SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Government and Politics of Southeast Asia

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

This module introduces students to a selection of the literature on politics in Southeast 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 maritime and island South East Asia, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor, the Philippines, Burma/Myanmar, 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.

The aim of this course is to provide students with a deep framework for the understanding of the trajectories of 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: 

  • Develo comparisons across complex cases of politcal and historical development 
  • Apply theories in comparitive politics to empirical cases in Southeat Asia
  • Understand the relationship between the conditions of colonial rule and the development of post-colonial states


This module will be taught over 10 weeks with:

  • 1 hour lecture per week
  • 1 hour tutorial per week

Method of assessment

Assignment 1: Essay preparation 10%

Assignment 2: Essay 40%

Assignment 1: Essay preparation 10%

Assignment 2: Essay 40%

Suggested reading

  • 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.87-126.
  • 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.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules