deliberate program of misrepresentation . . .” (p. 133) designed for political purposes and a “strategy of elites against their enemies, real and perceived” (p. 134).

In his conclusion, the author returns to his theoretical concerns and his emphasis on images, noting that visual representations can take many forms and can have multiple functions and readings. In essence, images and their uses are socially and politically constructed. Images and words may help people to make sense of the world, but they may also be used to concoct a reality for readers and viewers. Lim makes these points succinctly, and aside from some lapses into postmodern language manufacture, his summing up is well written. At the same time, this reader felt somewhat disappointed when some of the cases mentioned in the text, including the Sherry Ann Duncan and King Ananda cases, were left as mysteries. But then, much that the Thai police do lacks transparency and is as illegal as the crimes investigated. How such a huge force is so remarkably opaque, inept, and corrupt remains a mystery.

Kevin Hewison
Weldon E. Thornton Distinguished Emeritus Professor, Department of Asian Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Bangkok Post. 2014. Cops Nab Five “Men in Black” Suspects. September 14.

Wassana Nanuam. 2017. Activist’s Drug Ties “Go Back a Year.” Bangkok Post. March 24.




Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3



G30S dan Asia: Dalam bayang-bayang Perang Dingin [The September 30, 1965 coup and Asia, under the shadows of the Cold War]
Kurasawa Aiko and Matsumura Toshio, eds.
Jakarta: Penerbit Buku Kompas, 2016, xxvi+308pp.

Similar to Thailand’s October 6, 1976 massacre, Indonesia’s September 30, 1965 coup (and the subsequent massacre) is still a difficult and sensitive issue to discuss in public. Those who were involved in the event are not pleased with the ongoing campaign for an official apology from the Indonesian government, and the issue of reconciliation is still controversial and has not been well received by all parties. Meanwhile, scholarly studies have progressed since 1998 as a number of victims/survivors have written memoirs and testimonies (see Hearman 2009; Sukanta 2011; 2013). They form a narrative that was absent (or muted) during the New Order regime (1967–98) and thus have offered different perspectives on what happened. Related to this, two documentary films on the subject of the 1965–66 massacre directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Jagal (The act of killing, in 2012) and Senyap (The look of silence, in 2014), have garnered international attention.

Using a different approach, some scholars have tried to bring public attention to the international context of the 1965 coup and the political situation of the Cold War period (see, for example, Schaefer and Wardaya 2013). They argue that the 1965 coup was not a separate event but closely related to world politics, with Indonesia (under Soekarno) being a major player on the regional scene and among the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa. G30S dan Asia: Dalam bayang-bayang Perang Dingin (hereinafter, G30S dan Asia) is an important contribution to this literature. More important, it has been published in Indonesian, primarily targeting an Indonesian readership.

G30S dan Asia consists of nine chapters and one personal story. The chapters are grouped into two parts. Part 1 consists of four chapters, each discussing the 1965 coup in relation to the political situation of different Asian countries: the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, Japan, and Malaysia (in particular, the Sarawak independence movement). Taomo Zhou contributes an interesting chapter on the PRC’s view of the 1965 coup, based on her archival research of the PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ documents. It is an important study that questions the long-held myth about the involvement of the PRC in the 1965 coup. Baba Kimihiko discusses the political situation of the time and the complexity of the PRC’s and Taiwan’s attitudes toward Indonesian Chinese. Kurasawa Aiko discusses Japan’s changing position toward Soekarno (and Indonesia in general) after the 1965 coup. Interestingly, in the conclusion, she notes that Japan (through its diplomatic mission in Jakarta) might have known about the 1965–66 massacre (especially in Kediri and Bali) but opted to stay silent (“menutup mulut”) (p. 137). Matsumura Toshio discusses the Sarawak independence movement, as part of the anti-British colonial movement in Borneo, in the aftermath of the 1965 coup. For Indonesian readers, his study helps clarify the issue of the “Communist” guerrilla movement in Borneo.

Part 2 consists of five chapters, each discussing the 1965 coup from the newspaper reports of individual countries in the region: the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, the PRC, and Japan. Hayase Shinzo analyzes the reports of the Manila Times (The Philippines) on the 1965 coup. Tanaka Yuichiro and Kwon Sohyun examine the Rodong Shinmun (North Korea), Choson Sinbo (the newspaper of the North Korean association in Japan), and Chosun Ilbo (South Korea) on their reports about Indonesia and the 1965 coup in particular. Fujikura Tetsuro examines the Nhan Dan, the newspaper organ of the Communist Party of Vietnam, from September 1, 1965 to March 31, 1966. Baba looks at the Renmin Ribao (人民日报), an organ of the Chinese Communist Party, and the Beijing Zhoubao (北京周报), a weekly news magazine. Finally, Kurasawa reads three Japanese newspapers: Asahi Shimbun (朝日新聞), Yomiuri Shimbun (読売新聞), and Mainichi Shimbun (毎日新聞), and one popular weekly magazine, the Shukan Gendai (週刊現代). Although each chapter of this part is stand-alone and can be read individually, as a whole the chapters show how the general public in the region was informed about the 1965 coup. There are different degrees of quality (and detailed information) of the reportage in each country’s newspapers, which depended on the access members of the press had. Kurasawa notes that the Asahi Shimbun and Akahata (赤旗), the daily organ of the Japanese Communist Party, had an office in Jakarta, and the Yomiuri Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun were able to send their correspondents to enter Jakarta (p. 275). This gave them direct access and enabled them to record what they saw, heard, and collected during the time and thus made their reportage more detailed and up-to-date.

The last eight pages of G30S dan Asia (pp. 292–299) present the personal recollections of Gatot Wilotikto, who was in Pyongyang (North Korea) as a student when the 1965 coup took place. He was the only Indonesian student in North Korea after 1970 as others had migrated to the PRC and USSR (Russia).

With the exception of Zhou, who is currently a fellow at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, all contributors are Japan-based scholars. It should be noted that there is a growing collaboration among Japan-based scholars of Southeast Asian studies (and Indonesian studies, in particular), in various research projects under the Japanese Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (kaken-hi), to better research and understand the region. Southeast Asian studies is still growing in Japan (in contrast to other places that are currently facing limited institutional support due to budget cuts), and young scholars are encouraged to contribute their research and expertise in many different fields and in national/local/vernacular languages in the region, not solely in English. As such, this book illustrates how (foreign) scholars can help initiate, facilitate, and foster fruitful dialogues, including on topics that are still controversial, as part of their common interest to develop an active network of communities of learners in the region.

G30S dan Asia is an interesting volume that opens up a new field of study on the 1965 coup in the context of international politics in the region, under the Cold War situation. It is a must-read volume for every young Indonesian to look into and understand his/her nation’s troubled history beyond the official narrative.

Jafar Suryomenggolo
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Tokyo


Hearman, Vanessa. 2009. The Uses of Memoirs and Oral History Works in Researching the 1965–66 Political Violence in Indonesia. International Journal of Asia-Pacific Studies 5(2): 21–42.

Schaefer, Bernd; and Wardaya, Baskara, eds. 2013. 1965: Indonesia and the World. Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama.

Sukanta, Putu Oka, ed. 2013. Sulawesi bersaksi: Tuturan penyintas tragedi 1965 [Sulawesi witnesses: Narrations as told by survivors of the 1965 tragedy]. Jakarta: Lembaga Kreatifitas Kemanusiaan and TAPOL.

―, ed. 2011. Memecah pembisuan: Tuturan penyintas tragedi ’65–’66 [Breaking the silence: Narrations as told by survivors of the 1965–66 tragedy]. Jakarta: Lembaga Kreatifitas Kemanusiaan, ICTJ, and Yayasan TIFA.


Vol. 6, No. 3, Prananda Luffiansyah MALASAN


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

Feeding a Crowd: Hybridity and the Social Infrastructure behind Street Food Creation in Bandung, Indonesia

Prananda Luffiansyah Malasan*

*Graduate School of Human and Socio-Environment Studies, Kanazawa University, Kakumamachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture 920-1192, Japan
e-mail: pranandaluffiansyah[at]

DOI: 10.20495/seas.6.3_505

Based on ethnographic research on street vendors’ activities in Bandung city, this article attempts to uncover the production process of street food. Drawing on Simone’s (2004) idea of people as infrastructure, the research focuses on street vending activities as a conjunction of heterogeneous activities and modes of production that becomes a platform to support the vendors’ livelihood: for example, the ways in which vendors achieve efficiency in street food production. We need to consider, however, the roles of various actors surrounding the street vending activities that directly or indirectly contribute to the production process of street food, as well as the large network that is created as social infrastructure. This network is an outcome of the ability of vendors, for example, to engage in convivial interactions with customers, to create an intimate relationship with food suppliers, and to engage in “a form of labor exchange” with their neighbors. This article argues that such hybrid contributions on the part of street vendors are their efforts to stabilize the network in a fluid and adaptable way that makes a social infrastructure possible.

Keywords: street food, hybridity, infrastructure, social network, pedagang kaki lima


It was a rainy day in the middle of 2015 when I met Mr. Rahmat, whom I have known since I was a student at university in the northern part of Bandung city. While having a tasty bowl of soto ayam Madura,1) I interviewed him for my ethnographical research about street food vending activities. He has been catering soto ayam Madura for over 10 years. His pelanggan (customers) around his vending spot range from university students to employees, most of whom are familiar with his food. As is common among street vendors, Mr. Rahmat decided to start selling street food after doing many odd jobs in Jakarta. Having only a high school graduation certificate, he got a job as a laborer at a garment factory and subsequently became an ojek driver (a motorcycle taxi driver) before joining a group of street hoodlums at a seaport in northern Jakarta. Although he earned enough to support his daily life, he was not able to save enough money for his future. Realizing his previous lifestyle was filled with sin, he finally repented to the Almighty and set about making a pushcart as a means of vending street food.

He was grateful for the strong network of support he had when he started the business. Since he was unable to acquire start-up money or get a loan from the bank to begin his business, his neighbors, acquaintances, and relatives as well as other vendors supported him both financially and practically—for example, his uncle advised him on how to run a soto ayam business. Even now that the business is established, I observed Mr. Rahmat’s neighbors voluntarily helping him prepare food at his home. This occupation would be impossible without the street food industry, due to the tight hygiene regulations for established restaurants in fixed premises.

Another interviewee was a sate klatak (skewered grilled beef) vendor whom I knew from university. With a master’s degree from design school, currently Mr. Radis works at both a design studio and at the university from which he graduated as a lecturing assistant. Along with two friends, who also graduated from design school and culinary school in the United States, he started a street food business. Inspired by the taste and the unique way of cooking sate klatak by skewering the meat using bicycle spokes, the three decided to emulate the concept in Bandung city. Considering the tight regulations and lengthy time needed to open a formal restaurant, they finally opened a small-scale business that was easy to start without amassing a huge amount of capital. They deliberately chose a street food style using common street vendors’ equipment, such as a pushcart, a handwritten banner, and wooden stools to create a modest, cheap, and humble environment. Mr. Radis explained that the differences between street vendors and formal restaurants were in the scale of production and the eating space, and that the main obstacle to starting business in the formal form was the amount of capital required, which was quite unaffordable for him and his partners.2)

These two examples of vendors seemingly have a similarity, as they are both among almost 20,000 street vendors in Bandung city. In some ways, however, there are subtle differences among vendors, especially in their background and objective. For instance, in the street vending community in Bangkok, some university students sell street food in order to fund their education, assisted by networks of family and acquaintances (Narumol 2006, 43–44). Interestingly, there has been a growing movement of new entrepreneurs with various purposes and visions starting street food businesses. Narumol Nirathron (ibid., 17) stated that the economic and social contributions of street food vendors were underestimated due to the occupation’s image of poverty and marginality; however, the case of street vendors in Bandung contradicts this.

Recognizing the thriving number of street vendors in Bandung with various business plans and intentions, this paper investigates four vendors from diverse backgrounds by focusing on the social networks behind the production process of the food.

Street vendors in Indonesia are mostly categorized in the informal economy sector, at least in the place where this research was undertaken. Consequently, their marginal character might be linked to an image of “informal” businesses, which are unregulated, illegal, outside the scope of the state, or the domain of the poor to survive (Roy 2009, 826). The informality, however, is much more than economic; it can be a mode of space production, with different values attached to the formal and informal spheres (ibid.).

To understand activities in the informal sector, for example, the notion of “piracy” might be useful to explain the practices of African urban residents operating resourcefully in under-resourced cities (Simone 2006, 357). This idea can be a starting point to understand the activities of street vending and food creation linked to the idea of “built infrastructures.” Indeed, the idea of infrastructure has commonly been associated with the physical forms shaping the nature of networks, or with the reticulated systems of highways, pipes, wires, or cables facilitating the movement of things in an effective way (Simone 2004, 407; Larkin 2013, 328). However, Simone advocates the idea of “people as infrastructure” to extend the concept of infrastructure directly the people’s activity to see the intersection of residents that depended on the ability of people to engage in combinations of practice, person, spaces, and objects (Simone 2004, 408).

In the context of street food creation, the engagement of various people and practices during the process leads to the construction of networks consisting of heterogeneous actors that need to be established and stabilized in order to successfully operate. Because various kinds of people are engaged in vending activities, it is necessary to have a translation of ideas among them to allow the heterogeneity to become building blocks in the daily work of vending.

In order to understand the details of the infrastructure creation process, we need to acknowledge the various ways in which vendors engage with people in the city. We also need to see the multiple ways in which vendors make use of resources and combinations of people with different skills, perspectives, identities, and aspirations (Simone 2006, 357). In this regard, this research draws on the notion of hybridity to consider the process of creation of street food as a vital factor to achieve “people as infrastructure.” Indeed, the notion of hybridity is nothing new, but it is important to understand that hybridities of ideas and meetings of cultures are an instance of valorization, where it is possible to occur under the construction of adaptability and flexibility as an ability to meet new demands, and to combine experiences and elements of knowledge in new ways (Leach 2007, 109).

Looking for a ceaseless movement by vendors to find new methods of food production, we might consider the term “whirlwind model,” which explains that goods and services have a social life, passing from hand to hand and continually changing during the process (Callon 2004, 9). Each actor involved reconfigures and reshapes them depending on their needs and conceptions. Madeleine Akrich and colleagues postulate that innovation comes from everywhere and progressively transforms through a series of trials and experiments, dealing with theoretical knowledge and know-how (Akrich et al. 2002, 212). In other words, the whirlwind model represents innovation as a process of compromise with the capacity of adaptation (ibid., 212–214).

Based on the aforementioned ideas of infrastructure and hybrid communities, in the context of street vendors’ activity studied here I reconsider infrastructure to be not merely physical but also applying to people themselves (Simone 2004, 407). Therefore, focusing on the “conjunction” (ibid., 410) created by the people is important as a platform for social transactions and livelihood. The specific way of how the conjunction operates is constantly negotiated depending on the particular history, needs, and works of the people involved; hence, this conjunction becomes a coherent platform for social livelihood, which attempts to achieve the maximum outcome with minimum effort.

To confirm this idea, I analyze how the collective activities in creating street food, which has various contributors—such as food suppliers who provide affordable goods, neighbors who help with food preparation, and customers who request vendors to modify the food—could stabilize the networks among the people and be utilized as a platform or built infrastructure. Finally, this research emphasizes the informal environment that contributes to the creation of multiple conjunctions. These conjunctions, indeed, become an important factor in achieving an infrastructure through the hybridity of ideas in the street vending activities carried out by heterogonous actors.

Street Food in Indonesia: Past and Present

In 1905 Augusta de Wit, a Dutch anthropologist, wrote in her journal about the daily activities of locals in Batavia:

After the bath, the Javanese proceeds to take his morning meal; and this, again is a public performance. The noon repast—the only solid one in the day—is prepared and eaten at home. But, for the morning and evening meals, the open air and the cuisine of the warong are preferred. The warong is the native restaurant. There are many kinds and varieties of it; from its most simple and compendious shape—two wooden cases, the one containing food, prepared and raw, the other, a chafing-dish full of live coals, and a supply of crockery—to its fully-developed form, the covered hut. (De Wit 1905, 117)

Over a hundred years ago De Wit wrote a journal about the eating habits of local people in Batavia, which included buying food from street vendors. Street food is still commonly consumed at lunchtime, or even as a quick take-out dinner. It is quickly and easily prepared and served by vendors, and it has become a realistic choice for customers who want to eat out but not in formal restaurants. In this regard, the concept of fast food is not new for Indonesians—it has existed for decades (Forshee 2006, 133).

One of the typical varieties of Indonesian street vendors is the pedagang kaki lima (PKL), or “five-legged seller.” The five legs are believed to refer to the three wheels of the cart along with the seller’s two legs (Barker et al. 2009, 58). Another explanation of PKL appeared during the Dutch colonial era, when this type of business was commonly found on the sidewalk. At the time the width of the pavement was 5 feet, which in Indonesian is literally translated as lima kaki (Hendaru 2013).

Despite the two different definitions behind the label, the term PKL is now used for categorizing all types of vendors selling on the street. Recently it has become common to see signs prohibiting vending activities by the depiction of a pushcart. Even official documents issued by the government use the term PKL to describe every vendor in public spaces.

Historically, during the Dutch colonial era in Indonesia the hierarchical system placed local people, mostly pribumi (natives), at the lowest class-rank; consequently, they were able to work only as manual laborers or serfs for a daily wage. In contrast, having the independence to earn and manage their income without the shadow of a patron and having access to Dutch houses and government offices to sell goods, street vendors possessed a higher position than the other natives. People who decided to start a street vending business were regarded with more respect than people who were under the tyranny of the enslavement system (Seruni 2004). Street vendors displayed entrepreneurial values, spreading the spirit of independence among local people.

The situation of street vendors changed dramatically over the years. At one time they were regarded as an eyesore from the point of view of city development, especially during the Suharto period with its policy of Gerakan Dispilin Nasional (National Discipline Movement). During this period there were officers called penertiban umum, abbreviated as TIBUM (public order), who wore uniforms that looked like police officers’ and aimed to discipline street vendors by clearing them from particular streets (Barker 1999, 103).

During the financial crisis that gripped Indonesia in 1997, several formal enterprises collapsed, resulting in the termination of an enormous number of workers. Unemployment increased, forcing many people to find alternative sources of income (Bhowmik 2005; Resmi and Untung 2009). The informal economic sector became the choice for many people, because it does not require huge amounts of capital or high levels of education (McGee and Yeung 1977, 101).

Although there are uncountable street vendors spread around the globe, this form of business is still regarded as a vulnerable source of income due to its limited access to social protection, unclear labor rights, and lack of an organization system. Moreover, some countries deny the existence of workers by neglecting them as independent businesses, and the workers often remain unrecognized or unprotected under national law or regulatory systems (International Labour Office 2013, 1).

A few years ago the local government of Bandung city enacted regulations in order to regulate street vendors’ mobility and growth in the city. The Peraturan Daerah No. 4 (Municipal act number 4) divides the vending area into three zones: the red zone (which prohibits vending activities at all times), the yellow zone (which allows vending activities during particular times), and the green zone (which allows street vending activities at all times). The Peraturan Daerah No. 4 and Peraturan Walikota No. 571 (Mayoral decree number 571)3) were passed in 2011 and 2014 respectively (Dinas Koperasi UKM dan Perindustrian Perdagangan Kota Bandung 2014). However, information about the regulations did not spread to vendors and customers. At the same time, bribery and corruption on the part of dishonest government officials who gave illegal permits became an obstacle to achieving the objectives of the regulations (Barker et al. 2009, 59).

There are rising numbers of preman (street hoodlums)4) who informally organize street vendors to protect them from eviction by the local authorities. Mr. Juniarso, a staff member in the Department of Cooperative, SME, Industry, and Trade of Bandung City, explained, “When we tried to do an eviction, the conflict never occurred between the vendors and us—a group of preman was always standing in front of the vendors, creating a barrier against the relocation.”5)

Although the municipality has issued a decree to regulate the PKLs’ presence in the city and try to elevate them to the level of a formal economy, the policy is not well implemented. Again, Mr. Juniarso stated, “If we legalize their presence, I suppose many migrants will come and start vending on the street. We always attempt to avoid an outbreak of vendors. And the only way to stop their growth is to increase the number of jobs in the formal sectors.”6)

The street vendors’ existence is real in the midst of the city’s development, and their income is rather high in comparison with other formal occupations. For instance, in Yogyakarta, Joshua Barker and colleagues (ibid., 58–60) found several street vendors emerging to oppose the enactment of regulations by the local government, including a new type of vendors who were capital owners masquerading as PKL or positioning themselves as rakyat kecil (little people), taking advantage by claiming to be poor, less powerful, or humble persons.7)

In this regard, we cannot underestimate the contribution of street vendors to the economic sector. Although the street vending industry seemingly holds promise, particularly with regard to economic prospects, it is still considered by some as a marginalized business type that flourishes sporadically and continues to disperse around the city.

From House Pantry to Street Cookery

I was fascinated at how the street food business could attract more than 20,000 street vendors in Bandung city alone (Dinas Koperasi UKM dan Perindustrian Perdagangan Kota Bandung 2014).

Some might look down on street vending as a petty trading model, but it can be a viable alternative for those who are excluded from the formal economy. We can understand how the activities of street vendors reflect the needs of those around them, and therefore such vendors should be regarded as part of the dynamic development of the city.

I focus my research on tracking the flow of street food production, which is divided into two main phases: (1) raw to half-cooked, and (2) half-cooked to cooked. This research attempts to describe the social network that vendors are constantly attempting to build, stabilize, and rely on. I found out how vendors undertake various efforts to stabilize their networks, such as providing pleasant hospitality to customers through convivial conversation, building a close relationship with suppliers, or being helpful and reliable to others in their neighborhood as they often require assistance from their neighbors. This reveals the complexity of street food creation, which involves the engagement of various people within a social network.

In July 2015 I began three months of field research by interviewing 15 vendors, nine customers, several municipal staff, and researchers generally connected to street vendors. I focused on four vendors with whom I could carry out participant observation (helping them to prepare the food, serving guests, etc.) to understand their workflow. While admittedly this is a very limited sample relative to the immense number of vendors in Bandung, there were subtle cultural barriers, such as vendors’ reluctance to be interviewed and a general suspicion of my presence as a prospective informant to officials, and this prevented a free flow of information. Being a native Indonesian who could speak the local language did not guarantee that I could easily approach the vendors, especially since they were selected randomly.

In this section I provide a general background of the informants, with a focus on the four traders, including before, during, and after the vending activities. The next section—titled “Street Food Cooking: By Self or Masses?”—examines the networks of traders. The subsections below provide detailed profiles of the four street vendors I studied, whom I divide into two main categories: full-time and part-time.

Full-Time Vendor (1): Mr. Rahmat, Soto Ayam Madura Vendor

After many years doing odd jobs in Jakarta, Mr. Rahmat decided to move to Bandung city in 2002 and started vending sate ayam Madura8) every night. After reconsidering his health situation, since sate ayam is usually consumed at night, he switched to offering soto ayam, which is consumed during the day.

As is typical among new street vendors, he began selling soto ayam from a cart that he pushed from his house in the city center. When he started his business he could only serve a maximum of 40 bowls of soto ayam daily. “In the past, I was always struggling to compete with other vendors who catered food for lunch,” Mr. Rahmat recalled.9) This unseen competition forced him to seek another selling point, such as improving customer service. Besides maintaining the food quality, he believed another important factor was to welcome customers with the greatest hospitality. When describing his business principles he said, “No matter how tasty or cheap your food is, if we are not striving to provide a pleasant welcome, they will never remember us.” Through casual conversation and providing special services such as giving unlimited rice along with extra sliced chicken, shrimp, and chips, Mr. Rahmat is able to maintain a customer base that gradually increases through word of mouth.

Today he does not need to walk from one place to another to cater lunch for customers, because he has found a permanent vending spot near a university in the northern part of the city.10) He starts vending at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m., or sometimes even earlier if unpredictably large numbers of customers come to have his soto ayam.


Fig. 1 Mr. Rahmat, a Soto Ayam Seller

Source: Author


Full-Time Vendor (2): Nasi Goreng Mas Ruris; Incorporating Customers’ Ideas and Opinions

When asked by his friend, a nasi goreng vendor, to be a cook’s assistant, Mr. Ruris decided to accept the position with the aim of starting his own business after learning the know-how of the trade. He gradually gained an understanding of how to manage the production of street food, learning from base level up, i.e., washing dishes, serving customers, cleaning each ingredient, and finally frying the rice that was the most important part of cooking nasi goreng. While street vendors do not have a formal pace of career progression, there are unseen paths to be walked, as Mr. Ruris explained: “There were several milestones I had to pass, although it was not documented like in a human resource manual; the master always determined who deserved to be promoted to the next level.”11)

After 12 years of being an apprentice, he decided to open his own cart at Jalan Jawa (Jawa Street). Interestingly, his previous employer prayed for his success and advised him on how to survive. Following the example of his previous employer, Mr. Ruris welcomes anyone who wishes to acquire knowledge of street food cooking. He is not afraid of his secret spice combinations being copied, since, he explained, “Everybody was born with uniqueness. Even though the spices or the ingredients may be similar to mine, I believe that every person has a particular skill, ability, and knowledge in developing the taste. I always support anyone who is willing to start vending.”12)

Mr. Ruris is very friendly toward his customers. He allows them to customize their dish or add additional ingredients if they wish. He is also talkative with customers and makes an effort to memorize their names, their occupations, and personal stories about them. As a result of his convivial interactions as well as his kindness toward every person that he meets, many people regard him as a close friend.

