From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (53)—Provincial Elections-n

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Fieldnotes From History."
[a] Selection RF
Click below for other fieldnotes dealing with Taiwan's 1985 provincial elections:
Election 1         Election 2          Election 3          Election 4          Election 5          Election 6
Election 7         Election 8          Election 9          Election 10        Election 11        Election 12
Election 13       Election 14        Election 15        Election 16        Election 17        Election 18
Part of an occasional Round and Square series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets west, round meets square, and past meets present), these snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient desktop computer—during my first fieldwork stay in Taiwan (1985-1987).  All entries are the way that I left them when I returned to the United States in 1987—some nicely-stated and some embarrassing. Although the series began with my assumption that the entries can stand alone, I have found that separate comments and notes might help readers understand a world that is now, well, history. These are always separate from the original fieldnote.

The next several dozen entries in this series represent my memories—in the form of fieldnotes that were already well on their way to being letters—of Taiwan's provincial elections in November 1985. I had taken down what I call "jottings" at the time, and "now," two months later, I was ready to get a little bit more detail down in the form of fieldnotes. If you are somewhat unfamiliar with the five-stage process that framed my work habits even back then, it might be worth a quick look at the introduction to this series. Suffice to say here that in Taiwan in 1985 I was working from "jottings" to "fieldnotes" most of the time. Every month or so, I would write a letter that made it all into a more sustained narrative. Even early on, I realized how powerfully the knowledge that I would be writing letters influenced my fieldnotes. You may see it, too. It has remained my method to this day.
[b] Competition RF
Like many fieldnotes, these were "written up" (a term I dislike, but am occasionally willing to use) after the fact. I wonder if most students of anthropology know how common this is. The implications for research, eye-witness authenticity, and historiography are numerous. It is a reality that has never gone away for field researchers of all kinds, though, and I suspect that it never will. 

Indirect. That is the key word for this little moment in a flurry of fieldnote writing on the afternoon of February 16, 1986. There is more background here, as I discussed in yesterday's commentary. And even though there is nothing particularly deep about my insights here, I find this note strangely useful in understanding a great deal of political life all over the planet.

My regret? I wish that I would have pursued that idea more aggressively back in 1986. In other words, a deeper pursuit of what it means for a one-party state to move toward (in)direct representation, even while keeping a close and sometimes nervous watch on it, is as relevant to political culture all over the world today as it was in the mid-1980s. On the other hand, that is precisely the role fieldnotes should play. They are not merely informational. If they "work" (and I would argue that almost all of them do...if they are written in the first place), they can inspire thinking months, years, and even decades later.
[c] Meat-n-greet RF

And don't tell me that this is "political science." No, a careful reflection on indirect selection and one-party states should be as much the territory of anthropology as political science or any other discipline. Don't be surprised if you see a Round and Square series in the future called "Political Culture." You know I'm serious.

[1] The Philippines were the biggest news of 1986. I was riveted, as were many others, by the unfolding drama of the Marcos legacy and its fall. The elections to which I referred were carefully controlled ones before the advent of the Aquino government.

[2] The fascinating little hint in the second sentence is what I wish I had pursued in great—and even exhaustive—detail. Another regret. What is it to have a population outwardly accept a government's political legitimacy? It is a question that more anthropologists need to consider. IR and political science have their very significant roles, but this is the very stuff of anthropology, if you ask me.
[d] Indirect RF
[3] For Chinese langauge readers, it will be apparent that I used mostly Pinyin to render names such as "Jiang Jieshi" and "Guomindang." It was habit for me, even then, and my notes would "flowed" less well if I had to think about the more common form of Romanization on Taiwan at the time, Wade-Giles. Later, I became equally adept at using the system, and I implore students, as I do every year, to learn both.

16 February 1986 
But it is the party—the Guomindang—which is the ultimate source of political power on the island. The majority of Taiwan’s citizens outwardly accept the Guomindang’s political legitimacy. The Guomindang is the government; there is no political opposition within the ultimate realm of decision making on Taiwan. All of the country’s important decisions are made by party members elected directly or, more often, indirectly by the people. The indirect selection is the key to understanding both the status quo and movement toward change.

Elections can be a problem for authoritarian states; this is evident from recent elections in the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Argentina. Once given the right to choose their leaders, people do not easily give it up. For this reason, many one party states have suppressed elections or drastically restructured them. In contrast, Taiwan’s elections are reasonably open and competitive. But they are only local in scope; it is as if Americans could vote only for city councilmen and state representatives; mayors, governors, and all national offices would be appointed by “the party.” Taiwan’s leaders have created free, democratic elections while limiting their scope, their duration, and the issues covered.
[e] Choice RF

No comments:

Post a Comment