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Book Review - Changing Lives in Laos: Society, Politics, and Culture in a Post-Socialist State. Edited by Vanina Bouté and Vatthana Pholsena. Singapore: NUS Press, 2017. Softcover: 457pp.

December 1, 2017

 

Thanks to an invitation from the team at Contemporary Southeast Asia, I recently had the opportunity to review an excellent new edited-volume on Laos titled 'Changing Lives in Laos'. The book brings together an impressive range of experts on Laos to discuss topics including mobility, natural resource management, agrarian change, nation-building and ethic minorities. A selection of the review is below. For the full review visit: https://www.iseas.edu.sg/flagship-publications/contemporary-southeast-asia

 

Over the past decade, academic research on Laos has grown significantly. This growth in the field of Lao studies is well synthesized in Vanina Bouté and Vatthana Pholsena’s edited volume Changing Lives in Laos. Incorporating the expertise of an impressive range of scholars, the 15-chapter book is thematically grouped under four research themes: state formation and political legitimation; natural resource governance and agrarian change; ethnic minorities’ engagement with modernity; and mobility and migration. Each of these prominent themes are comprehensively addressed and, while different chapters will naturally appeal to different readers, the book successfully delivers an encompassing analysis of contemporary processes of social, political and cultural change in Laos.

 

In Section 1 the cumulative contribution of the five chapters is a nuanced understanding of Lao state formation, consolidation and change. Consideration is given to shifting interpersonal relationships and patron-client networks within the Lao politburo, the role of iconography in advancing historical narratives (which seek to align Lan Xang kings with the struggle for national liberation) and the political complexities surrounding political revolution and the state’s relationship with the Buddhist Sangha. What each of these chapters emphasize, and as Pholsena explicitly argues in Chapter Five, is that understanding political change requires moving beyond “normative political language” to give consideration to a broad range of processes including the socialization of individuals and the complex forces that internalize the “norms and values” of state institutions (p.130)....

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