Engaging in Existential Mobility in “Zomia”


Single Panel


Session 8
Wed 16:00-17:30 REC A2.15


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Scholarship on borderland studies in Southeast Asia has distinctively grown over the last 20 years, thanks to the endeavor of many academics in the field. Their efforts have not only made us appreciate the ethnographies of diverse peoples, cultures, political structures and ecological systems, but the new concepts of interpretation and analysis are a departure from the conventional state-centered orientation. These new concepts include “zomia” (by Willem van Schendel and James Scott), “middle ground” (by Patterson Giersch), “friction” (by Anna Tsing), and “process geography” (by Arjun Appadurai). Over the years, they have inspired brilliant explorations and debates. Echoing this exciting trend, we propose to make mobility as a vantage point to examine the dynamics of zomia. Ghassan Hage asserts: “We move physically so we can feel that we are existentially on the move again or at least moving better” (2005: 470). In other words, human beings intentionally move from a place to another in order to make life better. This is what Hage calls “existential mobility.” Consequently, it brings human beings into contact with other people(s), diverse ways of life and different political institutions. Through the vantage of mobility, we treat history as a process with ongoing changes, and emphasize the aspects of relationality and adaptability. We emphasize continual movement and circulation of people, goods, capital and ideas, and go beyond the binary constraints of lowland versus highland. Our papers examine the economic, political and cultural trajectories of several communities/groups by focusing on mobility and engage in a dialogue with relevant theories and notions