Unmoving Tai? Modernity, mobility and gender in Southwest China
Roger Casas Ruiz
(Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Paper short abstract:
Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork among the Tai Lue of Sipsong Panna (P.R China), this paper explores the gender dynamics of mobility and stillness among this ethnic minority in the contemporary period, looking both at official discourses and vernacular aspirations and practices.
Paper long abstract:
The market economy in P.R. China promises unlimited possibilities for both the material and symbolic mobility of its people. At the same time the Chinese state mobilizes discursive and legal tools to manage this theoretically boundless potential, producing, arranging and re-arranging populations and geographies according to its own, shifting goals. In connection with this, the recognition of non-majority identities (inscribed in individuals' ID cards) as well as long-lasting stereotypes portraying these groups as infantile, primitive and feminine (Harrell 1995), establishes immaterial, discriminating borders with very real effects in the articulation of the ethnic subjects' aspirations.
While their identity has often been explained in terms of their ability to move across borders (Wasan 2007,2010; Davis 2003), and the increasing flow of commodities and people crossing the region notwithstanding, the official representation of the Tai Lue of Sipsong Panna (Yunnan Province) as a gentle and peace-loving but backward people seem to help perpetuate their subordinated role as agricultural producers and tourism industry workers. How do these official portraits affect the fashioning of Tai Lue mobility imaginaries? And how do such imaginaries differ according to whether one is a man or a woman?
Based on long-term fieldwork in Sipsong Panna, this paper looks at both state and market discursive practices, and the individual experiences of male and female Tai Lue, in order to give account of the complexities and tensions informing the dynamics of mobility and immobility among these minority people, paying special attention to gender differentials in experiences of stillness.
Being stuck. Stillness in times of mobility