EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W123)

(Hi)Stories of people who move around: mobility at the margins of the state

Location V316
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 14:30

Convenors

Oliver Tappe (University of Cologne) email
Pierre Petit (Université libre de Bruxelles) email
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Short Abstract

This workshop will discuss the complex entanglements between states and upland peripheries. It takes a perspective from the margins and mobility as main thread by focusing on historical accounts of upland peoples in relation to space.

Long Abstract

Although imagined as key aspect of the globalised world, mobility may also, when it comes to unplanned movements of marginal populations, produce bureaucratic anxieties. This applies all the more to upland peoples, who have gained particular renown in historical and anthropological literature as being mobile, evasive, and egalitarian. In his "The Art of Not Being Governed" (2009), James Scott has analysed upland social structures and livelihoods as 'anarchist' reactions to the state's pressure. In this workshop we will rather stress the complex entanglements between states and upland peripheries, seen from the latter's point of view and taking mobility as main thread. We argue that the history of upland-lowland interactions is characterized by both state evasion and deliberate negotiation with the various political, cultural, and economic forces emanating from centralised lowland states.

We will focus on historical accounts of upland peoples in relation to space - myths of origin, topological ethnonyms, and spatialised memories of interactions with the state. How do uplanders perceive their 'mobile' history in relation to the apparently 'immobile' yet intrusive state? How do stories of origins, pioneering and migration contribute to cultural self-assertion in changing environments? How do uplanders conceive the present-day large-scale migrations in comparison to their own movements in the past? How about affective bonds to an alleged 'homeland', and how about expectations of return? Such analysis of upland mobility with its inherent tension of autonomy and uncertainty shall shed new light on the question of historical agency at the margins of the state.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Tai Neua: migrant peoples, colonial classification, and historical contingencies

Author: Oliver Tappe (University of Cologne)  email
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Short Abstract

Ethnic classification by the state entails confusion with regard to ethnonyms and ethnogenesis. The Tai Neua of Laos are a case in point.

Long Abstract

This presentation does not deal with the Tai Neua who 'exist' as ethnic group according to the official census of the Lao PDR. It is about the Tai Neua who sometimes appear in colonial and postcolonial literature as allegedly making up the majority of the population of Houaphan province, NE Laos. There is no direct connection between both of them unless we contend ourselves with references to language family (Tai-Kadai) and religion (Buddhist). The 'real' Tai Neua of Luang Namtha province locate their origins in China where they form part of the ethnic category 'Dai' and stand out with regard to their specific script and ritual practice. However, the 'imagined' Tai Neua of Houaphan seem to be Lao who came to settle in the remote mountain valleys close to the Vietnamese realm at the behest of the king of Luang Prabang from the 15th century onwards. Presumably through their appearance in royal chronicles as 'Northern Tai' and their notable local dialect, the French colonial administrators considered the Lao müang of Houaphan as ethnically 'different' and more closely related to the Tai Deng and Tai Dam.

The case study focuses on aspects of ethnogenesis and ethnic classification by the state, taking the multi-ethnic population of Houaphan as case study for a discussion in a broader context of upland-lowland interaction, state-periphery relations, and colonial knowledge production.

Mobilité et réussite chez les Ruscoveni

Author: Raluca Nagy  email
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Short Abstract

Ruscova est le premier d’une série de trois villages ukrainiens, dans le Maramures, Nord de la Roumanie, à la frontière avec l’Ukraine. Si avant 1990, ces Ukrainiens constituaient une minorité obscure et très peu connue, on remarque, surtout après les années 2000, un changement de représentation.

Long Abstract

Les raisons du nomadisme actuel qui touchent plusieurs zones à la périphérie de l'Europe s'inscrivent, pour ce cas particulier, dans une longue habitude historique. D'abord l'appartenance à l'Empire Austro-Hongrois et ensuite à trois divers états nationaux joue beaucoup sur la mobilité dans la région. Une deuxième raison, qui en dérive, est l'habitude de passer la frontière et de se déplacer dans les pays voisins, avec toutes les activités informelles dérivées, comme par exemple le commerce illicite d'or sur la rivière qui sert de frontière avec l'Ukraine. Une troisième raison, pratique, en est la condition des terres qui n'ont jamais permis de vivre de l'agriculture, ce qui a conduit aux migrations saisonnières internes. Voici un contexte qui forme les « pionniers » de la migration « à l'Ouest » après les années '90. La mobilité reste un fait structurel de cette région frontalière.

La représentation de l'utilité de la langue maternelle a évolué avec les nouvelles migrations vers des contrées plus éloignées, par le biais de la reconstruction des espaces et des repères (Appadurai, 2005[1996]) ; grâce à la langue, ces Ukrainiens s'associent par exemple avec des équipes de Polonais, ce qui les rend mieux armés pour l' « aventure » de la migration dans le contexte européen actuel.

L' « enfermement » de presque 50 ans, discursif aussi que physique, dans l'Etat National Roumain, se voit ré-catapulté vers des pratiques multiculturelles et économiques de la « nouvelle » Europe, plus proches aux temps de l'Empire Austro-Hongrois. Plus ça change…

Tai Wat on the move: from war refugees to migrant workers

Author: Pierre Petit (Université libre de Bruxelles)  email
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Short Abstract

The history of the Tai Wat of Laos is intrinsically linked to their mobility from Vietnam to Hua Phan, and then on to Vientiane. I will analyze how they have developed agency in contexts of migration and in relation to state powers; and how visual anthropology can capture this history of moving.

Long Abstract

Tai Wat are, in Laos, a small population in the North-East province of Hua Phan where they have settled from neighbouring Vietnam. A first wave fled Chinese warlords in the 19th century, and a second left the Vietnamese homeland during the first Indochina War. Their settlement in Hua Phan pushed away some other groups, in a domino effect. Presently, many Tai Wat villagers, especially the youth, leave the mountains to settle in the plain of the Mekong River, in multiethnic villages or in the national capital, Vientiane. Their history is thus intrinsically linked to mobility, and their ethnonym supposedly refers to their unsettledness. The presentation will discuss how these successive displacements have been articulated in different ways to state powers; how Tai Wat have developed agency and specific strategies in contexts of migration, linked to an ethos of pioneers; and how visual anthropology can capture this long history of moving.

The art of upland governmentality and the desire for improvement in the Southeast Asian Highlands

Author: Oscar Salemink (University of Copenhagen)  email
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Short Abstract

Contra James Scott, I argue that Highlanders in Zomia did not (always) evade states, but historically and currently connected up with states through trade, mimesis and development.

Long Abstract

In The art of not being governed: An anarchist history of upland southeast Asia, James Scott (2009) essentially makes the argument that 'non-state' highlanders in 'Zomia' should be viewed as those who have intentionally evaded 'state capture and state formations'(9). According to Scott, Zomia 'has been peopled for two millennia at least by wave after wave of people in retreat and flight from state cores - from invasion, slave raids, epidemics, and corvée' (242). In my research experience, however, I have hardly ever encountered any highlander who did not wish to partake in the promise of modernity, especially consumer goods. In this paper I would expand on my paper "A View from the Mountains: A critical history of Lowlander - Highlander relations in Vietnam" (2011) in which I argue that, historically, lowland states and "zomia" regions have been mutually constitutive through trade, tribute and feasts. Economic, political and ritual exchanges and connections were far more important for both uplands and lowlands than is usually acknowledged, not only in scholarship but in such phrases as "remote and backward areas". In this paper I shall explore how the desire for goods and prestige link highlanders firmly to state- and market driven development programs.

Negotiating a Kurdish mythical history: the Dengbej folk poets in Turkey

Author: Wendy Hamelink (Leiden University)  email
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Short Abstract

In this paper I will pay attention to political narratives that place the Dengbêj folk poets and their songs in a mythical history of Kurdish upland resistance against the lowland Ottoman and Turkish oppressors. While the Kurdish movement likes to present Kurdishness as bound to the imagined homeland Kurdistan, the songs of the Dengbej expose a more flexible upland culture with more space for the insecurities and necessary compromises that were part and parcel of living at the margins of empires and nation-states.

Long Abstract

A Dengbêj is a semi-professional performer of Kurdish oral tradition. Until the 1980s the Dengbêj folk poets were one of the most important Kurdish cultural expressions. After the 1980 coup they almost disappeared from the public domain due to oppression and unpopularity. Recently this tradition has been revitalized. Reasons for this revival are among others a growing freedom of expression of Kurdish culture in Turkey, and attempts of the Kurdish national movement(s) to create a unified, 'authentic' and nationalist Kurdish culture. Within the discourse of the Kurdish movement, the Dengbêj tradition is presented as a reminiscence of a distant past, when the Kurds were still 'unspoiled' by Islamic, Arabic and Turkish influences.

In this paper I will pay attention to political narratives that place the Dengbêj and their songs in a mythical history of Kurdish upland resistance against the lowland Ottoman and Turkish oppressors. I will investigate the details of this mythical history. However, I will also pay attention to the content of the songs, which, contrary to this nationalist narrative, tell a different story. They tell about the mobile and flexible character of political bonds, about negotiations with the various surrounding states, about internal rivalries, and about heroes and traitors. While the Kurdish movement likes to present Kurdishness as bound to the imagined homeland Kurdistan, the songs expose a more flexible upland culture with more space for the insecurities and necessary compromises that were part and parcel of living at the margins of empires and nation-states.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.