Harvard-Yale Southeast Asia Studies Graduate Conference 2024


conf key poster

Friday, March 29, 9:15 a.m. - 6:15 p.m. & Saturday, March 30, 2024, 8:30 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

CGIS South S030, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge

Friday, March 29

9.15-9.30 a.m. 
Opening Welcome

Professor James Robson, Director, Harvard University Asia Center
Exhibition Introduction: Pin Sangkaeo & Benson Joseph

9.30–11.30 a.m. 
Keynote Address

“Making Property at the Edge of the Anthropocene” 
delivered by Professor Anna Tsing, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Moderator: Marcus Yee, PhD Student, Yale University

1.00–2.45 p.m. 
Maintaining and Challenging Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Asia
The majority of Southeast Asia’s governments are run by either nondemocratic leaders or democratically elected leaders with repressive authoritarian tendencies. Such regimes face a multitude of potential challenges to their authority and popular backlash to their policies. Consequently, authoritarian regimes pursue a number of institutional strategies in order to achieve resiliency and stability. This panel considers the challenges of previously excluded ethnic groups in Laos (and the strategy of coalitional co-optation), popular discontent and policy demands in Singapore (and the strategy of utilizing participatory institutions), and a disastrous repressive drug war in the Philippines (and the strategy of utilizing counterinsurgency media tactics to dehumanize victims). Although these institutional solutions vary in form and function, they’ve largely succeeded in increasing the stability and resiliency of these three states.

“Forging a revolutionary coalition: Legacies of violent conflict and autocratic nation building in Laos," Shourya Sen, PhD Candidate, Princeton University

“Between Openness and Opacity: The Transformation of Policy Responsiveness in the 1980s Singapore,” Viktoria Zlomanova, Masters Graduate, University of British Columbia

“Seeing Counterinsurgency: The Limits of Witness in the Philippine Drug War,” Patrick Peralta, PhD Student, University of Michigan & Qian Qian Ng, PhD Student, University of Michigan

Faculty Respondent: Professor Mattias E. Fibiger, Harvard Business School
Moderator: Daniel Lowery, PhD Candidate, Harvard University

2.45–4.15 p.m. 
Rethinking Agrarian Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia’s textured social landscapes of forests, paddy fields, plantations, home gardens, and mountain ranges have proved generative for theorizing state governance, subaltern resistance, and cultural fluidity. One might recall the politics of shifting cultivation (or dropping one’s farming utensils entirely) as a mode of evading state capture or practices of cultural survival that allow indentured labor migrants to make hostile plantation landscapes their own. This panel broadens the well-studied sites, actors, and periods of agrarian studies in Southeast Asia to medium-sized cities, smallholders, and scientific diplomacy, shining new light on old questions of the role of the state and the agency of agriculturalists. Beyond slotting agrarian Southeast Asia into the field of “tradition,” papers in this panel take seriously agrarian politics, networks, and lives as remolded under the sign of the modern and the contemporary.

“De-Farming in Myanmar after the 2011 opening: Case Study of Six Mile Village Area in Taunggyi Township,” Peng Ni-Ni, PhD Candidate, National Chinan University

“From dissolution to preservation: The state and the persistence of Indonesian small-scale farming,” Colum Graham, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

“Progress is a Grain of Rice: A History of Scientific Nationalism in the Postcolonial Philippines,” Orven Froie A. Mallari, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan

Faculty Respondent: Professor Sugata Bose, Harvard University
Moderator: Marcus Yee, PhD Student, Yale University

4.45-6.15 p.m.
Resisting Purity, Localizing Religion
This panel shifts away from questions, such as  “What is religion?” and “Is X religious or cultural?” These questions have their own value, yet are often overstressed and excessively asked. They imply colonialist influences and the supremacy of authenticity because they ignore local ways of knowledge transmission and world comprehension in Southeast Asia. This panel offers insights into religions at work from the lens and the words of the insiders. Each work looks at the relationships and understandings of the locals towards religions and in turn how those beliefs shape the people’s identity, positionality, and worldview. Southeast Asia offers a vast ground and diverse case studies to recognize and appreciate the interconnection and interdependent bonds among humans, natural worlds, animals, and the unseen.

“Monstrous Returns: Superstition, Religion and Climate Change,” Kai Ngu, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan

“A Bridge in the Land below the Winds: Exploring Religious Moderation in Teleological Exegesis of Quraish Shihab,” Muhammad Abdul Aziz, PhD Candidate, University of PTIQ - PKUMI Jakarta, Indonesia University

“Monumentalizing Sāsana: The Figuration of Buddhist Luminaries and Longevity in Northern Thailand and Beyond,” Napakadol Kittisenee, PhD Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Faculty Respondent: Professor David Moe, Yale University
Moderator: Charissa Lee Yi Zhen, Masters Candidate, Yale Divinity School

Saturday, March 30

8.30-10.15 a.m. 
Stakes and Scales of Studying Southeast Asia: A Community Conversation
Convening some forty years after the publication of Donald Emmerson’s germinal ‘“Southeast Asia”: What’s in a Name?’, this panel re-visits the well-worn conversation around the category of “Southeast Asia” as an object of study, with in mind a much wider bevy of actors at the forefront of knowledge production about Southeast Asia. This brings concomitant expansions in, and challenges to, the programmatic study of the region. This panel ventures even further, however, to explore how seeing Southeast Asia along various axes and scales in turn introduces highly variable sets of analytical and political stakes alike to the region’s study. Drawing from examples historical and contemporary, the papers on this panel bring into clearer relief the latent dynamics of conventional Southeast Asian Area Studies; as well as alternatives to the state of the field in the global academy today. Following panelist presentations will be a reflexive discussion about how we might situate ourselves and our home institutions in relation to these intellectual genealogies past, present, and imaginary. We reflect also on how our work as scholars of “Southeast Asia” might more faithfully serve our communities in the immediate present.

“Why Do World Historians Do World History? An Answer from the University of Malaya,” Benjamin Goh, Postgraduate Diploma in Education Candidate, National Institute of Education, Singapore

“Sartono Kartodirdjo, Ong Hok Ham, and the Making of Indonesian History,” Brian Melchior, Masters Candidate, University of Cambridge

“The Making of Modern Southeast Asia in Hong Kong,” Jeffrey Ngo, PhD Candidate, Georgetown University

“Inside the Rabbit Hole: Evolution and current state of the Russian Southeast Asian Studies,” Iurii Frolov, Masters Candidate, University of Victoria

Faculty Respondent: Professor Cindy Ewing, University of Toronto
Moderator: Nicole Yow Wei, PhD Student, Yale University

10.45-12.30 p.m.
Urban Rhythms and Temporalities
Cities are said to bend, twist, and reshape linear time into a profusion of temporalities—and Southeast Asian cities are no different. At once following an urban studies tradition that explores the mutual imbrication of the urban experience and modernity as temporal rupture, this series of papers further ask how the particularities of Southeast Asian cities can reshape theories of the urban temporal experience. Rather than beginning with the assumption of “homogenous, empty time” that structures Southeast Asian postcoloniality, these papers suggest that the urban present is out-of-joint, compelling us to follow the temporal rhythms and patterns of memories, capital flows, and futurities to make sense of a fragmented present.

“Built Memories and Commemoration in Southeast Asia: Unforgetting Typhoon Washi in the Philippines,” Ma. Rhea Gretchen A. Abuso, Masters/PhD Candidate, University of the Philippines, Diliman

“Urban Futures Suspended on the Outskirts: Spatialized Ambivalence and an Asynchronous Modernity in the New Urban Areas of Hanoi, Vietnam,” Olivier Jacques, PhD Candidate, McGill University

“Rental Biopolitics: Housing Financialization and the Production of the Queer Subject,” Gao Ding, Masters Candidate, National University of Singapore

Faculty Respondent: Professor Erik Harms, Yale University
Moderator: Robin Albrecht, Masters Candidate, Harvard University

1.30-3.00 p.m.
Politics of Narratives: The State, Frictions, and Resistances
Narratives are deeply intertwined with politics—whether through triumphalist histories promoted by states, speculative visions concocted by corporations, or counter-narratives driven by grassroots social movements. Inspired by anthropologist Anna Tsing's seminal work, Frictions (2005), which explores the dynamic interplay between global corporate interests and local empowerment struggles, this panel delves into the heterogeneous cultural processes that mediate these interactions. By examining the multifaceted politics of these narratives and their capacity to shape and reshape realities across the region, the panel aims to unravel the complex ways in which legacies of agency, social change, and resistance are constructed and contested.

