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Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia broadly refers to the region that lies between East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific, and that includes the modern nation-states of Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei and East Timor. These nation-states form the political and socio-economic infrastructure of regional geopolitics, shaping contemporary forms of citizenship, belonging, development and mobility. Yet cutting across these national boundaries are long histories and (still ongoing) processes of exchange, hybridity and creativity that link the societies of Southeast Asia to each other and the wider world. Always porous and not always easily defined, Southeast Asia has long been a contact zone between different cultural, linguistic, religious and political influences.

This paper revolves around the constant, generative tension between fixity and fluidity in Southeast Asia. Through seminar-based discussions, we’ll explore various transformative encounters that have shaped socio-cultural formations across the region. At the same time, we’ll examine the politics, structures and processes—such as (post)colonial bureaucracies, developmental regimes and neoliberal projects—that frame such encounters, often seeking to regulate or suppress their effects. These explorations raise some key questions, such as: What, if anything, is distinctive about Southeast Asia? What modes of belonging and identity are at stake in a region marked by constant mobility and mutability? How do precolonial and colonial inheritances shape the present and future? How is all this experienced and conceptualised on the ground?

Topics may include:

  • Nationhood and nationalism
  • Indigeneity and ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Citizenship, mobility, belonging
  • Religious transformations
  • Memory
  • Development
  • Neoliberalism
  • Postsocialism
  • Tourism
  • Grassroots movements
  • Environmentalism and conservation

Paper Resources

SAN4h Paper Guide 2023-24

For lecture reading lists, additional teaching materials, past exam questions and exam reports for all ethnographic areas please see the SAN4 Moodle Course.

Please note teaching staff and students enrolled on SAN4 will automatically be enrolled on the SAN4 Moodle course and you will find a link to the course in the ‘My Home’ section of Moodle.

If you are a member of the University of Cambridge and you wish to view the reading lists, past exam questions and exam reports then you can access the SAN4 Moodle Course as a guest. For more information on how to access Moodle Courses as a guest please see Moodle Help.