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Charney, Michael W. (2023) 'Politicized Ethnicity in Pre-Colonial Southeast Asia.' In: Roshwald, Aviel, D'Auria, Matthew and Carmichael, Cathie, (eds.), Cambridge History of Nationhood and Nationalism. Volume 1. Patterns and Trajectories over the Longue Durée. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 96-114. (The Cambridge History of Nationhood and Nationalism)

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This chapter examines the emergence in early modern Southeast Asia of ethnic identities and both their mobilisation and mobilising effects. The chapter will emphasise the discordance in the historical development of ethnic identities due to the early introduction of colonialism in the maritime world and its late arrival in mainland Southeast Asia. Both the mainland and the island world experienced the classical period and ideas of universal kingship and the spread of universal salvation religions prior to the seventeenth century. Afterwards, colonial expansion in the island world, which saw Muslims consider themselves as part of the Muslim world and oriented to the Indian Ocean and Filipino Catholics view themselves in relation to the broader Catholic world and their Pacific connections with Latin America, prevented a connection between political identities and religion until the emergence of anti-colonialism in the 1920s and 1930s. In the case of the mainland, however, late stage indigenous state formation, a development denied to the maritime world, saw political, social, and economic conditions (the culmination of many centuries of processes of state formation, cultural and linguistic homogenisation, religious orthodoxy, and related developments -- as examined by Lieberman in Strange Parallels) that favoured the emergence of national identities, connecting majority cultural, linguistic, historical, and religious features with political belongingness and privilege. Royal courts in the mainland and court scribes would encourage and further clarify these developments through historical and other texts. Expanding state space, to use it in the sense applied by James Scott in Seeing like a State and the Art of Not Being Governed, meant an equation between political identity and belongingness to emerging lowland national cultures promoted by the main royal courts. In the process, minorities were excluded and defined differently. The latter's limited historical engagement with essentially lowland cultural, linguistic, and religious developments made them prime objects for conversion by Baptist missionaries. These missionaries undertook a role not dissimilar to that of lowland scribes in defining ethnicity for these minorities, forging ethnic historical narratives from diverse oral traditions, and bringing diverse dialects together into a single or, in the case of the Karen, two main dialects. The chapter ends with the conquest of the mainland, with the exception of Siam, at the end of the nineteenth century, and a brief observation that national identities formed around ethnicity were already strong in the mainland by the end of colonial rule and would prove durable throughout the very brief era of colonial rule that followed in the mainland. The chapter will argue that, in the end, while the island world would see the emergence of politicised ethnicities defined by the colonial heritage, leading to the unity of essentially colonial-era political units (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines) that had no precolonial antecedent, the mainland would see the return to political units that had defined the precolonial map, in particular Burma, Thailand (Siam), Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Item Type: Book Chapters
Keywords: Anthropology, History, ethnicity, Southeast Asia, Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malay World
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of History, Religions & Philosophies > Department of History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
ISBN: 9781108427050
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 04 Jan 2021 16:00
Related URLs: ... ume-1?format=HB (Publisher URL)

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