Decentring & diversifying Southeast Asian studies


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At TUFS I will draw on this research on indigeniety to investigate and write an article on narrated performativity of indigeniety and adat. Shiohara to establish a mutual and hopefully a long-term research cooperation between the ILCAA and the LIPI, focusing on the documentation method and storage facilities that the public can use for carrying out integrated research on local languages in Indonesia. While working on developing research cooperation between the ILCAA and the LIPI, I am also interested in exploring the place of language research in scientific endeavor in Indonesia, applying some insights from science, technology, and society STS studies to examine the transformation of expert knowledge from the field to computer programming.

At the same time, during my stay at the ILCAA I would like to continue my previous research on adat and aristocracy to write an article on how language and embodied narratives shape aristocratic subjectivity. Google Search www. All Rights Reserved. These examples point to the need to move beyond conventional social scientific conceptions of rights and human agency if we want to better understand and overcome the dispute between Islamic and Western views on human rights in the region. If following Western post liberal assumptions, we, as social scientists, insist that the politics of emancipation must involve a denunciation of racial-religious identifications, the result will be an impasse between the groups advocating Islamic orthodoxy and secular liberalism in Malaysian society.

It is imperative that scholars of Southeast Asia find new ways of understanding how Southeast Asians work out resistance within the regimes of values and discourses they live under. We need to create spaces which can help create recognition and better define progressive ethics within the region in order to reveal their autonomous dimensions and interconnections with universal ethical values.

Unlike the older regionalism, in which regions were considered bounded, the new regionalism has focused on the porosity of territorial borders, the fluidity of identity politics, movements of people, and so on for example, see Walters In contrast, local scholarship on Southeast Asia tends to depart from, and remains rooted in, a concern with the internal dynamics of change in the face of globalization. New geopolitical realignment after the Cold War, alongside capitalist expansion into the AsiaPacific region, has led to various forms of regionalization. These movements, no matter how contrived or problematic they may be, are part and parcel of the lived reality of the constructed geography of Southeast Asia.

Hence, while a territorially bounded concept of the region may be theoretically deconstructed, the lived reality of regional identity and geography cannot be ignored. Furthermore, this lived reality is consolidated by institutions such as ASEAN, not to mention various other seemingly apolitical forms of regional association in educational exchanges, sports events, and so on. On top of this, there is a flourishing of symbolic imaginaries of a regional identity found in popular culture and the mass media.

The existence of regional structures, ideologies, and symbolisms has clearly generated sentiments and identifications about the region which cannot be wished away, no matter how manufactured they may be. Surely they deserve academic attention. While this may have been liberating in Euro-American area studies, it is problematic elsewhere.

To be sure, in a place such as Southeast Asia, external influences are difficult to ignore. As a diverse region long exposed to migration of people, colonization, international trade, and so on, the study of Southeast Asia has long been charted through global connections. It is in local sites that people create meaningful experiences. Emerging trends in Southeast Asia suggest that regional synergies have been a reason to rethink Southeast Asian Studies from the perspective of regional locations and experiences. It is unmistakable that the field is being reclaimed by local scholars as a vehicle for local voices see Abraham ; and Heryanto There are also new forces such as Asian funding institutions with their own stake in the future of the region.

Many recent academic developments in the region are sponsored by Japanese Foundations in particular, the Toyota, Japan, and Nippon Foundations , which appear to have overtaken the Ford Foundation in promoting Southeast Asian Studies within the region. In fact, during the workshop on which this book was based, Melani Budianta lamented the fact that regional scholars are often very well informed about works by Western scholars, but know so little about works done by their Southeast Asian colleagues.

Another reason to establish intraregional conversations is that the field of Southeast Asian Studies has become an established local reality. There is now an increasing number of regional researchers and academic institutions, and academic collaborations have become more common.

Academic and student exchanges across nation state—based enterprises have provided grounds for rethinking Southeast Asia. Such efforts can lessen dependency on global scholarship, which remains linguistically delineated and disseminated in the English language. They can also enable students to learn about local ideas besides those emanating from the West. Against this trend, the framework of the nation state and nationalist narratives remain meaningful to local scholars.

