SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Government and Politics of Island Southeast Asia

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

This course introduces students to a selection of the literature on island South East Asia in order to familiarize them with the broad contours of political change in the region, academic debatesexplaining these and ways of thinking about current and future political trends. The course covers maritime South East Asia, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor, and the Philippines. It covers the longue durée of political evolution and ruptures, with both comparative and country-specific topics. Class discussions focus on the readings and the issues they raise. It is recognized that students may want to concentrate on a selection of countries of special interest to them, but students are strictly expected to attend all lectures and to participate fully in all tutorial discussions. The aim of this course is to provide students with a deep framework for the understanding of the trajectories of island Southeast Asian politics from colonial times to the present. This framework is comparative and rooted in political sociology. It is interdisciplinary in terms of its readings, drawing on historical, anthropological, economic and other materials in addition to works in politics. The course is expected to help students develop a capacity for comparative analysis and for evaluating arguments about the roles such factors as class, race, state-building, culture, economics, international impacts and religion on the political trajectories of the region as whole and individual countries. Through the lectures, seminar discussions, coursework and the examination, students will learn to think more rigorously and comparatively about Southeast Asia in particular and critically about central political dynamic within the region in general.


Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Develop comparisons across complex cases of political and historical development
  • Apply theories in comparative politics to empirical cases in Southeast Asia
  • Understand the relationship between the conditions of colonial rule and the development of post-colonial states 


1 hour lecture per week

1 hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Pre-Colonial ‘South East Asia’: Tradition Or Orientalism And Essentialism?
  2. Colonialism: State, Class And Race Formation, Hegemony And Resistance In The Maritime Realm
  3. Nationalist Movements: Indonesia And Malaysia/Singapore
  4. The Philippines: Cacique Democracy And Beyond
  5. Indonesia: The Rise And Fall Of Suharto; Capitalism, Islam And Democracy
  6. Post-Suharto Indonesia: Democratisation, Decentralisation, Demobilisation And Islam
  7. Malaysia: A Political Tsunami Or Politics As Usual?
  8. Singapore: Repressive State Or Performance Legitimacy?
  9. East Timor: Making A New South East Asian Nation-State?
  10. The Long Duree, The Big Picture, Comparative Perspectives

Method of assessment

Essay preparation is 25% (1000 words) and 75% Research essay (2500 words)

Suggested reading

  • Ariel Heryanto, “Can there be Southeast Asians in Southeast Asian Studies?” in Knowing Southeast Asian Subjects (Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies) (University of Washington Press, 2007), pp. 75-108
  • William G. Skinner, “Creolized Chinese Societies in Southeast Asia,” in Anthony Reid, ed, Sojourners and Settlers: Histories of Southeast Asia and the Chinese (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1996), pp.51-93. Benedict Anderson, Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupation and Resistance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), pp. 1-34
  • Benedict Anderson, Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupation and Resistance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), pp. 1-34
  • Eva-Lotta E. Hedman, In the Name of Civil Society: From Free Election Movements to People Power in the Philippines (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006), pp.1-43,166-186
  • Geoffrey B. Robinson. The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66. Princeton University Press, 2018. pp. 292-313
  • Harold Crouch, Political Reform in Indonesia After Suharto (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010) pp.87-12.
  • Meredith L. Weiss. “Going to the Ground (or Astroturf): A Grassroots View of Regime Resilience,” Democratization, 2016
  • Cherian George. "Neoliberal “Good Governance” in Lieu of Rights: Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore Experiment." Speech and Society in Turbulent Times: Freedom of Expression in Comparative Perspective (2017), pp 114-130
  • Jarat Chopra “Building State Failure in Timor-Leste” Development and Change 33 (5) 2002 pp.979-1000
  • John Sidel, “The Fate of Nationalism in the New States: Southeast Asia in Comparative Historical Perspective” Comparative Studies of Society and History (Vol 54, No 1: 2012), pp. 114-144


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules