Law and Society in Southeast Asia

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Law

Module overview

Please note that this module is not running in academic year 2023/24

As a region of the world situated between China and India, Southeast Asia has had and continues to have an exceptional cultural, commercial and political importance in world affairs. Its strategic location has impacted and continues to impact upon its laws and society. Accordingly, in this module we situate law in Southeast Asia within wider historical and contemporary contexts.

Our module begins with an interrogation of where and what is Southeast Asia and whether it is meaningful as a subject of legal and social inquiry. In pursuing this inquiry, students will be introduced to the history of Southeast Asia, its material culture, its overlapping polities and empires, its exposure to colonialism and its impact, and to its post-colonial economic development and legal trajectories. The readings for the module will introduce students to a variety of theories and approaches used by scholars of various disciplines to understand law and society in Southeast Asia. The module will include an introductory section after which topics may, without excluding other topics, include law and the family, constitutional law, religion and the law, ethnic conflict and the law, and access to justice. The second half of the module will focus on a single country in the region (a different country is chosen each year).

Being a postgraduate class, students will be expected to participate with responses to the readings and in a discussion with others in the class. Students will be encouraged to take a contextual and interdisciplinary approach to the study of law and society in Southeast Asia, inspired by weekly readings from the fields of history, area studies, political science, sociology, anthropology and comparative law. All readings will be in English, however, students will be encouraged to master some fundamental non-English terms. Students may read and make use of materials in the languages of Southeast Asia in their coursework, provided bibliographic details are also given in English.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • A clear understanding of Southeast Asia's historical, cultural, political and legal complexities;
  • An advanced understanding of influences on law in Southeast Asia;
  • An understanding of the possibilities and limits of a search for coherence in law in Southeast Asia;
  • An advanced ability to critically compare the various methods used by scholars to examine law in Southeast Asia;
  • An advanced ability to explain the key terminology of past and present law in in Southeast Asia;
  • A critical understanding of colonial, modernist and other epistemological and structural interventions into the knowledge systems and jurisprudential traditions of law in Southeast Asia;
  • An advanced comprehension of debates in the select topics of the second half of the module.


  • Weekly 2-hour seminar

Method of assessment

  • Coursework: 100% (4000 words)

Suggested reading

  • Mark Beeson (ed.), Contemporary Southeast Asia (2nd edn, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
  • Norman G. Owen (ed.), The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia: A New History (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005)
  • Robert A. Dayley & Clark D. Neher, Southeast Asia in the New International Era (5th edn, Boulder: Westview Press, 2013)
  • M.B. Hooker (ed.), Laws of South-East Asia, Vol. I: The Pre-Modern Texts & Vol. II: European Laws in South-East Asia (Singapore: Butterworth & Co, 1988)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules