Organized Panel Session
Historians of Southeast Asia tend to present various mobilities as transgressive of state power, as a series of flows that challenge border-making, require strenuous policing, and point toward alternative “cosmopolitan” futures. Yet, do such mobilities genuinely undermine configurations of state control? Does the juxtaposition of mobile bodies with inert, territorially-fixed states, resonate with historical experience? Colonial administrations across Southeast Asia deftly navigated accelerating movement and connections, encouraging flows of Asian traders, settlers, and pilgrims just as often as they tried to suppress or limit them. States, in fact, comprised fluid, mobile actors themselves.
Bringing together scholars of American and European empire who work on diverse Southeast Asian case studies, this panel will problematize the conventional opposition of mobilities and state power by examining how colonial administrations channeled, harnessed, and constituted flows of people. At sea, Joshua Gedacht explores how mobile navies spanning from the seas of Sumatra to Sulu encouraged colonially-sanctioned passages as much as they tried to interrupt “illicit” movement. Kris Alexanderson considers how Dutch administrators deployed private shipping companies not only for commercial gain, but also to manage oceanic “wild spaces” surrounding the Netherlands East Indies. On land, Oliver Charbonneau investigates how colonial and post-colonial states in the Philippines sought to realize their cartographic imagination of a unified archipelago by populating Mindanao with “rice colony” settlements While remaining mindful of the unintended consequences of colonial endeavors, this panel will offer an important corrective to terrestrial paradigms of state power.