Fields of Desire: Poverty and Policy in Laos

$38.00 SGD

By Holly High

Shortlist
EuroSEAS Social Science Book Prize 2015

In this important new book, High argues that poverty reduction policies are formulated and implemented in fields of desire. Drawing on psychoanalytic understandings of desire, she shows that such programs circulate around the question of what is lacking. Far from rational responses to measures of need, then, the politics of poverty are unconscious, culturally expressed, mutually contradictory, and sometimes contrary to self-interest.

Based on long-term fieldwork in a Lao village that has been the subject of multiple poverty reduction and development programs, High’s account looks at implementation on the ground. While these efforts were laudable in their aims of reducing poverty, they often failed to achieve their objectives. Local people received them with suspicion and disillusionment. Nevertheless, poverty reduction policies continued to be renewed by planners and even desired locally. High relates this to the force of aspirations among rural Lao, ambivalent understandings of power and the “post-rebellious” moment in contemporary Laos.


"In this beautifully composed ethnography on poverty reduction programs in Laos, Holly High uncovers the ambivalence with which rural people regard state power. Her meditation on the ambiguity of desire in state-society relations is path-breaking and offers new insights into the nature of rural citizenship in Southeast Asia and beyond."
Philip Taylor, Australian National University

"It is above all an "anthropology" of development... its relevance and applicability go beyond the empirical grounding on a tiny island in the Mekong and it makes for a highly appropriate source for any anthropology, development studies and geography programme."
Roy Huijsmans, International Institute of Social Studies

"Holly High uses her formidable talents as a scholar and writer to displace the tired antinomy of village studies in which rural people are either complicit with state development projects, or resistant to them. Through richly peopled, ethnographic encounters she opens our eyes to a much richer terrain. A brilliant analysis and a lively read. Bravo!"
Tania Li, University of Toronto

Fields of Desire is a thoroughly researched and eloquently written ethnography that connects psychoanalytic theories of desire to the analysis of state/villager relations in a way that will appeal to both social scientists and state planners”
Paul T. Cohen, Macquarie University

“a rich and beautifully written contribution to the anthropology of Laos” 
Charles Zuckerman, University of Michigan 


Holly High is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney.

Challenges of Agrarian Transition in Southeast Asia Series
Publication Year: 2014
232 pages, 152mm x 229mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-770-9, Paperback

NUS Press