Part-Time Vendor (1): Sate Klatak Mas Tanto by Mr. Radis and Friends; Secondary Business

Mr. Radis, Mr. Pepeng, and Mr. Aso knew each other before they decided to start a Web-based food journal in early 2015. They attempt to promote local culinary wisdom through unique presentations and well-designed media. Mr. Radis and Mr. Aso studied together at the oldest art school in Bandung, while Mr. Pepeng got his degree from a prominent culinary academy in San Francisco afterwards. At his day job, Mr. Pepeng has been working to create new culinary menus for several restaurants in Bandung and Jakarta since he returned to Indonesia after completing his studies abroad. Mr. Radis works at a design studio and also teaches at the university from which he graduated. Mr. Aso works as a freelance designer after resigning from his previous job as a designer of local brand watches.

After featuring sate klatak—skewered grilled beef from Yogyakarta—for the newsfeed, the three became fascinated with the dish and decided to open a small shop called Sate Klatak Mas Tanto in Bandung. Due to the high start-up costs, they chose not to open a conventional restaurant; instead, they adopted the warong (tavern) style that is usually found on the sidewalk. By intentionally using handwritten banners, a simple pushcart, and a set of wooden stools and table, they adopted the image of humble, modest, and cheap warong that are usually associated with street vendors, even though the food itself might be pricier.13)

Mr. Radis explained that these days the main difference between a warong and a formal restaurant is in their production size and eating area; when it comes to taste and promotion of itself, the warong is able to compete with the big restaurant. In addition, he explained to me, “The informal situation of street vendors allows us to have more opportunities in exploring production methods, methods of promotion, and we can feel the impact immediately. Today we advertise something, and the following day the crowds will be coming abundantly.”14)

Part-Time Vendor (2): Angkringan Mas Jos; Between Being an Entrepreneur and an Employee

In 2007 Mr. Jos and his former co-worker started a street food business, selling food in the angkringan style15) adopted from Yogyakarta. After more than two years collaborating with his former partner, Mr. Jos restarted the business from scratch on his own. The venture gradually grew, and currently he owns four pushcarts. Mr. Jos realizes that his customers are mainly young people, and he therefore strives to invent new dishes, such as by modifying existing ones. Utilizing a social network system for promotion, he immerses himself in his customers’ world through the usage of language commonly used by young people, and provides extra services for diners.

To expand the scale of his business, he has engaged a nasi goreng vendor to sell food under his management. As the nasi goreng vendor has brought many customers, Mr. Jos obtains more benefits than he did before. “It is kind of like merging two gigantic powers: he and I [the nasi goreng vendor] gained benefits by sharing our regular customers,” he explained.16)

He attempts to provide customers with the best service not only by increasing portions but also by maintaining intimate communication. He is also mindful of using “youthful” language to increase his business. As he explained, “Many young people use Facebook and Twitter. Therefore, every day I post photos of my customers to keep maintaining the interaction with them.”17)

Although his business is quite successful, he continues to work as a driver for a company from morning until afternoon. He earns more from his business than from his regular salary. He once attempted to resign from the company, but his boss encouraged him to stay. He feels indebted to his boss for having supported him in various ways after he moved to Bandung city.

Street Food Cooking: By Self or Masses?

In this section I reveal the cooking process by examining the connections of each street vendor and their impact on the creation process as well as the nature of street food. The paper looks at some of the important activities undertaken by street vendors as they travel from the market and their neighborhood to the vending spot, where various actors actively assist in the production process of street food. This process is at the center of this paper, which attempts to uncover the hybridity of contributions in stabilizing the infrastructure of the people. In the following subsections, I distinguish the two main processes in street food making: turning food from raw to half-cooked and from half-cooked to cooked.

Raw to Half-Cooked

Given the limited time and space available for serving street food, most vendors prepare the ingredients prior to starting vending. They cannot cook from scratch at the time of vending; therefore, the main ingredients, such as chicken meat, beef, rice, and spices, are usually processed earlier in their homes.18)

The high cost of manpower is a common obstacle for vendors, which forces them to find efficient methods to deal with the problem. Mr. Rahmat and Mr. Ruris explained that living around the market is one of the ways to reduce production cost. It helps them to cut down on gasoline cost, and it is also a faster way to acquire fresh ingredients.

Since 2004 Mr. Rahmat has been renting a tiny house in the slum area around the city center, even though he owns a house in the southern part of Bandung city that he bought a couple of years ago. Ciroyom Market—one of the biggest traditional markets in Bandung—is located only 300 meters away from the rented house. Mr. Rahmat is acquainted with many suppliers in the market, as they are now his neighbors. The rented house is located near the vending spot, in the northern part of Bandung, and Mr. Rahmat requires only one liter of gasoline per week to commute. “I rent out my house in southern Bandung city for 6 million rupiah per year, while I rent this house for only 2 million rupiah per year,” he said. “Therefore, I still have a margin of 4 million rupiah to be saved. Moreover, this rented house has a strategic location from where I can go to the market and vending spot without spending too much time.”19)

Easy access to the market as well as the vending spot seems to be a strong positive for street vendors in operating their businesses. In another example, Mr. Ruris, the nasi goreng vendor, explained that his current house was located just behind Kosambi Market, one of the traditional markets in Bandung.20) Reducing transportation cost is a priority, but another important issue is that he needs to arrive at the market as early as possible in the morning to buy fresh ingredients, as there is strong competition among vendors for getting the best ingredients. Similarly, Mr. Jos lives with his family in a house provided by his office; however, he also rents a small house for his staff and to store ingredients, which is located only 400 meters away from his vending spot and the traditional market.21)

To produce soto ayam, Mr. Rahmat usually does daily as well as weekly shopping. He procures the four main ingredients—chicken meat, rice, cabbage, and rice noodles—every single day at Ciroyom Market. As mentioned earlier, many suppliers are his acquaintances—for example, the owner of a chicken abattoir was his neighbor in his hometown of Madura Island. He always provides chicken meat for Mr. Rahmat, even when there is a shortage in the market. A greengrocer from whom Mr. Rahmat regularly buys his vegetables gives him a discount of 50 percent since he has become a regular customer. During the transaction process, the two often make small talk and discuss various matters ranging from trivial topics such as celebrity gossip to personal matters such as recent profit or family news. Maintaining close friendships with suppliers means Mr. Rahmat does not need to go early to the market and compete with other vendors to obtain fresh ingredients.

After collecting all the daily ingredients in the evening, Mr. Rahmat immediately cleans the chicken meat and vegetables to prevent them rotting. In his neighborhood there is a shared kitchen equipped with a well in which the people of the community usually wash dishes or clean ingredients. When Mr. Rahmat visits the well he often engages in casual conversation with his neighbors, and sometimes he borrows from them kitchen equipment such as stools, knives, or buckets. When I asked why they let Mr. Rahmat use their things, one of the people said, “Sudah biasa pinjam-pinjam barang disini [It is common to lend and borrow stuff here].”22)

After visiting the well, Mr. Rahmat boils the chicken meat for the next few hours while he prepares the spices. He usually wakes up around 3 a.m. to cook the rice and prepare other ingredients before setting off to the vending spot at around 9 a.m.

As for his weekly shopping, Mr. Rahmat usually buys four of the 14 necessary spices for the chicken broth at the biggest market in Bandung city, Caringin Market. At this market, Mr. Rahmat needs to purchase a minimum of 5 kilograms of each item; therefore, the rest of the spices are usually obtained in another market. Due to the fluctuating prices of shallots, garlic, ginger, and turmeric, he attempts to compare the prices offered by each supplier. Doing this means he cannot get any special discounts, as he does not maintain intimate communications with any supplier.

Discussing the arduous part of preparing soto ayam, he explained that processing the spices for the broth is the most tiring work, which he does only once a week. All the ingredients need to be cleaned, after which some need to be peeled, sliced, and washed. Some ingredients have to be pounded or ground to make a paste. All these steps have to be completed before the soto ayam can be cooked. Therefore, sometimes Mr. Rahmat’s wife assists him in processing the ingredients, and sometimes he asks a favor from his neighbors. During my observation at his house, Mrs. Yayah, whose husband also works as a street vendor, was helping Mr. Rahmat clean the spices. Several children also came to peel the spices, although some of them were just playing with the ingredients. Fascinated with this situation, I questioned Mrs. Yayah about her willingness to help Mr. Rahmat, since she did this work voluntarily. She explained, “I came across Mr. Rahmat’s house by chance, and he asked me to help him cook. Because I do not have any set schedule, why not lend him a hand?”23) In return, Mr. Rahmat assists other neighbors with cooking preparation or other activities. For example, at the time of this study he was voluntarily organizing a sightseeing trip for neighbors the following month. Helping others in the community almost becomes a habitual activity, an obligation for every resident to keep good relationships.24) Mr. Rahmat’s wife plays an important role in ensuring good communication amongst the women in the neighborhood. During the food preparation process, she had a conversation with Mrs. Yayah discussing the plan for an arisan (social gathering among the women in the neighborhood), while Mr. Rahmat treated Mrs. Yayah’s son by giving him a new toy.

Despite the wives of vendors rarely joining them during the vending period, their presence is important for preparing the ingredients at home. One reason the wives do not participate in the selling activity is because they are mostly housewives, spending time taking care of their children and also being involved in neighborhood activities such as arisan or other gatherings.25)

Another example is Mr. Ruris. His wife supports him in preparing the ingredients for nasi goreng at home, though she has never appeared during the vending activities. She also plays a role in selecting the best-quality ingredients, as Mr. Ruris admits his wife has a natural ability to find them. On the other hand, the angkringan vendor Mr. Jos entrusts his wife to control the ingredient stock and cash flow, as he is not available all the time to manage this side of the business. Realizing his capacity is limited when it comes to managing the various aspects of his vending activities, his wife handles the stock control and financial aspects, and they run the business together.

Mr. Radis, the sate klatak vendor, usually asks his staff to get spices from Kosambi Market, located near the area in which he sells. He does not have regular suppliers to provide the spices he needs; he or his staff just buy them wherever they find them. When it comes to other materials, regular suppliers routinely deliver rice, mineral water, and gas cylinders to his place. For instance, a butcher from Sadang Serang District brings meat to the kitchen hours before the start of vending activities around 5 p.m.26)

Although they produce slightly different types of food, Mr. Jos is similar to Mr. Radis when it comes to obtaining ingredients. He relies heavily on each supplier delivering materials to his kitchen. As he works regularly during the day, he does not have time to spare and getting all the ingredients directly from the market is impossible. Although this might affect the production budget by raising the delivery cost, Mr. Jos trusts the suppliers to deliver ingredients rather than letting his employees obtain them directly from the market. Because of this purchasing system and his wife handling all the production flow in the house, he can continue his job in a conventional company without exerting too much effort in collecting and processing the ingredients.

The above activities are the attempts of vendors to stabilize the network between people to achieve the notion of “hybrid communities.” In this regard, the complex negotiations, ownership, and financial responsibilities are shared among the people and carried out to facilitate a sense of community or local solidarity (Simone 2004, 419). However, what about the network of the vendors with the customers? Being separated between the vending spot and the production place, are the vendors able to maintain a strong network with other actors? If so, what is the role of customers in shaping the network of vendors? The next subsection attempts to answer these questions.

Half-Cooked to Cooked

After finishing the exhausting process of preparing the basic ingredients into a half-cooked, pre-prepared state, street vendors are ready to start vending activities without requiring a lot of time from taking the order to serving. For example, Mr. Rahmat brings the half-cooked ingredients in his pushcart, and after receiving an order he arranges the cooked rice, sliced chicken, rice noodles, and vegetables and pours in chicken broth; the process takes only about three minutes in total for each bowl. Similarly, when Mr. Ruris prepares nasi goreng, after adding some oil, mixed vegetables, and spices, he fries together all the half-cooked ingredients such as rice, sliced chicken, and eggs.

After placing their order, customers sit on a wooden bench facing the vendor while he prepares their food. They are able to ask the vendor to modify the spices or add extra ingredients, if they wish. This style of eating and ordering is different from that of conventional restaurants, where customers seldom see directly what the chef cooks in the kitchen.

