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EAST ASIAN REGIONALISM. By Christopher M. Dent. New York and London: Routledge, 2008. xx, 320 pp. (Figures, tables, maps.) US$41.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-415-43484-3.
East Asian regionalism has been one of the most widely discussed and debated topics in the field of International Political Economy (IPE) since the end of the cold war. The main foci of such debates and discussion can be grouped in a few categories and usually in a dichotomy-based fashion: (1) the “progress” versus “process” it has made over the years; (2) the “impediments” versus “positive factors” in the realization of East Asian regionalization; (3) “structure” versus “institutions” as a means of facilitating regionalism in East Asia; (4) “bilateralism” versus “multilateralism” as a premise for East Asian regionalism; and (5) “pessimism” versus “optimism” on the prospects of East Asian regionalism. To date, much of the literature still fails to go beyond these questions. They have yet to address the subject in any all-encompasing manner. In his book, Christopher Dent makes a pioneering attempt to blend all these parallel and contrasting perspectives and theories in IPE to define what East Asian regionalism is all about.
After years of observation and analysis of the evolution of developmental discourse of East Asian regionalism, Dent succeeds in enlightening the students of IPE on the definition of East Asian regionalism by combining the concept of regionalism and coherence in the context of globalization. Dent states that “East Asian regionalism is embedded within wider economic, political and socio-cultural integrational forces and arrangements we typically associate with globalization. … The coherence of East Asia’s regionalism can be maintained in relation to the[se] processes [of associative coherence, integrational coherence, and organizational coherence] because in most cases they tend to be involved in a mutually reinforcing relationship” (283). He basically constructs the definition by relating the progress made by the expanding international production networks (IPN), the ongoing process of “spaghetti bowl”-like free trade agreements (FTAs) based on bilateralism, and rising numbers of frameworks and institutions for regional cooperation to regionalism as coherence. It is a significant intellectual contribution to the understanding of East Asian regionalism, and the students of IPE who desire greater comprehension of East Asian regionalism will benefit much from this book.
As a textbook on East Asian regionalism, Dent’s book has the following merits. As emphasized in the preface, one of the strengths of this book lies in the consistent application of his studies, whether they are issue-specific or case studies, of East Asian regionalism to the theoretical frameworks he uses, namely neo-realism, neo-liberalism (institutionalism), social constructivism, and Marxism–structuralism. Each and every chapter concludes with an overview of the main findings from these four different IPE theoretical perspectives. At the end of each chapter, Dent also provides a set of study questions that “may be used as a basis for class discussions.” The questions he raises are fundamental and essential, yet critical. They require a complete understanding of the context to answer. At the same time, they ask readers to think, and to have a sufficient background knowledge in East Asian affairs.
Not all the textbooks perfectly satisify one’s intellectual curiosity. Admittedly, however, there are not too many flaws in Dent’s analyses and studies of East Asian regionalism, as he makes clear that his premises are derived strictly from IPE perspectives. Despite this, Dent somehow manages to overlook and/or undermine the importance of the American factor in the shaping of East Asian regionalism or East Asian regional frameworks, for that matter. While some of the frameworks are exclusively East Asian (e.g., ASEAN Plus Three (APT), Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI), East Asia Summit (EAS), others have America’s participation and, therefore, American implications. In those that the US is involved in, it plays a critical role in advancing East Asian regionalism, such as institutionalization. Conversely, in some cases, it is a hindrance and creates some adverse effects. The US, for instance, still adamantly adheres to the strategy of “hub and spoke,” relying on bilateral security alliances to secure its regional interests. Such a system of alliances reduces the room for maneuverability for the allies, making them more aware of the possibility that they might lose something should they decide to become more integrated in the East Asian regionalization process while deviating from the shared interests with the US. Dent briefly touches upon this matter but does not elaborate enough. The US factor will become increasingly more important and critical to the development of East Asian regionalism than China–Japan relations because the US will be “forced to observe China’s growing centrality,” as Dent rightly puts it.
Jaewoo Choo, Kyung Hee University, Yongin, South Korea
GENDER AND GLOBALIZATION IN ASIA AND THE PACIFIC: Method, Practice, Theory. Edited by Kathy E. Ferguson and Monique Mironesco. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008. xii, 420 pp. (Illus.) US$35.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8248-3241-4.
Globalization is a unifying as well as diversifying process. While it reaches every place and people, it affects them in different ways. A volume edited by Kathy E. Ferguson and Monique Mironesco, Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific: Method, Practice, Theory, addresses this contradictory process of globalization and its divergent effects on gender in the Asia and Pacific (AP) region. Each of 16 case studies comprises a chapter that examines different topics related to gender and globalization, including history, media, labour and militarization, in various parts of the AP region.
In the Pacific islands, centuries-old Western colonization, coupled with recent economic globalization, has profoundly transformed the region and its gender relations. Following the editors’ introduction, in chapter 2 Judith Raiskin elucidates the pain and agony of Samoan women caught in the middle of the rapid “modernization,” as described in Sia Figiel’s 1996 novel, Where We Once Belonged. Similarly, in chapter 3, using historical records, Virginia Metaxas examines American missionaries’ campaigns to “civilize Hawaiian” women and men in order to “rescue” the rapidly diminishing native population.
In India and China, where globalization has integrated local cultural practice into a global one, the transition has never been smooth. In chapter 4, Jyoti Puri criticizes Western-centric “global gay” discourses by citing India’s diverse indigenous gay culture. In chapter 5, Min Dongchao describes the difficulties encountered by Chinese feminists in their efforts to translate the Western concept of “gender” into Chinese in the context of China’s socialist politics and ideology.
Asia’s economy has globalized its mass media, constructing new images for each gender. In chapter 6, Christine R. Yano analyzes a Japanese TV program’s portrayal of a Hawaii-born, Japanese-American woman, Sakura, who adapts to fit the images of an “ethnically homogeneous” Japan. In chapter 7, Steve Derné reports that India’s globalized TV and cinema have reinforced male-dominant views regarding marriage and family among urban lower middle-class men. In chapter 8, Yau Ching discusses limits of the capitalistic mode of disciplinary practice in a Japanese correctional school in its attempt to “rehabilitate” young girls who have prostituted themselves to acquire consumer products.
In the AP region, the globalized economy has expanded job opportunities for women workers. Their increased opportunities have, however, generated a new challenge to them. In chapter 9, Maria De La Luz Ibarra describes a female kin-centred strategy by Mexican immigrant women to meet job demands in California and Hawai’i. In chapter 10, Rhacel Salazar Parreñas analyzes deepening contradictions in the Philippines between the societal ideology that binds women to domestic duties and the economic reality that pushes them overseas for employment. In chapter 11, Vivian Price reports increasing unemployment and gender inequality in India’s construction industry in which large-scale mechanization has replaced poor low-caste women workers. In chapter 12, Nancy E. Riley explains why young rural migrant women employed in China’s economic zones perceive their workplace as a “paradise” despite the significant exploitation and inequality they face there.
Increased border crossing in the AP region has increased trafficking in women. Despite a consensus to eliminate such crimes against women, antitrafficking activists in Asia are not unified in their campaigns. In chapter 13, Lucinda Joy Peach discusses a sharp ideological divide between abolitionists and reformists regarding trafficking and the interpretation of the agency of those who are trafficked. In chapter 14, Nancie Caraway explains why governments and some non-governmental organizations may create more problems than solutions for anti-trafficking goals.
Integration of the AP region into the globalized economy and politics has heightened the strategic importance of the region to national security among the Western powers. In chapter 15, four feminist scholars (Cynthia Enloe, Kathy Ferguson, Gwen Kirk, Monique Mironesco) examine the necessity of a gender lens through which to analyze increased militarization and its impact on local communities. In chapter 16, Gwyn Kirk focuses on severe environmental damage and disruption in local lives brought about by American military bases in the Philippines, Okinawa and South Korea. In chapter 17, Teresia K. Teaiwa discusses ironies of the idyllic images of the Pacific islands whereas in reality, disproportionate numbers of local women and men are represented in the American combat armed forces.
Altogether, these 16 chapters reveal extraordinarily complex and dynamic effects of globalization on gender in the AP region. While analyzing them in various circumstances, authors of these chapters point to the importance of taking into account women’s agency in their efforts to counter such impacts of globalization as labour exploitation, gender inequality and environmental degradation. The case studies in this volume thus suggest that future research ought to expand theories and methods that promote women’s agency as a centre for their lives in the rapidly changing AP region. This book is highly recommended for scholars of gender studies, ethnic studies, anthropology, sociology, geography and political science.
Keiko Yamanaka, The University of California, Berkeley, USA
China and Inner Asia
CHINA’S AFRICAN CHALLENGES. By Sarah Raine. London and New York: Routledge for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2009. x, 270 pp. (Maps.) US$19.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-415-55693-4.
Standing between the inflammatory screeds of Western journalists who criticize China’s “African safari” as a new form of neo-mercantilism, on the one hand, and the propagandistic historiography of Chinese scholars and officials to establish their country’s benign connections with Africa going back to the Song dynasty, on the other, Sarah Raine adopts a middle ground. She exposes the intention of heralding 900 years of Sino-African relations as a Chinese public relations effort to reassure African and the West that its intentions have always been benignly commercial, while chiding Western critics that “any suggestion that Sino-African relations can be viewed simply in terms of one giant resource grab is outdated at best” (29).
A major theme of this book is that “China’s interests in Africa have developed over the decades … Contemporary relations look substantially different to previous periods of engagement” (35). She maps out the labyrinth of institutions that conduct Chinese policy towards Africa, including older party organs (Politburo, Standing Committee, and Group of Foreign Affairs, chaired by President Hu) and state ministries (Foreign Affairs, Commerce, and Foreign Assistance), but also newer key entities involved in commerce like the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (formed in 2003 to supervise state-owned enterprises); China ExIm Bank (the only Chinese institution offering concessional loans to foreign governments); China Development Bank (one of the world’s largest in terms of assets); China–Africa Development Fund (established in 2007 to support Chinese firms venturing into Africa); China Investment Corporation (founded in 2007 to manage China’s foreign exchange reserves); China–Africa Business Council (established in 2004 to help investors find partners); and triennial FOCAC meetings between Chinese and African leaders. What she demonstrates convincingly is her argument that “the lack of a clear, established agenda binding them together impairs the impact that they can collectively have beyond their individual functions” (86).
Raine explores seven major charges leveled against Chinese businesses in Africa: 1) their unreasonable preference for Chinese labour and materials; 2) poor employment practices, especially low wages; 3) bribery and lack of transparency; 4) poor workmanship and the dumping of poor-quality products and fakes; 5) lack of respect for the environment; 6) unfair competition enabled by excessive state support; 7) exploitative relationships and the problem of trade imbalances. She then adds to this familiar list of charges an additional concern, (8) debt accumulation. “A failure properly to address enough of these challenges will invite unwelcome attention and undermine prospects for sustainability in Sino-African engagements” (130).
She provides evidence that the Chinese have tried to address these criticisms. In 2008 the Buffelsfontein project in South Africa employed only five Chinese out of a total workforce of 1,000. In 2006 an agreement was signed with Zambia to harmonize labour relations. In 2008 China joined G8 energy ministers in a joint declaration that endorsed the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). In 2009 an agreement was reached to bring Chinese products imported into Nigeria into conformity with national industrial standards. In 2004 the ExIm Bank adopted its first environmental policy requiring the submission of environmental assessments of projects it funds. In 2007 China removed tariffs on 450 commodities from least developed African countries.
Some of Raine’s most interesting evidence of evolution appears in the fourth chapter, where recent changes in China’s long-standing doctrine of non-interference in domestic affairs of other countries have appeared. “For example, by 2007, the Chinese leadership appeared to have decided to step back a little from its hitherto close relations with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. When President Hu toured Africa that year, he visited South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Namibia, but not neighbouring Zimbabwe” (157). A case study at the end of this chapter (each chapter ends with one) also illustrates how developments in Sudan have also played a crucial role in modifying China’s approach, highlighting the challenge it now faces as its large strategic assets in Sudan, and increasing number of its citizens there, give it a substantial stake in the country’s stability. “What happens to China’s interests in Sudan if the Comprehensive Peace Agreement falls apart? What measure might the Chinese state take to defend its interests on the ground and how would these fit with its doctrine of non-interference?” (152). “Africa is likely to be among the first arenas to present a real challenge to the Chinese state’s attachment to the principles of sovereignty and non-interference, as it seeks to secure new and reliable sources of oil on the continent and protect its assets and personnel as it does so” (153).
Douglas A. Yates, American University of Paris, Paris, France
TELEVISION IN POST-REFORM CHINA: Serial Dramas, Confucian Leadership and the Global Television Market. Routledge Media, Culture and Social Change in Asia Series, 13. By Ying Zhu. London and New York:
Routledge, 2008. xxii, 177 pp. US$150.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-415-49220-1.
Much scholarly and journalistic attention has been paid to the instrumental role of news and informational media in China’s epochal transformation. The past few years, in particular, have witnessed an explosion of literature on the Internet in China and its profound implications for China’s rapidly evolving state and society relationship. Less systematic work, however, has been done to foreground the mutually constitutive relationship between China’s ongoing transformation and entertainment media, especially prime time television drama. Yet storytelling, especially nationally televised prime time storytelling, remains the most popular media form in contemporary China. Arguably the most influential way in which the Chinese nation tells stories about itself and its place in the world, television drama provides a significant, fascinating, productive site for investigating contemporary Chinese politics and culture.
Ying Zhu’s book makes a pioneering contribution to Chinese media and cultural studies by offering a detailed analysis of the political economy and cultural politics of Chinese television drama series. As Stanley Rosen put it nicely in an insightful foreword, the book provides “a wonderful window into the new relationship between the Chinese state and society” (xiv).
Locating the evolution of television drama within China’s domestic political, economic, intellectual and cultural developments in the post-Deng era, on the one hand, and the globalization of media capitals, markets, and cultural flows, on the other, the book can be read in roughly two parts. Following the introductory chapter 1, chapters 2 and 3 traces the historical evolution of Chinese television drama series and offer detailed analysis of some of the shows in what Zhu identifies as the most significant prime time television drama genres, the dramas offering revisionist portrayals of Chinese dynastic history and domestic dramas focusing on family sagas during both the Republican and post-1949 periods. In particular, Zhu’s contextual and textual readings focus on three politically charged prime time dynasty drama series, Yongzheng Dynasty (1999), Marching Towards the Republic (2003) and The Great Emperor of Hanwu (2005). She argues that these popular and controversial shows, broadcast consecutively over the period that spans the last years of the Jiang Zemin/Zhu Rongji era and first years of the Hu Jintao/Wen Jiabao era, parallel the evolution of mainstream Chinese political and intellectual thought in the past decade. Specifically, the thematic orientation of the shows shifted from Yongzheng Dynasty’s preoccupation with economic reform and anti-corruption in the late 1990s, to Marching towards the Republic’s exploration of political reform and a viable form of Chinese democracy in the early 2000s, and culminated with The Great Emperor of Hanwu’s reflection of Hu Jintao’s embrace of the Confucian sage’s leadership. Experts in contemporary Chinese intellectual thoughts will probably question the extent of Zhu’s grasping of the nuances of the different Chinese intellectual positions, especially the differences between the neo-authoritarian and New Left positions and their respective linkages with the Chinese political establishment. Some of the concepts that Zhu invokes, including politically loaded terms such as “totalitarian nostalgia,” might also benefit from more unpacking. Nevertheless, Zhu’s argument, that “TV practitioners actively engaging in the ideological and political debates of the time by selectively (re)covering the events and figures of bygone eras” (20), is certainly well taken. As Rosen also helps to highlight, this argument reinforces a well-established observation about the long-standing Chinese tradition of using the past to comment on the present in historical writings and artistic works.
