GV4C9      Half Unit
Democratization and its Discontents in Southeast Asia

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof John Sidel CON4.02


This course is available on the MSc in Comparative Politics, MSc in Conflict Studies, MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Global Politics, MSc in Global Politics (Global Civil Society) and MSc in Religion in the Contemporary World. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at one group. The deadline for receipt of applications is Friday 2 October 2015.

Course content

This course focuses on the variegated patterns of democratization observed in Southeast Asia over the past few decades. Special attention is paid to the three democracies in the region (Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand), to the endurance of authoritarianism and the prospects for democracy in Burma, and to 'creeping pluralism' and 'creeping constitutionalism' in Vietnam. The course examines important trends and developments accompanying democratization in the region - in government-business relations, in local politics, in civil society, in religious practices, in inter-communal relations, and in the organization and use of violence in politics. Throughout the course, the countries examined are treated as cases suitable for analysis and comparison in the light of the broader Comparative Politics and Global Politics literatures on democratization and its discontents.

The course begins by situating democratization in Southeast Asia against a comparative historical and sociological backdrop, paying close attention to the variegated patterns of class, state, and religious formation in the region. The course compares patterns of democratization in the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, while examining the constraints on democratization elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Lectures, readings, and seminar discussions then turn to key trends accompanying democratization in Southeast Asia. The trends examined include campaigns against 'corruption' and in support of 'the rule of law' and 'good governance'; social movements and struggles for popular empowerment; the democratization of religious practices and institutions; religious violence, and separatist mobilization. These trends are treated through comparative analysis of different cases within Southeast Asia and in the light of relevant theoretical literatures drawn from Comparative Politics and Global Politics.


10 hours of lectures and 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars in the MT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

If more than 12 students take the course, there will be two separate seminar groups.

There will be a reading week in week 6 of the MT for complementary structured learning activities.

Formative coursework

One non-assessed 1,000 word essay.

Indicative reading

Muthiah Alagappa (ed.), Civil Society and Political Change in Asia: Expanding and Contracting Democratic Space (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner (eds.), Problems of Democratisation in Indonesia: Elections, Institutions and Society (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010); Eva-Lotta Hedman, In the Name of Civil Society: From Free Election Movements to People Power in the Philippines (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005); Duncan McCargo, Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008); Lan Nguyen, Guerrilla Capitalism: The State in the Market in Vietnam (Oxford: Chandos, 2009); Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, Thaksin: The Business of Politics in Thailand (Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2004); Richard Robison and Vedi R. Hadiz, Reorganising Power in Indonesia: The Politics of Oligarchy in an Age of Markets (London: Routledge Curzon, 2004); John T. Sidel, Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2007); Philip Taylor, Goddess on the Rise: Pilgrimage and Popular Religion in Vietnam (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004); Robert H. Taylor, The State in Myanmar (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2009).


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the LT week 0.
Essay (50%, 3000 words).

Student performance results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 2
Merit 90
Pass 8
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2014/15: 14

Average class size 2014/15: 14

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills