Forests, Sustainability and Political Economy in Indonesia

Forest Conservation and Sustainability in Indonesia: A Political Economy Study of International Governance Failure is a new book by Bernice Maxton-Lee and published by Routledge.

The book is reviewed for JCA by editorial board member Paul K. Gellert of the Department of Sociology and Global Studies Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA.

International efforts to create conservation and sustainable forestry fails too often. In Indonesia,  deforestation has increased in the last couple of decades. Gellert states that Maxton-Lee recognises “the political economy of development that causes environmental degradation,” and “addresses this problem by using Gramsci’s approach to hegemony.” He explains:

She uncovers the subjectivities that accept the premise that growth and markets are the solution to environmental problems and thereby illuminates how neo-liberal capitalist ideas have permeated non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and bilateral and multi-lateral aid and development institutions.

He adds:

The bland title does not do justice to the Gramscian gut punch that the book delivers especially to committed conservationists but also well-meaning government officials, and hypocritical oil firms who green their image by investing in conservation projects that do not actually decrease deforestation. Nor does she spare those in wealthy, developed countries, and especially Norway, who want to promote sustainable development “over there” in Indonesia while proceeding with life-as-normal back home.

Gellert concludes:

Maxton-Lee’s book presents a powerful and extended critique of the hegemonic views that repeatedly create failures of conservation in Indonesia and globally. Students of sustainable development and citizens of rich countries will clearly benefit from reading it. The message is one that conservationists need to hear, so her conclusion calls for “deeper understanding, transparency, and communication.”

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Legitimate authority in Karen Areas of Myanmar

The Forging of Legitimate Authority in the Ceasefire Mixed-control Karen Areas of Myanmar” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1887321) by SiuSue Mark, an independent scholar based in New York.

The abstract for the paper states:

This article investigates how legitimate authority is forged in a tenuous ceasefire context by looking at how communities navigate dual administration by both the Government of Myanmar and the armed group, the Karen National Union (KNU), to secure access to land and forests. The findings identify two factors crucial to forging legitimate authority among civilians in mixed-control areas: ideological identification with authorities and authorities’ ability to fulfil their followers’ basic material needs. The findings show that although the government is in close competition with the KNU in providing for people’s material welfare in these areas, the KNU has an advantage in the ideological dimensions of legitimacy. The findings reinforce a broader idea that has become more commonplace in development thinking – that in order to make political settlements more conflict-sensitive and relevant to the lived realities of people impacted by armed conflict, state-building and peace-building must prioritise the governance preferences of local communities.

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India and its Northeast

In the Name of the Nation: India and its Northeast is a new book by Sanjib Baruah and published by Stanford University Press. It is reviewed for JCA by Ganeshdatta Poddara of the Foundation For Liberal And Management Education (FLAME) University in Pune, India.

The book is a critical and historical account of the country’s troubled borderland region comprising the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Sikkim. The reviewer notes that several vexed issues fester in the region: demands for secession; the citizenship of migrants; colonial legacies; and the continuance of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the region. In addressing such issues, the author’s “roots in the region and drawing heavily on his personal experiences gained through extensive travels in the region over the last three decades, Baruah provides readers with rare insights into the region’s political history and political economy.”

Poddara  concludes:

The book is a magnificent work of scholarship and is most timely. Though the book is well organised, the arguments are intricate, and it is not always easy reading. Even so, it rewards the reader. The author’s main contribution lies in raising awareness about the issues faced by the Northeast and its people and in highlighting the need for alternative politics in the region. It is indispensable for social scientists interested in understanding the society and politics of the region and for policymakers dealing with the issues of Northeast India.

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Reading on Myanmar’s Political Economy

Given the situation in Myanmar following the February 2021 military coup, we have made three JCA articles free to access for a month or so. The articles are:

The Political Economy of Myanmar’s Transition by Lee Jones

Building Governance from Scratch: Myanmar and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative by Marco Bünte

From Cronyism to Oligarchy? Privatisation and Business Elites in Myanmar by Michele Ford, Michael Gillan & Htwe Htwe Thein

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An Indian Precariat?

Is There an Indian Precariat? Evidence from the Auto Manufacturing Industry” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1888148) is a new article for JCA by Tom Barnes of the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Sydney, Australia.

The abstract for the paper states:

Guy Standing’s precariat thesis, which suggests that precarious workers have distinctive class interests, has resonance in India where the overwhelming majority of workers lack adequate social protection. Among many criticisms, researchers have responded that this thesis ignores the historical experience of workers in poor countries and erroneously frames precarity as the province of a separate social class. As part of this debate, Erik Olin Wright argued that precarious workers were better understood as a potential fraction of the working class whose interests sometimes complemented and sometimes conflicted with the interests of other workers depending upon the regulatory scale and political terrain of struggle. Using an ethnography-based case study of automotive manufacturing in India’s National Capital Region, this article considers which of these frameworks – Standing’s or Wright’s – is better able to address the dynamic of contemporary struggle in a local labour control regime which has displaced an established core of “regular workers” with a surplus population of precarious “contract workers.”

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Imperial Politics and Counterinsurgency in Southern Thailand

Uneasy Military Encounters: The Imperial Politics of Counterinsurgency in Southern Thailand is a new publication from Cornell University Press, authored by Ruth Streicher.

The book is reviewed for JCA by Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat from Bangkok, Thailand.

Developed from a PhD thesis and ethnographic fieldwork in 2010–2011, Streicher’s book “provides a rare critical assessment, or deconstruction, of the military’s counterinsurgency discourse and practices.”

