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Oliver Tappe - University of Heidelberg, Institute of Anthropology

Oliver Tappe

Oliver Tappe is Senior Researcher at the University of Heidelberg, Institute of Anthropology. His current research project (funded by the German Research Foundation) addresses historical and anthropological questions of tin mining in Laos. He is particularly interested in local practices of artisanal and small-scale mining, including related sociocosmological relations and ritual. In his research, ethnographic field work and archival studies complement each other.

Oliver Tappe’s research interests include the historical anthropology of Laos, with a focus on labour relations, migration and mobility, and sociocultural change. His recent publications include a special issue on upland societies in Southeast Asia (co-edited 2021 with Rosalie Stolz for the journal Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale), and the volume Extracting Development: Contested Resource Frontiers in Southeast Asia, co-edited with Simon Rowedder and published in 2022 by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (Singapore).



Tin mining in Laos: Past legacies and present challenges
(séminaire : séminaire général du CASE (resp. Paul Sorrentino, Catherine Scheer, Vanina Bouté), jeudi 11 mai, 10h30-12h30; salle 327, bâtiment EHESS, 2 cours des Humanités, Aubervilliers
Since precolonial times, Lao artisanal and small-scale miners practice tin mining in the Nam Phathaen valley (Khammouane Province) as part of their everyday subsistence. Under colonialism, the emergence of industrial mining triggered unprecedented social and environmental transformations. Those have gained momentum in recent years, with Vietnamese and Chinese large-scale mining operations posing particular challenges for local livelihoods. This lecture investigates the impact of extractivism in Laos, with a particular focus on the dialectic between opportunity and precarity that shapes the lifeworlds of local artisanal and small-scale mining communities.
The Phong of Houaphan, Northern Laos: Ethnohistorical explorations
(séminaire Anthropologie comparée de l’Asie du Sud-Est; resp. Vanina Bouté, Yves Goudineau et Catherine Scheer) – jeudi 11 mai, 14h-17h, grand salon, Maison de l’Asie, 22 av. du Président Wilson, 75016
The Phong are a small Austroasiatic group of 30,000 people with historical strongholds in the Sam
Neua and Houamuang districts of Houaphan province (northeastern Laos). They stand out
among the various members of the Austroasiatic language family as being completely Buddhicized since precolonial times, indicating close relations with the lowland Lao realm. This lecture explores the history and culture of this less known upland group. Taking the myth of the culture hero Hat Ang as vantage point, I will also discuss general aspects of uplanders’ agency and strategies of future making, as well as questions of remoteness and relationality.
Historical Anthropology of the Lao-Vietnamese borderlands: sources, methods, questions
(Séminaire: Ateliers des doctorants du CASE; resp. Rébecca Villaret, Camille Senepin, Chloé Baills, Nora Bourquin – EHESS)
Mercredi 17 mai – 10h à 12h – salle A327, bâtiment EHESS, 2 cours des Humanités, Aubervilliers
How can we assess contingent sociopolitical dynamics and cultural transformations in bygone times? What sources and methods do we have at hand when we practice ethnography in/of the past? Taking examples from the late 19th- and early 20th-century upland Laos, this lecture explores the methodological and epistemological challenges of investigating past sociocultural configurations in a culturally diverse and politically turbulent region. Although events such as the assassination of a French missionary or an attack on a colonial post have left a considerable paper trail in the archives – achieving a grassroots perspective and uncovering indigenous voices remain difficult tasks for the historical anthropologist.
Houaphan: Landscapes of revolutionary memory in Lao PDR
(séminaire, Langue, histoire et sources textuelles du Cambodge ancien et moderne – Grégory Mikaelian et Eric Bourdonneau) – Lundi 22 mai – 16h30-18h30, INALCO, 65 rue des grands moulins, 75013
Houaphan province in NE Laos is – according to official Lao People’s Democratic Republic historiography – considered as the “cradle of the Lao revolution”. Two key sites that have become popular destinations for domestic tourists, stand out as main lieux de mémoire of the revolutionary struggle: 1) The famous caves of Viengxay, where the leadership of the communist movement and thousands of civilians sheltered from the constant US American bombing during the nine years of “Secret War” (1964-73), and 2) the mountain Phu Phathi, former site of a US American radar station taken over by North Vietnamese soldiers in 1968. This lecture discusses the ongoing relevance of the war experience for present-day politics of state commemoration and legitimation, and the ambiguities of Lao discourses of history and memory.