The second part of the book’s main body, chapters 4 through 6, moves the analysis of Chinese television dramas from the domestic political to the global economic dimension and from a predominantly thematic focus to an emphasis on narrative styles. Zhu first compares different types of mainland Chinese television dramas with their respective global equivalents, US prime time drama series, Latin American telenovelas, and East Asian lifestyle dramas. She then analyzes the transnational circulation of Chinese television dramas both within and beyond China’s national borders. Based mostly on a synthesis of secondary literature and drawing heavily on relevant chapters from an anthology that Zhu herself co-edits, this part of the book employs the analytical framework of a “cultural–linguistic market” in transnational television studies and extends it to the “Great China” context. While this framework has much to offer and Zhu makes a significant contribution in enriching this framework and offering insights into the shifting power dynamics of global cultural flows, one wonders whether this framework has compelled Zhu to strategically select the comparable Chinese television genres over the more “uniquely” post-socialist Chinese ones. The “red classics,” a popular dramatic television genre that offers revisionist interpretations of China’s communist revolutionary history and one that gains both official approval and popular market appeal in the past decade, for example, hardly gains any attention. This is surprising given that Zhu makes such a strong claim for how the thematic orientation of television dramas reflects a convergence between the official ideology of the Hu Jintao leadership and China’s intellectual New Left.
Yuezhi Zhao, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
THE IMPACT OF GLOBALIZATION ON JAPAN’S PUBLIC POLICY: How the Government is Reshaping Japan’s Role in the World. Edited by Hiroshi Itoh. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press Limited, 2008. xiii, 232 pp.
(Tables.) US$109.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-773-45029-5.
With a well-stated research question and rigorous methodology, this edited volume could conceivably be two separate books—one that addresses the focus of the title and the other the focus of the subtitle. Unfortunately, however, it does neither successfully. Written in commemoration of the 2002 retirement of Yasumasa Kuroda, “mentor and researcher on Japan’s politics in America” (sic; iii), most of the work’s “ten essays collected rather at random” (2) consider ways in which globalization has influenced Japan’s public (i.e., domestic) policy. But they are of wide-ranging quality, and only a limited academic audience will find the focus of some of the chapters of any interest or scholarly value.
The selections written by three former government officials at times read like a paean for the Japanese government, if not a testimonial for Japan. A reference to Japan’s “economic miracles” (52) is perhaps nothing more than a nationalistic platitude made in passing. But when readers learn that Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff “undertake their assignments so energetically that MOFA has become among the busiest ministries in Tokyo” (29), or that Japan’s reluctance to cancel the debt of present-day debtor nations is attributable to Japan’s own “self-help” experiences as a debtor immediately after World War II—without mention of geopolitical circumstances of that earlier era (the Cold War and Japan’s role as a US ally, if not the influence of the Korean War and the Vietnam War in spurring the Japanese economy)—only the most accepting reader will forge on. When one former official characterizes Japan’s diplomacy as “reliable, unselfish, nonviolent, and [without] high-handed manners” (33), that lofty pronouncement seems confirmed by another official’s claim that the percentage of asylum seekers granted refugee status in 2005 as greater in Japan than the acceptance rate of other developed countries. Yet one could argue Japan’s acceptance rate could only improve, for in a more than twenty-year period prior to 2005, less than 400 people were granted refugee status by the Japanese government. More likely, given this reputation, greater numbers of refugee seekers did not bother to pursue settlement in Japan.
The rationalization that underlies Japan’s aversion to accepting refugees is evident in the nostalgic (if not reactionary) tone of some of the chapters, a longing for an earlier era when Japan could benefit from international circumstances and be exempted from bearing proportional costs. Readers are presented with phrases such as “in an effort to restore Japan as the safest nation in the world” (70); they learn of “public concerns and alarms of growing brutal crimes committed by foreigners in Japan” (73); and they are told that “local governments with many foreign workers sometimes must deal with problems of delinquent children and youth crimes among foreign workers [sic], or such neighborhood nuisances like foreigners’ improper disposals of their garbage” (66). In the conclusion, the editor opines, “Globalization has rendered Japan’s policy making at the mercy of dynamic changes both inside and outside Japan” (228), the implied results of which he proffers in the introduction: the “breakdown of the family,” “increased divorce,” “unbalanced diet,” the “study of economics through comic books” and the emergence of “porno and annoyance on Internet and telemarketing” (11). “All in all, the industrialized and modern Japan seems to have reached a point of diminishing return” (11).
Arguably the strongest contribution is a chapter by Keiko Hirata that applies international relations theories to the Japanese government’s intransigence to discontinue its support for “scientific research whaling” in the face of overwhelming international opposition. But this effort will not overcome the significant weaknesses of a book replete with inconsistencies, unsubstantiated assertions and numerous editorial lapses that are more than distracting. In the concluding chapter, the editor writes, “Observing the sense of superiority complex among the Japanese toward the Westerners, Yasumasa Kuroda deems it imperative for the Japanese to acquire the universal norm of equality for all, and at least pretend to believe in equality so that they might get used to the norm” (228). It is left to the reader to evaluate the veracity of this curious assessment, and the extent to which it drives Japan’s relations with the world.
Richard Leitch, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, USA
JAPANAMERICA: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US. By Roland Kelts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. xi, 242 pp. (B&W photos, illus.) US$16.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-403-98476-0.
With the rising demand of anime-related products on a global scale, including academic books on the topic, there has been an increase of indiscriminate publication under the guise of being “academic.” Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US, by Roland Kelts is one of these. This book tries to show how Japanese anime has become deeply entrenched in US culture without really talking much about US consumption. Most of the chapters rely on journalistic interviews with Japanese industry personnel. The explanation of how anime “invaded” the US is reserved for the final chapter with a few episodic anecdotes on anime fans.
First, Kelts attempts to establish a socio-historical connection between the consumption of anime in both Japan and the US through the rhetoric of war; he tries to understand why something as unique as Japanese anime is popular by borrowing artist Murakami Takashi’s view that manga and anime emerged from the “underground expressions of [postwar] trauma in Japan” (37). Kelts associates Japan’s past to the “now” of US culture, that anime has been consumed as a symptom of post-9/11 trauma, and extrapolates that the US audiences’ interest in Japanese anime is because “Japan’s popular culture is speaking to us in a visual and psychological language that we may find fresh and entertaining—but it may also be telling us something we need to hear” (37).
This premise, however, seems problematic as it does not adequately explain the massive popularity of anime that occurred a few years before 9/11. Also, Kelts falls short of being critical of Murakami’s self-proclaimed importance of utilizing anime-like imagery. Leading scholars in Japan, such as Asada Akira, have argued that Murakami exploited “postmodern Orientalist” tactics to appeal to the Western-biased consumption of “Japan” (“Modern Art that is so Childish,” Voice, October 2001) and Ueno Toshiya noted that rather than being uniquely Japanese, “Japananimation” is popular in the West precisely because it was developed in relation to the Western gaze (”Japanimation and Techno Orientalism: Japan as the Sub-Empire of Signs,” Documentary Box, 9 (1996) 1). Such critical analysis is missing in this book.
In the ensuing chapters, Kelts introduces the big names in the Japanese anime and toy industries, providing an outline for those who want to learn more about who’s who in the field. However, most interviews sound like trite self-promotion tactics, and Kelts, unfortunately, appears to simply record the information given to him. He also misses a decade of the Japanese government’s policy, saying that “the pop culture campaign will start in 2007 and will be promoted directly through Japan’s global embassies” (113). In fact, the promotion policy began at the turn of the millennium.
In short, this book promotes existing Western stereotypical portrayals of Japan through sweeping statements, providing examples from Lost in Translation (2003) and quoting already partial studies, forever situating Japan into a strange land of perverted pleasures and honne/ tatemae (182) without providing fresh insights. When discussing anime porn, called hentai and yaoi (boy’s love) and the cultures of devoted fans called otaku, Kelts states the following: “Japan is intensely serious about the pursuit of happiness, even without having it mentioned in a formal declaration of independence” (134). Such grave generalizations make one realize that even in the twenty first century, the distorted notion of “Japan” in the Western imagination is still strong.
In the field of anime studies, Western scholars have often appeared authoritative even when their ideas are simply an expression of their affinity for or dislike of anime. Nevertheless, readers can still learn much from the various interviews that Kelts conducted with the industry personnel. Although misleading in its title, this book offers valuable insights into the current anxieties and uncertainties of the Japanese anime industry. Therefore, even though Japanamerica may not be the most intellectually stimulating work on Japan or on anime, it is still valuable for those who are interested in pursuing a career in anime studies, both inside and outside of academia.
Kukhee Choo, Tulane University, Louisiana, USA
STRONG RELIGION, ZEALOUS MEDIA: Christian Fundamentalism and Communication in India. By Pradib Ninan Thomas. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore: Sage Publications, 2008. xvii, 207 pp. (Tables.) US$39.95. ISBN 978-81-7829-834-4.
This book provides a critical review of “mediated Christianity,” taking the global–American–charismatic–Pentecostal Christianity broadcast to Indian cities, such as Chennai, as its focus. As a liberal Christian committed to interfaith dialogue and the promotion of India’s “common values,” the author is worried about the media dominance of right wing, foreign-driven forms of Christianity, which, pushing for a global Christian umma, harden religious boundaries and potentially provoke religious tensions latent in postcolonial India.
Part 1 of the book is taken up with four overview chapters respectively on Christian (and other) fundamentalisms, Christian fundamentalism and the media, Christianity in India, and Pentecostalism and Neo-Pentecostalism. These provide useful background, place fundamentalist Christianity within its broader political field and set out the author’s agenda. There are particularly interesting observations about the engagement of internationally influential Pentecostal churches and Indian regional politics (the political–financial conditions for neo-Pentecostal expansion), the centralizing mission of these churches and their tension with mainstream Indian churches committed to “Indianization” or the social gospel. The author offers a political–economic framework within which the role of Christian broadcasting can be understood in terms of packaging and marketing a religiosity with self-interested business-friendly conservative political messages. These, along with the accumulation of economic capital, which neo-Pentecostal churches enable, are “misrecognized,” to use a concept from Pierre Bourdieu that Thomas adopts. Bourdieu’s wider set of theoretical tools on which the study wishes to draw are set out in chapter 5 (the book’s part 2), although the study really lacks the ethnographic material with which to demonstrate such processes as “symbolic violence” or “misrecognition,” or to understand the structural relations of power of which they are actually a part (e.g., a good deal more contextual–historical explanation is needed to explicate Christian conversion as “symbolic violence”).
The book’s third part has three chapters dealing with Christian broadcasting in India (chapter 5), Hindu–Christian “cyber-contestations” (chapter 6) and an example of a recent “Christian Crusade” (chapter 7). Chapter 5’s overview of the Christian radio, television and Internet that reaches south India is highly informative and brings an under-researched topic into view for the first time. This is the book’s key and best chapter. Chapter 6 turns to contestations between Hindu and Christian extremists (including “web wars”) but leaves readers without the evidence with which to judge the assertion that these erode interfaith relationships in India or lead to an increase in interfaith tensions. The absence of interfaith tension (in Chennai) in the midst of growing Pentecostalism might be as interesting a question to pursue. Similar questions arise in the context of the Benny Hinn’s Festival of Blessings in Bengaluru described in chapter 7. The concluding chapter makes the case for responsibility, regulation and multi-faith broadcasting as a counter to the polarizing effects of current religious broadcasting.
This is a broad-sweep book with an axe to grind. The problem is that it offers little in terms of new empirical material to push its arguments forward, relying too much on unsubstantiated generalization. The reader is left wanting to know much more about the social structuring of engagement with Christian media (for instance, the patterns of Hindu participation in Pentecostal worship) and the evidence for the way polarizing religious discourse does, or does not, translate into interfaith social tension in south India, and why. A much more solid historical and sociological foundation is required for the book’s premise. To date the best empirical work on Hindu–Christian violence (mostly) in adivasi regions shows these to be complex conflicts, emerging from caste–ethnic divisions in the context of political–economic changes that only secondarily emerge as interreligious tensions strategically linked to polarizing discourses. The lack of empirical material makes this book sociologically weak (e.g., references to “the average Christian in India”). By locating its problematic of power in the relationships between globalized Christianity and India’s fragile religious diversity, the book singularly fails properly to locate the study of modern Indian Christianity in its class and caste context. There is an implicit middle-class bias in the treatment of the consumption of Christianity, which overlooks the significance of existing research on class and gender-differentiated congregations and forms of worship, and a discussion of religious culture and dialogue which significantly underplays the caste politics of Indian Christianity, from mass conversion movements in the nineteenth century to contemporary Dalit Christian activism. And it gives significance to the discursive production of Hindu–Christian cultural discontinuity (or division), which may not exist in social practice.
The book has presentational oddities (numbered paragraph and chapter divided references) which will not be to every reader’s liking. Nonetheless, it usefully marks out an important territory of new enquiry which readers will find intriguing and in which some will find an invitation to conduct more in-depth empirical research.
David Mosse, University of London, London, United Kingdom
CONFLICT, VIOLENCE, AND DISPLACEMENT IN INDONESIA. Edited by Eva-Lotta E. Hedman.Ithaca NY: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 2008. 304 pp. (Maps, photographs, tables.) US$23.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-877-27745-3.
This book deserves a warm welcome by students of Indonesian studies and of conflict and political displacement. The ten chapters plus an introduction are authored by highly qualified scholars who have studied their respective topics for years. Some of the most important insights that the book delivers concern displacement as an end itself, instead of a by-product of political violence (chapters by Sidel on inter-religious violence in Sulawesi and North Maluku; Robinson on East Timor; and Aspinall on Aceh); the highly problematic concepts of originary “placement” and “replacement” as a possible solution to “displacement” (Aragon on Central Sulawesi); and the determining temporal and spatial specificities of local conflicts (Davidson on West Kalimantan).
Personally, I find the chapters by Nils Bubandt, Jamie Davidson and John Sidel (in this order) most compelling, despite their significant differences in subject matter, perspective and writing style. Davidson’s study of the conflict in West Kalimantan is a breath of fresh air for students of political violence in post-1998 Indonesia. Original in data and arguments, it serves as a helpful corrective to the general tendency to simplify the profoundly different conflicts across the archipelago. The familiar but problematic view is that Indonesia is being seriously torn by ethno-religious conflicts that have their common roots in the New Order’s centralized governance from 1966, and the recent outbreak is generally assumed to be a direct reaction to, or an inevitable consequence of, the regime’s downfall in 1998. Davidson eloquently demonstrates the relative autonomy of the conflict in West Kalimantan to national politics and the importance of the specific nature and dynamics of the problem at the local level, without losing sight of the external forces that aggravated the situation.
The story that Sidel reveals in his chapter largely fits the widely held understanding of Indonesia’s protracted problems. His approach is fairly conventional. What distinguishes Sidel’s study from most others on the subject matter is the rich and carefully examined empirical details, as well as the rigour of his analysis of data. As shown in his previous works on related topics, Sidel’s chapter is impressive for the depth and comprehensiveness in treating the subject matter.
