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Discussant’s Remarks: Reviving Ethnology to Understand the Rice Neolithic

Discussant’s Remarks: Reviving Ethnology to Understand the Rice Neolithic Rice (2011) 4:187–189 DOI 10.1007/s12284-011-9072-0 Discussant’s Remarks: Reviving Ethnology to Understand the Rice Neolithic Richard A. O’Connor Received: 21 October 2011 /Accepted: 2 November 2011 /Published online: 15 December 2011 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011 Our symposium’s rationale, “rapid advances” in genetics, Different crops, it seems, created different worlds (see Mintz linguistics, and archaeology, makes no mention of my field, (2010:30–31) on sugar). cultural anthropology. Nor should it. It’s regress, not progress Rice-made worlds have the power to displace other crops —at least on these matters. As Fiskesjö said on the first day, and remake their cultures. Slowly but surely the rizification the discipline dismisses origins. Immersed in the moment, of Asia has created cultures where “rice” means “food,” today’s cultural anthropology studies each group in itself defines key rituals, or both. Somehow rice reorganizes and by itself. That’s ethnography. What the rice/language everyday life around itself. By historic times, when out- puzzle needs is ethnology, a comparative approach. Yet there siders describe the change, some Southeast Asians turn to is no full-scale, culture-crossing, in-depth analysis of how rice as if it were an addiction, not a subsistence (O’Connor rice-growing groups do and don’t differ. Cultural anthropology 1995, 986 fn6). Is it the taste? The higher status? However it has tools for that task but no inclination. We’ll tell you begins, rice growing can develop from a livelihood into a how rice is ‘culturally constructed,’ not how cultures might be lifestyle. Does commensality do this culture shaping? Is it rice-constructed. the moral density of interdependence, of working together An ethnology of rice might begin by studying crop/culture as a community? Arguably that’s how wet rice involutes interdependence. Once scholars debated whether the dis- (Geertz 1963). The group turns inward, intensifying and tinctive labor conditions of wet rice explained the better thereby specializing rather than hiving off. That’s classic condition of women in Southeast Asia (Goldschmidt Durkheim (1964), exactly what he theorized as organic and Kunkel 1971;Moore 1973; Winzeler 1974) but that solidarity. His other society making bond, the mechanical thought disappeared once gender became culturally con- solidarity of simple similarity, creates fractious groups. That structed. Then there’s how the small-scale intricacy of wet then suggests why dry rice peoples expand precipitously, rice turns Wittfogel’s(1957) oriental despotism on its head. spinning off households long before population density Here local autonomies that Bray (1986: 27, 173–79) docu- demands it. Competitive factionalism might well have ments for South China under the Han appear in the coastal energized the Austronesian dispersal. American South under slavery. Allowed to manage what Were we to plot mainland Southeast Asia’s long-term overseers couldn’t control, rice-growing slaves fared better agricultural development, it suggests wet rice and dry than their cotton- and sugar-growing counterparts. While were caught up in—or inspired?—grassroots movements rice-growers developed local subsistence activities, kept more that polarized the region around their differences. On of their African heritage and held on to a Creole, those the one hand, over perhaps a thousand years, village- suffering cotton and sugar regimens had no such buffers. organized Burmese, Tai and Vietnamese displace household- organized Austroasiatics (O’Connor 1995). Agriculturally, intensive wet rice replaces an extensive rice/house gar- dening mix; linguistically, Tai replaces Mon in what is R. A. O’Connor (*) now Thailand’s Central Plains; and, politically, flexible Department of Anthropology, Sewanee: University of the South, alliance building states replace their rigid temple-centered Sewanee, TN 37383, USA e-mail: roconnor@sewanee.edu predecessors (Kirsch 1984;O’Connor 2000). On the other 188 Rice (2011) 4:187–189 hand, dry rice organizes the uplands around household farm- wandering, hospitality gestures, travel customs, deference ing and state-avoidance, creating what Scott (2009) calls to local rule-making (Adat in the Islands), openness to social Zomia. entrepreneurs (Hanks 1971). Here, Southeast Asia, as the Are these two independent movements, each pulling the further edge of the South China Neolithic, may preserve region apart? Or is this symbolic differentiation, drawing the patterns long lost in the core area. region together? I favor the latter: even as groups diverge Third, current concepts of “culture” and “language” also agriculturally and geographically they converge symbolically slight how rice growing is an “activity complex.” As a task- in a discourse that stereotypes differences. So instead of centered body of practice, an activity follows its own inner isolated groups, each going its own way, we see ready move- logic and develops its own customs quite apart from what ment across cultural boundaries as well as ritual integration culture or language decrees. Of course this separateness— across the so-called upland/lowland divide, all evidence of what we might call the relative autonomy of a key activity— close communication. Arguably, rice energizes this region- doesn’t apply just to rice. Take our symposium. Did it matter making, acting as both a common denominator and a that we gathered in Ithaca and emphasized English? A bit culture-crossing idiom of hospitality (e.g., Matisoff 1983). perhaps but not a lot. We understood each other—once as Certainly the expectation that one shares rice and rice wine scholars (sharing scholarship as a practice), again as special- freely creates camaraderie exactly where dividing meat ists (sharing rice as a subject), and perhaps yet again as imposes a restrictive hierarchy. interlocutors of rice (joined in how the plant answers our At first glance, insular Southeast Asia’s agricultural de- probes). And while our mutual understanding unites us velopment is simpler. As Bellwood (this volume) tells it, across cultural and linguistic divides, it divides us from Austronesian farmers displace earlier hunters and gatherers. others who share our culture and language but not our Yet some archaeologists say this slights local diversity rice-given understandings. Are rice growers all that different (Szabo and O’Connor 2004) and, if we factor in a prior from rice scholars? Imagine a chain of marriages between Austroasiatic presence in Borneo (Blench 2010), perhaps wet rice villages: a Malay marries into a Tai village, Tai into the expanding Austronesians met a vegetal culture like what Mon, Mon into Burmese—crossing four language families. Sidwell (2011) and White (2011) propose for the mainland. Yes, the newcomers would learn new words but how new In theorizing this encounter, the complementary dualism would growing rice be? Don’t misunderstand—I’m not a that pervades insular Southeast Asia (Fox 1987) takes on rabid reductionist. Just the contrary: I’m saying a practice new meaning. Is it a legacy of that encounter or a cultural (growing rice in this instance) has an integrity that can never tool that sped Austronesian expansion? Either way it sug- be reduced to how a specific culture (Tai for example) gests how newcomers and autochthons might have grown defines it. together, creating a single society by a symbolic division of An ethnology of rice argues for these three conceptual labor. shifts. Taken together, they give us a more nuanced view of What I’ve said thus far interprets the past with current how rice, language, and culture interconnect for historic concepts, yet I suspect that adequately addressing the Southeast Asia. That gives us firmer ground for understand- Neolithic rice/language nexus will require three conceptual ing prehistory and distinguishing human universals from shifts. First, a foundation of modern thought, Cartesian historical particulars. How much of what archaeology and Dualism, rips “crop” and “culture” asunder whereas farming historical linguistics have come to take as natural is only weaves them together. We’re primed to imagine individual Indo-European? We won’t know until the world’sother farmers choosing crops pragmatically whereas growing rice is major traditions are better studied, but what we’ve just often better understood as a total social phenomenon (Mauss described as distinctive for Southeast Asia would impact 1967), a community activity that is not just practical but both the pacing and cultural packaging of linguistic and moral, aesthetic, political, religious, and ethnic too. agricultural change. Second, our current concepts of “culture” and “language” presume a separateness of groups that Southeast Asia insis- tently defies. What linguists call areal features (Enfield 2005) are but part of a larger metacultural discourse where- References by groups communicate across linguistic and cultural divides. No doubt it helps that Southeast Asia’sdiverse Blench R (2010) Was There an Austroasiatic presence in Island SE Asia peoples are mostly “cousins,” offspring of the South China prior to the Austronesian expansion? Draft. www.rogerblench. info. Accessed 19 Oct 2011. Neolithic. So they’re historically primed to understand Bray F. The rice economies: technology and development in Asian neighbors as variations on their own themes. Yet the region societies. New York: Basil Blackwell; 1986. also has well-established traditions that breed areal intercon- Durkheim E. The division of labor in society. New York: Free Press; nectedness out of everyday life—multilingualism, male 1964. Rice (2011) 4:187–189 189 Enfield NJ. Areal linguistics and Mainland Southeast Asia. Annu Rev O’Connor RA. Agricultural change and ethnic succession in Southeast Anthropol. 2005;34:181–206. Asian states: a case for regional anthropology. Journal of Asian Fox JJ (1987) Southeast Asian religions: insular cultures. Mircea Studies. 