Technological Innovations and Changing Temporalities in Colonial Southeast Asia
Wed 11:00-12:30 Room 0.19
- Michitake Aso State University of New York
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Between American technology and Vietnamese labor: The French Coal Company of Tonkin (SFCT) during the first Indochina War
Thuy Linh Nguyen Mount Saint Mary College
World War II and the following First Indochina War had a devastating impact on French coal mining companies in Vietnam. Aerial bombing by the allied powers at the end of the Second World War followed by a wave of pillage and vandalism paralyzed French mining operations. Coal export plunged due to the shutdown of international markets and a sharp rise in freight cost. Wars and political turbulence also led to the mass exodus of Vietnamese workers, thus causing a permanent closure of many French coal mining enterprises.
Extraction and Exhaustion: Accelerations of life in French colonial tin and nickel mines
Oliver Tappe Heidelberg University
In order to exploit the mineral resources of scarcely populated Laos and Nouvelle-Calédonie, the French authorities resorted to Vietnamese labour along racialized discourses of the “industrious Annamite”. The so-called “coolies” found themselves in hostile lands, forced into new labour regimes and a radically transformed rhythm and pace of life. Besides, indigenous communities living in the mining areas experienced livelihood change and social disruptions as well. In the valley of the Nam Phathaen in central Laos as well as on the remote Pacific islands: Emerging industrial mining and related infrastructures radically altered the sociocultural configurations and life rhythms of both indigenous and migrant communities.
New Technologies, Old Divisions: Automobile Accidents and Modern Times in Late-Colonial Vietnam
Erich DeWald Leeds Beckett University
‘Car culture’ came to Vietnam in the early twentieth century, as it did everywhere else in the world, and over the course of the century usage of automobiles sporadically but steadily increased. Long before that, though, the ‘car system’ had taken hold. Like some other modern technologies, the automobile requires infrastructure to accommodate them and ideologies to explain it. These had taken hold in Vietnam in the 1910s, within and between urban centres where elites and transportation were centred. As a technology of mobility, the car and its system further encouraged the movement of goods and people between places at speed. Going faster, collapsing distance, people in cars in Vietnam began to perceive space and time differently, as scholars have observed for users of transport technology elsewhere such as the railway and the bicycle. Many, most people, interacted with automobiles only as users of public vehicles, or to service the vehicles of the elite. Those who advocated most for the expansion of roads, though, for new laws and ‘rules of the road’, for the expansion of the car system, were elites and private owners. These Vietnamese enthusiasts certainly did promote a Vietnamese version of the ‘culture of the road’, that western notion that ‘freedom’, speed and distance can transform the self, society and the nation for the better.
In late-colonial Vietnam, though, these technophiles literally and ideologically encountered the realities of colonial society on the road, with often deadly effect for other users of the road—and members of society. This paper will examine the politics and policies that established the automobile in Vietnamese society in the early twentieth century. It will then consider how violent encounters on the road—‘accidents’—help clarify the material, cultural and political inequalities of late-colonial Vietnamese society, divided and dividing by class, race and gender. Finally this paper will consider how debates and reforms around the expansion of roads and cars in Vietnam also reveal something wider about the global history of the automobile, its relentless spread and the politics of compromise and inequality that form its foundation.
The expansion of colonial capitalism and the emergence of new technologies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led to radical transformations of local life worlds. Infrastructure projects such as road and railway construction, telegraph lines, and the advent of electric lighting and power distribution initiated a steady increase in time-space compression and acceleration, but also processes of exclusion and marginalization. The rise of the capitalist mode of production and its implementation in mines, plantations and factories arguably engendered novel experiences of temporality and disruptions of people’s sense of place that affected local communities in complex and uneven ways. The objective of this panel is to explore new approaches to the study of socio-technological ruptures under colonialism. In particular, we ask how technological innovations (re)shaped local social relations and mobilities, perceptions of time and space, and seasonal rhythms of life. We aim to discuss not only the disruptive effects of new technologies, but also investigate social and cultural practices of appropriation, avoidance, or even subversion. Creatively combining historical and anthropological approaches, the panel will address questions of how technological innovations moved from the metropole to the colonies or were even (re-)invented within colonial settings, and how they gained traction and affected local lifeworlds in unforeseen, contingent ways. We welcome contributions from a microhistorical perspective dealing with (but not limited to) the following questions:
· How did local communities respond to the changing speed, rhythm, and noise of everyday life?
· How did social actors navigate the challenges posed by new infrastructures of mobility and communication?
· How did the advent of electricity transform the visual experience of urban dwellers and their understandings of nocturnal urbanity?
· How did new (architectural) forms and spaces act upon bodies and subjectivities (of both colonizer and colonized)?
· How did local communities creatively appropriate and experiment with new technological innovations, and how did this affect colonial governmentality and practices of social control?