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National Diversity and the Scope of Ethnography

Thai cinema poster

This project explores the prevalence and patterns of social diversity and the negotiation of difference in varied historical settings in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand. More specifically, the project examines what interethnic (majority-minority) relations (or the lack thereof) characterize ethnographic reporting, documentary and fiction film, novels, memoirs and newspaper coverage during 1914-2014, against what can be known about patterns of interethnic relations from ethnohistorical investigations.

This project explores the prevalence and patterns of social diversity and the negotiation of difference in varied historical settings in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand.

Much ethnographic and ethnological work has rested on notions of bounded ethnic groups and clear ethnic boundaries, leaving the impression that people are not diverse or inclined to engage with diversity. This project examines what interethnic (majority-minority) relations (or the lack thereof) characterize ethnographic reporting, documentary and fiction film, novels, memoirs and newspaper coverage during 1914-2014, against what can be known about patterns of interethnic relations from ethnohistorical investigations.

The project aims to complement the anthropological interest in ethnic minorities with a focus on the national majority and how it imagines self-other configurations. How are national identities shaped or imagined, and to what extent does this vary by media (newspapers, action films, comedies, romantic novels, television documentaries, tv drama, crime reporting, popular music lyrics)? What notions of culture, heritage and identity are sustained by particular media, and in what social or historical setting? What is it about fiction that enables a better (truer) handle on the negotiation of diversity than documentaries and ethnographies ever indicate? How can this research inform an anthropological engagement with diversity, prejudice and the ethics of representation?

 

Funding Source:
Center for Asian Research 

Hjorleifur Jonsson, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change