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Perpetuating the Party and Producing Propagandists: The Politics of Poetics in the Lao People's Democratic Republic


The Lao People's Revolutionary Party has ruled Lao PDR as a single-Party State since the revolution of 1975. In the mid-1980s the Party initiated economic reforms to transition from the revolutionary "centrally planned system" into a "market-based economy." The reforms introduced a dilemma of adaptive-perpetuation: in order to perpetuate social practices through which the older generation of Party members produce their political dominance, those laboring for the Party must adapt these social practices to the market-based transformations of the political economy. The Party is increasingly dependent on the labor and consumerism of young people for the adaptive-perpetuation of the Party, its institutions, and its single-Party rule.

Propaganda production is the ideal form of labor in which to examine the dilemma of adaptive-perpetuation in practice. Once entirely State funded, by 2006 the Party's arts and literature magazine had to generate 40% of its income through advertising and sales; propaganda production became dependent upon its marketability to young consumers. With sales slumping and their livelihoods on the line, the magazine's administrators recruited established writers as instructors and formed a training-camp for young aspiring writers, with the hope that the products of youth would prove marketable to their peers. The perpetuation of the magazine unit, as a designated institutional home for their labor, an outlet for their products, and source of their income and social identity was dependent on two generations who simultaneously needed each other, and whose social practices were simultaneously threatened by each other.

My analysis contributes to theoretical understandings of bureaucratic adaptability and social practices which are at the roots of emerging forms of authoritarian rule in contemporary Southeast Asia. On a broader level the work provides theoretical insights into cultural representation, nationalism, artistic production, social incorporation, practices of inculcation, propaganda production, communities of practice, and legitimate peripheral participation.

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