The narratives in this book show how the structures of rule and regimes of knowledge of the nation state remain important forces within and against which scholars struggle to interpret their own lives and the societies around them. Indeed, the implicit presence of the nation state provided one of the few constant and common frameworks linking the contributors.

Despite the particular histories of nation building across the region, the problematic of the nation emerges time and time again in the intellectual questions raised. Amongst the earlier generation, who began their intellectual work in the era of decolonization, the nation state was clearly experienced as a source of promise and as emblematic of a hope to forge a new form of community.

For subsequent generations, the experience of the nation state was more complex. On the one hand, the nation state was a problem which needed to be deconstructed or re-evaluated in order to understand and expose its hegemonies and limitations. As products of the various nation making projects and living in a world shaped by capitalist globalization, neoimperial desire, and fluid boundaries, the younger generation appears to be more preoccupied with the crisis of the nation state project and the power of capitalist globalization in their societies.

Given the postcolonial intellectual conditions within which the latter generations operate, they have tended to focus more than their predecessors on subaltern capacities and agency which, to an extent, escape the regimes of nationalist power in the informal, everyday, or peripheral spaces of human creativity. Predictably, this is also a universal trend in scholarship, to which younger scholars are especially attuned.

This is pointed out by Abinales who uses emerging critiques against the nationalist imaginations of senior Filipino intellectuals such as Ileto by young upstarts in the Filipino academe as one such example. Given the different social, historical, and changing intellectual conditions, younger scholars have distinct concerns.

In some instances, as in this Filipino case, this has involved criticisms of the work of the older generations of local scholars. However, there is also a need to guard against establishing clear distinctions between the concerns of senior and younger scholars. Conditions change with time and scholarship will respond to the change.

We must also remember that scholarship on Southeast Asia is inevitably group- or school-oriented and not merely individualistic. Alongside intergenerational tensions and differences, there are always also more continuities across generations than meet the eye. How will all these intergenerational dynamics eventually be localized in Southeast Asia? What kinds of stories will local scholars tell forty or fifty years from now? In a region which has given rise to some of the major nationalist movements in the twentieth century, nationalism, while often hijacked by the various Southeast Asian states, remains a necessary means to express shared geohistorical and ethno-cultural sensibilities even at levels below the state.

As has been pointed out by many Western scholars, the relationship between the state and nationalist discourses is only historical and never teleological see Karl , p. Taking ethno-cultural or nationalist sensibilities seriously does not necessarily mean agreeing with the state. Contemporary Southeast Asian nationalism may, in fact, provide us with grounds to think about alternative conceptions of society and political agency in the contemporary world. Such a project speaks directly to the challenge to decentre and pluralize Western social scientific discourse.

A project entangled with, yet also distinct from, Western disciplinary and theoretical influence, regional conceptualizations are shaped by the attempts to use the humanities and the social sciences to respond to local needs. The narratives presented in this book offer us alternative perceptions of Southeast Asia from scholars coming from the region.

This volume represents one response by regional scholars to the call to decentre and diversify knowledge production. The disciplinary configurations and epistemological considerations highlighted in this book suggest that we need a great deal more versatility than we can get from sticking rigidly to conventional disciplinary and theoretical categories, if we want to grasp the complex dimensions of human existence and meanings in Southeast Asia better.

It is clear that the project to build more coherent and integrated perspectives on the questions of Southeast Asian knowledge remains far from being complete. It is also about intergenerational and intraregional tensions, differences and continuities in terms of shared conditions, commitment, and struggles. In the changing stakes of area studies in the post—Cold War era, regional efforts to rethink the region may provide evidential and theoretical grounds on different modalities of political and ethical imaginings of human existence and emancipation. Keyes, and Karl Hutterer A growing number of works seeking to go beyond area studies has served to cement the sense of a crisis in area studies.

These works include: Neil L. Anxieties over disciplinary and institutional issues have long run deep within the field of Asian Studies since the s. See, for example, David Szanton, ed. Sears, ed. For an excellent discussion of the influence of North American scholarship on the study of Southeast Asia, see Vicente L. The nature and consequences of the quarrel over disciplinary and theoretical differences in the North American academe have been extensively discussed in a volume by Loius Menand, ed.

Southeast Asia/Asean

A later volume edited by Amanda Anderson and Joseph Valente on Disciplinarity at the Fin de Siecle attempts to put an end to this fight by showing how disciplines are inevitably products of both disciplinary and anti-disciplinary practices. It was aimed at initiating an intergenerational and interdisciplinary dialogue amongst Southeast Asian scholars as a basis for planning an intellectual retooling project for young Southeast Asian researchers.

Some examples of classical debates on Southeast Asian Studies are J. Miyoshi , p. Adrian Vickers has cautioned against taking the Saidian critique of Orientalist representations to an extreme in the study of Southeast Asia. He argues on the importance of textual reading as a form of knowledge contribution and a means for translating meanings across different societies within and beyond Southeast Asia King has gone on to write two disciplinary-based books on Southeast Asia, i. I owe this insight to Joel S. Zomia refers to the mainland massif of Southeast Asia which extends from the Central Highlands of Vietnam westward all the way to North-eastern India and the South-western provinces of China.

See note 7. Expatriate scholars form a big component of the academic community in the two main national universities in Singapore, i. I want to thank Joel Kahn for highlighting this point to me. This concept defines Southeast Asian Studies as a field whereby knowledge production is constituted by complex and hierarchical scholarly networks which produce a system of professional evaluations driven primarily by esteem and derision.

Arif Dirlik , p. In the face of such difficulties, some scholars have dismissed the recourse to ethics as a rhetorical practice that grew out of ideological splits and ambiguities of the modern condition since the sixteenth century Simpson Others have instead pointed to the fact that antinomies over ethics have been experienced all across the history of knowledge production see Jay , pp. This book will cite scholars according to surnames in the usual academic practice. For a recent volume discussing the impact of American social sciences on Indonesian social sciences since the Cold War, see Vedi R.

Hadiz and Daniel Dhakidae, eds. Brunei joined in , followed by Vietnam in , Laos and Myanmar in , and Cambodia in See also Vedi R. In my recent brief affiliation at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, in , I discovered that the centre practises a unique model of truly interdisciplinary area studies where natural and human scientists are engaged in collaborative studies of the region. At the University of Malaya, Thai was introduced as an undergraduate subject in , followed by Talagog in , and Vietnamese in In Bahasa Malaysia became the fourth language offered to majoring students.

Other major Southeast Asian journals in the region are based at the National University of Singapore. In Thailand, a programme of Asian Studies was introduced at Chulalongkorn University as early as It became the Institute of Asian Studies in A Southeast Asian Studies undergraduate degree programme was established at Thammasat University in The University of the Philippines introduced the teaching of Malay and Austronesian languages in the s. Takashi Shiraishi, a historian of Indonesia, who was once based at Cornell University, has earlier pointed out the institutional autonomy of Southeast Asian Studies programmes in Japan, which depart from the American model of area studies.

In particular, see Paul H. Regional institutions and centres were invited to this conference. References Abraham, Itty, ed. Abu Talib and Tan Liok Ee, eds. New Terrains in Southeast Asian History. Agoncillio, Teodoro A. A Short History of the Filipino People. University of the Philippines, Alatas, Syed Farid and Vineeta Sinha. Teaching Sociology 29 : — Current Sociology 51, no. Thousand Oaks: Sage, Agoncillio, Teodoro. Alatas, Syed Hussein.

The Hague: W. Intellectuals in Developing Societies. London: Cass, The Myth of the Lazy Native. Ananda Rajah. Anderson, Amanda and Joseph Valente. Disciplinarity at the Fin De Siecle. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. Antlov, Hans. Asad, Talal. Formations of the Secular. Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford, California: California Press, Asian Centre, University of the Philippines. Adventures of Marxism.

New York: Verso, Bowen, John. Moussons 1 : 3— Buck, David. Journal of Asian Studies 50, no. Chua Beng-Huat. Positions 7, no. Chou, Cynthia and Vincent Houben, eds. Chou, Rey. Cribb, Robert. De Bary, Wm. Journal of Asian Studies 30, no. Dirlik, Arif, ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 6, no. Emmerson, Donald K. Journal of Asian Studies 40, no. Farish A. Contemporary Southeast Asia 25, no. Halib Mohammed and Tim Huxley, eds. An Introduction to Southeast Asian Studies. London: Tauris, Harootunian, Harry. New York: Columbia University Press, Hefner, Robert.

American Anthropologist , no. Heryanto, Ariel. Hirschman, Charles, Charles F. Keyes, and Karl Hutterer, eds. Asian Studies Review 25, no. Ileto, Reynaldo C. A Hundred Years from the Philippine War. Jay, Martin. London Review of Books 24, no. Kahin, George McT. Journal of Asian Studies 33, no. Kahn, Joel. Karl, Rebecca E. Kasetsiri, Charnvit. Katzenstein, Peter J. PS: Political Science and Politics 34, no. Keesing, Felix. Far Eastern Quarterly 14, no. In Democracy in Malaysia. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, Asian Studies Review 23, no.

King, Victor. Anthropology and Development in Southeast Asia. Theory and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, Kleden, Ignas. New Asian Visions : 6— Amsterdam: VU Press, Krastoska, Paul H. Singapore: Singapore University Press, Lal, Vinay. London, Sterling, Virginia: Pluto, Lambert, Richard D.

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Journal of Asian Studies 35, no. Lewis, Martin and Karen Wigen. Geographical Review 89, no. Maung Htin Aung. A History of Burma. Mazuri, Ali. African Commentary, June : 32— Mbembe, Achille. On the Postcolony. Berkeley: University of California Press, Public Culture 14, no. Menand, Louis, ed. The Future of Academic Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Mignolo, Walter D. Poetics Today 16, no. Mitchell, Timothy. Miyoshi, Masao and H. Durham and London: Duke University Press, Rafael, Vicente L. Social Text, no.

American Historical Review : — Ransom, David. Ramparts 9, no. Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asian Studies: Pacific Perspectives. Reid, Anthony and Maria Serena I. Reynolds, Craig, J. Journal of Asian Studies 54, no. Saba Mahmood. Said, Edward. London: Routledge and K. Paul, Salazar Zeus A. The Malayan Connection. Lunsod Quezon: Palimbangan ng Lahi, Sears, Laurie J.

Knowing Southeast Asian Subjects. Shaharil Thalib. Shamsul Amri Baharuddin. Shimizu Hajime. Shiraishi, Takashi. Simpson, David. Durham: Duke University Press, Slocum, Karla and Deborah A. Smail, John R. Journal of Southeast Asian History 2 : 72— Spencer, Johnathan. Current Anthropology 31, no. Suryadinata, Leo. Sutherland, Heather. Syamsuddin, M. Szanton, David, ed. Taufik Abdullah. Taufik Abdullah and Yekti Manauti, eds. UP Asian Centre. Philippines: Asian Centre, University of the Philippines, Van Leur, J. Van Schendel, Willem. Social Science and Power in Indonesia.

Verma, Vidhu. Journal of Contemporary Asia 32 : — Vickers, Adrian. Sidney W. Current Anthropology 44, no. Walters, Neil L. Ward, Robert. Journal of Asian Studies 32, no. Winichakul, Thongchai. Wolters, O. Indonesia 58 : 1— By the twentieth century, following the expansion of the West, most scholars in Asia accepted that science education had an equal place with their own classical humanities. It was not until the second half of that century that social science was taken seriously in Asian universities.

The impact of that on the humanities has yet to be fully felt, but many universities already treat traditional learning as something akin to pre—social science. For those who believe that the humanities are vital to any civilized society, the challenge is not only to protect the humanities from further erosion, but also to use scientific methods and ideas to study the nature of Asian traditions in changing societies without these studies becoming simply pale imitations of imperial knowledge from the West. This chapter does not examine directly the implications of taking up that challenge. It only describes my experiences with an early stage of transition, one moving from what could be described as imperial knowledge brought from the West, to new local and national efforts in Southeast Asia to respond to the introduction of social science.

I began my studies of history without thought of what social science was and what it was not. My history teachers certainly did not call themselves social scientists. So I may be said to represent something called pre—social science. I agreed to participate in this volume because I believe that the history and sociology of knowledge could be useful to those who wonder about current trends and potentials, and wish to see some of the problems today in a wider context. The fact is, I studied history in the imperial traditions of a humanities education and, while welcoming the stimulus of social science analysis, decided not to pursue any training in a specific social science discipline.

This has determined the way I have worked for over five decades. Another reason I am writing here stems from my concern that some academic disciplines have become too narrowly focused on quantitative techniques and do not emphasize enough the many dimensions of time and place that all social problems possess. The sacred cow of a universalistic science is threatening to reduce the social to a set of ciphers that diminishes the relevance of empirical practice and the power of human judgment and action.

Southeast Asian Studies needs to consider if this is the direction to go. I hope that my pre—social science experiences can show that there are alternative ways that are more inclusive and that openness to ideas and respect for actual experience should not give way to theory worship. There are now thousands of Asians who have studied social science subjects as undergraduates and then gone on to pursue graduate studies in their respective fields within their countries or elsewhere in Europe, North America, and Australasia. Southeast Asian students came to the social sciences later and new generations of them were exhorted to serve the new nation states of the region with their practical skills.

Most of them tried hard to adapt what they learnt from Western theories and models to stimulate economic development, improve standards of governance, and meet urgent social needs in their respective countries. Is the pursuit of better theories to replace those discovered elsewhere the way to go? Or should social scientists in Asia concentrate on effective application of received knowledge to make their countries safer, stronger, more prosperous, and orderly?

Or should they examine and re-evaluate the cultural roots of their societies in order to find the native genius that might transform the social sciences from their alien origins into new sources of inspiration for their leaders and peoples? These questions are now being asked in many parts of Asia, but they were already being asked, albeit in less focused ways, in the s and s, even in former colonies in Southeast Asia on the eve of independence and nation building.

I recall some experiences related to the transition from received traditions to rejection and activism and to sceptical scientific inquiry in the humanities and the social sciences. I will offer here my reflections on those transition years, afterthoughts on my experiences, and ideas about what directions might be fruitful in the future. I suggest that what occurred in the long process of decolonization in British Malaya, and later, Malaysia and Singapore, may tell us something useful about social science education and its value to Asian states and communities.

Empire Knowledge I came to the study of history rather indirectly. I saw it as an interesting approach to self-knowledge at a time of political revolution and cultural turmoil, with no thought whatsoever whether the discipline belonged to the humanities or the social sciences. My high school in Ipoh in the Malay state of Perak was a colonial school where the medium of teaching was English and the curriculum followed was that used in most schools in the British Empire.

I later learnt that, in almost all subjects, the same textbooks were used throughout the empire. In addition to English literature, I studied history and geography our school did not offer economics , science, mathematics, and advanced mathematics. The science was mainly basic physics and chemistry. The most important part of my growing social awareness during my later high school years in —46 was the sense that a new world was dawning in Asia. In Malaya, after the British defeat in —42 and the three-and-a-half years of Japanese Occupation, there was growing resistance to colonial rule.

From the street activities all over Malaya, one could see that British power was being challenged and could hear the many voices exhorting people to prepare for a Malaya that local leaders would some day control. Obviously, these were problems that social science disciplines would have helped us understand. And that did affect my choice of reading matter in our library. My own interest when I left school was to study literature, a subject my father and my teachers taught me to love.

In any case, the two universities at which I studied in —48 and —54 had different policies on the question of the humanities and social science. My first campus was in Nanjing, the capital of the Republic of China, while my second was the new University of Malaya founded in Singapore in by the departing British colonial power.

Silent Resistance in Malaysia: Changing Mindsets as New Radical Politics

Neither were interested in drawing clear boundaries between the humanities and social science. The National Central University in Nanjing admitted freshmen directly to an academic department in which they would remain for four years of study, and it was the Department of Foreign Languages that accepted me.

This placed me in the Faculty of Arts where the main departments were those of history, literature, and philosophy. I do not recall if the university offered sociology and political science and believe that economics was a core subject in the Faculty of Commerce. At the time, there was another national university in Nanjing, the Zhengzhi Politics University a cross between Sciences Po in Paris, and the London School of Economics in London, but guided by the belief that such an institution should be controlled by the party in power, in this case, the Kuomintang , and that university certainly offered political science including international relations and public administration and economics.

My education in Malaya did not prepare me to understand events in China during my time in Nanjing, from April to December Our teachers were dutiful in class, but had to hold several jobs outside the campus in order to make a living. So we saw little of them and learnt much more from our peer groups.

There were frequent mass demonstrations in Nanjing at which opponents of the national government including students were arrested and beaten up, all of them described as communists or communist sympathizers. At the same time, my parents in Malaya kept me informed of the outlawing of the Malayan Communist Party, the armed rebellion that led the British to introduce Emergency Regulations for all of Malaya, and of the economic turmoil that resulted from that.

They also told me of the political deal struck by the British with the Malay elites to establish a new Federation of Malaya in which very few non-Malays could qualify to be citizens. Thus, from the end of the war in till my return to Malaya in December , not a day passed without something happening that could have been a core topic for social science study. My second university, the University of Malaya, was much smaller and its offerings more basic. It had adopted the Scottish system of having Arts students do a three-year BA General degree after which a select number of students qualified to do a one-year specialization for an honours degree.

For the general degree, there were no majors and we were each made to take three subjects. The university gave us little choice and offered only English literature, history, geography, economics, and mathematics in the Faculty of Arts. I took literature, history, and economics and only decided to specialize in history in my fourth year. I liked literature best, and inexplicably found economics uninteresting at the time. In the end, I chose history because the professor of history, C.

Northcote Parkinson, encouraged us to look for local documents and probe the ideas behind them that could explain complex events relevant to the way Malaya was developing. It did not occur to me or anyone else to ask whether history belonged to the humanities or the social sciences. What was more important for me was the range of books available in our respective libraries, and the conditions in which I was free to read books beyond those that our teachers recommended. Even more influential for my attitudes towards knowledge was the temper of the times that enlivened campus lives.

When I joined the University of Malaya in October , I was introduced to the discipline of economics and found some of the courses stimulating. It was taken for granted that the methods we used and the theories that were applied to our region were drawn from experiences in the developed economies of Western Europe and North America. We were also taught about the technical programmes and methodologies that were considered to have been efficacious in other tropical or subtropical areas such as southern India or Africa or the West Indies. It was axiomatic that economic principles were universal and as valid as the laws in the physical sciences.

The students were being prepared to inherit that state structure and its philosophical underpinnings. Our courses concentrated on technical knowledge and rarely touched on the conflicting social and cultural values and political and economic challenges that prevailed outside the campus. The Emergency conditions prevented open discussions about the debates that were dividing the world. We were left to discuss these issues among ourselves.

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My understanding of the social sciences during the decades of decolonization was that the academic disciplines called the social sciences began to evolve in Europe in the nineteenth century and spread quickly to North America. In Europe, some social scientists benefited from opportunities to test their theories on the conquered peoples of Asia and Africa. For them, imperial tasks such as surveying and mapping the world, defining civilization and barbarism through the study of ethnography and ethnology, and extending the frontiers of geology and natural history were strongly supported by colonial governments.

In economics, the writings of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, among others, were brought in to assist the European expansion that followed the scientific revolution and the rise of industrial capitalism, notably in India and beyond the Strait of Malacca. In addition, scientific theory and method were extended to challenge the authority of theology and classical studies, and question prevailing social and political philosophy. This later gave rise to new fields such as sociology and political science.

There grew other fields that were acknowledged during the twentieth century, but the boundaries drawn between the humanities and the natural sciences were not always clear. For empires, it was more important to use the knowledge to serve their interests than to explore lofty ideals of theoretical sophistication. For example, the ideas about civilization of the classical age enabled the British to mix practical and technical dedication with racial condescension in India, and for the Dutch to be singularly diligent in the study of the multiplicity of peoples and cultures in the Netherlands East Indies.

