Between Frontiers

Nation and Identity in a Southeast Asian Borderland

by Noboru Ishikawa

  • Published: 2010
  • Pages: 275 pp.
  • illustrated
  • Series: NIAS Monographs
  • Series number: 116
Available from NIAS Press in Europe
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 7694 050 8, £22.50 ()

This local study of Borneo’s borderlands has global meaning. It explores how states materialize their territoriality and how people define themselves as a community, nation and ethnic group. Scholars across the humanities and social sciences will learn much from this masterful linking of history and ethnography, and of macro and micro perspectives.

‘Nationalism’ is a contentious and often unanalyzed abstraction, generally treated as something ‘imagined’ or otherwise located on maps, in flags and other symbols, and in collective memory. Between Frontiers restores the nation to the social field from which it has been abstracted by looking at how the concept shapes the existence of people in border zones, where they live between nations.

Noboru Ishikawa grounds his study in the boundary that separates Malaysian from Indonesian territory in western Borneo. His book explores how states materialize their territoriality and how people strategically situate themselves as members of a local community, nation and ethnic group within that territory. Scholars across the humanities and social sciences will learn much from this masterful linking of history and ethnography, and of macro and micro perspectives.

author image not supplied

Noburu Ishikawa is an Associate Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University.

Noburu Ishikawa is an Associate Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. As a social anthropologist, he has maintained a strong interest in political economy and relationships between humans and the environment in insular Southeast Asia, thus exploring social forces shaping the region through the articulation of history and ethnography both from macro and micro perspectives. His analysis of these forces in both their local and global contexts and in how they interact was important in his earlier study of globalization in Asia and Africa and flows through to this study.

Dr Ishikawa’s research interests and publications have largely focused on nation and identity, transnationalism (especially in the borderlands of western Borneo), the social history of a riverine society in northern Sarawak, the political economy of the Malay world, commodity chains connecting Southeast Asia and Japan, and the socio-cultural construction of “nature” in the industrialized environment of Southeast Asia.

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by Zornitza Grekova
From journal:
New Asia Books, June 2013

"Through the analysis of micro-level history the author Noboru Ishikawa successfully explores important phenomena of world history, such as nations, nation-building and borderlands.

"Through the analysis of micro-level history the author Noboru Ishikawa successfully explores important phenomena of world history, such as nations, nation-building and borderlands.

…This book may be recommended for specialists and academics, as for those who have general interest in Southeast Asian affairs. The narrative grasps the attention from the beginning with its rich and detailed information, extensive research and profound analysis, archival documents, and photographs. It can be easily understood as it is clearly written, well organised and structured, with solid methodological and detailed historical background. Moreover, this monograph will further stimulate the ongoing research debate about the nation-building and the nation-formation in borderlands as well as the current situation on Borneo/Kalimantan."

by Luise Weiß
From journal:
ASIEN, No. 126, January 2013

"Das Buch ist klar strukturiert, übersichtlich und mit zahlreichen Abbildungen und Karten illustriert. Der Autor betrieb eine intensive Quellenstudie, allein ein halbes Jahr lang bereitete er sich durch Zeitungslektüre auf seine Feldforschung vor.

"Das Buch ist klar strukturiert, übersichtlich und mit zahlreichen Abbildungen und Karten illustriert. Der Autor betrieb eine intensive Quellenstudie, allein ein halbes Jahr lang bereitete er sich durch Zeitungslektüre auf seine Feldforschung vor. Seine Forschungsarbeit basierte vor allem auf Quellen aus Archiven und mündlichen Überlieferungen der Dorfbewohner."

by Dr. Nicholas Farrelly, The Australian National University
From journal:
Southeast Asia Research, Vol. 20, No. 4, December 2012

"Since the publication of Thongchai Winichakul’s Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation (1994), studies of South East Asian borderlands have helped define a new wave of research […]. Among the many studies of these themes, I would suggest Noboru Ishikawa’s Between Frontiers: Nation and Identity in a Southeast Asian Borderland is unique.

"Since the publication of Thongchai Winichakul’s Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation (1994), studies of South East Asian borderlands have helped define a new wave of research […]. Among the many studies of these themes, I would suggest Noboru Ishikawa’s Between Frontiers: Nation and Identity in a Southeast Asian Borderland is unique.

…It is Ishikawa’s combination of scholarly wistfulness and hard-headed pragmatism which gives strength to observations about how things work in practice.

[…] Ishikawa is to be congratulated on both his contribution to borderland studies and his commitment to an unusual bilingual distribution on research findings."

by Charity Butcher, Kennesaw State University.
From journal:
International Studies Review

"Overall, the work presents a comprehensive study of the specific borderland community Telok Melano and of the borderlands in south-western Sarawak.  More generally, however, the themes within the book do speak more broadly to issues facing borderlands.  The general applicability of this book is evident…"

"Overall, the work presents a comprehensive study of the specific borderland community Telok Melano and of the borderlands in south-western Sarawak.  More generally, however, the themes within the book do speak more broadly to issues facing borderlands.  The general applicability of this book is evident…"

by Alexander Horstmann, Max Planck Institute, Germany
From journal:
Pacific Affairs, Vol. 84, No. 4, December 2011

"… a comprehensive picture of the integration of a community into the nation and the global economy.

This book does a wonderful job in depicting the subjectification and disciplination of people into citizens without losing the focus on the concrete experiences, agency and practices of the villagers.

"… a comprehensive picture of the integration of a community into the nation and the global economy.

This book does a wonderful job in depicting the subjectification and disciplination of people into citizens without losing the focus on the concrete experiences, agency and practices of the villagers.

… this book can be widely recommended not only for readers interested in Southeast Asian Studies, but also in border studies and for readers interested in the transformation of community and nation in the capitalist periphery more generally."

by Olivia Swift, Greenwich Maritime Institute
From journal:
IIAS Newsletter, 59 (2012)

"Using archival and ethnographic research methods, Noboru Ishikawa provides a rich account of how the state actualises and maintains its territory and the kind of national order that emerges in response, as people strategically situate themselves as members of local community, nation and ethnic groups simultaneously.  In doing so, he brings the study of nationalism ‘down to earth

"Using archival and ethnographic research methods, Noboru Ishikawa provides a rich account of how the state actualises and maintains its territory and the kind of national order that emerges in response, as people strategically situate themselves as members of local community, nation and ethnic groups simultaneously.  In doing so, he brings the study of nationalism ‘down to earth’, focusing not on the nation-state as something imagined, disseminated or fashioned, but on its concrete reality and presence underfoot.

While scholars have struggled to accurately study processes of transnationalism and globalisation using multi-sited ethnography following flows of people and goods, Ishikawa provides a dynamic account of the dialectic between states using traditional methnodologies in a single site, to great effect.  …

The value of the book is the skill with which Ishikawa entwines thorough archival and ethnographic research into a rich account of the social, economic and political processes in the making and maintaining of national space and societal responses to it."

by Dhara Anjaria
From journal:
New Books in South Asian Studies, 31.5.2011

"Noboru Ishikawa’s magnificent, trail-blazing book, Between Frontiers: Nation and Identity in a South East Asian Borderland …

"Noboru Ishikawa’s magnificent, trail-blazing book, Between Frontiers: Nation and Identity in a South East Asian Borderland … is all about the borders and frontiers that slice up Borneo, the people who have to live around them, and the daily negotiations that take place on them.  Noboru conducted extensive fieldwork in the villages on the border demarcating Malaysian Sarawak and Indonesian Kalimantan to see how the people lived the experience of being on a borderland … The result of his work is a marvelous fusion of historiography and anthropology."

by Roger Kershaw
From journal:
Borneo Research Bulletin, 2010

This is a book of very special qualities, by an author who is at home as much in nineteenth century Sarawak as in the modern political and economic structures which have evolved from early Brooke rule– or, as if often the case, have been rudely substituted for what the Brookes established.  Past and present are portrayed, and bridged, most convincingly by the many pages of archival resear

This is a book of very special qualities, by an author who is at home as much in nineteenth century Sarawak as in the modern political and economic structures which have evolved from early Brooke rule– or, as if often the case, have been rudely substituted for what the Brookes established.  Past and present are portrayed, and bridged, most convincingly by the many pages of archival research, sensitive ethnography and oral history from the notebooks of a husban-and-wife team, in the feild, 1993-94, 2002, 2006 and 2007.

by R.H. Barnes, University of Oxford
From journal:
ASEASUK News, 49, Spring 2011

The book is clearly written.  It is well illustrated with numerous figures, maps and photographs. … On the whole it presents an enlightening description and analysis of an untypical location.

The book is clearly written.  It is well illustrated with numerous figures, maps and photographs. … On the whole it presents an enlightening description and analysis of an untypical location.

by Nel Vandekerckhove
From journal:
Anthropos, March 2012 333/LV

""Between Frontiers" is a marvelous historical ethnography of the Southeast Asian borderland, situated between Sarawak Malaysia and Indonesian Borneo.  This monograph leads the reader straight into an exhilarating world of maritime Malay merchants, Chinese coolies, Dayak swidden cultivators, guerilla fighters, and Sambas rubber smugglers who have shaped the local peripheries

""Between Frontiers" is a marvelous historical ethnography of the Southeast Asian borderland, situated between Sarawak Malaysia and Indonesian Borneo.  This monograph leads the reader straight into an exhilarating world of maritime Malay merchants, Chinese coolies, Dayak swidden cultivators, guerilla fighters, and Sambas rubber smugglers who have shaped the local peripheries of the old Sarawak colony over the past 140 years.

"Between Frontiers" is highly recommended to academics, students, or anyone else who is interested in the history of borderlands, nationalism, and transnationalism in a Southeast Asian context."

by Johan Lindquist, Stockholm University
From journal:
Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 43/1. February 2012

"Ishikawa’s writing and analysis are exceedingly clear as he works with complex empirical material. … this is an excellent  book that deserves to be read by specialists of Southeast Asia as well as scholars interested in border regions in other parts of the world."

"Ishikawa’s writing and analysis are exceedingly clear as he works with complex empirical material. … this is an excellent  book that deserves to be read by specialists of Southeast Asia as well as scholars interested in border regions in other parts of the world."

by Anna Lowenhaupt
From journal:
U.California, Santa Cruz

“This is such a marvellous book. I love the way it brings a structural analysis of capitalism and the state into a deep reading of history and ethnography.

“This is such a marvellous book. I love the way it brings a structural analysis of capitalism and the state into a deep reading of history and ethnography. […] I will enjoy teaching it and will recommend it to many – far beyond the boundries of SE Asian studies.”

by Eric Tagliacozzo
From journal:
Cornell University

“Ishikawa has a deep and long-term knowledge of his subject. The mixture of historiacal, anthropological, and sociological approaches is inspiring, and Ishikawa mixes these genres skilfully.”

“Ishikawa has a deep and long-term knowledge of his subject. The mixture of historiacal, anthropological, and sociological approaches is inspiring, and Ishikawa mixes these genres skilfully.”

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