Mien Relations: Mountain People and State Control in Thailand (Paperback)Hjorleifur Jonsson (author)
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Thailand's hill tribes have been the object of anthropological research, cultural tourism, and government intervention for a century, in large part because these groups are held to have preserved distinctive ethnic traditions despite their contacts with "modern" culture. Hjorleifur Jonsson rejects the conventional notion that the worlds of traditional peoples are being transformed or undone by the forces of modernity. Among the Mien people of northern Thailand he finds a complex highlander identity that has been shaped by a thousand years of interaction in a multiethnic contact zone.
In Mien Relations, Jonsson suggests that as early as the thirteenth century, the growing influence of Chinese and Thai state authority had led to a peculiarly urban understanding of the hinterlands-the forests and the mountains-as an area beyond state control and the rhetoric of civilization. Mountain peoples became understood as a distinct social type, an idea elaborated by government classification systems in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their "discovery" by Western anthropologists is, he suggests, merely one more episode influencing Mien identity.
Jonsson questions traditional ethnography's focus on fieldwork and personal observation-and its concomitant blindness to political manipulation and to historical formation. Throughout Mien Relations, he revisits long-neglected connections between China and Southeast Asia, combines ancient history and contemporary ethnography, engages with the serious politics of representation without abandoning the quest to write ethnographically about particular communities, and keeps state control in view without assuming its success or coherence.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 240
Weight: 340 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 12 mm
"A detailed ethnography of the Mien people of Thailand is long overdue. Mien Relations addresses the transformations that have come to the upland regions of Thailand with a clear analytical vision, just as it engages various theoretical developments in anthropology over the last two decades. Hjorleifur Jonsson regards the Mien as modern Thai subjects, and his book is a true pleasure to read. It is clearly written, rich in ethnographic detail, and brilliantly argued."-- Ralph Litzinger, Duke University
"Mien history and society come to life in this provocative and beautifully written ethnography. Hjorleifur Jonsson's striking analysis of how households and communities have re-formed within varied regional political economies cuts through the simplifications of earlier ethnographies as it also forms a cogent commentary on all ethnographic practice. Mien efforts to appeal to the standards of the nation-state-even when burning down the office-are equally riveting."-- Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection
"Mien Relations is a major contribution to knowledge about the highland minorities of mainland Southeast Asia, marking a radical break with traditional ethnographies. Hjorleifur Jonsson's work should encourage a new generation of scholars to conduct rich and historically grounded research. Combining rich archival materials with insights gained through fieldwork, Jonsson establishes that many elements of highland culture were shaped by specific historical and political influences. This book explodes the standard paradigm of highland minorities as remote from state control."-- Katherine A. Bowie, University of Wisconsin-Madison