Introducing Professor John Sidel, Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, and Sir Patrick Gillam Chair in International and Comparative Politics (Department of Government, and Department of International Relations).
1. What is your area of interest/what do you work on?
My primary area of research interest, experience, and expertise has been the politics of the Philippines and Indonesia, with a variety of specific points of focus. My PhD research and first book examined forms of local ‘bossism’ in the Philippines, and I have an abiding interest in forms of local power across the region. My second major project and single-authored book focused on religious violence in Indonesia, and since that time I have developed a broader interest in the intersection between religion and politics in Southeast Asia and beyond. My third major project and single-authored book examined the impact of diverse international circumstances and transnational connections on the Philippine, Indonesian, and Vietnamese revolutions. And fourth and finally, since 2012 I have been working with The Asia Foundation’s Coalitions for Change program in the Philippines to analyse and advise various reform advocacy campaigns in the country, so I now have a general interest in reform advocacy work and also a somewhat ‘niche’ obsession with urban transport reform. In other words, I’m all over the shop!
2.What led you to your field of study/what inspired your interest in these topics?
I grew up in the United States in the shadow of the Vietnam War and began reading about the region as a teenager, but I was originally planning to become a specialist on the Soviet Union and studied the Russian language for six years in high school and university, even spending the summer of 1984 studying in Moscow and what was then Leningrad. But thanks to personal connections I ended up working as an intern in the Political Section of the United States Embassy in the Philippines in the summer of 1985 (with a top-secret security clearance) and was tasked with doing research and writing a report on the Communist insurgency in a province just south of Manila, and then I worked in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and again in the Embassy over the summers of 1986 and 1987. This experience made me question and abandon my original plan to work for the U.S. government but it also drew me to the study of Southeast Asia, as I began to study the politics, history, societies, and languages of the region. No regrets!
3. Why are you excited to be SEAC’s Director?
I am excited to become the new director of the Southeast Asia Centre because I have pretty boundless enthusiasm for the study of the region and self-identify much more as a ‘Southeast Asianist’ than as a ‘Political Scientist’. The LSE has a great contingent of specialists on the region on its staff and plenty of very talented and promising students with strong interests in the region as well. And over the past several years of affiliation with the Centre, I have seen how easy and enjoyable it is to organize a range of activities related to the study of Southeast Asia. I think I’ll learn a great deal from the experience, and I hope that I’ll give back in kind. I have had the good fortune to have excellent teachers and mentors, colleagues and students over the years, so the least I can do at this stage is to try to devote my energies to promoting Southeast Asian Studies. And the LSE has excellent infrastructure and resources for this work.
4. How do you like to relax and unwind?
See the photo below!