Micah Morton
Micah Morton

Originally from the Olney section of Philadelphia, PA, I am currently a dissertator within the department of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am also a Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellow in the field of religion and ethics and an honorary fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As a cultural anthropologist of upper mainland Southeast Asia and Southwest China, my main research interests are the multiple and shifting intersections between religion, transnationalism, indigeneity and the environment. In terms of scholarship, I am currently working on two projects that build on 32 months of fieldwork in various parts of upper mainland Southeast Asia and Southwest China between 2009 and 2012. My fieldwork was supported with grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and U.S. Fulbright Institute for International Education.

The first project is a dissertation entitled, “From Blood to Fruit: Akha ancestral burdens and the pursuit of a modern authenticity in mainland Southeast Asia and Southwest China”. In the dissertation, I highlight the post-1980s efforts of certain ‘ethnic intrapreneurs’ of the Akha transnational minority to promote a pan-Akha identity of a profoundly ‘religious’ nature. Some 700,000 Akha reside in the mountainous borderlands of Southwest China, East Myanmar (Burma), Northwest Laos, North Thailand and Northwest Vietnam. This area is also known as the Upper Mekong Region.

Akha unification efforts are taking place amidst the region’s transformation from the battlefields of the Cold War to an international market for labor, natural resources and tourism. Akha are being integrated into their respective nation states and an emerging regional economy on unprecedented scales. In response to these shifting pressures, some Akha are converting to Christianity, others are incorporating Buddhist practices, and yet others are seeking to promote a pan-Akha identity by ‘modernizing’ traditional ancestor worship. The dissertation provides a fine-grained analysis of Akha religious politics that highlights the dynamic and inter-related religious and secular aspects of social life.

The second project I am working on is an article providing a genealogy of the relatively recent growth of the concept of ‘indigenous peoples’ in Thailand. I am further analyzing the multiple and shifting ways in which the global indigenous movement is morphing as it is being adopted in Thailand. I was drawn into this area of research by my Akha collaborators in Thailand who were variably involved in both a transnational pan-Akha identity movement as well as a national-level ‘indigenous peoples’ movement.