Agrarian Angst: Rural Resistance in Southeast Asia



Southeast Asia has witnessed dramatic transformations in the rural sector over the past 60 years, first with the Green Revolution, and more recently with diverse multi-scalar economic and socio-political processes including the growth of cash crops, export processing zones, land conversions, genetically modified crops, free trade agreements, and the growing complexity of rural-urban connections. With such a multiplicity of changes, many directly linked to globalisation, come numerous forms of resistance, as individuals and communities struggle against what they see as unjust consequences. These different resistance measures to rural transformations are the focus of this article. While critiquing the literature on different conceptualisations of resistance, from rural resistance at the micro level, through to collective action and open protest, revolutionary movements, and even regional and global transnational movements, we propose three core arguments. First, in order to capture the diversity of forms of contemporary rural resistance, one needs to use a multi-scalar approach. Previous analytical constructs such as ‘local’ and ‘global’ are inadequate to examine and explain the forms of resistance taking place. Second, rural resistance comes in a complexity of forms, is diversifying rapidly, and is never static. Resistance measures are context contingent, shaped by different worldviews and shift according to local circumstances, the opening and closing of opportunities structures, and the endogenous peculiarities of resistance dynamics. Third, a focus on resistance to contemporary agrarian change in Southeast Asia must recognise agency. We demonstrate that there is much to be gained by taking an interactive standpoint, arguing that local, national, regional, and even global resistance has as much to do with how the actors’ themselves define their field of protest as with the specific nature of their targets.