Rungrawee writes that:

Streicher argues that counterinsurgency operations in southern Thailand have contributed to the making of Thailand as an imperial formation. Her view is that the Buddhist-oriented modern state secures its survival by reinforcing notions of the racialised, religious and gendered Otherness of Patani and constructing the Malay Muslims as essentially and hierarchically different from Thai Buddhists.

The reviewer would have liked more on “the formalised peace dialogue launched in 2013…”,  and believing that there is “room for much further investigation,”  Rungrawee considers the “book provides a significant contribution to our knowledge of the military’s counterinsurgency operations in southern Thailand.”

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Religion, Identity and Belonging in Goa (with podcast)

Citizenship in a Caste Polity: Religion, Identity and Belonging in Goa is a new book authored by Jason Keith Fernandes, published in Hyderabad by Orient BlackSwan. The book is reviewed for JCA by Kenneth Bo Nielsen of the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo, Norway.

Described as “meticulously researched and well-written,” the book studies the “citizenship experience of the Goan Catholics” and “seeks to make three major interventions in current debates on the politics of citizenship in modern India”: (i) documenting the foundational role of caste; (ii) establishing the significance of” viewing contemporary India from spaces outside of what was British India”; and (iii) making an “original theoretical perspective on citizenship by working with and expanding Partha Chatterjee’s writings on this theme.”

Nielsen states: “The book’s theoretical ambitions and historical depth combine to make this a captivating read.” He argues that Citizenship in a Caste Polity demonstrates:

how fruitful it can be to engage what is arguably the most burning issue in contemporary India, namely the question of citizenship, from the country’s smallest state. By looking at contemporary India from Goa’s peculiar historical location between the epistemological frames of Portuguese India and British India, Fernandes is able to build a wider critique of citizenship in India.

An interview with the Fernandes, conducted by Kenneth Bo Nielsen is available here.

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Chinese Proto-Elites: Perceptions of Regional Neighbours

Threats or Opportunities? Chinese ‘Proto-Elite’ Perceptions of their Regional Neighbours” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2020.1866649) is a new article by Qin Pang of the School of International Relations at Sun Yat-sen University in China and Nicholas Thomas of the Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong.

The abstract for this paper states:

Realists perceive China’s rise as a threat to the international order. Liberals see China’s increased participation in international organisations as examples of greater integration in the global order. Both sets of analyses frequently overlook the opinions of the Chinese public or conflate them with those of the state. To better understand how the Chinese people, particularly those among the elite, perceive the international order we conducted a large-scale survey among China’s “proto-elite” youths concerning their views of the international order. Our findings suggest that the current dichotomy between realist and liberal scholars is too simplistic. The respondents to the survey demonstrated aspects of both positions – supporting co-operation with the neighbouring states yet, simultaneously, considering most of the same neighbours as threatening to Chinese interests. Given the increasing presence of Chinese people seeking to have an impact on the country’s foreign affairs and the way the state seems to episodically permit such societal voices to infuse foreign policy issues, it is argued that a deeper analysis of this complex array of views is essential for a more complete understanding of the domestic context to China’s rise.

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Issue 2 for 2021 published

Issue number 2 of Volume 51 of the journal has gone to print and is available electronically at the publisher’s site.

This issue has a Feature Section on the Political Economy of Southeast Asia, a tribute to Bruce McFarlane and several other articles and book reviews. The articles in this feature are:


Journal of Contemporary Asia Prize 2021

A Noble Protagonist of the Proletariat and the Peasantry: A Tribute to Bruce McFarlane by Humphrey McQueen

Feature Section: Southeast Asian Political Economy

Capitalism, Conflict and Contradiction: Southeast Asia’s Development and the Reorganisation of Production by Toby Carroll

Inequality and Political Representation in the Philippines and Singapore by Garry Rodan

Crazy Rich Thais: Thailand’s Capitalist Class, 1980–2019 by Kevin Hewison

Thailand’s Public Secret: Military Wealth and the State by Ukrist Pathmanand and Michael K. Connors

Cycles of Accumulation and Industrial Slowdown in Malaysia: Rents, Social Forces and the Political Settlement by Jeff Tan

Other Research Articles in the issue are:

Commercial Micro-Credit, Neo-Liberal Agriculture and Smallholder Indebtedness: Three Bangladesh Villages by Manoj Misra

Recognition and Dissent: Constitutional Design and Religious Conflict in Pakistan by Imran Ahmed and Howard Brasted

The book reviews are:

Drums of War, Drums of Development. The Formation of a Pacific Ruling Class and Industrial Transformation in East and Southeast Asia, 1945–1980 reviewed by Kevin Hewison

Chinese Urbanism: Critical Perspectives reviewed by Kosmas Tsokhas

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De-demonising North Korea and China

East–West Reflections on Demonization: North Korea Now, China Next? is a new book edited by Geir Helgesen and Rachel Harrison, and published by NIAS Press. It is reviewed for JCA by Jihyun Kim of the Institute of International Studies at Bradley University in Peoria, USA.

Quoting editors Geir Helgesen and Rachel Harrison, Kim says the collection “engages with what we see as a persisting East–West divide, one that is both cultural and political” (1). Their task is “de-demonisation” by focusing on “the enemy Other” that is North Korea and secondarily on China. The book does this in 15 essays that approach the “enemy” with “open-mindedness.”

The rather bland exhortation to treat North Korea like a normal state may seem radical to those who demonise it as a closed state and prefer to portray it as evil and a pariah. But, as the reviewer observes, “No matter how convenient the act of demonisation may appear, treating the Other as thoroughly evil comes with a cost to the demoniser as well as to the demonised, ultimately depriving both of the opportunity to achieve reconciliation and lasting peace.”

Kim observes that de-demonising the “enemy” is critical for any conflict resolution or peace building effort to be successful.

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