Spring 2012 Lecture Series


Friday, January 27
Trude Jacobsen
, Assistant Professor, History and Assistant Director, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University
Lecture title: Will the Real Slaves Please Step Forward: Debt Bondage in Mainland Southeast Asia

Anyone among the nobility who, having an evil heart, seizes or apprehends…the slaves of another, and abuses them, without their leave, will be considered an oppressor of the people and condemned. (Kram Achnha Luong)
The king of Cambodia promulgated this law in the middle of the nineteenth century in order to protect those of his subjects who were enslaved. Strict guidelines detailed the punishment and compensatory arrangements should laws such as this be transgressed. Similar laws existed in Siam and Burma. Yet although the legal protections that these permitted were abolished by colonial administrations, the practices remained. This occurred because Europeans were unaware of the many different categories of people who were obligated to perform labor for others. Not all ‘slaves’ were condemned to a life of servitude; often, individuals or their families entered into contracts in which their labor was pledged for a set period. Daughters’ labor could most easily be given up by families seeking to borrow a lump sum from a wealthy patron. These girls would remain in the household of the lender and their labor would comprise the interest on the loan. When laws protecting such girls were removed, there was no longer any effective barrier preventing their temporary masters and mistresses from abusing them. Can this initial failure of European legislators in the colonial period to understand debt bondage as distinct from slavery explain the endurance of human trafficking and the proliferation of increasingly younger children in the sex sector in Cambodia and Burma today?

Friday, February 3
Shahin Aftabizadeh
, M.A. candidate, Anthropology, Northern Illinois University
Lecture title: Shadows of Burma: The Politics of Identity on the Thai-Burmese Border

Military oppression, insurgency, and violence have dominated global discourse surrounding Burma for forty years.  As the Union Solidarity and Development Party calls for opposition parties to enter the new and “open” political fold, opposition members inside and outside the nation must balance new opportunities with past identities.             Initiated by large-scale protests during the 8-8-88 uprising, thousands of opposition members organized under the banner of “the student movement” fled central areas of Burma and resettled along the Thai border.  For two decades these groups have worked alongside minority and international organizations to address local, national, and regional political agendas.  Operating within a broader coalition composed of groups with disparate and often conflicting goals, these organizations have adopted a common identity representative of the greater community in exile.  Using members of the Burmese Student Movement as a lens into the dynamics of transnational political contention, this lecture focuses on issues of social memory, state resistance, and liminality as they relate to identity-building among a dislocated multi-ethnic political coalition in the face of a transforming political environment.

Friday, February 10 - No lecture
February 9 - Saturday, February 11: From the Adriatic to the Sulu Sea: Islam and Identity in Southeast Europe and Southeast Asia Conference (Islam at the Edges 2012 Conference), Franke Institute for the Humanities, the University of Chicago.
Sponsored by the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at NIU.

Friday, February 17
John Hartmann,
Distinguished Teaching and Board of Trustees Professor, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Northern Illinois University
Lecture title: Talking Back to Power: Testimony from Thai and Lao Literature and Art

The trickster tales of Sri Thanonchai, or Xiang Miang, as he is called in Laos, are part of a widely shared cultural package—about a single and singular hero with different names and personal traits as he moves across the Mekong. This prototypical hero, in fact, crosses all national boundaries in Southeast Asia. Here the focus is on the Thai and Lao versions of his tales as they are realized in oral and written literature, as well as art. The presentation will begin with a video clip of a Lao story teller narrating how the king wagers a bet with Sri Thanonchai only to be outwitted by the trickster. This one of many usually humorous episodes is also illustrated in a set of elegant temple murals commissioned by Rama IV (King Mongkut) as a gift to his favorite wife, who unfortunately did not live to see them. Another representation in art is a comic book produced in the early 1900s showing another side of Sithanonchai—as a young, defiant lad chafing under the onerous dictum to bend to authority: his parents, an abbot, a patron, and finally his king. Those who take pleasure in following political acts, whether in Thailand (the Reds v. the Yellows) or in the U.S. (Mitt vs. Newt) will witness the universality of verbal jousting and playing dirty—and sometimes violent—tricks within Southeast Asian cultural constraints.

Friday, February 24
Jeffrey Winters, Associate Professor, Political Science, Northwestern University
Lecture title: Indonesian Oligarchs in Comparative Perspective

In addition to the transition from authoritarian rule to electoral democracy, Indonesia also experienced a transition in 1998 from a sultanistic to a ruling oligarchy.  This means that the strategies of wealth defense for oligarchs shifted from a personalistic approach based on proximity to Suharto to a fusion of oligarchic power and democratic procedures and institutions.  This talk will explore the implications of this transformation in comparative perspective.  A central question concerns the intersection of law, oligarchy, and democracy in contemporary Indonesia.

Friday, March 2
John J. Brandon, Director, International Relations and Associate Director, The Asia Foundation, Washington, D.C.
Lecture title: The Future of Southeast Asian Studies: Implications for U.S.-Southeast Asian Relations

As NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its founding, John Brandon, an alumnus of the Center and Director of The Asia Foundation’s International Relations Programs, will speak about the future of Southeast Asian Studies and the importance of area studies in strengthening U.S. – Southeast Asia relations.  For much of the past two decades, many Southeast Asians have expressed frustration that U.S. policy has treated their region with benign neglect or indifference, and that U.S. attention has been episodic rather than consistent.  The Obama administration has announced it will make a “strategic pivot” in its foreign policy, where over the next decade the dynamic will be to downsize the U.S. presence in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and to invest and pay greater attention to the Asia-Pacific, particularly Southeast Asia.  This “strategic pivot” will take at least a decade to implement.  What kind of increased attention should the U.S. give to Southeast Asia?

