Organized Panel Session
Anthropologists tend to focus on how power is understood in local terms but they seldom develop the implications these understandings have in the larger socio-political contexts. Political scientists tend to focus on power as it is often understood in western political terms. Not all political scientists do so, Anderson's 1970s discussion of power in the traditional Javanese context is one counter example. Hanks, an anthropologist, is another counter example with his 1960s discussion of Buddhist merit and power and the entourage based socio-political organization this implies. As an anthropologist I have explored the logic of power in its Shan (Tai Long) context in northwestern Thailand but have not contemplated the implications of Shan power-protection in larger political arena and in the broader Southeast Asian contexts.
Here I revisit my earlier argument about the nature of power as protection that I first made in the 1990s. Power protects those who have it and their dependents and, in the short term, protects them from the consequences of their behavior. Hanks’ framed his discussion of merit and power in Buddhist terms, while I do not completely agree with his framework, I found much in it useful for my analyses of Shan social relations. Here I revisit my original analysis in light Anderson’s and Hanks’ work. I then reconsider my analysis in the current social, political, economic, and religious contexts. In conclusion, I consider the ways in which power, broadly, understood plays out in both island and mainland Southeast Asia.