Mien Relations: Mountain People and State Control in Thailand

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Cornell University Press, 2005 - History - 198 pages
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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.
  

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Contents

Yao Origins and the State of Nature
16
TwentiethCentury Highlanders
44
From Strongmen to Farmers
73
Village People
99
On National Terrain 727
127
The Work of Classification
148
References
165
Notes
183
Copyright

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About the author (2005)

Hjorleifur Jonsson is Associate Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University. He is the author of Mien Relations: Mountain People and State Control in Thailand , from Cornell University Press and coeditor of Contests in Contexts: Readings in the Anthropology of Sports .

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