Historical anthropology in Asia’s communist highlands: Methods, Contexts, and Ethics


Double Panel

Part 1

Session 2
Wed 14:00-15:30 Room 3.06

Part 2

Session 3
Wed 16:00-17:30 Room 3.06


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Part 1

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These two panels revolve around germane questions of the foremost interest when addressing the upland societies of Communist Asia: How can scholars manage to competently access information about the past? How do local societies produce and store their story in their own terms, terms that more often than not are ill at ease with national and Western categories? How is the memory of the past transmitted –or not – and following what logic? Regarding oral testimony, who are exactly the ‘wise ones’ –or the reliable ones? –researchers are routinely directed at for their interviews? How can one handle the oft-reported male authority on historical information and how can historical narratives better reflect the different voices behind the authoritative versions of those in charge? How should one cope with key informants but also with gatekeepers when working with minorities under authoritarian regimes? How can historical statements be addressed as situated speech acts and not mere data? And how is one to capture history-in-the making through events, rituals and performances rather than interviews and surveys, including the telling of biographies and micro-stories symptomatic of ancient processes? If written archives are the staple of historians, how do social scientists use them? Do they proceed the same way as historians, or do they develop a specific method and agenda? How does archival research intersect with fieldwork, and what kind of added value might it bring to it? Is access to the national or regional archives restricted for political motives? If so, what are the costs and the possible compromises needed to access them? And in sheer terms of positionality, by what right can Western and/or ‘White’ scholars dig into the past of societies other than their own?… Facing such minefields, this double panel is intended as a guiding discussion for those confronted with such multifarious and at time, daunting challenges. It is based on experiences and reflections rooted in decades of work in the three Marxist- Leninist states of the subcontinent who share portions of the Southeast Asian Massif: China, Vietnam, and Laos.