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Politics of Culture in Southeast Asia


Admission requirements

MA students. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to one of the mentioned master programmes are requested to contact their co-ordinator of studies.


Ballet Philippines, the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra, the Malaysian National Literary Laureate, the University of Culture in Yangon, the Pornography Law in Indonesia (much of which is about nudity in performance and media): as these examples indicate, culture is a beloved object of national cultural policy, not least in the Southeast Asian region. UNESCO and many non-governmental organizations are active in this field as well, not to mention the fact that the market has a serious commercial interest in certain cultural genres. The politics of culture in Southeast Asia has a double aim: to provide students with an up-to-date comparative survey of Southeast Asian national politics in the cultural realm, and on a theoretical level to examine the ways in which institutions, communities, and individuals attempt to keep in check the ways of doing and thinking that we call cultural. The course consists of two main parts. In the first and longest, on the basis of weekly readings we discuss cultural politics in the respective Southeast Asian countries. To give the discussion substance and to facilitate comparison within Southeast Asia and with other parts of the world, we focus on concrete cultural categories. In 2016/17 these will be dance, puppetry, and pop, thus covering genres that tend to be developed under state patronage as well as genres that tend to be left largely to the market, and allowing us also to examine transnational cultural connections and flows. The second (short) part takes a more theoretical turn. We will consider the workings of institutional, communal, and individual cultural control on the basis of case studies of the performance of language in Java, Indonesia.

There are two versions of this course. For one, which is worth 10 ECTS, students are expected to participate in all 12 seminar meetings. For the other version, worth 5 ECTS, active participation in the first 8 seminar meetings suffices.

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of and comparative insight into contemporary cultural politics in the Southeast Asian countries, in historical perspective;

  • Analytical insight into the ways in which institutions, communities, and individuals work to control culture;

  • Self-critical awareness, especially the ability to relativize culturally instilled attitudes.


The timetable is available on the Asianstudies website

Mode of instruction


Attendance and active participation is mandatory.

Course Load

  • Total course load for the course: 280 hours (10 ECTS version) / 140 hours (5 ECTS version).

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: 24 hours (10 ECTS version) / 16 hours (5 ECTS version)

  • Approximate time for studying the weekly readings: 120 hours (10 ECTS version) / 80 hours (5 ECTS version)

  • Approximate time for writing the web-postings and preparing for presentations: 66 hours (10 ECTS version) / 44 hours (5 ECTS version)

  • Approximate preparation time for the written examination (including revision of readings, web-postings, and class notes, as well as in-depth study of the scholarly article on which the written examination will be based): 70 hours (10-ECTS version only)

Assessment method

The 10-ECTS variant of the course is assessed in two ways:
1. Active participation: quality of weekly webpostings, presentations, sustained constructive contributions to in-class discussions (40 per cent of overall mark) 2. A concluding written examination (60 per cent of overall mark). The examination (two hours) will contain essay-type questions relating to the readings as well as the contents of the seminars.
In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of “5.50” (=6) or higher. In order to be allowed to take the concluding written examination, students should have participated actively in at least 75 per cent of the seminars. An exam resit is possible only for element (2), and only if the student participated in the first written exam and received an overall mark for the course of “5.49” or lower. The concluding examination and the weekly tasks belong together and must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.
The 5-ECTS variant of the course is assessed by means of the student’s active participation in seminars 1–8: quality of weekly webpostings, presentations, sustained constructive contributions to in-class discussions. In order to pass the 5-ECTS-variant of the course, students should have participated actively in at least 75 per cent of seminars 1–8 and have obtained an overall mark of “5.50” (=6) or higher. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Exam Review

Students may request an oral elucidation of the assessment within 30 days after publication of the grade.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • the extended course description (syllabus), including reading lists

  • weekly web-postings

  • announcements
    Blackboard serves as the primary means of communication about the course between instructor and students outside class meetings. Registration for the course on Blackboard is essential.

Reading list

Weekly readings to be announced via Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the Timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.


Prof. Dr. B. Arps