Gender, Sexuality, and the State in Southeast Asia

Michael G. Peletz
2012 Journal of Asian Studies  
COMMENTS IN THIS essay focus on recent scholarship on gender, sexuality, and the state in Southeast Asia and include brief remarks on some of the literature regarding Southeast Asians in the diaspora. In the interests of transparency, I begin by noting that I am an anthropologist by trade and that many of my observations pertain to writings by anthropologists and historians, though I also engage work in other disciplines. 1 One of my central concerns is to delineate common trends and other
more » ... rns in the relevant scholarship bearing on Southeast Asia, patterns that point to both similarities and differences vis-à-vis gendered dynamics in other, less politically fissiparous parts of Asia. I argue that certain of these patterns reflect divisions of labor between anthropologists and historians; others the stubborn persistence of a Marxist-oriented "political economy" versus Weberian/Geertzian-inflected "interpretive/symbolic/cultural" dichotomy in anthropology and kindred fields; still others the ways that regional and religious variation articulates with underlying commonalities in this vibrant, complex world area. Related themes have to do with scholarly emphases on gendered and sexual violence by the state; women's activism; and the sexual/gender politics of moral policing and what I refer to as graduated pluralism. In my concluding remarks, I provide synoptic observations on two other tendencies in the literature: the relative neglect of heteronormative masculinities and scholars' generally negative views of the state. DIVISIONS OF LABOR, DISCIPLINARY CONUNDRUMS, GRADUATED SOVEREIGNTY Many of us who deal with topics that are the subject of this essay are deeply indebted to historian Barbara Andaya. I am thinking most immediately of her Michael G. Peletz ( is Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. 1 I should perhaps clarify two additional points, as well. First, I take as my point of departure literature attending closely to gender and/or sexuality (portions of which deal substantively if at times indirectly with the state), rather than writing prioritizing the state (much of which ignores gender and sexuality altogether). A different point of departure would have resulted in a (very) different essay. And second, this essay deals primarily with lowland areas of Southeast Asia and is perhaps disproportionately oriented toward large urban settings (Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Rangoon, etc.) that have increasingly served as the contexts for anthropological and other scholarly writing on the region (and its diaspora). Limitations of space preclude consideration of highland locales such as those in Zomia (Scott 2009).
doi:10.1017/s0021911812001210 fatcat:o2vrbsm5wbbc7gox4vt25j4ok4