Life in a Lao Socialist Village

Projectland: Life in a Lao Socialist Model Village is a new book by Holly High, published by the University of Hawai‘i Press. It is reviewed for JCA by Matan Kaminer of the Martin Buber Society of Fellows, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Writing that High’s book “is a beautiful exemplar of ethnographic writing,” Kaminer goes on to describe her “ethnographic encounter as structured and riven by desire…”. He notes the book’s central and “innovative claims about socialism.”

Kaminer comments:

Bucking the trend of declaring all currently existing societies which have ever experienced socialist governance as “post-socialist” – a trend which she correctly identifies as expressing a premature and too-much-protesting anti-socialist Schadenfreude, High insists that Laos is a socialist society.

Significantly, High “demonstrates that the desire for socialism plays a consistent and robust role in the everyday lives of the residents of New Kandon” through shared values “such as solidarity, unity, and gender equality…”. This “socialism” means that villagers can “make claims and [have] those claims … heard, to an extent, by the state and its local agents.”

That’s an innovative set of claims suggesting the strength of ethnographic research and inviting more of this kind of scholarly engagement.

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