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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Ethnography of a Selected Region - South East Asia

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year
The course deals with the societies existing in one of a number of broad geographical-cultural regions (those at present on offer during 2007-8 being China, Japan, South Asia, South East Asia, Near & Middle East, West Africa, and East Africa). Each course varies in detail according to the characteristics of the region and focuses on major social and cultural aspects.

In this context, students learn about the institutions and social groupings to be found in the political, religious, domestic and economic spheres of life, as well as the values of the people and the theories which observers have put forward in analysing and explaining these societies.


For single-subject students whose interests lie within a region, the course provides a focused introduction to the study of that region, which can be continued in the final year through writing a 5,000 word advanced ethnography dissertation.

For two-subject students, a major purpose of the regional ethnography is to provide a further dimension to their study of the language, history, etc of the region.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On successful completion of the course, a student will:

  • Have acquired a basic knowledge of the anthropology of Southeast Asia and of the complexities and diversity that characterise the societies and cultures of this region.
  • Be able to identify and evaluate critically key approaches/theories related to the production of anthropological knowledge related to this region.
  • Have acquired a deeper knowledge of selected themes and topics such as power, gender, violence, syncretism, etc.
  • Be able to reflect critically on and account for the advantages and disadvantages of the regionalisation of anthropological knowledge as applied to this particular area.
  • Be able to compare across different societies and cultures belonging to this region.

Scope and syllabus

The course examines both the societies and cultures of Southeast Asia and the anthropology of Southeast Asia from two perspectives. First, it looks at some of the reasons for treating Southeast Asia as a single ethnographic region. However, rather than simply trying to look for unities and commonalities among the region's diverse and complex societies and cultures, it considers primarily concepts and analytical perspectives that have generated important debates in the ethnography of the region, and in anthropology in general. Such a focus is primarily provided by a consideration of exemplary ethnographies and a critical examination of particular topics such as:

  • gender, 
  • headhunting, 
  • state-sponsored violence, 
  • ethnicity, 
  • personhood and kinship, 
  • religious syncretism, 
  • peasant rebellions, 
  • factory work

Method of assessment

The written exam will count for 60%. 2 pieces of coursework will count for 40% (20% each) towards the final mark.

Suggested reading

  • Ong, A. 1987. Spirits of resistance and capitalist discipline: factory women in Malaysia. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Geertz, C. 1980. Negara. The theatre-state in nineteenth century Bali. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Malarney, S. K. 2001. Culture, ritual and revolution in Vietnam. Richmond: Curzon Books.
  • Carsten, J. 1997. The heat of the hearth. The process of kinship in a Malay fishing community. Oxford: Clarendon Press.