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Experimental Consensus: Negotiating with the Irrigating State in the South of Laos
journal contributionposted on 2022-10-27, 04:53 authored by Holly HighHolly High
It is common to view Laos as a political culture prone to "consensus", yet it is also true that policy is constantly changing there, often radically. If everyone is always "in consensus", what can explain this change? I suggest that the answer is found in the particular kind of consensus at play: it is informed by a wider "experimentarian" ethic evident in rural Laos, where ideas (including the latest policies) are put to the test through practical implementation. The results of these experiments are used to validate policy change and reversal. This allows rural residents a degree of manoeuvrability in their engagements with the state that is striking given the "authoritarian" status of the current regime. It can explain and is used to justify, for instance, the oft-observed gap between policy and actual practice. This room for manoeuvre comes at the price of "playing the game", at least for a while, of the latest policy fad, sometimes with disastrous consequences for rural livelihoods. I use the example of an irrigation project that was implemented in the south of Laos from 1999-2002 to examine "experimental consensus" at work as policy was received, engaged and eventually relinquished. © 2013 Asian Studies Association of Australia.