Organized Panel Session
When Lucien Hanks wrote about the logic of merit and power in Thailand in the 1960s, and Ben Anderson wrote about the Javanese idea of power in the 1970s, the warrant of Asianist scholars, their theoretical paradigms, and the political economy landscape of Southeast Asia were radically different universes than they are now. Ethnographers considered these models of Southeast Asian power and cosmology as they researched postcolonial peoples affiliated with Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism. Starting in the 1980s, scholarship turned reflexive and political. Analysts examined state power, political economy, situated personhood, and global connections using mainly western, post-Marxian frameworks. Theoretical analyses about the fungibility of human lives in humanitarian crises inspire my effort to reconsider the validity of Anderson’s homogenous power model alongside recent anthropological debates on politicized approaches to culture. I begin by revisiting how I heard Sulawesi highlanders portray cosmological power in the 1980s, noting alignments or discontinuities with descriptions from other Southeast Asian regions and religious groups. I then shift geographic and temporal scale to consider recent examples of Indonesian laws encompassing traditional arts, legal decisions on official religious affiliations, and news reports about 2018 disasters such as the Thai boys stranded in a flooded cave, and the tsunami in Palu, Sulawesi, Indonesia. These cases illustrate how dissimilar models of power may operate simultaneously as participants and observers interpret events and act according to different, layered assumptions about how the world works.