Among the teaching and learning styles I’ve encountered, which I’ve often adopted for its power and simplicity, is taking a theme and applying it to diverse circumstances.
I may repeat this approach with other issues this blog touches on, but let’s consider resistance.
If I had all night I could argue that resistance has defined Southeast Asia, but of the vast array of possible evidence that I could draw on I will, with due credit to the intellectual architecture laid out by James Scott, offer just three examples.
Firstly, political resistance in Southeast Asia has been and remains shaped by geography. Hills are where groups retreat, regather and launch political and military revolutions against the lowland power centres. In Thailand for example this has been true from ancient times right through to today’s Thai redshirt resistance, whose heartland centres on Chiang Mai in Thailand’s mountainous north.
Secondly, and staying in Thailand, political resistance is often marked by subtlety. Although opposition to the most recent coup continues to simmer despite the junta’s best efforts to suppress it, overtly seeking a confrontation with a well-equipped military is unnecessarily suicidal. A much better option for those intent on resisting is to passively go for the enemy’s weakness, such as an Army’s impotency against humour and symbolism.
Thirdly, while much of Southeast Asia continues to develop economically, there are still huge numbers of people who are compelled to adopt the tools neatly described by Scott as the weapons of the weak. These are the everyday, individual acts of resistance such as going slow, pretending not to understand instructions and lying by omission.
Scott saw and portrayed them as acts at the margins designed to push back against exploitation by the more powerful in rural contexts (in Malaysia) over 20 years ago, although I suggest this form of resistance is now exercised by these same peasants’ children working today as adults in corporate environments across the region. At least superficially the power differential between management and workers remains unchanged.
I could continue with examples of Southeast Asia resisting foreign food without incorporating local customs, resisting imported expectations of human rights, selective resistance to fashion trends and resistance to the authority of central government seen in the conflicts in the deep South of Thailand, in Aceh and in Mindanao (in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines respectively), but I hope I’ve said enough.