POLS371: Politics of Southeast Asia

Department of Political Science, Northern Illinois University

Fall 2008


Instructor: Professor Kikue Hamayotsu       Office: Zulauf 414

Lectures: M/W: 3:30-4:45PM                                     Office Hours: M12-1/W11:30-1:30

DU 246                                                     E-mail: khamayotsu@niu.edu

                                                                              Phone: 815-753-7048

Teaching Assistant: Mr. Shawn McCafferty



Course Overview:


This course surveys the modern politics of Southeast Asia. The focus of the course will be on thematic questions that are essential to understanding political systems, socio-economic changes and state-society relations in Southeast Asia, but that are generally pertinent to the developing world.


In the past couple of decades, Southeast Asia has undergone tremendous political and socio-economic transformations. Prior to the economic crisis of 1997, growth rates were amongst the highest in the world. Both wealth and poverty have increased since then in comparative terms. Some authoritarian regimes have been confronted with increasing democratizing pressures, while pressures have fallen elsewhere.  New movements of religious revival (both liberal and radical), civil society and ethnic conflicts are challenging state authority. Why have some authoritarian regimes such as Indonesia and the Philippines achieved a transition to democracy, while others such as Burma and Malaysia have not? How can we explain resilience of some authoritarian regimes in the region? Why has Indonesia experienced a large number of Islamic radical movements while Malaysia has not? Do these variations in outcomes across countries in the region have to do with culture, institutions, or other structural factors?


This course will offer students analytical tools and approaches to investigate such issues of political and policy significance from historical, comparative and analytical perspectives. Students will learn how to account for various patterns of experiences across the nations, localities and groups under investigation. The issues taken up in the course include colonial legacies, state formation, democratization, authoritarianism, nationalism, business and politics, religious movements, ethnic conflicts, and civil society.


Course readings are chosen based on the merits of their analytical arguments rather than their country coverage, to enable students to achieve the following goals: (1) to gain empirical and conceptual understandings of the political dynamics of the region; (2) to think comparatively within the region and across the developing world more generally; and (3) to address and debate theoretical questions in social science/political science through Southeast Asian empirical cases. We do not, therefore, cover every single country in the region in the same depth, but focus primarily on the following countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Burma. The course will refer to other country cases such as Singapore and Vietnam, however, whenever they are relevant to our investigation. 


This is a lecture course primarily intended for undergraduate students. In order to encourage discussion among students, weekly class meetings consist of lectures followed by discussion. Students will make oral presentation and discuss the section’s readings.


The course is largely divided into three sections. The first is on colonial legacies and the emergence of modern ‘Southeast Asia’. We will examine the region’s dramatic transformations under direct and indirect colonial rule to identify how colonial rule shaped formation of modern nation-states and political structures that considerably vary among nations within the region. The second section focuses on political transformations and state-society relations in the post-independence period. It seeks to explore varying patterns of political and socio-economic transformations, regime change and maintenance. In the third and final section, we will examine issues that broadly pertain to mobilization, development, and identity. Such issues as religious and ethnic conflicts, Islamic radicalism, and the intersection of business and politics will be covered here.




Some political science background and/or at least completion of POLS 260 (Introduction to Comparative Politics) are highly recommended. A risk resulting from ignoring this advice will entirely be students’. Students who have some Southeast Asian Studies background are asked to consult the instructor before deciding to take the course.


Course Requirements:


1.      Class attendance:

a.         You are required to attend all the classes. More than three unexcused absences will jeopardize your attendance grade and you will risk failing the course. Please notify your TA in advance if you must miss class.


2.      Do read the required readings. All the course requirements will enable students to develop their analytical skills in the course of your study of Southeast Asian politics. Students are expected to come to class having done the reading beforehand and to actively participate in discussion. It is important to approach the readings with the following questions in mind: (a) what is the central issue/debate? (b) what is the main argument/point? (c) what is the evidence for the argument? (d) what are the problems with the argument? (e) can you think of counterarguments?  Students should also address these questions in writing assignments.

3.      One short term paper of 5-6pp. in length:

a.         The question is given in class in advance.

b.        The paper must be double-spaced and properly footnoted.