Friday, March 9
Lisa B. Brooten, Associate Professor, Radio-Television, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Lecture title: Human Rights as a Form of Violence: The Burmese Case

This presentation questions the popular notion that the demand for human rights is a challenge to violence and oppression. It explores efforts to reform and develop media in Burma in order to bring home how human rights discourse and the consequences of militarization are intricately connected. Militarization occurs most obviously as a process that threatens human rights, but also is a means to maintain the global prioritization of some rights over others. Militarization and the global focus on individual civil and political rights are mutually reinforcing. This focus diverts attention from the communication needs of the most marginalized, obstructing efforts to promote ethnic reconciliation.
Co-sponsored by the Center for Burma Studies and the Burma Interest Group (BIG-NIU), a Student Association organization.

Friday, March 16
No Lecture - Spring Break

Friday, March 23
Alan Potkin, Ph.D., Team Leader, Digital Conservation Facility, Laos and Adjunct, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, NIU
Lecture title: Mekong-Serengeti: Hydropower Endgame for the Great Migratory Fisheries?

The spectacle of the Serengeti migrations in Tanzania —grazing herbivores, and the predators which follow along— is vastly eclipsed in terms of biomass, biodiversity, and perhaps even in the beauty of the animals, by the fish migrations of the Mekong and its tributaries flowing through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and finally entering the sea below the Nine Dragons delta in Viet Nam. One major tributary, the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, actually reverses direction during the monsoon to refill the Great Lake, the ecosystem’s most productive component. Sixty million people get much of their protein from Mekong fish, and the delta’s continued agricultural productivity is contingent on the present silt deposits and salt balance. But unlike the Serengeti, the fish migrations are essentially invisible, even though the Mekong is seldom more than twenty feet deep. There are no dams yet athwart the Mekong mainstream below China, where six hydropower projects are online or under construction in the Yunnan headwaters, and which will soon impound two of the world’s largest artificial reservoirs. Thailand has already started construction of a 1,500-megawatt mainstream dam project incompatible with fish migrations —for which the environmental studies are evasive and incomplete— entirely inside the Lao PDR, over the strenuous objections of Viet Nam and Cambodia. Some 95 percent of that power would be wheeled to Thai rate-payers, with a gross revenue stream of about $1.5 million USD per day. Another eight or ten such projects are already under consideration. We may be about to kiss the fish goodbye.

Friday, March 30
Matthew S. Winters, Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lecture title: The Twin Challenges of Infrastructure and Institutions: Improving Wastewater Sanitation in Indonesia

Indonesia drastically lags behind other countries in Southeast Asia and countries at similar levels of development when it comes to supplying modern wastewater sanitation to its citizens.  Economic losses due to poor sanitation and hygiene are equivalent to a staggering 2.3 percent of GDP.  Yet there has been relatively little local-level political action on wastewater, despite pressure from the national government.  In this paper, I use case studies from three cities in Indonesia to better understand why wastewater services are underprovided in urban Indonesia and to assess the likelihood of new infrastructure and institutions in this sector.  Grouping explanations into demand-side, government cost-benefit and political-economy explanations, the strongest results are found on the demand-side: local governments are not inclined to take action largely because the citizenry does not demand action from the governments.  I discuss possible solutions to this problem and highlight other areas of service provision where similar dynamics might exist.

Friday, April 6
No Lecture

CANCELLED - Friday, April 13
Ellen M. Rafferty, Professor, Languages and Cultures of Asia, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Lecture title: Indonesian Language Patterns in the Islamic Community in the Post-Suharto Era
This lecture will be rescheduled for a later date.

Friday, April 20
Kathleen M. Adams, Professor, Anthropology, Loyola University Chicago
Lecture title: Reinventing Indonesian Heritage Arts in Economically Uncertain Times: The View from Sulawesi

How do Indonesian heritage arts survive and find markets in economically uncertain times when tourist markets and local buyers vanish? This talk explores the strategies embraced by heritage entrepreneurs in the Sulawesi highlands to amplify their wares beyond the local to the global marketplace. The talk also silhouettes the sometimes paradoxical ways in which identity narratives play into these processes, as well as the ironic role of tropes of “globalization” and exotic “lost worlds” in Indonesia.

Friday, April 27
Christina Fink
, Professor, International Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
Lecture title: Civil Society and Human Security in Burma/Myanmar

Ongoing reforms in Burma/Myanmar are likely to lead to a normalization of the country’s status, but will the well-being of its citizens be ensured? Addressing both “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want” requires a supportive legal environment, pro-poor policy-making, and demilitarization. To achieve this, civil society organizations will have to both strategically challenge and advise government bodies while also rooting themselves more deeply and extending their reach. In this talk, Prof. Fink will discuss some of the challenges that lie ahead for citizens and civil society organizations and some of the ways these might be addressed.
Co-sponsored by the Center for Burma Studies and the Burma Interest Group (BIG-NIU), a Student Association organization