Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity
328pp. January 2013
Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity
Editor: Barker, Joshua; Harms, Erik; Lindquist, Johan;
We live in a world populated not just by individuals but by figures, those larger-than-life people who in some way express and challenge our conventional understandings of social types. This innovative and collaborative work takes up the wide range of figures that populate the social and cultural imaginaries of contemporary Southeast Asia—some familiar only in specific places, others recognizable across the region and even globally. It puts forward a series of ethnographic portraits of figures that represent and give voice to something larger than themselves, offering a view into social life that is at once highly particular and general. They include the Muslim Television Preacher in Indonesia, Miss Beer Lao, the Rural DJ in Thailand, the Korean Soap Opera Junkie in Burma, the Filipino Seaman, and the Photo Retoucher in Vietnam.

Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity brings together the fieldwork of over eighty scholars and covers the nine major countries of the region: Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. An introduction outlines important social transformations in Southeast Asia and key theoretical and methodological innovations that result from ethnographic attention to the study of key figures. Each section begins with an introduction by a country editor followed by short essays offering vivid and intimate portraits set against the background of contemporary Southeast Asia. The result is a volume that combines scholarly rigor with a meaningful, up-to-date portrayal of a region of the world undergoing rapid change. A reference bibliography offers suggestions for further reading.

Figures of Southeast Asia Modernity is an ideal teaching tool for introductory classes to Southeast Asia studies, anthropology, and geography.

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“These enjoyable portrayals of episodes in ethnographic fieldwork are written without excessive jargon, yet grounded in a solid scholarly foundation. This volume would make a valuable contribution to anything from a sophomore-level case-studies course to a graduate-level course examining alternate modes of ethnographic writing.” —Choice (50:11, July 2013)

“The idea of capturing recent transformations of Southeast Asia through vignettes about familiar yet idiosyncratic individuals is brilliant. The everyday experiences and aspirations of people trying to make sense of their lives and dreams convey a complex and often surprising view of contemporary cross-currents, upheavals, anxieties, and struggles in a volatile region. This volume offers a great way for students to understand and empathize with ordinary people and nations in rapid motion.” —Aihwa Ong, co-editor of Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments in the Art of Being Global 

“This vivid and innovative volume provides the reader with a kaleidoscope of cultural variety and a fresh, somewhat unexpected, vision of what this region may become. The writing quality in these very short pieces is excellent, and readers gain a sense of how diverse individuals struggle with the massive transformations in their daily lives and the mechanisms they use to try to make sense of them.” —Janet Hoskins, author of Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives
Editor: Barker, Joshua; Harms, Erik; Lindquist, Johan;
Joshua Barker is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto. Erik Harms is assistant professor of anthropology and international and area studies at Yale University. Johan Lindquist is associate professor of social anthropology at Stockholm University.
Read the Contents and Introduction (PDF).