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School of Law

Law and Society in Southeast Asia

Course Code:
15PLAH049
Unit value:
0.5
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to demonstrate:

  • 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 Asi
  •  an advanced comprehension of debates in the select topics of the second half of the course

Scope and syllabus

This course begins with an interrogation of where and what is Southeast Asia and whether it is meaningful as a subject of legal 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 legal scholars to understand law 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 first year of the course, the chosen country in Indonesia and this is reflected in the Reading List below.
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 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 given also rendered in English.


GENERAL (Weekly topics may change from year to year):
  • Week 1: Orientation: Introduction to the region of Southeast Asia; assessment and arrangements for essay topics etc
  • Week 2: Law in pre-colonial Southeast Asia (sources of and influences on law and may include an introduction to early Malay laws
  • Week 3:  Impact on the law of colonial encounter
  • Week 4:  Constitutionalism in Southeast Asia
  • Week 5:  Post-colonial legal institutions
  • Week 6:  READING WEEK
COUNTRY CASE STUDY -  Country to be studied to be determined from year to year
  •  Weeks 7 – 11 will address the following themes:  Law and Religion; law and the family; access to justice and dispute resolution

Method of assessment

Assessment weighting: 100% coursework (one 1500 word essay 15% cannot be resubmitted and one 4,500 word essay 85% may be resubmitted).