"After Friction: Dissecting Media and Academic Narratives on Indigenous Meratus' Eco-Religious Life," Khalilah Nur ‘Azmy, Lecturer, UIN Antasari 

“Films of Resistance: Art Activism and Political Narratives in Burmese Borderlands,” Zar Ti Nwe Nu Aung, Master of Social Sciences Student, Chiang Mai University 

“Biopolitics of Indonesia’s Population Resettlement Program,” Made Adityanandana, PhD Student, Cornell University

Faculty Respondent: Professor Josh Babcock, Brown University
Moderator: Nicole Yow Wei, PhD Student, Yale University, Department of History

3.15-5.00 p.m.
Appositions: Deformalizing, Destructuring and Decolonizing Southeast Asian Cultural Production
This panel troubles the conflation of post-coloniality with post-modernity in Southeast Asian Cultural Studies, in which the forces of cultural transfer are often positioned as unilateral and progressive. Each paper redefines how cultural practitioners negotiate the specters of colonization alongside the always already connective tissues of Southeast Asian sociality, namely by proposing routes of analysis through and beyond mere surface interpretation. How might accessing the subconscious through gossip, critiquing the politics of intra-global south translation, cutting against the spiraling logics of colonization help us contend with the long duree of colonization? 

“Bangungot: Dreams, Nightmares, and Tsismis in R. Zamora Linmark’s Leche,” David Siglos Jr., PhD Candidate, University of California, Riverside

“South to South Translation, from El Llano en Llamas to ท่งกุลาลุกไหม้: Notes on Language Politics in Crypto Colonial Thailand,” Jittawat Kunyamoon, PhD Candidate, University of Texas at Austin

“Losing Sight of the Subaltern in Priyageetha Dia's TURBINE TROPICS (2023),” Clara Lee, PhD Candidate, Northwestern University

Faculty Respondent: Professor Annette Lienau, Harvard University
Moderator: Lara Norgaard, PhD Candidate, Harvard University

5.15-6.45 p.m. 
Ethnographies of Myanmar (in-person only)
This panel offers anthropological insights into Myanmar's transformations under the current military regime. It uncovers the experiences of deported Chinese nationals caught in scam operations, the everyday struggles of ordinary citizens, and the distinct political culture within Shan state. Through these ethnographic studies, the panel highlights the resilience, resistance, and adaptability of the Burmese people, showcasing Myanmar's ongoing battle for identity and autonomy amidst conflict and authoritarian rule.

Faculty Respondent: Courtney Wittekind, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Purdue University; Postdoctoral Associate at Yale University in the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies
Moderator: Saly Sirothphiphat, MDiv Candidate, Harvard Divinity School and Al Lim, PhD Candidate, Yale University

Closing Remarks

Robin Albrecht, MArch Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Design 
Charissa Lee, MDiv Candidate, Yale Divinity School
Gracia Lee, PhD Student, Yale University, Department of Sociology
Daniel Lowery, PhD Candidate, Harvard University, Department of Government 
Al Lim, PhD Candidate, Yale University, Department of Anthropology and School of the Environment
Saly Sirothphiphat, MDiv Candidate, Harvard Divinity School 
Toby Wu, PhD Student, Harvard University, Department of Art, Film and Visual Studies 
Marcus Yee, PhD Student, Yale University, Department of History
Nicole Yow Wei, PhD Student, Yale University, Department of History
Jorge Espada, Harvard University Asia Center

For virtual participation, Zoom registration is required at bit.ly/HYSEA2024ONLINE.
For in-person participation, registration is requested at bit.ly/HYSEA2024INPERSON.

Please contact asiacenter_southeastasia@harvard.edu with any questions.

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