AN420      Half Unit
The Anthropology of Southeast Asia

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Christopher Chaplin


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

Course content

The region of Southeast Asia has made a major contribution to the anthropological and ethnographic study of religion, gender, identity, violence, environmentalism, and state sovereignty. This course aims to introduce students to ethnographic materials and theoretical topics pertaining to society and culture within the region. In providing a strong grounding in regionally based empirical studies, the course will offer students the tools to critically evaluate anthropological contributions to understanding Southeast Asia, and to consider what role the region and Southeast Asians play in broader theoretical debates within the discipline.


Course Topics

The course will examine how anthropology contributes to and responds to interpretative challenges relating to:


1. Imagining Southeast Asia

2. Power, Potency and Puppetry

3. Anarchy, Egalitarianism and Entangled Freedoms

4. Violence, Memory, and Absence

5. Piety and Ritual: Manifestations of Global Religion

6. Gender Pluralism

7. Development: Spectres of Modernity

8. Democratic Imaginaries and Authoritarian Turns

9. Southeast Asia’s Periphery: Belonging, Statelessness and Liminality

10. Southeast Asia and the World

Intended Learning Aims/Outcomes

The course is intended to familiarise students to the diversity of cultures and social systems in Southeast Asia. By the end of the course, students will be expected to be familiar with key topics and theoretical debates in the anthropological study of the region, including ideas of power, freedom, violence and memory, gender & sexuality, religion & ritual, ecology, capitalism, democracy and belonging. Additionally, the course aims to enable students to discuss and appraise the major debates stemming from anthropological research in Southeast Asia, and be equipped to consider the extent to which such research might be applied and relevant to other regions of the world.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the AT.

Film screenings will also take place throughout the term. There will be a reading week in Week 6 of the AT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the AT.

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).
  • E. Thompson and V Sinha, Anthopology in Southeast Asia: National Traditions and Transnational Practices (2019).


  • 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.


Coursework (100%, 4000 words) in the WT.

Students will be asked to write a 4,000 word essay. 

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

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