Saturday, June 10, 2006

Census, Museum and What? A question about the Anderson Reading

Alright, so the reading we had for Monday was sort of tough to digest, for me anyway. I understand that Anderson's main points are first that communities/nation building is imagined. So I suppose he takes the modernist view of national identity construction. Secondly, perhaps the main point, the census, the map, and the museum were institutions that helped construct ideas of nationhood in colonized Southeast Asia and uncolonized Siam.
Well, I understand the points Anderson makes in regards to the census and museums. In the case of the census. Anderson explains that European colonizers in the Malaysian kingdom had a need to find a system that quantified the people systematically. There was no room for people that didn’t fall into a specified group. Dutch efforts to hyper- classify often left people out and blurred the line between religion and ethnicity. Anderson points to the example of Islam in the Federated states of colonial Malaya. He says that “Islamic” and “Malay” in the classification system were treated as synonyms and used interchangeably. OK, I buy this point. Ethic classifications even today are basically imagined because they aren’t precise or continuous. So I understand that colonial ethnic classifications in the census would shape the way a nation developed its sense of identity.
The last institution Anderson examines in the Museum. I buy this point also. Anderson’s argument that museums in SE Asia shaped nation hood seems fairly air tight. The Dutch East Indies example is a powerful one. The monuments built to the pre-colonial Burmese reflected a schism between modern Burmese natives and the Burmese before the Europeans. The monument, according to Anderson, suggests that modern day Burmese have no ancestral connection to the achievements of pre-colonial generations and are therefore incapable of recreating equal to or more impressive culture. Anderson also discusses other European features the European colonizers brought to the construction of South East Asian culture like the “reproducibility” of cultural items. To me, this is also, a valid and convincing argument.
Imagined Maps is where I start having problems understanding what Anderson is saying. It seems that Anderson is basically arguing that Siam lacked “totalizing” maps, or maps that demonstrated boundaries. Instead, they used [cosmographs], which lacked horizontal dimensions. These cosmographs reflected celestial and “subterrestrial hells” rather than land and water boundaries. It was not until the 1870’s that the Thai were introduced to viewing maps in terms of boundaries. Anderson goes on to quote Thongchai who says that “A map merely represents something which already exists objectively ‘there’” (249). If the map becomes a model for what it should represent, as Thonchai says, then aren’t the cosmographs more reflective of “political-biographical narrative[s]” (250) than these contemporary boundary confined maps?
I have one final question, not really related to this point, just a clarification question. On pg. 246, in the second paragraph near the bottom of the page, Anderson says “Guided by its imagined map it organized the new educational, juridical, public-health, police, and immigration bureaucracies it was building on the principle of ethno-racial hierarchies which were, how ever, always understood in terms of parallel series” (246). What does Anderson mean by "parallel series" here?


Blogger Brandon said...

As far as your map question, I am not entirely sure. This reading was a little over my head. However, I think that "paralell series" is refering to the fact that ethnic groups (a group which has common cultural, behavioural, linguistic, or religious practicess) and race (visible physical traits) are connected in the creation of what he calls "ethno-racial hierarchies." In other words they are a single catagory and do not necessarily reflect true ethnic origins. All of this created by the map and the census according to Anderson.

3:45 PM  

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