Just published

Messianic literacy in Zomia, or Chapter 6¾

I have a paper that has just come out in its English version in a writing-themed edition of Terrain.  In the same issue there are contributions from Olivier Morin, Pierre Déléage, Cécile Guillaume-Pey, Silvia Ferrara, Ramon Sarró, Cédric Vincent, Stephen Chrisomalis, Jean Dubuffet and an interview with Stephen Houston.

The journal is exquisitely typeset, and if you have institutional access you can see the whole thing here.

My paper is “The art of not being legible: Invented writing systems as technologies of resistance in mainland Southeast Asia“.

Access a pre-print here.

I cover the histories of nine writing systems of the mainland Southeast Asian highlands, all invented between 1844 and 1959 within traditionally non-literate communities.

I also respond to James C. Scott’s provocative suggestion in Chapter 6½ of The art of not being governed that non-literacy in the highlands was a strategic political choice for resisting enclosure from lowland and colonial states. Instead, I argue that the advent grassroots literacy movements suggests the opposite: writing was reinvented within new Messianic institutions as a technology of state resistance, with its own illegible mystique.

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