AN420      Half Unit
The Anthropology of Southeast Asia

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Nicholas Long OLD 6.14


This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management, MSc in Religion in the Contemporary World and MSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course will introduce students to selected theoretical and ethnographic issues in the history and contemporary life of Southeast Asia (including Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, The Philippines, and Vietnam).

The alleged distinctiveness of Southeast Asian gender relations, political leadership, and experiences of self and emotion have led to ethnographic studies of the region making major contributions to the anthropology of the state, sovereignty, globalisation, gender, identity, violence, and mental health. By providing a strong grounding in regional ethnographic materials, this course will equip students to critically evaluate such contributions and to consider possible further contributions that studies of Southeast Asia might make to anthropological debates. The course will also examine how anthropologists have responded to the interpretive challenges presented by selected aspects of Southeast Asia’s social and political life, such as the legacies of mass violence (e.g. the Cambodian genocide, the Vietnam War, or Indonesia’s massacre of suspected communists), its ethnic and religious pluralism, and the impact of international tourism.

The course also contains a strong visual anthropology element: each week’s lecture will be paired with a film screening, and students will be encouraged to examine whether and how this visual material contributes to, o indeed reframes, the theoretical debates at hand. 

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

1. Describe the key features of Southeast Asian social and cultural systems, and identify their similarities and differences with social and cultural systems in other world regions.

2. Describe key events and patterns in Southeast Asia’s history, and evaluate the extent to which these influence contemporary social phenomena in the region.

3. Describe and evaluate the most influential paradigms that have been developed in anthropological studies of Southeast Asia over the past 60 years.

4. Apply anthropological concepts and theories to ethnographic materials from Southeast Asia, and evaluate the results.

5. Apply anthropological research findings and theories to social and policy issues in Southeast Asia.

6. Locate and use research findings from Southeast Asia in order to participate in, or advance the terms of, wider disciplinary debates.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

Film screenings will also take place throughout the Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare material for discussion in the seminars. Anthropology students taking this course will have an opportunity to submit a tutorial essay for this course to their personal tutors. For non-Anthropology students taking this course, a formative essay may be submitted to the course teacher.

Indicative reading

Useful histories of Southeast Asia / Southeast Asian anthropology

M.C. Ricklefs, B. Lockhart, A. Lau, P. Reyes, and M.A. Thwin, A New History of Southeast Asia (2010); V.T. King and W.D. Wilder, The Modern Anthropology of South-East Asia: An Introduction (2003).


Barker, J., E. Harms, and J. Lindquist, eds. 2014. Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Hinton, A. L. 2005. Why Did They Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Keeler, W. 1987. Javanese Shadow Plays, Javanese Selves. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Langford, J. M. 2013. Consoling Ghosts: Stories of Medicine and Mourning from Southeast Asians in Exile. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Long, N. J. 2013. Being Malay in Indonesia: Histories, Hopes and Citizenship in the Riau Archipelago. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

Peletz, M. G. 2009. Gender Pluralism: Southeast Asia since Early Modern Times. London & New York: Routledge.

Schwenkel, C. 2009. The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Scott, J. C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Sloane, P. 1999. Islam, Modernity and Entrepreneurship among the Malays. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Detailed reading lists are provided at the beginning of the course.


Take home exam (100%) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2014/15: Unavailable

Average class size 2014/15: Unavailable

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information