School of Social and Political Sciences - Theses

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    Seeking the state from the margins: From Tidung Lands to borderlands in Borneo
    Bond, Nathan Gary ( 2020)
    Scholarship on the geographic margins of the state has long suggested that life in such spaces threatens national state-building by transgressing state order. Recently, however, scholars have begun to nuance this view by exploring how marginal peoples often embrace the nation and the state. In this thesis, I bridge these two approaches by exploring how borderland peoples, as exemplars of marginal peoples, seek the state from the margins. I explore this issue by presenting the first extended ethnography of the cross-border ethnic Tidung and neighbouring peoples in the Tidung Lands of northeast Borneo, complementing long-term fieldwork with research in Dutch and British archives. This region, lying at the interstices of Indonesian Kalimantan, Malaysian Sabah and the Southern Philippines, is an ideal site from which to study borderland dynamics and how people have come to seek the state. I analyse understandings of the state, and practical consequences of those understandings in the lives and thought of people in the Tidung Lands. I argue that people who imagine themselves as occupying a marginal place in the national order of things often seek to deepen, rather than resist, relations with the nation-states to which they are marginal. The core contribution of the thesis consists in drawing empirical and theoretical attention to the under-researched issue of seeking the state and thereby encouraging further inquiry into this issue. I elaborate my findings along a trajectory consisting of two broad parts. First, the entrenchment of the border in the social life of the region. I show that the question of the state is inextricable from the question of what it is to be Tidung. I suggest that for many contemporary Tidung people, the transition to a national political order has come to be considered the most preferable among several plausible alternatives. People have sought to establish positive relations with the nation-states within which they live on either side of the state-drawn border, in the absence of an impetus from their respective central governments. They increasingly acquiesce to the circumscription of their mobility and social lives by the international border. Secondly, life in the light of this national division. I demonstrate that Tidung engagements with Dayak identity in Kalimantan index a shift toward exclusively Indonesian registers of ethnic identification; conversely, Tidung engagements with Malay identity in Sabah index a shift toward exclusively Sabahan registers of ethnic identification. I elaborate on this national division by analysing vernacular understandings of transboundary floods, which function as a commentary on international asymmetry from the borderland. Finally, I examine a recent campaign for a new autonomous district in Kalimantan (Indonesia), suggesting that the latter indexes the point at which borderland transgression becomes a resource for national integration such that vernacular and central political projects converge.