SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Politics of Island Southeast Asia

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
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 debates explaining 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

Assessment is 100% coursework.

Suggested reading

  • Eva-Lotta E.Hedman “Contesting State and Civil Society: Southeast Asian Trajectories,” Modern Asian Studies (Vol 35, No 4: 2001), pp. 921-951
  • Douglas Kammen "Fragments of utopia: popular yearnings in East Timor". Journal of Southeast Asian studies 40 (2), June 2009, pp.385-408 
  • 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
  • Sheila Nair, “The Limits of Protest and the Prospects for Political Reform in Malaysia,” Critical Asian Studies (Vol 39, No 3: 2007), pp.339-368
  • Richard Robison & Vedi R. Hadiz, “Indonesia: a tale of misplaced expectations,” The Pacific Review (2017).
  • Robert W. Hefner, Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 128-213
  • Ruby Paredes, “The Paradox of Philippine Colonial Democracy,” in Ruby Paredes, ed, Philippine Colonial Democracy (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1989), pp.1-12
  • Michael Laffan, Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia: The Umma Below the Winds (Routledge, 2003) pp.181-214
  • Benedict Anderson, “Old State, New Society: Indonesia's New Order in Comparative Historical Perspective,”
  • Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 42, Number 3 (May 1983), pp. 477-496
  • Clifford Geertz, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton: Princeton University Press: 1980), pp.3-20,121-136


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules