Ethnic isolationism in the China-South-East Asia borderlands

Nicholas Tapp

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Besides these theoretical and practical points against ethnic isolationism, for many decades now anthropologists have been confronting peoples who have consciously and wittingly reformulated their cultural traditions in response to external pressures and influences, even often in reflexive reaction to anthropologists’ own interventions in societies other than their own. These ‘invented’ traditions, as Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983) called them, or inventions of cultureas Wagner called it even earlier (1981 [1975]), have showed an astonishing tendency to creative cultural syncretism, adopting and moderating cultural influences from a variety of different sources, to forge renewed and particular cultural identities (see Hanson 1989; Jackson 1989; Levine 1991). Whether or not cultures have always been in quite such a state of dynamic reworking, these phenomena, and above all where there is an awareness of the fabricated nature of ‘traditional’ cultures rather than the kind of ethnic fundamentalism we consider below, have made it trebly difficult for us to conceive of cultures, either now or in the past, as bounded, isolated entities in the way that they were presented by structuralfunctionalists and other cultural relativists. Moreover, throughout the 1990s, and associated with the more practical facts of globalisation considered above, we had the popularisation of various theories of the ‘post-modern’, which stressed the free-floating nature of the signifiers of identity in a consumption-oriented world, the absence of ultimate reference points, and the shifting and fluid nature of cosmopolitan identities in a mobile and diasporic conjuncture. The stress on travel, mobility, cosmopolitanism, and at once on the liberation of the signifier, led us still further away from any residual faith there might have been in localised cultural essences which might be viewed purely in their own terms, in isolation, without reference to the infinite mobility and fluidity of the world they inhabited.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationInter-Ethnic Dynamics in Asia: Considering the Other through ethnonyms, territories and rituals
    Editors Christian Culas and Francois Robinne
    Place of PublicationAbingdon, UK and New York, USA
    PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
    ISBN (Print)9780415559367
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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