During my fieldwork, I observed that customers talked freely to the vendors about recent issues on television, political rumors, and their personal problems. They also often asked the vendors to add some chili, spices, broth, or even rice to their dish. Through the customization of dishes, street vendors can gauge common tastes among customers. Some vendors told me that they devised special dishes after observing what people often requested. Mr. Rahmat explained, “After seeing many people adding koya27) to thicken the soup, I decided to put more of it in every bowl of soto; and surprisingly, my customers welcomed it.”28) He also replaced the fried shrimp chips that usually accompany a bowl of soto ayam Madura with another type of chip called kerupuk aci (plain cassava starch chips), after some customers asked him to do so. By listening carefully to customers’ opinions and slowly adjusting the food composition to their needs, he was able to come up with his own distinctive way of cooking soto ayam Madura that was differentiated from other vendors’.

Mr. Ruris also acknowledges the customers’ contributions in giving their opinions of his food. His current special menu item is telor kecap (fried eggs with soy sauce); Mr. Ruris came up with it after some customers customized another menu item called ayam kecap (soy sauce spiced chicken). Unintentionally, this special item became popular among customers before Mr. Ruris established telor kecap on his menu. Describing his customers’ behavior, Mr. Ruris said, “My customers often ask me to alter the food composition. Although this takes extra time, it allows me to maintain the relationship and gives me new ideas.”29) The vendors are able to be creative by obtaining inspiration from every activity, such as customizing the food.

Mr. Radis also often discusses the taste of the food with his customers. During my observation, there was a change in the composition of sate klatak. In the beginning Mr. Radis provided two grilled-beef skewers accompanied by rice, but later on the dish had one extra skewer along with a price increase, from 17,000 rupiah to 25,000 rupiah, as a result of listening to customers’ opinions. The vending environment provides many opportunities for inspiration. Its open setting encourages interaction amongst vendors and customers, which generates many ideas for creating new varieties of foods. We can see the active role of suppliers and neighbors during the cooking process of street food, but customers also play an important role in shaping the form of the food through their requests, opinions, and ideas. Obviously, these activities are involved in the discussion of hybrid community, allowing various actors to be involved in the production process as openly as possible (Callon 2004, 3).

Tracing the Web: When Pedagang Kaki Lima Construct and Utilize the Networks

In this section I uncover the social networks connecting those involved in street food vending activities. This section also shows their contribution in creating street food through communication, supported by an informal environment, which affects the production and its innovative process. Fig. 2 shows the relationship of Mr. Rahmat, the soto ayam vendor, with other actors such as suppliers, the district chief, neighbors, and customers. Sarah Turner argues that street vendors rely strongly on their social web during the production process, and their development and innovation process is possible by maintaining the power of this network (Turner 2003, 150–151). Narumol postulates that street vendors can succeed in business at a more advanced level through the contributions of their family and acquaintances (Narumol 2006, 54). Street vendors are always in a state of wariness due to their vulnerability as well as the uncertainty associated with their circumstances. Therefore, the activities of street vendors demonstrate the way in which they constantly maintain a strong network so as to reap benefits. For example, the full-time vendor Mr. Rahmat does not need to budget extra to pay a helper or assistant cook as he can get help from neighbors, and he does not need to spend extra on food delivery as he purchases ingredients directly at the market. This is somewhat different from the system of part-time vendors, such as Mr. Jos, who need to budget funds to pay staff to prepare the food, and also use a delivery service instead of letting the staff go to the market for ingredients.


Fig. 2 Mr. Rahmat’s Network

Source: Author


As previously mentioned, the chicken supplier who was Mr. Rahmat’s neighbor on Madura Island regularly offers him a discounted price or, on occasion, gives him extra meat. In return, Mr. Rahmat tries to be equally generous with the supplier, for example by inviting him to join gatherings in his neighborhood. Having lived in the same hometown and sharing a similar cultural background, it is possible for them to maintain a strong relationship and strive to treat each other well. The rice seller Bersaudara is another person with whom Mr. Rahmat has maintained a close relationship. He receives many benefits from the seller, such as getting extra kilos of rice, and in return Mr. Rahmat invites him to neighborhood events.

Leaning on their network of family and neighbors is a way for vendors to accrue daily income and overcome the scarcity of manpower. This situation may be related to a form of labor exchange that is based on reciprocity among people, showing the value of cooperative labor. Labor exchange is a basis for social safety and good neighborliness (Shiraishi 2006, 39). This mode of reciprocity also contributes to strengthening the social capital that is the aggregate of actual and potential resources linked to the possession of a durable network formed of mutual acquaintances and recognition (Bourdieu 1986, 247). The example of Mrs. Yayah voluntarily helping Mr. Rahmat shows how they perform the important activity of exchanging labor in order to maintain their network and close proximity.

Mr. Rahmat seeks opportunities to become familiar with material costs, technology developments, and social interaction by meeting with almost 30 people every day during his production activities. Likewise, being a participant in the production process from beginning to end, including serving food to customers, enables Mr. Ruris to understand how to operate the business. Strong connections with other people support the vendors by helping them save on expenditure and time.

In contrast to the two previous vendors, Mr. Jos (angkringan vendor) and Mr. Radis (sate klatak vendor) hire staff to carry out the preparation to serving stages of food production,30) since they are engaged in formal occupations during the daytime. In order to reduce transportation cost, they neither ask the staff to buy ingredients at the market nor visit the market themselves every day, as in the case of Mr. Rahmat. Instead, they utilize the “delivery service” provided by their suppliers to bring materials directly into their kitchen. As a result, Mr. Jos and Mr. Radis may not directly encounter suppliers in the way that they would at a market, due to the suppliers’ and vendors’ use of hired staff to deliver and receive goods. Therefore, the networks would be weaker than those of Mr. Rahmat and Mr. Ruris.

To maintain their customer base, Mr. Radis and Mr. Jos use traditional and modern methods of communication both online and offline. Considering the recent trend of social media usage, Mr. Jos uses applications such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter; Mr. Radis posts pictures on Instagram, tagging customers. Recently, social media use has been on the increase among street vendors to help amplify their activities while at the same time helping to cement their position within the social web (Isaacs 2014, 208). Recording and converting activities from real space into cyberspace are ways for the vendors to accurately portray and advertise their activities, showing customers aspects such as food visuals, spatial ambience, and settings. As most social media platforms are free of charge, the vendors can explore new promotion methods to attract a huge number of customers.

Fig. 2 reveals the tremendous number of participants involved in processing the food, starting from ingredient collection and going on to preparation and cooking—from raw to half-cooked, and then half-cooked to cooked. Every participant plays an important role as they reconstruct and reshape the networks, no matter how great or small their contribution.

To sum up, the vendors need to maintain close relationships with other actors (ingredient suppliers, district chiefs, family, and neighbors); this is an essential part of the street vendors’ activities in order for them to obtain special benefits, such as affordable materials, and to get help from neighbors when dealing with heavy production. In return, there is a social obligation to support each other if some people need assistance. For example, Mr. Rahmat voluntarily organized an event for his neighbors as he felt indebted to them for all their help with his business.31)

At the same time, the vendors provide the finest hospitality to customers, give them extra ingredients when requested, and keep in close communication with them. This is a way for them to gain new ideas and an opportunity to modify and adjust the taste of their food. Another factor supporting the smooth interaction among vendors and customers is the informal environment and the open spatial setting of street vendors. For example, customers are able to clearly see what the vendors are cooking and what kinds of utensils are used, and be fully involved in ingredient modification and customization in cooking.

After assessing and understanding various factors experienced by the vendors in maintaining a social web to operate their business flow, the next question will be, how can the power of the network impact on the production process of street food?

Hybridity and Fluidity behind the Production Process of Street Food

We have already seen how the production process amongst street vendors reflects the strong ties between the participants in supporting each other. Turner concludes that the business activities of small entrepreneurs, including street vendors, are very flexible and have a crucial influence on the production, creation, and innovation process (Turner 2003, 130). Therefore, flexibility in the production process of street vending activities should be perceived as a means to assemble multiple participants to strengthen and stabilize their social network. Obviously, the ability to assemble contributes to the construction of many conjunctions, which becomes an essential platform for sustaining social transactions and livelihoods (Simone 2004, 410). Mr. Rahmat stated, “If I feel the preparation is going to be exhausting, I ask my neighbor to help. Otherwise, only my wife and I deal with the ingredients.”32) This kind of flexibility in the production process is rarely found in formal restaurants, due to strict regulations and procedures. Having a close relationship, Mr. Rahmat and his neighbors and acquaintances often talk to each other, discussing everyday trivial topics whilst sharing new information regarding the cost of ingredients and new cooking techniques. In line with this, Mr. Ruris has established a special menu because his generosity in welcoming customers enables customers to converse freely with the vendor. This kind of informal social interaction plays an important role in improving the street vendor’s business, as we see in Mr. Ruris’s case.

As a result of customers’ freedom and flexibility in giving critical suggestions, Mr. Radis acknowledges the significant role of customers’ opinions in adjusting the ingredients of his dish, sate klatak. He explained, “I adjusted the recipe because many customers said the amount of food was too small, and on the other hand the ingredients’ prices have increased recently. So I could not avoid modifying the food portion.”33) Even though there was a dramatic change in the food’s composition and appearance, Mr. Radis and his friends maintain the authenticity of the food by retaining the original mixture of spices.

The part-time vendors, Mr. Radis and Mr. Jos, have adopted certain foods from outside Bandung city and its culture. Therefore, their food is different from the original food, as a result of their attempts to adapt their food to the needs and palates of local customers. They stated that the crucial points for business success are to understand local customs, treat customers well, and have a humble yet generous demeanor.

Basically, learning from others is one of the core methods of coming up with new creations in the street food vending business. Although Mr. Ruris and Mr. Rahmat, who are full-time vendors, have never attended formal educational institutions or received chef training specializing in street food, they have gained knowledge through informal apprenticeships with street food vendors, such as Mr. Rahmat’s uncle teaching him recipes and advising him on how to run the business in the beginning.

Looking at the process of street food production, we see that it is an activity that combines the interests and competencies of different actors (Callon 2004, 4). As the creation process can be regarded as hybrid, the form can emerge as a consequence of the meeting of various cultures (Leach 2007, 109). Furthermore, by drawing on the whirlwind model idea we can understand how the hybrid process strains and harnesses contributions from humans and objects in shaping the form of the creation. In this regard, the production of street food is an example of a large event of hybridity of contributions from various actors; it emerges to reach a conjunction, where negotiation, adaptation, and flexibility take place. On the one hand, it shows how the heterogeneous actors have built a network as an infrastructure promoting a circulation of resources, which can bring about change and impact on progress (Larkin 2013). On the other hand, street food vending also reflects a large effort on the part of vendors to stabilize their social networks through intense interaction by taking advantage of the various interests and needs of people in the periphery of this activity.

Vending activities exemplify a way in which people consciously make connections and build networks. By observing street food production, we can understand that the products do not emerge from a single creator in a rigid and formal space; instead, production occurs in an informal environment as a collective effort.


We have seen the process of producing street food, from ingredient collection to cooking, which shows a huge web interwoven by many participants behind a plate of street food. This research examines the role of the social network in the daily activities of street vendors in Indonesia, particularly Bandung city.

A critical point can be made here regarding the production and the creation process of street food. A starting point to understand vending activities is to recognize the ability of street vendors to build a network for dealing with shortages and finding a way to achieve efficiency to enable their business to succeed. It indicates the active role of other participants, such as customers, through casual requests to modify foods to their taste; neighbors, who voluntarily support the preparation and cooking process; as well as suppliers, who are willing to provide ingredients. These factors are inextricably intertwined behind street food, contributing hybridity and fluidity based on collective practice.

Nobody can create something without gaining inspiration from external influences. There is abundant inspiration streaming into each street vendor’s mind through the medium of the people surrounding them. Viewing the creation process as the hub of incessant negotiation by various actors (Akrich et al. 2002; Callon 2004; Leach 2007), it is clear that there are various contributions behind every work, including street vending activity. The accumulation of various contributions by street vendors is, indeed, the vendors’ attempts to stabilize their networks and establish an infrastructure to distribute and achieve their needs (Simone 2004; Larkin 2013) by drawing heterogonous actors in a flexible and adaptable mode. By establishing a conceptual framework for the street vendors’ working scheme, we might show the way in which vendors build their infrastructure to satisfy their daily needs. It appears as one cultural process in an informal situation where street vendors, customers, neighbors, suppliers, and other participants are actively involved in creation.

Nowadays, street food vending activities flourish around the entire globe. Even though this research presents examples from the city of Bandung, the portraits may be extrapolated to the rest of Indonesia as well as other parts of the world. Understanding the street vendors’ operations makes us reflect on the important matters of openness, honesty, and humbleness, which are valuable factors in supporting their daily life. Furthermore, it gives us a clear picture of this type of business as a mode of exchanging capital to maintain a durable network based on the large event of work. This is possible by drawing multiple thoughts and actions under flexible yet informal circumstances.

