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School of Law

Law and Society in Southeast Asia

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Term 1

As a region of the world situated between China and India, Southeast Asia has had and continues to have an exceptional cultural, commercial and political importance in world affairs. Its strategic location has impacted and continues to impact upon its laws and society. Accordingly, in this course we situate law in Southeast Asia within wider historical and contemporary contexts.

Our course begins with an interrogation of where and what is Southeast Asia and whether it is meaningful as a subject of legal and social inquiry. In pursuing this inquiry, students will be introduced to the history of Southeast Asia, its material culture, its overlapping polities and empires, its exposure to colonialism and its impact, and to its post-colonial economic development and legal trajectories. The readings for the course will introduce students to a variety of theories and approaches used by scholars of various disciplines to understand law and society in Southeast Asia. The course will include an introductory section after which topics may, without excluding other topics, include law and the family, constitutional law, religion and the law, ethnic conflict and the law, and access to justice. The second half of the course will focus on a country chosen each year. In the present year of the course, the chosen country is Indonesia.

Being a postgraduate class, students will be expected to participate with responses to the readings and in a discussion with others in the class. Students will be encouraged to take a contextual and interdisciplinary approach to the study of law and society in Southeast Asia, inspired by weekly readings from the fields of history, area studies, political science, sociology, anthropology and comparative law. All readings will be in English, however, students will be encouraged to master some fundamental non-English terms. Students may read and make use of materials in the languages of Southeast Asia in their coursework, provided bibliographic details are also given in English.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • A clear understanding of Southeast Asia's historical, cultural, political and legal complexities;
  • An advanced understanding of influences on law in Southeast Asia;
  • An understanding of the possibilities and limits of a search for coherence in law in Southeast Asia;
  • An advanced ability to critically compare the various methods used by scholars to examine law in Southeast Asia;
  • An advanced ability to explain the key terminology of past and present law in in Southeast Asia;
  • A critical understanding of colonial, modernist and other epistemological and structural interventions into the knowledge systems and jurisprudential traditions of law in Southeast Asia;
  • An advanced comprehension of debates in the select topics of the second half of the course.

Method of assessment

  • Coursework: 15% (1000 words) TBC and 85% (4250 words) TBC
    Not all coursework can be resubmitted for this course.

Suggested reading

  • Mark Beeson (ed.), Contemporary Southeast Asia (2nd edn, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
  • Norman G. Owen (ed.), The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia: A New History (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005)
  • Robert A. Dayley & Clark D. Neher, Southeast Asia in the New International Era (5th edn, Boulder: Westview Press, 2013)
  • M.B. Hooker (ed.), Laws of South-East Asia, Vol. I: The Pre-Modern Texts & Vol. II: European Laws in South-East Asia (Singapore: Butterworth & Co, 1988)