provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Pacific Futures: Past and Present


ISBN-13: 9780824874452
Published: November 2018

320 pages | 4 b&w illustrations, 10 maps

Pacific Futures: Past and Present

  • How, when, and why has the Pacific been a locus for imagining different futures by those living there as well as passing through? What does that tell us about the distinctiveness or otherwise of this “sea of islands”? Foregrounding the work of leading and emerging scholars of Oceania, Pacific Futures brings together a diverse set of approaches to, and examples of, how futures are being conceived in the region and have been imagined in the past.
    Individual chapters engage the various and sometimes contested futures yearned for, unrealized, and even lost or forgotten, that are particular to the Pacific as a region, ocean, island network, destination, and home. Contributors recuperate the futures hoped for and dreamed up by a vast array of islanders and outlanders—from Indigenous federalists to Lutheran improvers to Cantonese small business owners—making these histories of the future visible. In so doing, the collection intervenes in debates about globalization in the Pacific—and how the region is acted on by outside forces—and postcolonial debates that emphasize the agency and resistance of Pacific peoples in the context of centuries of colonial endeavor. With a view to the effects of the “slow violence” of climate change, the volume also challenges scholars to think about the conditions of possibility for future-thinking at all in the midst of a global crisis that promises cataclysmic effects for the region.
    Pacific Futures highlights futures conceived in the context of a modernity coproduced by diverse Pacific peoples, taking resistance to categorization as a starting point rather than a conclusion. With its hospitable approach to thinking about history making and future thinking, one that is open to a wide range of methodological, epistemological, and political interests and commitments, the volume will encourage the writing of new histories of the Pacific and new ways of talking about history in this field, the region, and beyond.
  • Unbound Space: Migration, Aspiration, and the Making of Time in the Cantonese Pacific, by Henry Yu
    Over the course of the 15th century through the mid-20th century, hundreds of thousands of migrants left ports on the southern coasts of Guangdong and Fujian province in China heading out into Southeast Asia. They developed a set of circular migration networks that tied their rural villages with a diverse array of destinations throughout Southeast Asia. Beginning in the early 19th century, a specific Cantonese-speaking subset of these migrants went through the ports of Macau, Guangzhou, and then Hong Kong across and around the Pacific Ocean, creating a coherent century-long migration process that was persistent, recurring, and unique in its effect on global history. This singular process of migration, which we can label the “Cantonese Pacific,” developed a powerful conception of time that defined both geographic and social mobility, defining axes of spatial and temporal change through narratives of aspiration. Creating a future-orientation that was markedly different from the dynastic cycles of time that defined official histories of the rise and fall of Chinese imperial states, the “Cantonese Pacific” organized a powerful “futurity” that shaped the ideal “life cycle” of hundreds of thousands of long-distance migrants and the families that they left behind in rural villages. 
    This sense of a bounded future through migrating across unbounded space clashed with the innovation of spatially bound national time that defined geographic belonging in new “white settler” nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States in the 19th century. This conflict in definitions of the future created a century of racially exclusionary national politics all around the Pacific, as discriminatory anti-Chinese (and eventually anti-Asian) laws and practices curtailed and constrained the networks of the Cantonese Pacific. Ultimately, however, anti-Chinese policies could only bound Cantonese migrants to a limited extent. The affective power of the Cantonese Pacific’s conception of a prosperous future ignited aspirations for physical and social mobility and a desire for the acquisition of material wealth that was more effective in generating and sustaining mobility than the definitions of spatial and temporal belonging associated with the development of white settler nationhood, where a boundless undisciplined notion of time and bounded national space emphasized settlement and the acquisition of land and property.

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