4.      Two in-class exams: composed of a short-answer section and some essay questions.

a.         Mid-term exam

b.        Final exam

5.      One class presentation:

a.         On the first day of class, students will be asked to sign-up for one week in which to present. The presentation should not coincide with the short analytical paper.

b.        The presentation should be a critique of the readings and must address central controversies to stimulate class discussion. The critique can also include issues of policy relevance. You can be creative, but don’t just summarize the readings. The presentation should be approximately 10 minutes.

6.      Random quizzes:

a.         A handful of brief quizzes are given randomly throughout the semester. They focus on the required readings. The purpose of this component of the evaluation is to encourage the students to do the assigned readings, and to come to class prepared to discuss the material. Quiz questions may be included in the mid-term/final exams. If it becomes clear that people are not coming to class prepared, the instructor reserves the right to take the drastic action of giving pop quizzes. Otherwise, quizzes will be announced in the class before they are due.


Grade distribution:

1.      Class attendance (10%) and presentation (10%)

2.      Term paper (20%)

3.      Exams (30%+30%)


Please note: late submission will result in grade reduction for a half-mark per day (e.g., “A” will be reduced to “A-” if submission is a day late).


Course Readings:

All the textbooks have been ordered and are at the university bookstore. The rest of the readings will be uploaded in Blackboard.


Books to Purchase:

Aspinall, Edward. 2005. Opposing Suharto: Compromise, Resistance, and Regime Change in Indonesia. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Norman Owen, ed., The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia: A New History (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005).



Class Schedule                                                              


Section I: The Emergence of Modern Nation-State in Southeast Asia


Week 1-1 (Aug 25).          Course Introduction


Week 1-2 (Aug 27)           What is Southeast Asia? (1)

Owen, chapter 1 (Introduction)

Week 2-1 (Sept 1).           Labor Day Holiday: NO CLASS


Week 2-2 (Sept 3).          What is Southeast Asia? (2)


Anderson, Benedict. 1998. The Spectre of Comparison: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World. London and New York: Verso: Introduction.

Zakaria, Fareed. 1994. Culture is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew. Foreign Affairs 73 (2):109-26.



Week 3-1 (Sept 8).           Colonialism: Great transformation and its opponents (1)

Adas, Michael. 1981. From Avoidance to Confrontation: Peasant Protest in Pre-Colonial and Colonial Southeast Asia. Comparative Studies in Society and History 23 (2):217-47.

Owen, chap. 12.


Week 3-2 (Sept 10).         Colonialism: Colonial State, Class and Ethnicity (1)


Video: Riding the tiger 1.

Owen, chap.14 and 15.


Week 4-1 (Sept 15).         Colonialism: Colonial State, Class and Ethnicity (2)


Hirschman, Charles. 1986. The Making of Race in Colonial Malaya: Political Economy and Racial Ideology. Sociological Forum 1 (2):330-61.

Callahan, Mary P. 2003. Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma. Ithaca: Cornell University Press: chap.1 (pp.22-44).


Week 4-2 (Sept 17).         Nationalism and Nationalist Movements: Imagining “National” Communities


Case: Indonesia


Video: Riding the tiger 2


Cribb, Robert. 1999. Nation: Making Indonesia. In Indonesia Beyond Suharto: Polity Economy Society Transition, edited by D. K. Emmerson. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.


Week 5-1 (Sept 22).         State Formation (1): Theories and Practices


              Case: Burma/the Philippines


Callahan, Mary P. 2003. Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma. Ithaca: Cornell University Press: 1-20.

Hutchcroft, Paul D. 2000. Colonial Masters, National Politicos, and Provincial Lords: Central Authority and Local Autonomy in the American Philippines, 1900-1913. Journal of Asian Studies 59 (2):277-306.


Week 5-2 (Sept 24).         State Formation (2)

Case: Malaysia

Stubbs, Richard. 1997. The Malayan Emergency and the Development of the Malaysian State. In The Counter-insurgent State: Guerrilla Warfare and State Building in the Twentieth Century, edited by P. B. Rich and R. Stubbs. New York: St. Martin's Press: Stubbs Chapter on Malaysia.


Section II: Governments and Politics of Contemporary Southeast Asia


Week 6-1 (Sept 29). Political Regimes: Longevity and Fragility of Authoritarian regimes (1)


Case: Indonesia


Aspinall, chap.2 (pp.20-48).


Week 6-2 (Oct 1).             Authoritarian Regimes 2


Case: Indonesia


              Video: Riding the Tiger 3


Crouch, Harold. 1998. Indonesia's 'Strong' State. In Weak and Strong States in Asia-Pacific Societies. Sydney: Allen & Unwin in association with the Department of International Relations, RSPAS, ANU.


Week 7-1 (Oct 6).             Political Regimes: Democratic Transitions (1)


Bartrand, Jacques. 1998. Growth and Democracy in Southeast Asia. Comparative Politics 30 (3):355-75.

Week 7-2 (Oct 8)              MID-TERM EXAM (IN-CLASS)


Week 8-1 (Oct 13)            Political Regimes: Democratic Transitions (2)


Case: Indonesia


Aspinall, chap.8.


Week 8-2 (Oct 15)            Political Regimes: Democratic Transition (3)


              Case: the Philippines


Anderson, Benedict. 1998. Cacique Democracy in the Philippines. In The Spectre of Comparison: chap.9.

Owen, chap.33.


Week 9-1 (Oct 20)            Political Regimes: Dominant Party Systems


Case: Malaysia

Crouch, Harold. 1993. Malaysia: Neither authoritarian nor democratic. In Southeast Asia in the 1990s: Authoritarianism, Democracy and Capitalism, edited by K. Hewison, R. Robison and G. Rodan. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Owen, chap.29.



Week 9-2 (Oct 22).           Civil Society: Social Movements


Case: Indonesia


Aspinall, pp.5-18, and chap.4 (pp.86-115).

Week 10-1 (Oct 27).  Civil Society: The Limits of Civil Society 


Case: Malaysia


Jesudason, James V. 1995. Statist Democracy and the Limits of Civil Society in Malaysia. Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 33 (3):335-56.


Week 10-2 (Oct 29)          Towards Democratic Consolidation? Local ‘Boss’ Politics

Case: Thailand

Ockey, James. 1998. Crime, Society, and Politics in Thailand. In Gangsters, Democracy, and the State in Southeast Asia, edited by C. A. Trocki. Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asian Program.


Section III: Mobilization, Resistance, and Identity


Week 11-1 (Nov 3).          Political Economy: Business and Politics (1)


MacIntyre, Andrew, ed. 1994. Business and Government in Industrializing Asia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Selections.


Week 11-2 (Nov 5).          Political Economy: Business and Politics (2)


Case: the Philippines


Hutchcroft, Paul D. 1994. Booty Capitalism: Business-government relations in the Philippines. In Business and Government in Industrializing Asia, edited by A. MacIntyre. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


Week 12-1 (Nov 10).        Ethnicity and Politics: Ethnic conflict (1)


Case: Indonesia (Aceh)


Aspinall, Edward. 2006. Violence and Identity Formation in Aceh under Indonesian Rule. In Verandah of Violence: The Background to the Aceh Problem, edited by A. Reid. Seattle: Singapore University Press in association with University of Washington Press.


Week 12-2 (Nov 12).        Ethnicity and Politics: Ethnic Conflict (2)


Case: Southern Thailand


McCargo, Duncan. 2007. Thaksin and the Resurgence of Violence in the Thai South. In Rethinking Thailand's Southern Violence. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.


Week 13-1 (Nov 17).       Religion and Politics: Civil and Uncivil Religions


Sidel, John T. 2003. Other Schools, Other Pilgrimages, Other Dreams: The Making and Unmaking of Jihad In Southeast Asia. In In Southeast Asia over Three Generations: Essays Presented to Benedict R.O.G. Anderson, edited by J. T. Siegel and A. R. Kahin. Ithaca: Southeast Asian Program, Cornell University.


Week 13-2 (Nov 19).        Religion and Politics: Religion and Political Transformations


Case: Burma


Matthews, Bruce. 1993. Buddhism under a Military Regime: The Iron Heel in Burma. Asian Survey 33 (4):408-23.

Various reports.


Week 14-1 (Nov 24).      Rebellions and Resistance: Everyday Forms of Resistance


Kerkvliet, Benedict J. Tria. 2005. The Power of Everyday Politics: How Vietnamese Peasants Transformed National Policy. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press: 1-36, 234-43.


Week 14-2 (Nov 26)        THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY: NO CLASS


Week 15-1 (Dec 1).          Southeast Asia: Futures and Prospects

Article on Burma, New Yorker.

Week 15-2 (Dec 3).          Reviews