Led by: Prof. Dr. Volker Grabowsky
Institution: Universität Hamburg, Asien-Afrika-Institut
Context. Modern scholarship has argued that the pre-colonial state in SEA was institutionally weak, characterized by plural ethnic/religious/cultural identities. In a 2009 study of historical lowland and highland relations in mainland SEA, Scott claimed that “for most of its history” the region was “marked by the relative absence even of valley states” (Scott, 2009, p. 32). Closer analysis reveals the increased integration/centralization of regional polities’ between 800 and c1830, paralleling trends in Europe and elsewhere. Yet in SEA, the formation of strong nation-states was a product of European colonial rule or, in Thailand, a response to Western concepts of sovereignty, border-making, ethnicity and citizenship. While in Western Europe, two World Wars partially discredited the nation-state idea, 20th century anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles invigorated national integration in SEA. This explains why SEA academic/public debates on decentralization and diversity at national level only emerged after the Cold War. Globalization’s impact on the nation-state, challenged by new (sub-) regional/transnational dynamics, creating layers of national/ethnic/religious identities has been studied, for southern Thailand and the Greater Mekong Subregion. Knowledge of these dynamics can be enhanced by work on the national level and peripheries.
Issues. As its central theme, WP2 asks whether and to what extent national integration can cope with regional diversity. Many ethno-linguistic/religious/cultural identities in SEA are older than nation-state formation, so understanding of these plural identities’ interaction with national identity construction is imperative. The costs/benefits of nation-building are analysed by addressing the wider issues of economic development, national culture, citizenship rights, centralization processes, and competing nationalisms. We examine how dynamics of old and new trans-border and multi-centred identities challenge nation-state hegemonic discourses, and how transnational ethnic groups/cultures/religions and transnational networks operate to support plural identities. Finally, the politics of national-level diversity management are investigated, focusing on relations between governments and local actors, majority populations and ethnic/religious/other minorities.
Projects. WP2’s projects concern Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, half of them pertaining to dynamics of ethnic/religious identities. These include studies on “religious integration” of Austro-Asiatic minorities in Laos/Vietnam and a project on religious identity: “Jesuits and Islam: historical dimensions of religious identity in contemporary Indonesia”. Identity and integration mediated through multi-culturalist policies are discussed, notably in a study on “identity and integration in multi-cultural societies: the case of Penang”. Other projects deal with cross-border and transnational identities, and the construction of common regional culture through narratives. Examples of the latter include the Tai Dam (Laos/Vietnam), Tibeto-Burmese minorities on the Laos-China border, Rakhine State (Myanmar) and Lan Na culture revival (Thailand).
WP2 Researchers and Staff