The French in turn were deeply committed to bringing civilization to their oriental natives. As for America, eschewing imperialism while guided by missionary zeal, their schools and colleges in East Asia including its colony in the Philippines were open and ready to introduce practical social science disciplines, often linked to their faculties of commerce or business. Not troubled by imperial burdens, their social scientists were eventually more drawn to the ideals of scientific perfection and the sacred mission of developing universal theories.

Before the end of the age of European empires, however, European scholars took their superiority for granted and did not think it necessary to proclaim such a mission. This was free of explicit imperial baggage. In British Malaya, however, and throughout most universities in the Commonwealth tradition, classical education was still well regarded. Whatever the social sciences might have done for the empire, British officials did not consider it necessary for local universities to emphasize such academic disciplines.

Even in the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, sociology and politics did not merit separate academic departments until recently. Only the field of economics was recognized early and the little awareness I had of social science came from attending classes in economics for my first three years at the University of Malaya. But, in retrospect, what was more important was the way the courses opened me to macroeconomic issues relevant to the ideological debates of the time. For example, what John Maynard Keynes stood for, and how that was challenged by the writings of Frederick Hayek, illuminated clearly for me some major problems in politics.

I recall reading R. Wells, and Lytton Strachey. These engaged intellectuals ranged from Arnold Toynbee and E. As I turned to the study of historical documents and interpretations, I found that their writings illuminated some critical developments in Asian history. The more I linked their theories to the research I was doing, the more they helped me to become a historian who was conscious that the social science disciplines have much to offer us.

The correction was something I needed. My reading of history taught me that the colonial system depended on classically educated officials for whom social science education was minimal. The model of the Roman Empire, later influenced by the Chinese examination system, ensured that the social sciences were only marginal to imperial needs. And when some of the colonial administrators turned to scholarly pursuits, they almost invariably began with history, languages, philology, Oriental classical texts if available , and natural history.

Their best work led to the development of new fields such as tropical geography and anthropology, and even transformed Orientalist preoccupations into what became modern Area Studies. For me, perhaps the most important contributions came from the rise of social and cultural anthropology and the injection of their methods into some areas of sociology. We looked for policies and ideas that would answer the key questions on our minds: independence and freedom from the imperial powers, building new nations, the appeal of socialism, the revolutionary movements among the young all over Asia.

Not finding much in the classroom, we looked elsewhere. Most books on anti-colonialism and revolutions were banned and we were challenged to find them to read. Clearly, these did not represent social science but, at a time when political life was simple, economic conditions desperate, and social tensions violently divisive, the colonial university offered too little to help explain the world and we had to look elsewhere to the active and the engaged for help. I did not dwell long among the revolutionary writers because alternative explanations also caught my attention.

Aside from the courses in history that were largely about Western expansion into Asia, I had read widely about the French and Russian revolutions and the Spanish Civil War. Three men opened my eyes to the use of social science methods to deal with Southeast Asian questions. One was J. Furnivall whose books on Burma and the Netherlands East Indies, especially his Colonial Policy and Practice, provided a rigorous examination of the colonial state from within.

Another was Rupert Emerson. As an American political scientist, he wrote more from the outside and I found his pre-war study of Malaysia: A Study in Direct and Indirect Rule, more enlightening than anything written by historians. The third was the posthumous work of J.

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But, when I chose to do my doctoral research on tenth century Chinese history, I set aside my Southeast Asian interests and did not pursue the exciting lines of inquiry that these writers had opened up. There were two other reasons for this. My teachers in London were not advocates of the social sciences and my desire to re-discover Chinese sources and traditions of historiography sent me back to classical Sinology to learn a new trade.

All the same, the exposure I had to a few social scientists working in Southeast Asia continued to influence my thinking. Hsiao, who was trained in political science, skilfully reinterpreted the history of Chinese political culture and the imperial dynasties. As for Lattimore, his application of the frontier theory to the borderlands between Chinese and the nomadic peoples of the steppe, was one of the most important works of historical geography that I have ever read.

