Cultural Studies of Mainland South East Asia

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
South East Asia Section

Module overview

This module provides in-depth understanding of the cultural underpinnings of mainland South East Asia, focusing principally on Vietnam, Thailand and Burma/Myanmar.

Key topics will include: the emergence of the modern nation-states of Burma/Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam and their experience of colonialism; the formation of ideas of race and ethnic identity from the nineteenth century and later; the central role of Buddhism and other belief systems in the region; human rights and censorship and under authoritarian rule; the role of ethnic and other minorities in national cultures.

Throughout, the topics will be investigated through the lens of primary cultural sources such as literary texts, films and state propaganda, etc.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  1. demonstrate in-depth understanding of topics covered in the module
  2. deploy relevant key theoretical approaches to these topics
  3. show enhanced writing skills and analytic insight
  4. show greater confidence and ability in oral expression and class participation


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

Each week will focus on a specific topic and be divided between lecture and seminar, in which students will focus on one or two readings related to the lecture. Though the exact topics will vary from year to year as the module develops, key themes might include:

  1. Buddhism
  2. Colonialism and modernity
  3. Religious plurality and diversity
  4. Censorship and the media
  5. Thainess
  6. Gender, sexuality and family
  7. Nationalism and revolution
  8. Ethnic diversity and minorities
  9. Borders and migration
  10. Human rights and political cultures

Method of assessment

An essay of 1500 words to be submitted on Friday, after reading week, in the term of teaching (45%); an essay of 1500 words to be submitted on Friday, week 1, in the term following that in which the module is taught (45%); poster presentation due in class in the final week of teaching (10%).

Suggested reading

The core reading list will be compiled from the additional reading below to match the curriculum. The great majority are already in the SOAS library collection or available electronically.

  • Callahan, M. (2007). Political Authority in Burma’s Ethnic Minority States: Devolution, Occupation and Coexistence. Washington, DC, East-West Center.
  • Charney, M. W. (2009). A History of Modern Burma. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Connelly, Karen. (2007) The Lizard Cage. London: Harvill Secker
  • Fink, Christina. 2001. Living silence: Burma under military rule. London: Zed Books.
  • Houtman, Gustaaf. (1999). Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics: Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. Tokyo: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Monograph No.22.
  • Khoo-Thwe, Pascal. (2002). From the Land of Green Ghosts. London: HarperCollins.
  • Law-Yone, Wendy. (2013) The Golden Parasol: a daughter’s memoir of Burma. Chatto &Windus.
  • Myint-U, Thant. (2001). The making of modern Burma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Myint-U, Thant. (2007) The River of Lost Footsteps. London: Faber.
  • Watkins, Justin (2007) ‘Burma/Myanmar’ in A. Simpson (ed.) Language and National Identity in Asia. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Meehan, P. (2011). "Drugs, Insurgency and State-Building in Burma: Why the Drugs Trade is Central to Burma's Changing Political Order." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 42(3): 376-404.
  • Orwell, George. (1953) Burmese Days.
  • Pedersen, M. B. (2008). Promoting Human Rights in Burma: A Critique of Western Sanctions Policy. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Pedersen, M. B. (2011). "The Politics of Burma's "Democratic" Transition." Critical Asian Studies 43(1): 49-68.
  • Scott, James George. The Burman, his life and notions. Macmillan and Company, limited, 1896.
  • Skidmore, Monique, ed. Burma at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century. University of Hawaii Press, 2005.
  • Steinberg, D. I. (2010) Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: OUP.
  • Taylor, R. H. (2009). The State in Myanmar. London, Hurst.
  • Walton, M. J. (2008). "Ethnicity, Conflict, and History in Burma: The Myths of Panglong." Asian Survey 48(6): 889-910.
  • Harrison, Rachel, ed. (2014) Disturbing Conventions: Decentering Thai Literary Cultures. London and New York: Rowman and Littlefield International.
  • Harrison, Rachel and Jackson, Peter, eds. (2010) The Ambiguous Allure of the West: Traces of the Colonial in Thailand. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Jackson, Peter A., and Nerida M. Cook. "Genders and sexualities in modern Thailand." (1999).
  • Jackson, Peter A. "The Thai regime of images." SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia (2004): 181-218.
  • Lewis, Glen. 2006. Virtual Thailand: the media and cultural politics in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Peleggi, Maurizio. 2007. Thailand: the worldly kingdom. London: Reaktion.
  • Winichakul, Thongchai. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation. University of Hawaii Press, 1994.
  • Bradley, Mark Philip. 2000. Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Hue-Tam Ho Tai, ed (2001), The Country of memory: remaking the past in late socialist Vietnam, University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Lan Duong (2012), Treacherous subjects: gender, culture, and trans-Vietnamese feminism. Philadelphia:Temple University Press.
  • Naficy, Hamid (2001), An Accented cinema: exilic and diasporic filmmaking. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Nguyen-vo Thu-huong (2008), Ironies of freedom: sex, culture, and neoliberal governance in Vietnam. Seattle, WA, USA: University of Washington Press.
  • Ngo Phuong Lan 2007. Modernity and nationality in Vietnamese cinema. Yogyakarta: Jogja-NETPAC.
  • Pettus, Ashley (2003), Between Sacrifice and Desire: national Identity and the Governing of Femininity in Vietnam. New York: Routledge.
  • Taylor, Philip (20010, Fragments of the present: searching for modernity in Vietnam's South. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules