The State and Ethnic Politics in Southeast Asia

By David Brown | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Ethnicity and the state

One of the most widespread features of the Third World since the Second World War has been the expansion of the state in both its spatial and policy realms. Régimes which hitherto had displayed only spasmodic and limited capacity outside their core regions and their capital cities, have sought increasingly systematic control over peripheral regions through the expansion of their administrative bureaucracies, their armies and their educational systems. At the same time, the range of governmental interference has expanded beyond a concern with raising revenue and maintaining order, as the need to direct, train and motivate labour has increased. The effectiveness of such state interventions has varied greatly, however. The expansion of the state has not implied its strengthening; and the various agents of the state have only rarely managed to bring about the intended structural or cultural changes. Nevertheless, they have frequently had sufficient impact to impinge on social groups, sometimes disruptively and unintentionally, so as to modify societal consciousness and behaviour. There has thus developed a close relationship between ethnic consciousness and relationships on the one hand, and the activities of the state on the other. The purpose here is to examine that relationship by explaining how ethnicity functions as an ideology whose cultural focus and political implications are crucially influenced by the character of the state.

Ethnicity is interpreted here as an ideology which individuals employ to resolve the insecurities arising from the power structure within which they are located. Accordingly, the explanation of ethnic politics must begin with the examination of the state’s influence upon that power structure. 1 It is clear that the state

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