The Crux Is the Skin: Reflections on Southeast Asian Personhood

Niels Mulder


This essay is an exercise in the phenomenology of personhood based on some 25 years of field research among Javanese, Thai, and Filipinos. As I still slip up from time to time, I am convinced that it is relevant to both scholarly researchers and others with practical interests in the region to better know the people with whom they are or will be dealing. The ideas presented in this essay are grounded in my experiences with mainly members of the urban middle classes. In the narrative, they follow from the course of my fieldwork and remain close to the immediacy of situations and their interpretation, even as they result in the prospects of an action theory of Southeast Asian personhood.

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