Dennis Arnold’s Year in Reflection

In our latest Year in Reflection series, we posed the same questions to Dennis Arnold who teaches at the University of Amsterdam, and is the author of Capital Expansion and Migrant Workers: Flexible Labor in the Thai-Burma Border Economy (Mahidol University, 2007)

In 2022, what is one instance of workers’ struggle in Asia that you want to highlight?

The Naga World struggle in Cambodia is impressive for the workers’ tenacity and strength of the organizing, that is clear.

It’s also a significant struggle in Cambodia at this particular moment, as unions have been pushed into a corner over the past 7 or 8 years. The labor movement in Cambodia really needed this. I hope that it can contribute to a renewal, or new cycle of struggle.

What is one labor issue that you have been working on?

I’ve been doing research on social protection. One aspect I’m looking at is how this policy and practice has been picked up such a wide range of stakeholders with very different agendas, from the World Bank, governments to radical social movements.

Social protection can be operationalized to deepen the logic of the market and commodification of labor and life, and it can also be used in the toolkit to alter power relations in workers’ favor.

It’s a critical issue, highlighted of course by the Covid pandemic, which will only increase in relevance as the possibilities for work to contribute to a decent life are put under increasing strain.

What is one book you have read this year that has stuck with you?

To Live Is to Resist: The Life of Antonio Gramsci, by Jean-Yves Frétigné has stuck with me.

I really liked how the author draws out the fact that Gramsci was a militant communist committed to revolution, and confronted with a specific reality shaped by Fascism, Stalinism and Americanism that no longer exists.

In his time Gramsci undertook the project of translating Communist internationalism into Italy’s own political language, and the book helped me to see more clearly the challenges of translating Gramsci to our current conjuncture, even though many of the battle lines remain similar.

What trend should we be paying attention to in 2023?

Unfortunately, authoritarianism, at least across of much of Southeast Asia where I do my research.

We’re dealing with it here in Europe, too where I live, and it’s on the rise in my home country, the U.S., as well. It’s a blight on the global political scene that isn’t going away.



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