POLS371: Politics of Southeast Asia

Department of Political Science

Northern Illinois University


Instructor: Professor Kikue Hamayotsu    Office: Zulauf 414

M/W: 2-3:15PM                                      Office Hours: M 12-1PM/W 11-1PM

DU 461                                                      E-mail: khamayotsu@niu.edu

                                                                                 Phone: 815-753-7048



Course Overview:


This course surveys the modern politics of Southeast Asia. The focus of this 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, Philippines, and Thailand. The course will refer to other country cases such as Burma, Cambodia 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.      This is a reading-intensive course. 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.

2.      One short term paper of 5-6pp. in length: the paper should provide a critical analysis of the week’s readings. The papers should first briefly summarize the main arguments of the readings and then provide a critique. A good paper will not just attempt to summarize or critique all the readings, but will focus on one central debate/argument that ties in several readings. Students are allowed to choose the week (topic of their liking) for which they will write their paper (see 4.A). The paper must be double-spaced and properly footnoted. [the time table and the questions for this assignment will be given in the class]

3.      Two in-class exams:

A)      Mid-term exam

B)      Final exam

4.      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). The presentation should be approximately 10 minutes.

5.      Random quizzes:

A)      A handful of brief quizzes are given randomly throughout the semester. They focus mainly 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. 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).


Books to Purchase:

All of the books have been ordered at the university bookstore.


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 (Jan 14).           Course Introduction


Owen, chapter 1 (Introduction)

Week 1-2 (Jan 16).           What is Southeast Asia?


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.

Recommended readings:

O.W. Wolters, History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian perspectives, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca: 1999): 27-40.


Week 2-1 (Jan 21).           Martin Luther Jr. Birthday: NO CLASS


Week 2-2 (Jan 23).           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, chaps. 12.


Week 3-1 (Jan 28).           Colonialism: Colonial State, Class and Ethnicity (1)


Video: Riding the tiger 1.

Owen, chap.14 and 15.


Week 3-2 (Jan 30).           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 4-1 (Feb 4).            Nationalism and Nationalist Movements: Imagining “National” Communities


Case: Indonesia


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 4-2 (Feb 6).            Nationalism and Nationalist Movements (2)


Case: Thailand


Video: Riding the tiger 2


Winichakul, Thongchai. 1994. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press: Introduction.


Week 5-1 (Feb 11).           State Formation (1): Theories and Practices


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 (Feb 13).          State Formation (2)

Case: Indonesia/Malaysia

Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Old State, New Society: Indonesia's New Order in Comparative Historical Perspective. Journal of Asian Studies: 477-96.

Rich, Paul B., and Richard Stubbs, eds. 1997. The Counter-insurgent State: Guerrilla Warfare and State Building in the Twentieth Century. New York: St. Martin's Press. Selections (Read Stubbs).


Section II: Governments and Politics of Contemporary Southeast Asia


Week 6-1 (Feb 18).          Political Regimes: Longevity and Fragility of Authoritarian regimes (1)


Case: Indonesia


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


Week 6-2 (Feb 20).          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 (Feb 25).          Political Regimes: Democratic Transitions (1)


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


Week 7-2 (Feb 27). MID-TERM EXAM (IN-CLASS)


Week 8-1 (March 3)        Political Regimes: Democratic Transitions (2)


Case: Indonesia


Aspinall, chap.8.


Week 8-2 (March 5)        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.

Recommended readings:

Thompson, Mark R. 1996. Off the Endangered List: Philippine Democratization in Comparative Perspective. Comparative Politics 28 (2):179-205.


March 10/12.                    SPRING BREAK: NO CLASS


Week 9-1 (March 17).     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.

Recommended readings:

Slater, Dan. 2003. Iron Cage in an Iron Fist: Authoritarian Institutionalization and the Personalization of Power in Malaysia. Comparative Politics 36 (1):81-101.

Jesudason, James V. 1996. The Syncretic State and the Structuring of Oppositional Politics in Malaysia. In Political Oppositions in Industrializing Asia, edited by G. Rodan. London and New York: Routledge.


Week 9-2 (March 19).     Civil Society: Social Movements


Case: Indonesia


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

Recommended readings:


Hedman, Eva-Lotta E. 2006. In the Name of Civil Society: From Free Election Movements to People Power in the Philippines. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press: especially chap.2, 5, and 7.


Week 10-1 (March 24)  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.

Weiss, Meredith L. 2006. Protest and Possibilities: Civil Society and Coalitions for Political Change in Malaysia. Edited by M. Alagappa, East-West Center Series on Contemporary Issues in Asia and the Pacific. Stanford: Stanford University Press: 1-22, 42-52.


Week 10-2 (March 26)    Local ‘Boss’ Politics: Towards Democratic Consolidation?

Case: the Philippines/Thailand

Anderson, Benedict. 1998. Murder and Progress in Modern Siam. In The Spectre of Comparison: chap.8.

Sidel, John T. 1997. Philippine Politics in Town, District, and Province: Bossism in Cavite and Cebu. Journal of Asian Studies 56 (4):947-66.

Recommended readings:

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 (March 31).  Political Economy: Business and Politics (1)


Doner, Richard F. 1992. Limits of State Strength: Toward an Institutionalist View of Economic Development. World Politics (44):398-431.

Recommended readings:

Doner, Richard F. 1991. Approaches to the Politics of Economic Growth in Southeast Asia. Journal of Asian Studies 50 (4):818-49.

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


Week 11-2 (April 2).        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.


Recommended readings:


Khan, Mushtaq H., and K.S. Jomo, eds. 2000. Rents, Rent-Seeking and Economic Development: Theory and Evidence in Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: selections.


Week 12-1 (April 7).        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 (April 9).        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.

Recommended readings:

McVey, Ruth. 1989. Identity and Rebellion among Southern Thai Muslims. In The Muslims of Thailand, edited by A. D. W. Forbes. Gaya: Center for South East Asian Studies.


Week 13-1 (April 14).  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.

Recommended readings:

Hefner, Robert W. 2000. Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Week 13-2 (April 16).      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 (April 21).    Rebellions and Resistance (1): Everyday Forms of Resistance


Scott, James C. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press: 1-47, 241-350.


Week 14-2 (April 23).      Rebellions and Resistance (2): Mass Mobilization and Political Change

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 15-1 (April 28).      Southeast Asia: Futures and Prospects

Week 15-2 (April 30).      Review