chapter  11
28 Pages

The limping monk and the deaf king: peasant politics, subaltern agency, and the postcolonial predicament in colonial Burma: Maitrii Aung-Thwin


Introduction The pursuit of Southeast Asian agency has been a core priority in the study of regional protest movements, a concern that has contributed signifi cantly to the region’s scholarly understanding. 1 This ongoing discussion about the ability of regional actors to exercise independent actions or thoughts was likely a result of the fi eld’s interdisciplinary foundations and its connection to more entrenched centers of social science research. 2 New directions in European social history, the infl uence of the Annales school, and American anthropology’s turn to village societies in the 1950s and 1960s made the study of peasant resistance movements in Southeast Asia an attractive prospect. 3 Scholars at an early stage in the fi eld’s development regarded these movements as a way to understand the region’s encounter with colonialism through elements of its own (traditional) society. Historians of newly independent Southeast Asian nations and next-generation area-studies specialists attempted to write histories of protest that repositioned local actors as actively engaged in the transformations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries under colonialism, as they were eager to correct colonial accounts that were judged to have misrepresented the concerns and priorities of indigneous communities. While “home” scholars (a term that has been used to describe native/insider/indigenous scholars who study their homelands) often presented resistance movements as anti-colonial/nationalist struggles, area-studies specialists began to study more closely the conceptual pillars upon which these uprisings were framed, broadening the chronological context beyond the European encounter and deepening the analysis to include belief systems, values, and terms that shaped the world in which participants lived. 4 To these commentators, giving Southeast Asian actors not only a voice-but a new leading role and script in the theatre of history-embodied a more locally sensitive perspective.