Other chapters make important contributions to the debate in various ways and with different levels of quality. These include Chauvel on Papua, Duncan on North Maluku, Bouvier and Smith on Central Kalimantan, Hedman on Aceh and Bubant on Maluku. Bouvier and Smith’s chapter is notably important and praiseworthy for being one of the first studies to take into account the voice of the victims (ethnic Madurese) in the deadly conflict in Central Kalimantan. As can be expected, anthropological and political scientific perspectives dominate the chapters. Several authors pay tribute to Clifford Geertz and follow his ethnographic method of “thick description.” What is minimal in these anthropological and politically oriented chapters is heavy theorization. This is perhaps wise, given the subject matter. Too much theorization (in search for some higher truth, intellectual gratification or academic credentials) of the human tragedies in Indonesia in very recent time could risk the inadvertent effects of trivializing the plight of the displaced and other seriously traumatized people. Most of these people continued to endure the sufferings discussed in this book as it went to press.
Human rights reports feature prominently as the source of reference in several chapters. Fortunately, the chapters manage to distinguish themselves from such reports by avoiding any strong statements of advocacy or condemnation. Notwithstanding, more than a few chapters are overcrowded with numerical data, dates and names of places and persons. Although they are arguably important, in some of the chapters they require more analysis and reflective discussion than what is presented to make them adequately meaningful. Against such chapters, reading the concluding chapter by Bubandt is a great relief and intellectually refreshing. This is the only chapter that does not focus on “displacement.” Problematizing the concept of “trauma” in both its global and local contexts, Bubandt presents an admirable combination of narrative, interpretation and ethnographic reporting in good balance and proportion. Significantly more than other chapters in the book, Bubandt demonstrates a critical self-reflexivity, both deploying and critiquing selected contemporary Western-derived theories in analysis of post-colonial practice. This is probably the best work by Bubandt that I have read to date.
The editor’s introductory chapter is helpful in providing the broader historical context of the complex issues that the subsequent chapters address. Despite this, the book reads like an issue of the journal Indonesia from the same publisher. The citations across the chapters are strongly oriented towards previously published articles from that journal. Like the journal, the book has no index, the reference sources are available only per chapter, with little cross-referencing between chapters.
Ariel Heryanto, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
BROKERING A REVOLUTION: Cadres in a Philippine Insurgency. Edited by Rosanne Rutten. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press; Honolulu: Distributed by University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 2008. viii, 400 pp. (Tables, graphs, figures.) US$55.00, paper. ISBN 978-9-71550-553-6.
How does one broker a revolution? The word “broker” implies that there is a third party in the negotiation and that the broker receives a fee or commission. The title, however, is less applicable to the primary actors of the revolution than it is to those who have left the revolution and to the authors of the book.
The book’s editor chooses to focus on “the ‘relational work’ of cadres who seek to forge networks of support and alliance, defense and opposition” (3). Differences in framework, approach and research methods among the contributors, however, produced an uneven collection of essays.
Three essays stand out for their careful research, in-depth analysis and the attempt to strike a balance between impossible neutrality and the demands of scholarship for objectivity. Boudreau’s essay enables us to understand how the “underground” responds to shifts in state policies, as it compares the Philippine experience with that of Indonesia and Burma. Lynn Kwiatkowski’s article focuses on non-activist civilians and, through her interviews, we recognize the crucial role of these civilians in the success or failure of any revolutionary movement. Hilhorst’s study on gender and the politics of non-government organizations succeeds both in explaining the challenges of the women’s movement within the national democratic movement and in considering jokes as texts. By showing how jokes among activists both affirmed their participation in the rectification movement and their continuing negotiations over gender attitudes, Hilhorst underlines the importance of observing “everyday interactions” in understanding the people who comprise the movement.
Hilhorst’s well-written essay magnifies the shortcomings of the other articles. First, most of the essays privilege the accounts of cadres who have either left or been expelled from the “party.” Those in the reaffirmist movement are rendered silent in many of the articles because the essays did not touch on the developments of the past decade (2000-2009)—Mckenna, Abinales, Boudreau, Kwiatkowski, and Rutten—or their voices were marginalized by non-inclusion, true for all of the articles except Hilhorst’s. Limiting research to a particular time frame is not in itself problematic. However, to write about a particular movement without recognizing its most recent developments reveals an agenda to highlight its failures.
Second, some of the research methods employed are questionable. Abinales’s essay re-narrates “Kahos,” the 1985-86 campaign to weed out the party of infiltrators, but focuses only on his analysis of a single document. He fails to interview a single party member, and neglects to mention the rectification campaign of the party. Also, with the exception of Hilhorst, many of the authors ignored or dismissed voluminous primary materials available at the University of the Philippines Library. They also failed to consider narratives such as Tatang’s Sa Tungki ng Ilong ng Kaaway (At the Tip of the Enemy’s Nose) (1988) and oral accounts of the party’s recent developments.
Third, there is the lack of transparency of some of the authors. In particular, Nathan Quimpo, in his essay on international work in Europe, neglects to note two facts: the role he played in rejectionist efforts to discredit the party and the renewed strength of international work as evidenced by massive organizing among migrant workers. Both Abinales and Quimpo also fail to acknowledge that the latter played a significant part in Kahos as established in party internal assessment documents. Even McKenna’s article “Mindanao People Unite!” identifies Quimpo as the former chair of the United Front Secretariat in Mindanao.
