Chua, “Horizontal and vertical relations”

Chua, Liana. Horizontal and vertical relations: Interrogating “in/dividualism” among Christian Bidayuhs. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5(1), 2015

This article addresses aspects of the dividual/individualist debate by thinking through an analogous set of ideas and practices among the Bidayuh, an indigenous group of Malaysian Borneo. When Bidayuhs began converting to Christianity in the 1950s, some missionaries contrasted their communal way of life with the “individualism” of the new religion. Drawing on contemporaneous ethnography and my own research, I sketch a more complex picture, showing how both pre-Christian and Christian sociality have been shaped by the shifting intersection of “in/dividual” impulses that derive from the “horizontal” and “vertical” relations in which persons are enmeshed. Tracing the trajectories of these impulses and relations from life to death and beyond, this article attempts to detach questions of in/dividualism from personhood, while arguing for the need to take seriously the variegations and affinities between different strains of Christianity and Western and non-Western socialities.