(P45) Place Branding in Southeast Asia: a Contested Landscape
Fri 13:30-15:00 K12 | 1.12
- Antonia Soriente Università degli Studi di Napoli "l'Orientale'
- Aurora Donzelli SLC e Università Alma Mater Bologna
- Manneke Budiman Universitas Indonesia
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Branding Streets in the Consociational Way? Reflections from Melaka, Malaysia
Pierpaolo De Giosa Independent researcher
Melaka is one of the most active Malaysian states in place-branding processes: from the appropriation of prestigious international recognitions, as in the label of “Melaka World Heritage City”, to the synecdochic motto “To Visit Historic Melaka Means to Visit Malaysia”. There is yet another place-branding approach in the Old Town: the making of neatly defined and “racialized” tourism packages, which are supposed to represent the three major ethnic categories of Malays-Chinese-Indians. This paper introduces, first, the making of Hang Tuah Mall (and the Bazar Ramadan Mega), Jonker Walk (and the so-called “Chinatowns”), and Little India since the early 2000s. This “divide-and-brand” approach is the result of the longstanding administration of Barisan Nasional, itself divided in three major parties: the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). Although international and local heritage experts criticize such themed packages as an inauthentic and commercialized surface added to century-old streets, they have become too successful to be abandoned. This paper will thus present how these spaces have been contested and politicized by Barisan Nasional and its opposition. I will also provide some reflections on the ambiguous stand of the opposition, and its recent two-year-long administration under Pakatan Harapan, which has been hesitant to offer alternatives to this ossified Malay-Chinese-Indian grid that permeates Malaysian society. There is, however, a more subtle criticism coming from local heritage aficionados who challenge the imposition of such segregated tourism packages on a much more hybrid and complex urban space.
‘Passion Made Possible’: Affective governance and the Singapore brand
Carl Jon Way Ng Singapore University of Social Sciences
This paper focuses on Singapore’s latest branding campaign under the slogan of ‘Passion Made Possible’ (PMP) first launched in 2017. As the first unified campaign jointly helmed by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Economic Development Board (EDB) to brand and promote the city-state, the new Singapore brand is targeted not only at the tourism market, but also investors and businesses. Consequently, concrete brand tokens and markers of place and identity tied to particular locations, sites and objects appear to have been downplayed in favor of intangible symbolic-experiential meanings that index particular kinds of creative and passionate dispositions putatively amenable to employment needs and market success for an advanced economic set-up.
On the one hand, the campaign represents a self-selective process in that the kinds of audiences – particularly potential investors and businesses – that possess and/or find appeal in the kinds of affective dispositions and tropes discursively invoked are also those the Singapore state aims to attract. On the other, and more significantly, the PMP campaign arguably serves as an important mechanism in and through which the state seeks to govern through regulating the affective subjectivities of Singaporeans. This is in line with an increasingly palpable orientation in the city-state’s political engagement and communication to tap affective tropes, consistent with a form of neoliberal affective governance that cultivates, appropriates, instrumentalizes and market(ize)s citizen affect in the interests of economic and political objectives. Through an analysis of a range of brand artefacts, the paper examines these affective-semiotic dynamics of branding and governance.
”Sweet Ambon”: Place-branding and contested history in the islands of Eastern Indonesia
Timo Kaartinen University of Helsinki
An imagery of scents, tastes, and hues endures in the discourse about Maluku as a distinctive kind of place, a site of quiescent harmony projected on it during late colonialism and the Indonesian Independence. The metaphors of enjoyment that are central to the brand of Maluku, elaborated by today’s regional government and tourism industry, are unmistakably grounded in the archipelago’s historical submission to the enjoyment and presence of powerful outsiders. The question raised by the seeming agreement about Maluku’s quality as a place is what makes the colonial image “citable” in such an unproblematic way. The question addressed in this paper is how various parties with a stake in the Maluku brand maintain the intertextual gaps that make up the brand’s citational structure. The paper draws attention to the contestation of symbols and events that are salient for Maluku’s local and colonial history and argues that these actors are acutely concerned with the different spatial and temporal scales on which the brand of Maluku unfolds.
“The Islands of Light and Growth”: Electrification and Place-Making Aspirations in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
Rafadi "Fadi" Hakim University of Chicago
According to a 2017 report from the Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Indonesia’s southeastern province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) has the nation’s lowest electrification ratio – only slightly above 59 percent. Accordingly, the state electricity company, PLN, launched an aggressive campaign to bring electricity to every single village in NTT — a province known in national media for its numerous islands, rocky terrain, rough seas, and high rates of poverty. Through social media campaigns and in-person events, the NTT office of the PLN brands its emerging market as Nusa Terang Tumbuh (“the islands of light and growth”) and its potential customers as electrizens – model consumers whose daily lives are shaped by the reliability of the power grid and their adoption of electrical appliances, such as electric scooters and electric stoves. During fieldwork between 2018 and 2019, I documented how residents of Kupang, NTT’s capital, expressed a contradictory relationship with PLN’s campaign: while they made fun of PLN’s constantly recurring blackouts, they lauded how the intensifying presence of electricity brings them closer to the ideals of “the good life” under the Indonesian nation-state. Thus, I argue that PLN’s branding of its NTT market reflects place-making aspirations in the post-1998 era of Indonesian politics: the emerging consumer market as new frontiers for Indonesia’s state-building project.
The last two decades have seen an exponential increase in the application to locales of different size (neighborhoods, cities, regions, nations) of marketing and promotional techniques of product differentiation typical of the commercial domain. Place branding—as this phenomenon is commonly called—entails the production and dissemination of positive, competitive, and highly curated placeimages. The communicative practices utilized within this (somewhat) novel genre of promotional
discourse are varied and generative of complex outcomes. They entail a variety of semiotic modalities— ranging from mediatized artifacts (i.e., verbal slogans, logos, promotional images) to linguistic objects (i.e., vernacular idioms and scripts), from local products and commodities (i.e., regional foods and crafts) to built environment (i.e., monuments, parks)—and involve various spatial scales and social actors (NGO activists, politicians, urban planners, marketing experts, citizens, visitors, etc.). This (tentatively) two-section panel intends to explore how the multifaceted phenomenon of place branding is unfolding in Southeast Asia, intersecting with contemporary processes of nation-building and indigenous placemaking. Our focus will be on the inherently contentious nature of place-branding projects.
As Nakassis (2012) points out, brands should be understood as complex “citational structures” designed to unfold through time and space to ensure consumers’ recognition of specific objects (e.g., a pair of sneakers or a cup of coffee) as instantiations (or brand tokens) of a distinctive and consistent brand type (e.g., Nike or Starbucks). Place brands, however, complicate this form semiotic regimentation (see Agha 2020; Graan 2016: 80-82, among others). While place-branding processes presuppose an analogy between commodities and places—typical of a neoliberal extension of market rationality to every domain of life—places, as Agha states (2020: 332), “are not like toasters or blue jeans.” Unlike ready-made commodities, places are unique and saturated with a stratified history of events, experiences, and interpretations. To establish as legitimate place emblems (or brand tokens) an open-ended series of artifacts, products, experiences, and social behaviors, the branding of places requires processes of political selection and metonymic reduction: a monument standing for a city, a local delicatessen standing for an entire culinary tradition, etc. Place brand formulations are therefore
highly unstable and open to contestation. In attempting to regiment a highly centrifugal web of references and voices, place branding inevitably raises questions of authorship, ownership, and authenticity. At an ethnographic level, our aim in this panel is to scrutinize the debates unleashed by place-branding efforts proliferating in contemporary Southeast Asia. At a more general theoretical level, the panel discusses the ambivalent nature of place-branding: on the one hand, an epitome of the rampant commodification of cultural phenomena, with nations and cities acting like commercial ventures and corporations (Comaroff and Comaroff 2009); one the other hand, a discursive tool to advance indigenous rights and alternative political projects.