The book thus fails to give us an understanding of the Philippine revolution because the reaffirmist faction is rendered silent, and recent party strengths are undermined. The authors cannot, however, deny recent developments that some of them have noted. Data on splinter armed groups that were integrated into the armed forces of the Philippines or transformed into pro-military groups or private armies prove the the viability of the rectification movement.
Rutten aptly gives the book its title, “Brokering a Revolution.” It is a book authored by “outsiders,” third parties whose academic work serves as fodder for the state. It is the state and not the party that seeks to “discipline” the activist body, through torture, rape and summary execution. What fee or commission does a broker receive? While it is doubtful that these scholars are on the payroll of the state or that academic glory lies in the writing of articles that demonize the Philippine revolution, it would do well for these academics to ask themselves “Whose interests do I serve? How am I complicit in the systematic annihilation of activists in the Philippines?”
Maria Josephine Barrios-Leblanc, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, USA
Australasia and the Pacific Region
PHOTOGRAPHY AND AUSTRALIA. By Helen Ennis. London: Reaktion Books, 2007. 158 pp. (Photographs.) US$29.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-86189-323-9.
A ubiquitous part of our lives, photographs are remarkable social objects whose materiality inscribes different views of the world that are subject to multiple interpretations over time. Whether glass plate negatives or digital, photographs have a fascinating pull on us all and remain influential in the shaping of societies. In Photography and Australia, part of the Exposures series by Reakiton Books, Helen Ennis weaves together eighty photographs to thoughtfully argue for the centrality of photographic image-making to the Australian experience of being a settler nation. Influenced by Nicolas Thomas, Ennis shows how photography has been at the heart of the conversation about these enduring relationships over the last two hundred years. Rather than present a linear history, Ennis’s chapters are complementary arguments about the nexus of race, place, colonialism and photography. Though focusing primarily on art photography, she deals with other genres without getting mired in technical histories and argues for a pervading theme of realism in Australian photography. Throughout the book, she brings into view photographs by, and of, Aboriginal Australians. This helps illuminate the ways in which Indigenous communities are reacting to these visual histories and are now active agents in their production. In doing so, Ennis skillfully advances one of her main purposes, which is that the photographs discussed will help unsettle what Australia is, and how it has been, and is, represented.
In chapter 1 (“First Photographs”) Ennis effectively discusses the role of images in the beginning of the colony and how photographs were used to keep kin networks active with those in Britain. In chapter 2 (“Black to Blak”) she charts the representation of Aboriginal Australians from being scientific objects to political activists. Here Ennis discusses how Aboriginal photographers recast historical images as part of the politics of recognition. Chapter 3 (“Land and Landscape”) charts out the “erratic fortunes of landscape photography” (51), through which “nature” in the 1870s became a dominant theme of images made for sale to those who arose out of renewed environmental consciousness. The chapter deals with the tensions of displacement of Aboriginal communities that many of these images help with, and how photographers today work to readdress these histories. Particularly stunning in this regard is Rosemary Laing’s 2001 work, “Groundspeed (Red Piazza).”
In chapter 4 (“Being Modern”), Ennis examines modernism, which she convincingly links to the emergence of the Sydney photographer Max Dupain, who in 1935 produced provocative images of industrial landscapes. Generated by newly arrived European émigrés, Australian modernism was distinctively national and international. Ennis charts out the move from the more experimental phase of the 1930s to the realism and documentary style of the post-World War II phase characterized by Axel Poignant and others. Chapter 5 (“Made in Australia”) discusses documentary works, which emerged in parallel with the modernist movement in the 1930s. These images helped shape popular discourse by appearing in magazines, such as Walkabout, and participated in mythmaking that grew from “anti-urban and anti-intellectual sentiments” (94). The rest of the chapter looks at shifts since the 1970s.
Ennis takes up issues related to recent immigration in chapter 6 (“Localism and Internationalism”). She charts how as part of this process photographers have become more conscious of international trends and rejected essentialism. The multicultural experiences of Australians have resulted in varied but powerful responses as found in the work of Tracey Moffatt, Patricia Piccinini and Bill Henson regarding what Australia is and should be. The final chapter (“The Presence of the Past”) pulls together the major themes of the book. Ennis reiterates that photographs from Australia’s past offer us lessons for how images are used today as part of the rhetorics of race and nation. In doing so, she makes the claim that these visual histories are not inactive but that our engagement with them, and indeed contemporary artists’ engagement with them, is part of the largely negotiation of redemption through which Australia is working to come to terms with its settler-colony origins and what the future holds. If I have any criticism of this book, it is that at times there is a slight disconnect between the text and the photographs presented. As a result many of the images are presented without detailed discussions. This is unfortunate, necessitated, I believe, by the book’s brevity and complicated scope. Along these lines, it would have been good if Ennis had noted the size of the photographs in the captions. These comments aside, Ennis is to be commended for providing a thought-provoking work about the multiple visual histories of, and in, photography that emerged from Australia, and by which pasts, presents and futures of the nation are being negotiated. As such, the book is suggestive of other trends found in other nations around the world and will be compelling reading for many.
Joshua A. Bell, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA