SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Politics of Mainland Southeast Asia

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
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.


Suggested reading

  • James C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), pp. 56-90,193-240
  • David W.P. Elliott, The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta (Armonk: ME Sharpe, 2002), pp.16-40.
  •  Steve Heder, “Reassessing the Role of Senior Leaders and Local Officials in Democratic Kampuchea Crimes,” in Bringing the Khmer Rouge to Justice : Prosecuting Mass Violence Before the Cambodian Courts (Lewiston: E. Mellen Press, 2005), pp.1-37
  •  Robert H. Taylor, The State in Burma (London: Hurst, 1987), chapter 4
  •  Thak Chaloemtiarana, "Reflections on the Sarit Regime and the Process of Political Change in Thailand," Japanese Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (Vol. 16, No. 3: 1978), pp. 400-410
  •  Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet, "An approach for analysing state-society relations in Vietnam." Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia (Vol. 33, supplement: 2018), pp. S156- S198
  •  Jonathan Sutton, "Hun Sen’s Consolidation of Personal Rule and the Closure of Political Space in Cambodia," Contemporary Southeast Asia (Vol. 40, No. 2: 2018), pp. 173-195
  •  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. 3: 2016): 445-466    


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules