Heritage and the Making of Political Legitimacy in Laos
Heritage and the Making of Political Legitimacy in Laos
The Past and Present of the Lao Nation
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Table of Contents
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List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
Author’s Note

1 Introduction – Heritage, State, and Politics
Being Revolutionary, Being Lao
Constructing the People’s Democratic Republic
Socialist Ideology – Capitalist Politics
Nation State Fragility
Cultural Intimacy of/in Laos
Heritage With an Agenda
Future Building in Laos
Rising China
The Book
Future Directions

2 Making the Past (Dis)appear: Heritage as Legitimacy in (Re)creating Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang and the Creation of Nostalgia
Dealing With ‘Difficult Pasts’ at the National Museum
Heritage and Almsgiving
‘We Don’t Talk About It Openly’: Timelessness and Silence
An Economy of Selective History
A Suitably Idealized Past
Conclusions: Heritages and Future Directions

3 Hmong (Forever) on the Margins: Crypto-Separatism and the Making of Ethnic Difference
Ethnicity in Laos
Dreams of Hmong Statehood and Zomia
‘We Are Hmong’
Difference as Belonging
Zomia as a Persistent Alternative
Conclusions: Reproducing Societal Inequality?

4 One World: One Dream: Voices of Pessimism, Strategies of Pragmatism and Facing the Rise of China
‘One World: One Dream’?
‘China Is Developed’
‘We Will No Longer Have Jobs’
Pessimism With Ambivalence: The New ‘Things of the House’
Final Thoughts – One Belt: Multiple Paths?

5 Conclusion – Long Live the Revolution?
Royal and Revolutionary Heritage
Essentializing the State
The Dynamics of Authoritarianism
Difficult Heritages
Difference as (Not) Belonging
On China and Changing Laos
Final Reflections


Phill Wilcox

Heritage and the Making of Political Legitimacy in Laos

The Past and Present of the Lao Nation

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is nearly fifty years old, and one of the few surviving one-party socialist states. Nearly five decades on from its revolutionary birth, the Lao population continues to build futures in and around a political landscape that maintains socialist rhetoric on the one hand and capitalist economics on the other. Contemporary Lao politics is marked by the use of cultural heritage as a source of political legitimacy. Researched through long-term detailed ethnography in the former royal capital of Luang Prabang, itself a UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Site since 1995, this book takes a fresh look at issues of legitimacy, heritage, and national identity for different members of the Lao population. It argues that the political system has become sufficiently embedded to avoid imminent risk of collapse but suggests that it is facing new challenges primarily in the form of rising Chinese influence in Laos.

Phill Wilcox

Phill Wilcox is a Research Associate in the Faculty of Sociology at Bielefeld University, Germany. Her book chapter ‘Contested Heritage in Luang Prabang’ was published as part of the Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia in 2018.