Accepted: October 5, 2017


Akrich, Madeleine; Callon, Michel; and Latour, Bruno. 2002. The Key to Success in Innovation Part II: The Art of Choosing Good Spokespersons. International Journal of Innovation Management 6(2): 207–225.

Barker, Joshua. 1999. Surveillance and Territoriality in Bandung. In Figures of Criminality in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Colonial Vietnam, edited by Vicente L. Rafael, pp. 95–127. New York: Southeast Asia Program Publications.

Barker, Joshua; Lindquist, Johan; Boellstorff, Tom; Brown, Chris; Aryo Danusiri; Dadi Darmadi; Gibbings, Sheri; Grayman, Jesse; Hoesterey, James; Jones, Carla; Lee, Doreen; Rudnyckyj, Daromir; Silvey, Rachel; and Strassler, Karen. 2009. Figures of Indonesian Modernity. Indonesia 87 (April): 35–72.

Bell, Duran. 1991. Modes of Exchange: Gift and Commodity. Journal of Socio-Economics 20(2): 155–167.

Bhowmik, Sharit K. 2005. Street Vendors in Asia: A Review. Economic and Political Weekly 40(22–23): 2256–2264.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. The Forms of Capital. In Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by J. Richardson, pp. 241–258. New York: Greenwood.

Callon, Michel. 2004. The Role of Hybrid Communities and Socio-Technical Arrangements in the Participatory Design. Journal of the Center for Information Studies 5(3): 3–10.

Cardoso, Ryzia de Cassia Vieira; Companion, Michèle; and Marras, Stefano Roberto. 2014. Introduction. In Street Food: Culture, Economy, Health and Governance, edited by Ryzia de Cassia Vieira Cardoso, Michèle Companion, and Stefano Roberto Marras, pp. 1–11. New York: Routledge.

De Wit, Augusta. 1905. Java: Facts and Fancies. London: Chapman & Hall.

Dinas Koperasi UKM dan Perindustrian Perdagangan Kota Bandung [Department of Cooperative, SME, Industry, and Trade of Bandung City]. 2014. Peraturan Daerah Kota Bandung, Nomor: 04 Tahun 2011 tentang penataan dan Pembinaan Pedagang Kaki Lima (PKL) dan Keputusan Walikota, Nomor: 511.23/Kep.051-Diskop, UKM & Indag/2014 [Regional Regulation of Bandung City. Number: 04 Year 2011, about regulation and development of Pedagang Kaki Lima (PKL), and Mayoral Decree, Number: 511.23/Kep.051-Diskop, UKM & Indag/2014]. Bandung: Dinas Koperasi UKM dan Perindustrian Perdagangan Kota Bandung.

―. Official Website of Pedagang Kaki Lima., accessed October 31, 2015.

Forshee, Jill. 2006. Culture and Customs of Indonesia. London: Greenwood Press.

Gibbings, Sheri L. 2013. Unnamed Interests and Informal Leaders: A Street Vendor Relocation in Yogyakarta City. Indonesia 96 (October): 151–186.

Hendaru Tri Hanggoro. 2013. Mula pedagang kaki lima [The beginning of street vendors]. Historia. March 29., accessed March 13, 2017.

International Labour Office. 2013. Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture. Geneva: ILO Publications.

Isaacs, Bronwyn. 2014. The Tastiest Food Is in the Small Streets: The Politics of Flavor and Nostalgia in Bangkok. In Street Food: Culture, Economy and Governance, edited by R. de Cassia Viera Cardoso, M. Companion, and S. R. Marras, pp. 195–213. New York: Routledge.

Larkin, Brian. 2013. The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure. Annual Review of Anthropology 42: 327–343.

Leach, James. 2007. Creativity, Subjectivity, and the Dynamic of Possessive Individualism. In Creativity and Cultural Improvisation, edited by T. Ingold and E. Hallam, pp. 99–118. Oxford: Berg.

Mauss, Marcel. 2002. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. London: Routledge.

McGee, T. G.; and Yeung, Y. M. 1977. Hawkers in Southeast Asian Cities: Planning for the Bazaar Economy. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.

Narumol Nirathron. 2006. Fighting Poverty from the Street: A Survey of Street Vendors in Bangkok. Bangkok: International Labour Office.

Putra Prima Perdana. 2015. Ridwan Kamil: PKL dari luar kota sulit ditertibkan [Ridwan Kamil: PKL from outside Bandung city is hard to discipline]. Tempo National., accessed November 29, 2015.

―. 2014. Denda terlalu murah, PKL Bandung memilih didenda [The penalty fee is too cheap, PKL in Bandung choose to be fined]. Tempo National., accessed November 29, 2015.

Resmi Setia M; and Untung Rahardjo. 2009. Dunia yang Dinamis: Studi Kasus Para Pekerja Informal di Kota Bandung [The dynamic world. A case study: An informal worker in Bandung City]. Jurnal Analisis Sosial 14(1): 65–79.

Roy, Ananya. 2009. The 21st-Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory. Regional Studies 43(6): 819–830.

Ryter, Loren. 1998. Pemuda Pancasila: The Last Loyalist Free Men of Suharto’s Order? Indonesia 66 (October): 45–73.

Seruni Kusumawardhani. 2004. Vernakularisme pada desain perangkat jual pedagang makanan keliling di Bandung [Vernacularism on utensil design of itinerant traders in Bandung]. MDs thesis, Graduate School of Design, Faculty of Art and Design of Institute of Technology, Bandung.

Shiraishi, Soichiro. 2006. From Beer to Money: Labor Exchange and Commercialization in Eastern Uganda. African Studies Quarterly 9(1/2): 39–53.

Simone, AbdouMaliq. 2006. Pirate Towns: Reworking Social and Symbolic Infrastructures in Johannesburg and Douala. Urban Studies 43(2): 357–370.

―. 2004. People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture 16(3): 407–429.

Turner, Sarah. 2003. Indonesia’s Small Entrepreneurs: Trading on the Margins. New York: RoutledgeCurzon.

1) Soto ayam is generally translated as chicken and soup full of spices accompanied by white rice. It is cooked in various ways depending on where it originated. For this study, I interviewed a vendor who cooked soto ayam originating in Madura city, East Java Province.

2) Mr. Radis, interview with author, December 11, 2015, Bandung.

3) Formerly, the decree that regulated street vendors’ activities was Peraturan Walikota Bandung Number 888, 2012. In 2014 the new mayor established another decree that modified the previous one.

4) For a detailed explanation of preman, see Ryter (1998).

5) Mr. Juniarso, interview with author, August 22, 2015, Bandung.

6) Mr. Juniarso, interview with author, August 22, 2015, Bandung.

7) Gibbings also explained this in her research on the local government’s plan to relocate street vendors in 2007. Some of the capital-owning vendors tried to hide behind the representation of the old PKL, posing as rakyat kecil in order to avoid being viewed negatively by other vendors. In other words, being imposters of the “poor” was what was expected of them (Barker et al. 2009, 58–60).

8) Skewered grilled chicken with peanut sauce.

9) Mr. Rahmat, interview with author, September 20, 2015, Bandung.

10) Mr. Rahmat became acquainted with the head of the neighborhood association in this area (who, he claimed, was his regular customer). It can be said that he is one of the fortunate vendors, because he does not need to pay a “security fee” to gangsters or street hoodlums; instead, he only pays regular cleaning fees to the neighborhood association.

11) Mr. Ruris, interview with author, August 30, 2015, Bandung.

12) Mr. Ruris, interview with author, August 30, 2015, Bandung.

13) Mr. Radis, interview with author, December 11, 2015, Bandung.

14) Mr. Radis, interview with author, December 11, 2015, Bandung.

15) Angkringan are typical street vendors in Yogyakarta who sell comfort foods such as small pieces of paper-wrapped rice, and other side dishes such as skewered grilled chicken, fried tempe, and chicken eggs relatively cheap compared to other street foods.

16) Mr. Jos, interview with author, September 28, 2015, Bandung.

17) Mr. Jos, interview with author, September 28, 2015, Bandung.

18) Mr. Rahmat and Mr. Ruris, separate interviews with author, August–September 2015, Bandung.

19) Mr. Rahmat, interview with author, September 12, 2015, Bandung.

20) Mr. Ruris, interview with author, August 30, 2015, Bandung.

21) Mr. Jos, interview with author, September 28, 2015, Bandung.

22) Mrs. Nuri (Mr. Rahmat’s neighbor), interview with author, September 12, 2015, Bandung.

23) Mrs. Yayah, interview with author, September 12, 2015, Bandung.

24) The act of give-and-take performed by Mr. Rahmat and his neighbors might be related to the issue of “gift” that is widely discussed by scholars. The classical writing by Marcel Mauss (2002, 6–7) explains that what is exchanged is not solely property and wealth but also acts of politeness, rituals, dances, etc., in which the economic transaction is only one element. This gift exchange system is possible when there is mutual benefit, for example when the gift provider attempts to make himself or herself appear to be more valuable than the recipient—in other words, this exchange of goods appears to be an instrument to build mutual friendships among groups (Bell 1991, 164). Indeed, the activity undertaken by Mr. Rahmat instantiates the notion of give-and-take; however, I will not delve deeper into the issue here.

25) Other gatherings include pengajian ibu-ibu (Qur’an reading groups among mothers) that are regularly held in this neighborhood.

26) Processing the meat is one of the more time-consuming jobs. Sometimes the vendors skewer the meat in front of customers. I do not go into detail about this process as this work is done by only one or two persons.

27) One of the important ingredients of soto ayam Madura, koya is made of ground shrimp chips and thickens the broth.

28) Mr. Rahmat, interview with author, September 20, 2015, Bandung.

29) Mr. Ruris, interview with author, August 30, 2015, Bandung.

30) This is slightly different from the methods of Mr. Rahmat and Mr. Ruris, in the sense of relying on the network for help. Part-time vendors need to depend on hired staff because some of them are not real cooks.

31) In this regard, Mr. Rahmat explained, “Saya harus bikin acara ini, karena saya merasa hutang budi ke para tetangga. Disini semuanya selalu saling bantu [I have to arrange this event, because I feel indebted to the neighbors. All the people here are always helping each other].”

32) Mr. Rahmat, interview with author, September 12, 2015, Bandung.

33) Mr. Radis, interview with author, December 11, 2015, Bandung.


Vol. 6, No. 3, Will BREHM


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 3

The Is and the Ought of Knowing: Ontological Observations on Shadow Education Research in Cambodia

Will Brehm*

* Waseda Institute for Advanced Study, Waseda University, 1-6-1 Nishi Waseda, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 169-8050, Japan
e-mail: willbrehm[at]

DOI: 10.20495/seas.6.3_485

This article focuses on the limitations of terms and definitions regarding shadow education research in Cambodia. Although shadow education in Cambodia is typically defined as private tutoring taught by mainstream schoolteachers to their own students, other manifestations of it have been missed by most studies on the subject, including my own. By tracing the terms used and the definitions of shadow education in various research studies, I argue that the assumptions made over terms and definitions (i.e., what ought to be the case) limited researchers’ understanding of shadow education in its ontological evolution and complexity (i.e., what is the case). Methodologically, the unintentional recycling of the same definition across time resulted in the epistemic fallacy and concept reification. These outcomes have profound consequences for how the phenomenon may be theorized not only in Cambodia but across the Southeast Asian region. In conclusion, I propose an alternative approach to study shadow education based on critical realism.

Keywords: shadow education, private tutoring, Cambodia, critical realism, methodology


There is a long-standing Western philosophical problem in using descriptive statements (what is) to make prescriptive claims (what ought to be). But do claims of “what ought to be” limit “what is”? This can happen when erroneous assumptions proliferate. Since all research begins with assumptions, it is vital not to be mistaken.

Some of the most common assumptions in research relate to terminology and definitions. The terms and definitions used by researchers help to manage concepts that are difficult to comprehend. To manage a concept so that it can be studied, the terms and definitions employed in research studies necessarily exclude alternative meanings. As such, assigning terms and settling on one definition over another for a given concept is never a neutral process. This struggle over meaning is a central feature of academic debate.

Research on “shadow education” is a case in point.1) Shadow education can be broadly defined as a collection of educational services that are fee based but not public, mainstream schooling.2) The formation and organization of the phenomenon differ across the globe. Within Southeast Asia, the differences are pronounced. At one extreme are Cambodia, Brunei Darussalam, and Laos, where tutoring is commonly initiated by schoolteachers to top up (sometimes substantially) low salaries. In these cases, it is difficult to know when mainstream schooling ends and private tutoring begins. At the other extreme are Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, where tutoring has developed into a legitimate and recognized business sector. Students in these countries typically take extra lessons in centers that are organized as for-profit companies, outside the control of education ministries but connected to school curricula and examinations. In Singapore, for instance, 8 out of 10 primary school children attend tutoring (Straits Times-Nexus Link Tuition Survey 2015), and the amount households pay on tutoring increased from S$650 in 2004 to S$1.1 billion in 2014 (Tan 2014).

