Outlines for an ethnography of Miaows and Whisker twitches: Concepts and approaches to the unspoken and the cynical in Malaysian Borneo

Outlines for an ethnography of Miaows and Whisker twitches: Concepts and approaches to the unspoken and the cynical in Malaysian Borneo

Asmus Rungby, Postdoctoral fellow, Yale university Council on Southeast Asian Studies, Research Associate at UNIMAS department of Borneo Studies (Universiti Malaysia Sarawak)

While post-colonial and decolonial scholarship has made significant advances in accounting for the sophistication of non-western traditions of knowledge but have in that process preserved an emphasis on written and discursive forms of knowing. This talk outlines my ongoing attempt to account for unarticulated insights and political attitudes among Urban Borneans and understand their connection Bornean history. Drawing on PhD fieldwork in Kuching, Malaysia, over the course of 2018-2019 I depict the political attitudes of young civil society organizers and artists and their interactions with local elected officials. Operating under the political risk of deregistration and punishment within the intimate politics of Kuching’s political scene my interlocutors pursued sophisticated tactics, but did not supply explanations or rationales for their behaviors. In lieu of stated rationales, I analyze their efforts through their practices and public expressions. Paying attention to their many cat metaphors I suggest that not only do they share tacit assumptions about politics but that these attitudes and approaches relate to Borneo’s longer historical trajectories and raise fundamental problems about how to account for unspoken insights and practices methodologically and conceptually. I therefore outline historical reasons for thinking in these ways and suggest modifications of theoretical language that can help open up these issues systematically. 

Asmus Rungby is a Southeast Asianist and Anthropologist focused on issues of Governance, Political Economy and Democracy in Southeast Asia broadly and Malaysian Borneo specifically. His work combines deep ethnographic commitments to urban communities and theoretical analysis grounded in critical theory, political economy and indigenous intellectual traditions. His work covers a variety of issues of politics, environment, and conceptual issues surrounding the interfacing of communities and modes of governance, including tourism, energy management, art advocacy, animal protection, digital citizenship and democracy.  He is the grant holder of the Squaring the circle of southeast asia’s green transition project funded by the Carlsberg foundation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023
12:00 Noon

Room 203, Luce Hall
34 Hillhouse Avenue

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