I was similarly drawn to the work of Karl Wittfogel even before he published his book on Oriental Despotism. With the help of Feng Chiasheng, he had reframed the history of the northern borderlands through the study of Khitan-Chinese society and power relationships. And then there were the two books on the Chinese gentry by Chang Chung-li. His combination of historical and political data with careful sociological analysis showed me how a great number of questions could be answered through a mix of disciplines.

The methodologies employed by R. Tawney, E. Carr, Max Weber, and, not least, the work of Lewis Namier, especially his The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, influenced in one way or another the way I approached the study of the protagonists seeking to reunify China during the chaotic tenth century.

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It was only when I was asked to write on the Chinese overseas in transition to postcolonial nation building in Southeast Asia that my early readings of Furnivall, Emerson, and van Leur once again loomed large. The doyen of historical anthropology was Maurice Freedman.


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Hsu, and Chen Ta, that first generation of Chinese trained in sociology and anthropology, some in Britain and others in the United States. Kulp, Marcel Granet, and J. Lossing Buck, that made me realize how powerfully this branch of social science had influenced the Chinese themselves. I was drawn to the study of the Chinese overseas somewhat by accident. It began when I was invited to give a series of eight lectures on the history of the Nanyang Chinese by Radio Sarawak, the state of Sarawak at that time still a British colony.

This was the moment when Purcell reviewed the new book on the history of the Chinese in Thailand by the American anthropologist, G. William Skinner. In that review, Purcell revealed how strongly the classically trained scholar was sceptical of the social science methods adopted by Skinner. I was surprised by my reaction. Because the Americans brought social science education to the country early, it already had its own social scientists. Several of them had already begun to explore their own brand of theory and method and I found it inspiring to read, among others, the work of O.

Corpuz, Cesar Majul, and Horacio de la Costa. By this time, it was clear to me that the multiple disciplined even undisciplined start in my university education had taken its toll on my history training, and my excursion into sinology close to Chinese traditions where knowledge did not have borders was the final straw. I could no longer claim ownership in any branch of knowledge that required the drawing of academic borders. Conclusion Let me end with some thoughts on how all this may be relevant to Southeast Asian Studies.

From the start, the most successful social scientists were those who majored in economics. Their quantitative skills made their theories more credible and both national governments and large corporations appreciated the rigour of that kind of training. Others have done well who trained in disciplines such as sociology and psychology. Those who studied anthropology and linguistics were more likely to be drawn to teaching and research, but some governments have found them invaluable in dealing with community affairs as well. As for historians who thought that their subject belonged to the humanities, some are now content, even grateful, for their field to be included as a social science.

This is still true in most modern universities of Asia, with economics at one end of the spectrum, and history at the other, with the others at different points in between. The precise point often depends on the stage of economic development of the country, the political and bureaucratic system in operation there, and the social-cultural mix of its population. The criteria that determine where each discipline is placed is stricter today and often decided by how quantitative the methodologies used are, and how prepared the protagonists are to make theoretical contributions to knowledge.

It is this concern with theory that is exercising young scholars in Asia. While most have mastered the quantitative skills and others have contributed fresh qualitative insights by using data collected in Asia, there are few breakthroughs in theory that have come from their research. Many now ask if they should continue to accept existing theories worked out by Western scholars as universal, or if they should make greater efforts to discover their own original theories.

I have no doubt that when more Asian scholars analyse their data and find that new theory is needed to explain unfamiliar or even unknown phenomena, changes will happen. They understand the history of how the social sciences evolved in the West, how the various disciplines grew out of classical and philosophical quests for truth and knowledge.

Those quests had come from a tradition that was very different from the social and moral pursuits found in Asia. For me, this was especially so with reference to ancient East Asian thought. But how Western goals and methods of knowledge creation were introduced to Asia is also relevant when we try to understand the current efforts among Asian social scientists to find their own voices.

In order to advance new theories and methodologies, many would need to master not only one or more existing social science disciplines, but also familiarize themselves fully with the underlying assumptions of traditional Asian values. In that way, they could discover distinctive ways to explain the new realities in a globalizing Asia.

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