Across the globe people have their own, evolving terms to describe the activities researchers commonly refer to as shadow education. In Japan the dominant form is termed juku, in England it is called tuition, and in Cambodia it is labeled ɾiən kuə.3) Yet each of these terms misses the complexity of the phenomenon as it is currently understood. There are juku for examination preparation and juku for remedial study (Roesgaard 2006; Watanabe 2013). There are tuition classes in cyberspace and in everyday life (Ventura and Jang 2010). Both public and private school teachers can teach ɾiən kuə classes. As educational spaces evolve and morph into new realities, and as researchers’ understandings deepen, researchers try to refine and add complexity to their terms and definitions.

Yet decisions over the definition of a phenomenon like shadow education often have unintended consequences. One possible consequence of choosing one meaning over another is the assumption that it accurately captures the phenomenon’s existence, its ontology. Another consequence is that operationalized terms and definitions can be normalized and therefore legitimized by future research studies, thus missing possible changes to the phenomenon itself. In these situations, what was excluded from or simply not captured by the definition and term lead to significant gaps in understanding.

This article focuses on the limitations of terms and definitions regarding shadow education research in Cambodia. Although shadow education in Cambodia is typically defined as private tutoring taught by mainstream schoolteachers to their own students (captured by the term ɾiən kuə), my experience suggests that many types of ɾiən kuə comprising the activities of shadow education have been missed by most studies on the subject, including my own.

The missing terms and definitions in the research literature raise a methodological question: Do terms and definitions used in research studies capture, intentionally or not, only part of the multifaceted phenomenon? By tracing the terms used and the definitions of shadow education in various research studies, I argue that the assumptions made over terms and definitions (i.e., what ought to be the case) limited researchers’ understanding of shadow education in its ontological evolution and complexity (i.e., what is the case). This has profound consequences for how the phenomenon may be theorized. I advocate a critical realist approach to the study of shadow education not only in Cambodia but across Southeast Asia to acknowledge the existence of its reality, whether or not researchers can adequately see, name, or define it.

Changing Terms, Static Definitions

In Cambodia people use the term ɾiən kuə to describe what researchers would call shadow education. Like the term juku in Japan, however, ɾiən kuə can embrace multiple types, which are likely evolving and thus should not be taken as static (see Table 1).


Table 1 Types of Tutoring


The most common type of ɾiən kuə is “regular private tutoring,” which is fee-based tutoring in classes taught by mainstream schoolteachers. It is considered “regular” (tʰoəmməɗaː) because it focuses on the mainstream curriculum and resembles mainstream classes (i.e., class sizes and layouts are like those in mainstream schooling). A less common form of ɾiən kuə is “special private tutoring,” which covers individual or small group classes taught by a tutor who may or may not be a student’s mainstream schoolteacher. These classes cost much more than regular private tutoring classes. Some students have the option of attending and paying for “private tutoring during holidays.” These are classes conducted in school or at a teacher’s home, and are held by a student’s current or future teacher when mainstream schooling is not in session. The last type of ɾiən kuə, which appears to be a growing phenomenon especially in city centers, is “private tutoring at private school.” This type of ɾiən kuə covers tutoring classes of various sorts, held by non-mainstream schoolteachers outside public school buildings, and for some cost. The word “school” in this type of tutoring takes on a broad meaning, from registered tutoring centers as businesses to makeshift classrooms inside university students’ homes or apartments. Each type of ɾiən kuə has different causal origins, and future evolutions will likely make this artificial categorization obsolete.4) Nevertheless, this brief orientation of contemporary ɾiən kuə will be useful to the reader going forward.

The transliterated terms I provide above have rarely been used in the English-language research literature. Instead, terms such as private tuition, private coaching, or private tutoring have been used. Quite apart from the loss of meaning when one of these terms is translated into Khmer, it is the evolution of English terminology that interests me here. In this section I trace both the terminology and the definition of the phenomenon referred to broadly as ɾiən kuə. I show that the English terminology has changed within and across research studies reported in the English language, while the definition has stayed roughly the same.

One of the first mentions in Cambodia of “private tuition” was in a 1994 Education Sector Review (Cambodia 1994). The Review’s executive summary stated, “recent surveys suggest that parents pay around R120,000 per annum per primary student for uniforms, private tuition and books” (ibid., Vol. 1, 14; emphasis added).5) This indicates that the researchers who conducted the cited surveys included “private tuition” as a category of possible household expenses.

Closer inspection of the data within the Review reveals that different terms were used to describe the phenomenon in the two surveys to which the Review referred, namely, “private tuition,” “private coaching,” and “private tutoring.” However, both surveys defined the concept in similar ways. In one table, family costs of education per pupil were reported in the main urban centers in six provinces for primary schools and three provinces for secondary schools. The costs were categorized into textbooks and materials, uniforms, contributions to school, transport, and private coaching (ibid., Vol. 2B, Table 75; see Fig. 1). In another table, household expenditures per student were reported from a sample of 126 students and were broken down into different categories: tuition and other charges, books and stationery, private tuition, uniforms, transport, and others (ibid., Vol. 2B, Table 76; see Fig. 2).


Fig. 1 Table 75 of 1994 Education Sector Review, Vol. 2B



Fig. 2 Table 76 of 1994 Education Sector Review, Vol. 2B


Although data reported in the two tables came from different sources, which is likely why there was a slight difference in terminology,6) the terms refer to the same phenomenon. A definition of the interchangeable terms can be ascertained in the main body of the Review (ibid., Vol. 2A, 109). In this description, “private tutoring is not, as one might assume, an opportunity for individual students to get special help on material they might not have understood in class. Instead, it constitutes an extension of the regular curriculum offered by the same teacher in the same large group setting—this time with a user fee attached.” Moreover, the report labeled private tutoring as “part [of] the shadow private system” of education (ibid.). This description was recycled almost verbatim by subsequent Reviews (e.g., Cambodia 1996) as well as in later studies by Mark Bray (e.g., Bray 1996a; 1999), the scholar who has propelled research on shadow education worldwide and who was my PhD adviser. As I will show below, this description has remained the central definition of the phenomenon in the Cambodian context.7)

Reproducing a case study from the Review, Bray (1996a, 16) used the term “private tutoring” to discuss the phenomenon in Cambodia.8) He (1999) also used the terms “supplementary tutoring” (57), “private tutoring” (22), and “private supplementary tutoring” (90) to describe the “shadowy system considered beyond the control and responsibility of government” (90) in Cambodia. Bray (ibid.) pointed out that in the Cambodian context, “much of the tutoring is in the students’ own schools and is given by their own teachers” (21).9) Although Bray (ibid., 57) acknowledged some “pupils made private arrangements for additional tutoring outside the schools,” tutoring was categorized as an in-school expense. The English terms used by Bray and the authors of the Review in Cambodia include “private tuition,” “private tutoring,” “private coaching,” and “private supplementary tutoring.”

Although different combinations of terminology were used from 1994 to 1999, the description of the phenomenon remained relatively constant. Bray (1999) reproduced the description of “supplementary tutoring” in Cambodia in a highlighted box titled “private enterprise in a public system” (22). In this box, which came from the 1996 Education Sector Review (Cambodia 1996, 107), “private tutoring” was described as “an extension of the regular curriculum offered by the same teacher in the same large group setting—this time with a user fee attached.” This is identical language to the 1994 Review cited by Bray (1996a, 16): private tutoring “constitutes an extension of the regular curriculum offered by the same teacher in the same large group setting.” Despite the variable terminology in all the reports mentioned thus far, the descriptions of the actual concept remained nearly identical. The terminology and description used in the Review (Cambodia 1994) were not only reproduced by Bray’s (1996a; 1999) two studies but also were repeated and reused by various authors over the next 15 years.

Before looking at some of these studies, it is important to situate the evolution of terms in their historical context. The historical beginnings of the various terms can be traced, in part, to a separate study by Bray (1996b) for UNESCO’s International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century in which he discussed “a general shift in the centre of gravity towards greater private ownership, financing and control of schools” (i).10) Although this report was not about Cambodia per se, it did show Bray’s own process of coming to understand the concept of shadow education and the various terms (and metaphors) that could be used to label it. It also suggests that the concept of shadow education was implicated in the school privatization processes that became popularized within various development organizations and international financial institutions during the 1990s.11)

Bray continued his Cambodian research with another study a few years later. Bray and Bunly (2005) built on Bray’s (1999) study to focus on household costs at the primary and lower secondary levels. The latter grades were unexplored in the earlier study. In the 2005 iteration, supplementary tutoring was described as in earlier studies, and the terminology was again multiple. Bray and Bunly (2005) used “supplementary tutoring” (11), “private tutoring” (75), and the “shadow system” which operates “alongside the mainstream” (40). The description of these various terms remained nearly identical to those in 1994, 1996, and 1999: “in Cambodia, much of the tutoring is in the students’ own schools and is given by their own teachers” (ibid., 11).

The relative stability in the description of “private tuition,” “private tutoring,” “private coaching,” and “private supplementary tutoring” from the 1994 Review to Bray and Bunly’s (2005) study, which may be an outcome of the relatively short time frame and similar authors across the studies, was normalized and legitimized by later studies. In its 2007 report on informal fees to education, the NGO Education Partnership (NEP) wrote of “private tutoring” with the occasional use of “extra tutoring” (NEP 2007, 17, 26). Similar but not identical to Bray and Bunly’s (2005) formulation, the NEP classified tutoring into two types: teachers who “conduct private classes” do so either (1) “on the school premises” and therefore for their own students; or (2) “in private classrooms set up in the community” and therefore open to all students (16). The report went on to state that private tutoring was “often a continuation of the public curriculum rather than supplementary” (ibid., 16), thus disputing—but not elaborating on—one of the key terms used in previous studies. There may have been small revisions and challenges to the terminology used to describe the phenomenon, but the description of “private tutoring” in the NEP report was similar—if not identical—to the 1994 Education Sector Review.

Walter Dawson (2009) was the first to problematize explicitly the terminology used in shadow education research in Cambodia. The data collected by Dawson in 2008 set out to “re-examine the findings” of earlier studies on shadow education in Cambodia (ibid., 55). He preferred to use the terms “private tutoring” and “shadow education,” and critiqued some of the other terms used in earlier studies. When citing data from a government report from 2005, Dawson noted (ibid., 57) its problematic use of “remedial tutoring” as a category of unofficial fees. He went on to explain how tutoring in Cambodia is neither supplementary (because much of it completes the national curriculum), echoing the NEP (2007) study, nor remedial (because high-achieving students attend just as often as low-achieving students).

Despite his critique of the different terms used to describe shadow education in Cambodia, Dawson nevertheless employed the same description as the 1994 Education Sector Review: “This form of shadow education wherein state teachers conduct private tutoring for their own students is well documented by Bray and not unusual to find in many developing countries . . .” (Dawson 2009, 51).

The description used by Dawson (2009) included the phrase “This form of” without exploring alternative forms. In a later article comparing shadow education in Japan, Korea, and Cambodia, Dawson (2010) again suggested that there were multiple forms of tutoring. In the section on Cambodia (ibid., 20), he qualified the term “private tutoring” with the phrase “this brand of,” like the phrase “much of” used by Bray (1999, 21) and Bray and Bunly (2005, 40). Since Dawson did not explain other “brands of” tutoring within the Cambodian context, I read this phrase as drawing a comparison to the tutoring practices in the other two countries. What he did not do, in other words, was suggest there were different “brands of private tutoring” within Cambodia. This is particularly surprising given that Dawson (2010) discussed the many types of juku in the section on Japan (16).

A 2011 study by William Brehm, Iveta Silova, and Mono Tuot (2012; also, Brehm and Silova 2014) continued the trend of challenging terminology while describing the phenomenon as teachers who tutor their own students. Brehm and Silova (2014) described private tutoring thus: “Before or after attending the required four or five hours of public school each day, many students receive, and pay for, extra instruction [by their own teacher]” (95). Brehm et al. (2012) offered the term “hybrid education” in their discussion on “shadow education” and “supplementary tutoring” (14–16). This concept was defined simply as public, mainstream education plus “complementary tutoring,” which was defined as the type of tutoring where teachers tutor their own students. Although they preferred the term “complementary tutoring” to “supplementary tutoring” because, echoing Dawson’s work, the former includes “lessons that are essential [and not extra] to the national curriculum” (ibid., 15), they continued to use the common description of tutoring since 1994 that focused on teachers who “conduct private tutoring lessons with their own students after school hours either in school buildings or in their home” (ibid., 16). Moreover, the authors argued that the hybrid system “casts a shadow of its own” (ibid., 15), meaning other forms of tutoring (e.g., “remedial and/or enrichment education opportunities” [ibid.]) existed because of this hybrid system. They highlighted the different types of tutoring in a table (ibid., 16). The private tutoring commonly referred to in past studies was labeled “extra study” (with an incorrect Latin-script rendering of the Khmer script as rien kuo). They then offered other types of tutoring (and their English translations), such as “extra study during holidays,” “extra special study” (i.e., individualized tutoring), “private (tutoring) school,” and “English/French extra study.” Each was a different type of tutoring conceptualized into two broad categories: “hybrid education” and “shadow education.”

Despite the expansion in their description of hybrid education and its shadow, Brehm et al. (2012) limited their study to “the differences and similarities between private tutoring (Rien Kuo) and government school classes” (17). In other words, they continued to study ɾiən kuə exactly as it had been historically described in the Cambodian context, neglecting its other forms despite recognizing their existence. Although they questioned the terminology used in shadow education research in Cambodia just as the NEP (2007) and Dawson (2009) had, Brehm and colleagues focused on one type of the phenomenon when collecting data.

This historical look at past research studies of ɾiən kuə in Cambodia shows two things. First, the terminology used to describe the phenomenon has changed greatly over the years. The terms private coaching, private tutoring, private tuition, supplementary tutoring, shadow education, extra study, etc., have all been used. Second, the description of these various terms has stayed relatively similar over time. That description is of tutoring given by schoolteachers to their own mainstream school students. Although the different authors recognize other forms of tutoring, rarely are they elaborated. Because of the similar descriptions of the phenomenon, all the research studies have used a similar core definition when collecting data, limiting what is ɾiən kuə to what it ought to be.

The Epistemic Fallacy and Concept Reification

Despite the changing terms, the similar descriptions of ɾiən kuə employed in the various research studies reduced descriptive claims of what is to prescriptive claims of what ought to be. The alternative realities were, in other words, reduced to the definitions employed in data collection methods. Methodologically, the unintentional recycling of the same definition across time resulted in the epistemic fallacy and concept reification.

The epistemic fallacy (Bhaskar 1975) is the confusion over how researchers know things with whether those things exist. The quintessential epistemic fallacy is perhaps best captured by Descartes’ (1637/1960) famous saying, “I think; therefore, I am.” In this example, it is implied that the ability of a subject to think about itself constitutes the self in reality. In effect, Descartes’ existence depends on his ability to think, thus “reduc[ing] reality to [his] knowledge of it” (Dean et al. 2005, 8). This is a fallacy because Descartes’ physical self exists whether or not he can actually think about it. In terms of Western philosophy, which underpinned all the studies discussed in the previous section, research that commits the epistemic fallacy assumes that epistemology comes before ontology. This is analogous to believing that ɾiən kuə exists only in the form that has been empirically captured by researchers.

The second problem of concept reification is the process of taking an abstract concept and turning it into a concrete reality. Shadow education is an abstract concept because the manifestations of its material reality—juku in Japan, tuition in England, or ɾiən kuə in Cambodia—are different depending on space, place, and time. Moreover, the material realities of juku, tuition, or ɾiən kuə are ever changing and therefore require constant revision to terms, descriptions, and definitions. Yet, through the research process where concepts are clearly defined and then operationalized in data collection instruments, the concept of shadow education necessarily goes from being an abstract concept to being a real thing that can be measured and described. The main problems with concept reification are that reified concepts may incorrectly or only partially capture material reality, and the reuse of the same reified concept in later studies decontextualizes the phenomenon from its material reality in specific spaces, places, and times.

To show these two problems in the research, it is necessary to look closely at the methods employed in the various studies on shadow education in Cambodia. What becomes clear across the studies is that the preferred method of data collection has been the survey, often supplemented with interviews and focus groups. It is within the surveys that the constant definition of ɾiən kuə is used and reused. It is precisely here where concept reification and the epistemic fallacy emerge.

Survey research is the quintessential data collection method that reifies concepts. Surveys must operationalize terms—that is, the process of measuring a concept that is not directly measurable—for data to be collected. In survey research, questions are asked to obtain empirical, measurable data that are said to define (often by proxy) an abstract concept. For example, measuring the amount of money students pay teachers for tutoring classes can operationalize the concept of private tutoring. Another possibility for operationalizing private tutoring is to measure the attendance of students in tutoring classes. Still a third way is to simply ask students, parents, or teachers whether private tutoring exists. In these cases, operationalizing essentially takes a concept and reifies it; it assumes one definition and therefore not another, and subsequently operationalizes the assumed definition by asking one set of questions and not another.

Operationalizing terms, however, is a necessary part of survey research. Bray and Bunly (2005, 28) rightly point this out: “Surveys need to set clear definitions and then to communicate those definitions to all relevant people.” A necessary consequence of setting clear definitions is the exclusion of other possible definitions. For example, defining private tutoring as fee-based classes taught by mainstream schoolteachers and then asking students about that may provide descriptive information on this topic, but it certainly will not provide descriptive information on the classes for which students pay (or not) that are taught by teachers other than their own mainstream schoolteachers. As such, to assume ɾiən kuə is captured completely by a set of survey questions reduces the reality of its existence to the knowledge produced by the survey, thus committing the epistemic fallacy.

The 1994 Education Sector Review reported data on private tutoring and private coaching from two different surveys (Cambodia 1994). The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the development mission in charge of writing the Review conducted the two surveys. In effect, the surveys captured what the people constructing the surveys knew at one moment in time. From the two tables where private tuition/coaching are reported, it can be inferred that the surveys operationalized household expenditures into various categories. Private tuition/coaching was one such category. When the survey was carried out, respondents could respond to questions about money spent on private tuition/coaching. As such, private tutoring was operationalized by the amount of money respondents reportedly spent on private tuition/coaching.

The 1994 Review’s definition of private tutoring/coaching was used and reused in later studies. Although it is possible that surveys used in other studies asked questions about different types of tutoring, all the studies reported data on one (or possibly two in the case of Bray and Bunly 2005) type(s) of tutoring. In effect, the phenomenon was reduced—or flattened—to one understanding. The 1994 description of private tutoring, which captured one moment in time, became trans-historical as it was applied in and reported by subsequent studies. Consequently, what existed was what was seen, thus committing the epistemic fallacy. Alternative definitions of private tutoring were excluded even if other types of tutoring were alluded to.

Some of the studies used mixed methodologies to collect data. These studies can mainly be categorized as sequential explanatory design mixed methods (Creswell et al. 2003). In these types of studies, quantitative data are typically collected before qualitative data:

The rationale for this approach is that the quantitative data and their subsequent analysis provide a general understanding of the research problem. The qualitative data and their analysis refine and explain those statistical results by exploring participants’ views in more depth. (Ivankova et al. 2006, 5)

Sequential explanatory design mixed method empirical studies collect data through a survey and then explore that data in greater depth vis-à-vis public opinion interviews or focus groups. The latter provide qualitative details to the former descriptive statistics, and not vice versa.

Sequential explanatory mixed method studies have been the favored approach in shadow education research in Cambodia. Data in Bray’s (1999) study, conducted in two iterative phases in 1997 and 1998, “were collected through questionnaires and follow-up discussion with personnel from nine schools in each location,” which were based on a previous study in Bhutan (37). Discussion workshops were also organized with parents after questionnaires were administered. The notes from the workshop discussions, which were translated into English, were used “to supplement the data contained in the questionnaires” (ibid., 37). In phase two of the study, the questionnaire was revised based on the first phase of data collection and administered in the same manner. In addition, four case studies were conducted in the second phase. Bray and Bunly (2005) used a similar method to Bray (1999): school surveys followed by focus group discussions, followed by “in depth interviews with pupils for information validation” (Bray and Bunly 2005, 32). Similarly, the NEP’s (2007) study used a structured questionnaire followed by focus group discussions. The latter “provided more qualitative information about informal payments and explored in more depth public opinion and perception” (ibid., 9). In Dawson’s (2009) study, a sample of “primary school teachers . . . completed a written questionnaire after which they participated in a 60–90 minute focus group interview” (57). In each case, quantitative data collection preceded qualitative data collection. The one exception is the study by Brehm and colleagues (Brehm et al. 2012; Brehm and Silova 2014) where qualitative data (focus groups and observations) were conducted concurrently with quantitative data collection (grade tracking), while no survey was carried out. Nevertheless, problems remain in Brehm and colleagues’ work where the definition of private tutoring was assumed without question. In effect, the authors were only looking for one type of tutoring without realizing that other types might have existed.

In all the studies, alternative definitions to ɾiən kuə were excluded through the very research methods employed. The sequential explanatory design mixed methods used by most of the studies limited the definition of shadow education to one or two types, which were operationalized by questions in the surveys. When data were reported, the research studies privileged one definition of private tutoring to the exclusion of possible alternatives, even if the researchers themselves knew other types of tutoring existed. The abstract concept of private tutoring was therefore reified in the research literature to one specific type, with only slight variations over time.

Qualitative research in combination with survey research has the potential to overcome some of the inherent problems of survey research, namely, the impossibility of managing context (Burawoy 1998). That the definition of shadow education employed in data collection methods stayed relatively consistent over two decades of research suggests, however, that the qualitative side to the various studies never truly informed the surveys, at least in terms of the definition of the central concept under investigation. It is this methodological shortcoming that has reduced the many meanings of private tutoring to one definition, thus blinkering researchers from employing alternative definitions to capture other facets of the phenomenon within the Cambodian context. In this way, all the research studies committed the epistemic fallacy because they assumed reality was what could be seen and measured through surveys.

This is not to suggest that surveys should not be used in research. Surveys have real value due to their ability to describe certain concepts at one moment in time. However, without historical understandings of the sociocultural structures informing the construction of surveys, researchers are prone to commit the epistemic fallacy and reify concepts that may be fleeting, elusive, and evolving. An alternative starting point assumes reality is more than researchers can empirically observe. It is to this alternative that I now turn in the conclusion.


Whatever terms and definitions are settled upon dictate how researchers see and know the world, knowingly or not. Words and their meanings are the building blocks for theory, or what Western philosophers call epistemology. Moreover—and perhaps harder to grasp—the assumptions made over terms and definitions presuppose a general account of the world, or what Western philosophers call ontology. Terms and definitions not only help social scientists see the world by giving meaning but also help construct the world.

The history of shadow education studies in Cambodia highlights the dangers of assuming and operationalizing definitions. By limiting the definition of shadow education reported in various studies, researchers likely missed myriad experiences students had with tutoring. This was evident in Brehm et al.’s (2012) table of the different types of tutoring, most of which were different from the common definition of tutoring dating from the Review’s 1994 definition (Cambodia 1994). Although there were changes in terminology used to describe shadow education, such as the experiences in Japan and England, the surveys conducted across the studies in Cambodia did not allow for alternative realities to exist. As I attempted to show, it was not only survey research that limited the definitions but also more qualitative-oriented studies (e.g., Brehm and Silova 2014). By operationalizing one (or two) definition(s) of private tutoring into the various surveys, reality was flattened to only what was seen at one moment in time.

There is an alternative research paradigm that conceptualizes reality as stratified. Critical realism begins with the assumption that reality is more than what can be empirically seen. Reality is not limited to experiences but also includes sociocultural structures that do not have a material reality but nevertheless affect human agency through emergent properties. From this critical realist perspective, reality is stratified and not flat. As such, critical realism differentiates reality into three ontological levels.

The first level is the empirical. This is what researchers observe in daily life. It is precisely at this ontological level where the surveys employed in shadow education research in Cambodia exist. The various surveys could capture an empirical reality of a sample of individuals within a specific moment in time. For example, the surveys captured descriptive statistics such as the percentage of students attending one type of private tutoring, the typical cost of one hour of tutoring, the subjects commonly taught during private tutoring, and parental and teacher perspectives on why the classes were held. Critical realists argue this level of reality is true, but that there are likely other empirical realities from other people at the same moment (or different moments) in time that are also true but simply not captured by the research study. This is where the second ontological level exists.

The second level is the actual. This is the “sum total of events that can be said to have taken place” (Graeber 2001, 52). Although all experiences within the actual may not have been observed by a single actor, it is conceivable to accept the premise that experiences other than one’s own could in fact have occurred and could have been observed given different spatiotemporal configurations. For example, students may have attended private tutoring classes taught by teachers other than their own prior to 2005 when Bray and Bunly (2005) first reported data on this type of tutoring. Bray (1999) implied this in his use of the phrase “much of.” This implies that the ways in which researchers know are relative and socially produced: each person experiences different empirical realities, which then change how he or she knows something to be “true.” The level of the actual suggests that ontology exists whether researchers understand reality or not. As such, critical realists argue epistemology does not precede ontology but rather succeeds it.

The third ontological level is the real. This is the level of powers, mechanisms, and potentialities of what may or may not happen and which are irreducible to (patterns of) events. Whereas the levels of the empirical and actual are concerned with “events, states of affairs, experiences, impressions, and discourses,” the real is concerned with “underlying structures, power, and tendencies that exist, whether or not detected or known through experience and/or discourse” (Patomaki and Wight 2000, 223). It is in the level of the real where “a sense of reaching for deeper” explanations of the world appear through “the latent or invisible . . . forces that manifest themselves in everyday life” (Coole 2005, 124). It is at this level that a different conception of causation emerges. Causation is not a correlation between two or more empirical occurrences, but rather an understanding of the historical mechanisms and structures that make what exists possible. This requires more than empirical data that can describe the empirical and actual levels of reality. At the level of the real, social scientists “attempt to identify the relatively enduring structures, powers, and tendencies, and to understand their characteristic ways of acting” (Patomaki and Wight 2000, 223). These sociocultural structures are context specific and based on history.12)

To understand shadow education in Cambodia from a critical realist perspective therefore requires researchers to see it as a system with its own emergent properties and potentials that are irreducible to its constituent parts. Shadow education from this perspective is a social reality created through the interactions of people (students, teachers, parents, government officials, etc.) that embrace or transform (through reflexivity) certain vested interests, opportunity costs, and situational logics that are embedded in social structures and cultural systems (see Archer 2003).

A stratified ontology offers an alternative set of assumptions that can be usefully employed in shadow education research in Cambodia. First, a critical realist approach suggests survey research can inform understandings of empirical reality at certain moments in time, but its explanatory power of the phenomenon is limited. What causes shadow education, therefore, cannot be explained through survey research alone. In addition, placing surveys within the first ontological level of the empirical prevents trans-historicizing data and definitions. Researchers who take a critical realist approach should question definitions used and operationalized in previous empirical studies because the space, place, and time of definitions and terms must be recognized.

Second, qualitative research takes on a different purpose than studies that use sequential explanatory design mixed methods. Whereas the sequential explanatory design mixed methods approach places qualitative data collection after or in iteration with quantitative data to provide more depth to the statistical data, a critical realist approach would use qualitative data not only to inform the collection of empirical data through surveys but also to understand the ontological levels of the actual and the real. Regarding the latter, qualitative research keeps open the possibility of multiple empirical realities (i.e., the actual) without artificially limiting reality to one meaning as is necessary in survey research. Thus, during unstructured interviews, for example, an infinite number of definitions of shadow education could theoretically emerge from participants because they are not limited by a clearly communicated definition made prior to data collection by the researchers. This likely occurred in all of the research studies when the researchers first learned about the phenomenon, not through published articles but through interactions with their colleagues on the ground.

Third, a critical realist approach to shadow education research would incorporate theory differently than has previously been the case. Whereas theory has often been used to help make sense of empirical data collected, a critical realist approach uses theory to understand the ontological level of the real while acknowledging the social construction of theory itself. This is because understanding the real, which is where the causal mechanisms of shadow education are assumed to reside, requires an engagement with various types of theory. Since “widely different theories can interpret the same, unchanging world in radically differently ways,” it is necessary for critical realist researchers to recognize that “knowledge is not totally arbitrary and some claims about the nature of this reality may provide better accounts than others” (Patomaki and Wight 2000, 224). As such, research studies from a critical realist perspective begin with an engagement with the ontological level of the real and work “up” to the ontological level of the empirical. Understanding the real can help researchers operationalize definitions and terms in meaningful ways that can then capture empirical reality in specific places, spaces, and times.

Shadow education is a growing topic of scholarly research across Southeast Asia. Two decades of empirical research makes the case of Cambodia an important location where lessons can be found. The case of Cambodia shows that it is important to recognize the limits of meaning inherent in survey research studies that have dominated the literature on shadow education in Cambodia. Moreover, the research on Cambodia shows the importance of researchers broadening their approaches by conducting research with different sets of assumptions than previous research studies have made. One alternative advocated here is to see reality as stratified and not flat. With a stratified ontology, new meanings of reality open new possibilities for shadow education research not only in Cambodia but also across Southeast Asia and beyond. The reality of shadow education will subsequently overcome what it ought to be.

Accepted: September 12, 2017


I would like to thank Mark Bray, Johannah Fahey, Roger Dale, and the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and edits on earlier drafts of this article.


Archer, Margaret, S. 2003. Agency and the Internal Conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bhaskar, Roy. 1975. A Realist Theory of Science. New York: Routledge.

Bray, Mark. 1999. The Private Costs of Public Schooling: Household and Community Financing of Primary Education in Cambodia. Paris: UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning in collaboration with UNICEF.

―. 1996a. Counting the Full Cost: Community and Parental Financing of Education in East Asia. Washington, DC: World Bank in collaboration with UNICEF.

―. 1996b. Privatisation of Secondary Education: Issues and Policy Implications. Paris: UNESCO.

―. 1995a. Community and Parental Contributions to Schooling in Cambodia. Bangkok: UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.

―. 1995b. Community and Parental Contributions to Schooling in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Bangkok: UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.

―. 1995c. The Costs and Financing of Primary Schooling in Bhutan. Thimphu: UNICEF and Government of Bhutan.

―. 1987. Is Free Education in the Third World Either Desirable or Possible? Journal of Education Policy 3(2): 119–129.

Bray, Mark; and Bunly, Seng. 2005. Balancing the Books: Household Financing of Basic Education in Cambodia. Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre, University of Hong Kong; Washington, DC: World Bank.

Brehm, W. C. 2015. Enacting Educational Spaces: A Landscape Portrait of Privatization in Cambodia. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Hong Kong.

Brehm, William C.; and Silova, Iveta. 2014. Hidden Privatization of Public Education in Cambodia: Equity Implications of Private Tutoring. Journal of Educational Research Online 6(1): 94–116.

Brehm, William C.; Silova, Iveta; and Tuot, Mono. 2012. The Public-Private Education System in Cambodia: The Impact and Implications of Complementary Tutoring. London: Open Society Institute.

Burawoy, Michael. 1998. The Extended Case Method. Sociological Theory 16(1): 4–33.

Cambodia. 1996. Education Sector Review. Manila: Asian Development Bank; Brisbane: Queensland Education Consortium.

―. 1994. Education Sector Review, Vols. 1, 2A, 2B, and 3. Manila: Asian Development Bank; Brisbane: Queensland Education Consortium.

Connell, Raewyn. 2007. Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge: Polity.

Coole, Diana. 2005. Dialectical Critical Realism and Existential Phenomenology: A Dialogue. New Formations 56(1): 121–132.

Creswell, John W.; Plano Clark, Vicki L.; Gutmann, Michelle L.; and Hanson, William E. 2003. Advanced Mixed Methods Research Designs. In Handbook on Mixed Methods in the Behavioral and Social Sciences, edited by Abbas Tashakkori and Charles Teddlie, pp. 209–240. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Dawson, Walter. 2010. Private Tutoring and Mass Schooling in East Asia: Reflections of Inequality in Japan, South Korea, and Cambodia. Asia Pacific Education Review 11(1): 14–24.

―. 2009. The Tricks of the Teacher: Shadow Education and Corruption in Cambodia. In Buying Your Way into Heaven: Education and Corruption in International Perspective, edited by Stephen P. Heyneman, pp. 51–74. Rotterdam: Sense.

Dean, Kathryn; Joseph, Jonathan; and Norrie, Alan. 2005. New Essays in Critical Realism. New Formations 56(1): 7–26.

Descartes, René. 1637/1960. Discourse on Method and Meditations. Translated by Laurence J. Lafleur. New York: Liberal Arts Press.

George, C. 1992. Time to Come out of the Shadows. Straits Times [Singapore]. April 4.

Graeber, David. 2001. Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. New York: Palgrave.

Ivankova, Nataliya V.; Creswell, John W.; and Stick, Sheldon L. 2006. Using Mixed-Methods Sequential Explanatory Design: From Theory to Practice. Field Methods 18(3): 3–20.

Marimuthu, T.; Singh, J. S.; Ahmad, K.; Li, H. K.; Mukherjee, H.; Oman, S.; Chelliah, T.; Sharma, J. R.; Salleh, N. M.; Yong, L.; Leong, L. T.; Sukarman, S.; Thong, L. K.; and Jamaluddin, W. 1991. Extra Instruction, Social Equity and Educational Quality. Report prepared for the International Development Research Centre, Singapore.

NGO Education Partnership (NEP). 2007. The Impact of Informal School Fees on Family Expenditure. Phnom Penh: NGO Education Partnership.

Patomaki, Heikki; and Wight, Colin. 2000. After Postpositivism? The Promises of Critical Realism. International Studies Quarterly 44(2): 213–237.

Roesgaard, Marie H. 2006. Japanese Education and the Cram School Business: Functions, Challenges and Perspectives of the Juku. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press.

Stevenson, David Lee; and Baker, David P. 1992. Shadow Education and Allocation in Formal Schooling: Transition to University in Japan. American Journal of Sociology 97(6): 1639–1657.

Straits Times-Nexus Link Tuition Survey. 2015., accessed September 17, 2017.

Tan, T. 2014. $1 Billion Spent on Tuition in One Year. Straits Times. November 9, p. 90., accessed September 17, 2017.

Ventura, Alexandre; and Jang, Sunhwa. 2010. Private Tutoring through the Internet: Globalization and Offshoring. Asia Pacific Education Review 11(1): 59–68.

Watanabe, Manabu. 2013. Juku: The Stealth Force of Education and the Deterioration of Schools in Japan. Charleston: CreateSpace.

1) I recognize that the term “shadow education” is itself problematic and debated. Nevertheless, I will use it throughout this chapter to describe the body of research that looks at the phenomenon named as such. Although I put the term in quotes at the outset, I will refrain from making similar notations in later uses.

2) The term “private” is also debated between conceptualizations that see it as either a primarily fee-based service or any educational service outside public schooling. I will not address these debates here.

3) The Latin-script rendering of the Khmer script is based on the International Phonetic Alphabet. English translations are my own.

4) Indeed, in my fieldwork (Brehm 2015), which occurred after developing the labels for the different types of tutoring presented here, I came across the term sahlah kuə. This term means, roughly, the “institution of extra class.” This phrase implies a level of institutionalization that the term ɾiən kuə does not.

5) The Cambodian currency is the riel. At that time, US$1 was worth approximately 2,600 riels.

6) It is also possible that the vocabulary employed in the Review (Cambodia 1994) derived from vocabularies in the authors’ home countries.

7) The progression of the static description but changing terminology begins with the 1994 Review (Cambodia 1994). It then moves to Bray’s 1996 comparative study of parental and community financing for education in nine East Asian countries, which included Cambodia. In this report, one of Bray’s (1996a) conclusions was that Cambodian households pay a disproportionate amount of money toward education compared to the government in relation to the other countries. This finding prompted Bray (1999) to explore the Cambodian case of private and community financing of education in more detail.

8) Bray (1996a, 32) did, however, use the terms “private supplementary tutoring” and “supplementary out-of-school tutoring” to describe tutoring in countries other than Cambodia.

9) This contrasts with the typical way Bray (1999) categorized tutoring as an out-of-school expense for families in other countries.

10) The evolution of these ideas in Bray’s work can be traced to various locations, including his reports on Cambodia (1995a), Lao PDR (1995b), and Bhutan (1995c), and an earlier paper on the challenges to fee-free education in poor countries (Bray 1987). These ideas were also undoubtedly influenced by the nascent literature on shadow education in other contexts being published at the time (e.g., Marimuthu et al. 1991; George 1992; and Stevenson and Baker 1992).

11) Bray’s (1996b, 4) study included a matrix that separated the nature of curriculum into either mainstream or alternative, and the nature of schools into elite, standard, second-chance, or supplementary. In the discussion of supplementary private schools Bray included “tuition” or “private tutoring.” Bray wrote that some supplementary private schools “shadow the public system and provide tuition in the same subjects as mainstream schools” (ibid., 20). Moreover, “the scale of private tutoring causes official embarrassment in so far as it reflects shortcomings in the public system and can be a heavy burden on household incomes” (ibid.). In this report therefore, the terms “supplementary” and “shadow” already appeared alongside “private tutoring.”

12) A critical realist approach has its limitations, too—namely, as one of the reviewers correctly pointed out, the level of the real assumes a transcendent pattern that underpins reality, an assumption challenged by philosophers such as Heidegger and Nishitani. This, moreover, says nothing of philosophical systems developed entirely outside of the West (Connell 2007).