Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Mirroring Power: The Phounoy Headmen as Delegates of the King of Luang Prabang (18th-19th Century)

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Truman, Mezzanine Level

The Phounoy, a Tibeto-Burman highland people in Northern Laos, defy the “Uplanders versus the State” dichotomy as formulated by James Scott in his The Art of Not-Being Governed. Rather than embodying a radical Otherness to lowland societies, this ethnic group had historically adapted in a “mirroring” relationship to successive central powers while maintaining a strong local identity. Ethnography and local history provide ample evidence of specific historical trajectories that differ from those of other neighbouring Tibeto-Burman or Austro-Asiatic upland populations.


In the mid-18th century, the Lao kingdom of Luang Prabang nominated the Phounoy as border guards in the mountainous Sino-Lao borderlands. This paper explores how territorial and political restructurings, together with the ennoblement of many local dignitaries, perfected the similarities of the Phunoy society with the Tai muang in a mimetic fashion. Particular attention will be paid to the ritual and political processes by which Phounoy dignitaries appropriated and reproduced royal elements such as titles and regalia at the end of the 19th century. This actor-centered perspective contributes to a more nuanced understanding of upland Southeast Asian sociopolitical dynamics.

Vanina Bouté

Centre Asie du Sud-Est (CNRS-EHESS), Not Applicable, France

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4 - Mirroring Power: The Phounoy Headmen as Delegates of the King of Luang Prabang (18th-19th Century)



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