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Cosmic Centers and the Subject of the 21st Century

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Every social theory posits the kind of social actor who can inhabit it as an agent – in the ‘hard’ human sciences, notoriously, Economic Man maximizing advantage and Political Man jockeying for position. The ‘softer’ historians and anthropologists of Southeast Asia half a century ago posited other kinds of actors/agents, like the Man of Prowess or the denizens of Micro/Macrocosms. This paper recounts the late 20th century collapse of the metanarratives of time and personhood that undergirded each of these poles, and then explores the urgency of reconfiguring notions of duration (“time”) the Subject (“personhood”) in the emerging conditions of the 21st century.

This public lecture is part of ‘Continuity and Change: (Re)conceptualising Power in South-east Asia’ conference, 26-28 March 2009. For more info or to register for the conference go to

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