SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Government and Politics of Mainland Southeast Asia

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1

This course introduces students to a selection of the literature on mainland South East Asia in order to familiarize them with the broad contours of political change in the region, academic debates explaining these and ways of thinking about current and future political trends. The course covers mainland South East Asia, including Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. 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 mainland 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. Colonial Transformations And Resistance In Mainland SoutheastAsia
  2. Reconsidering Mainland Nationalisms
  3. Vietnam: Making A Revolution
  4. Cambodia: The Khmer Rouge And Genocide
  5. Burma: The Rise And Fall Of Barracks Socialism
  6. Thailand: Bureaucratic Polity And Development
  7. Vietnam: State Socialism, State Capitalism, Nationalism And Popular Discontents
  8. A Democratic Cambodia After Democratic Kampuchea?
  9. Burma/Myanmar: An Uncertain Transition
  10. Thailand: Democracy, Crisis, Polarization And Reaction

Method of assessment

Assessment is 100% coursework (one 1000 word essay worth 25% and one 2500 word essay worth 75%).

Suggested reading

  • Su Lin Lewis, Cities in motion: Urban life and cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 95-137
  • Chie Ikeya, "The Life and Writings of a Patriotic Feminist: Independent Daw San of Burma," in Women in Southeast Asian Nationalist Movements (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press 2013), pp. 23-47
  • Tuong Vu, "The Revolutionary Path to State Formation in Vietnam: Opportunities, Conundrums, and Legacies." Journal of Vietnamese Studies (Vol. 11, No. 3-4: 2016), pp. 267-297
  • Virorth Doung and Sophal Ear, "Transitional justice dilemma: The case of Cambodia." Peace and Conflict Review 4.1 (2009): 1-28
  • Mary P. Callahan, “When Soldiers Kill Civilians: Burma’s 1988 Crackdown in Comparative Perspective,” in Southeast Asia over Three Generations: Essays Presented to Benedict R. O’G. Anderson (Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program Studies on Southeast Asia Number 36 2003), pp.331-346
  • Ruth McVey, "Of greed and violence, and other signs of progress," in Money and power in provincial Thailand (Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies 2000), pp. 1-29
  • Martin Gainsborough. “Malesky vs Fforde: How Best to Analyze Vietnamese Politics?” Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2018)
  • Lucy West, "The limits to judicial independence: Cambodia’s political culture and the civil law," Democratization (Vol. 26, No. 3: 2019), pp. 537-553.
  • Kunal Mukherjee, "Race relations, nationalism and the humanitarian Rohingya crisis in contemporary Myanmar," Asian Journal of Political Science (2019): pp. 1-17
  • Eugénie Mérieau, "Thailand’s deep state, royal power and the constitutional court (1997–2015),"Journal of Contemporary Asia (Vol. 46, No. 2016)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules