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Palm Politics: Warfare, Folklore and Architecture


The reorganization of pastoral life in the twentieth century was inextricably bound to the rise of industrial agriculture and the forms of resource extraction that accompanied it. The places that witnessed the most sweeping ecological changes, from labor-intensive plantation agriculture to industrial monocropping and extractive industries, were also the places that experienced a form of fast-paced developmentalism in the latter half of the century. This dissertation follows how architecture mediated the perception of these rural ecological changes in the Philippine archipelago and wider Southeast Asia. In its materiality—concrete, stone, earth, and plant materials—architecture provided form for the rise of capitalism in rural tropical places in the shape of hydroelectric dams, agribusinesses, and their resulting resettlement villages. Cold War environmental change and Third World land struggles that developmentalism provoked are often presented as separate narratives. This dissertation examines their simultaneity by drawing together several actors involved in these processes: architects, engineers, counterinsurgency experts, resistance fighters, church advocacy groups, and Indigenous peoples, to show how responses and resistance against developmentalism created alternative conceptions of architecture and landscape. I follow this process with nipa palm, a ubiquitous species in island Southeast Asia, used as a construction material woven into roof shingles and wall panels attached to a bamboo framework. As a tectonic material, celebrated for its lightweight, rhizomatic characteristics, reading nipa palm with and beyond its material use-value illustrates its political economy as an integral aspect of displacement, where the implicit movement and mobility of lightweight dwellings was crucial to developmentalism and the counterinsurgency operations that accompanied it.

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