1995;54(4):968–96. Eliade (ed). The encyclopedia of religion.vol. 13. New York: O’Connor RA. (2000) A regional explanation of the Tai Muang as a Macmillan. city-state. In: A comparative study of thirty city-state cultures, Geertz C. Agricultural involution: the processes of ecological change edited by Mogens Herman Hansen. Copenhagen, Denmark: The in Indonesia. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1963. Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters Goldschmidt W, Kunkel EJ. The structure of the peasant family. Am Scott JC. The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Anthropol. 1971;73:1058–76. Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press; 2009. Hanks LM (1971) Corruption and commerce in Southeast Asia. Trans- Sidwell P. Correlating the lexicon and dispersal of Proto-Austroasiatic action 8(7):18–25, 53. with the arrival of rice agriculture in Mainland SE Asia. Poster at Kirsch AT. Cosmology and ecology as factors in interpreting early Thai “Rice and Language Across Asia: Crops, Movement and Social social organization. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 1984;15 Change.” International Symposium. Ithaca: Cornell University; (2):253–65. 2011. September 22–25. Matisoff JA. Linguistic diversity and language contact. In: McKinnon Szabo K, O’Connor S. Migration and complexity in holocene Island J, Bhruksasri W, editors. Highlanders of Thailand. Kuala Lumpur: Southeast Asia. World Archaeology. 2004;36(4):621–8. Oxford University Press; 1983. p. 56–86. White JC. Emergence of cultural diversity in Mainland Southeast Asia: Mauss M. The gift: forms and functions of exchange in Archaic a view from prehistory. In: Enfield NJ, editor. Dynamics of human societies. New York: Norton; 1967. diversity. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics; 2011. Mintz SW. Three ancient colonies: Caribbean themes and variations. Winzeler RL. Sex role equality, wet rice cultivation and the state in Cambridge: Harvard University Press; 2010. Southeast Asia. Am Anthropol. 1974;76:563–7. Moore M. Cross-cultural surveys of peasant family structures: some Wittfogel KA. Oriental despotism: a comparative study of total power. comments. Am Anthropol. 1973;75:911–5. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1957. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Rice Springer Journals

Discussant’s Remarks: Reviving Ethnology to Understand the Rice Neolithic

Rice , Volume 4 (4) – Dec 15, 2011

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Publisher
Springer Journals
Copyright
Copyright © 2011 by Springer Science+Business Media, LLC
Subject
Life Sciences; Plant Sciences; Plant Genetics & Genomics; Plant Breeding/Biotechnology; Agriculture; Plant Ecology
ISSN
1939-8425
eISSN
1939-8433
DOI
10.1007/s12284-011-9072-0
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See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Rice (2011) 4:187–189 DOI 10.1007/s12284-011-9072-0 Discussant’s Remarks: Reviving Ethnology to Understand the Rice Neolithic Richard A. O’Connor Received: 21 October 2011 /Accepted: 2 November 2011 /Published online: 15 December 2011 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011 Our symposium’s rationale, “rapid advances” in genetics, Different crops, it seems, created different worlds (see Mintz linguistics, and archaeology, makes no mention of my field, (2010:30–31) on sugar). cultural anthropology. Nor should it. It’s regress, not progress Rice-made worlds have the power to displace other crops —at least on these matters. As Fiskesjö said on the first day, and remake their cultures. Slowly but surely the rizification the discipline dismisses origins. Immersed in the moment, of Asia has created cultures where “rice” means “food,” today’s cultural anthropology studies each group in itself defines key rituals, or both. Somehow rice reorganizes and by itself. That’s ethnography. What the rice/language everyday life around itself. By historic times, when out- puzzle needs is ethnology, a comparative approach. Yet there siders describe the change, some Southeast Asians turn to is no full-scale, culture-crossing, in-depth analysis of how rice as if it were an addiction, not a subsistence (O’Connor rice-growing groups do and don’t differ. Cultural anthropology 1995, 986 fn6). Is it the taste? The higher status? However it has tools for that task but no inclination. We’ll tell you begins, rice growing can develop from a livelihood into a how rice is ‘culturally constructed,’ not how cultures might be lifestyle. Does commensality do this culture shaping? Is it rice-constructed. the moral density of interdependence, of working together An ethnology of rice might begin by studying crop/culture as a community? Arguably that’s how wet rice involutes interdependence. Once scholars debated whether the dis- (Geertz 1963). The group turns inward, intensifying and tinctive labor conditions of wet rice explained the better thereby specializing rather than hiving off. That’s classic condition of women in Southeast Asia (Goldschmidt Durkheim (1964), exactly what he theorized as organic and Kunkel 1971;Moore 1973; Winzeler 1974) but that solidarity. His other society making bond, the mechanical thought disappeared once gender became culturally con- solidarity of simple similarity, creates fractious groups. That structed. Then there’s how the small-scale intricacy of wet then suggests why dry rice peoples expand precipitously, rice turns Wittfogel’s(1957) oriental despotism on its head. spinning off households long before population density Here local autonomies that Bray (1986: 27, 173–79) docu- demands it. Competitive factionalism might well have ments for South China under the Han appear in the coastal energized the Austronesian dispersal. American South under slavery. Allowed to manage what Were we to plot mainland Southeast Asia’s long-term overseers couldn’t control, rice-growing slaves fared better agricultural development, it suggests wet rice and dry than their cotton- and sugar-growing counterparts. While were caught up in—or inspired?—grassroots movements rice-growers developed local subsistence activities, kept more that polarized the region around their differences. On of their African heritage and held on to a Creole, those the one hand, over perhaps a thousand years, village- suffering cotton and sugar regimens had no such buffers. organized Burmese, Tai and Vietnamese displace household- organized Austroasiatics (O’Connor 1995). Agriculturally, intensive wet rice replaces an extensive rice/house gar- dening mix; linguistically, Tai replaces Mon in what is R. A. O’Connor (*) now Thailand’s Central Plains; and, politically, flexible Department of Anthropology, Sewanee: University of the South, alliance building states replace their rigid temple-centered Sewanee, TN 37383, USA e-mail: roconnor@sewanee.edu predecessors (Kirsch 1984;O’Connor 2000). On the other 188 Rice (2011) 4:187–189 hand, dry rice organizes the uplands around household farm- wandering, hospitality gestures, travel customs, deference ing and state-avoidance, creating what Scott (2009) calls to local rule-making (Adat in the Islands), openness to social Zomia. entrepreneurs (Hanks 1971). Here, Southeast Asia, as the Are these two independent movements, each pulling the further edge of the South China Neolithic, may preserve region apart? Or is this symbolic differentiation, drawing the patterns long lost in the core area. region together? I favor the latter: even as groups diverge Third, current concepts of “culture” and “language” also agriculturally and geographically they converge symbolically slight how rice growing is an “activity complex.” As a task- in a discourse that stereotypes differences. So instead of centered body of practice, an activity follows its own inner isolated groups, each going its own way, we see ready move- logic and develops its own customs quite apart from what ment across cultural boundaries as well as ritual integration culture or language decrees. Of course this separateness— across the so-called upland/lowland divide, all evidence of what we might call the relative autonomy of a key activity— close communication. Arguably, rice energizes this region- doesn’t apply just to rice. Take our symposium. Did it matter making, acting as both a common denominator and a that we gathered in Ithaca and emphasized English? A bit culture-crossing idiom of hospitality (e.g., Matisoff 1983). perhaps but not a lot. We understood each other—once as Certainly the expectation that one shares rice and rice wine scholars (sharing scholarship as a practice), again as special- freely creates camaraderie exactly where dividing meat ists (sharing rice as a subject), and perhaps yet again as imposes a restrictive hierarchy. interlocutors of rice (joined in how the plant answers our At first glance, insular Southeast Asia’s agricultural de- probes). And while our mutual understanding unites us velopment is simpler. As Bellwood (this volume) tells it, across cultural and linguistic divides, it divides us from Austronesian farmers displace earlier hunters and gatherers. others who share our culture and language but not our Yet some archaeologists say this slights local diversity rice-given understandings. Are rice growers all that different (Szabo and O’Connor 2004) and, if we factor in a prior from rice scholars? Imagine a chain of marriages between Austroasiatic presence in Borneo (Blench 2010), perhaps wet rice villages: a Malay marries into a Tai village, Tai into the expanding Austronesians met a vegetal culture like what Mon, Mon into Burmese—crossing four language families. Sidwell (2011) and White (2011) propose for the mainland. Yes, the newcomers would learn new words but how new In theorizing this encounter, the complementary dualism would growing rice be? Don’t misunderstand—I’m not a that pervades insular Southeast Asia (Fox 1987) takes on rabid reductionist. Just the contrary: I’m saying a practice new meaning. Is it a legacy of that encounter or a cultural (growing rice in this instance) has an integrity that can never tool that sped Austronesian expansion? Either way it sug- be reduced to how a specific culture (Tai for example) gests how newcomers and autochthons might have grown defines it. together, creating a single society by a symbolic division of An ethnology of rice argues for these three conceptual labor. shifts. Taken together, they give us a more nuanced view of What I’ve said thus far interprets the past with current how rice, language, and culture interconnect for historic concepts, yet I suspect that adequately addressing the Southeast Asia. That gives us firmer ground for understand- Neolithic rice/language nexus will require three conceptual ing prehistory and distinguishing human universals from shifts. First, a foundation of modern thought, Cartesian historical particulars. How much of what archaeology and Dualism, rips “crop” and “culture” asunder whereas farming historical linguistics have come to take as natural is only weaves them together. We’re primed to imagine individual Indo-European? We won’t know until the world’sother farmers choosing crops pragmatically whereas growing rice is major traditions are better studied, but what we’ve just often better understood as a total social phenomenon (Mauss described as distinctive for Southeast Asia would impact 1967), a community activity that is not just practical but both the pacing and cultural packaging of linguistic and moral, aesthetic, political, religious, and ethnic too. agricultural change. Second, our current concepts of “culture” and “language” presume a separateness of groups that Southeast Asia insis- tently defies. What linguists call areal features (Enfield 2005) are but part of a larger metacultural discourse where- References by groups communicate across linguistic and cultural divides. No doubt it helps that Southeast Asia’sdiverse Blench R (2010) Was There an Austroasiatic presence in Island SE Asia peoples are mostly “cousins,” offspring of the South China prior to the Austronesian expansion? Draft. www.rogerblench. info. Accessed 19 Oct 2011. Neolithic. So they’re historically primed to understand Bray F. The rice economies: technology and development in Asian neighbors as variations on their own themes. Yet the region societies. New York: Basil Blackwell; 1986. also has well-established traditions that breed areal intercon- Durkheim E. The division of labor in society. New York: Free Press; nectedness out of everyday life—multilingualism, male 1964. Rice (2011) 4:187–189 189 Enfield NJ. Areal linguistics and Mainland Southeast Asia. Annu Rev O’Connor RA. Agricultural change and ethnic succession in Southeast Anthropol. 2005;34:181–206. Asian states: a case for regional anthropology. Journal of Asian Fox JJ (1987) Southeast Asian religions: insular cultures. Mircea Studies. 1995;54(4):968–96. Eliade (ed). The encyclopedia of religion.vol. 13. New York: O’Connor RA. (2000) A regional explanation of the Tai Muang as a Macmillan. city-state. In: A comparative study of thirty city-state cultures, Geertz C. Agricultural involution: the processes of ecological change edited by Mogens Herman Hansen. Copenhagen, Denmark: The in Indonesia. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1963. Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters Goldschmidt W, Kunkel EJ. The structure of the peasant family. Am Scott JC. The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Anthropol. 1971;73:1058–76. Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press; 2009. Hanks LM (1971) Corruption and commerce in Southeast Asia. Trans- Sidwell P. Correlating the lexicon and dispersal of Proto-Austroasiatic action 8(7):18–25, 53. with the arrival of rice agriculture in Mainland SE Asia. Poster at Kirsch AT. Cosmology and ecology as factors in interpreting early Thai “Rice and Language Across Asia: Crops, Movement and Social social organization. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 1984;15 Change.” International Symposium. Ithaca: Cornell University; (2):253–65. 2011. September 22–25. Matisoff JA. Linguistic diversity and language contact. In: McKinnon Szabo K, O’Connor S. Migration and complexity in holocene Island J, Bhruksasri W, editors. Highlanders of Thailand. Kuala Lumpur: Southeast Asia. World Archaeology. 2004;36(4):621–8. Oxford University Press; 1983. p. 56–86. White JC. Emergence of cultural diversity in Mainland Southeast Asia: Mauss M. The gift: forms and functions of exchange in Archaic a view from prehistory. In: Enfield NJ, editor. Dynamics of human societies. New York: Norton; 1967. diversity. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics; 2011. Mintz SW. Three ancient colonies: Caribbean themes and variations. Winzeler RL. Sex role equality, wet rice cultivation and the state in Cambridge: Harvard University Press; 2010. Southeast Asia. Am Anthropol. 1974;76:563–7. Moore M. Cross-cultural surveys of peasant family structures: some Wittfogel KA. Oriental despotism: a comparative study of total power. comments. Am Anthropol. 1973;75:911–5. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1957.

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RiceSpringer Journals

Published: Dec 15, 2011

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