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Anthropology and Sociology of Modern Day South-East Asia


Admission Requirements

The following categories of students may register for this course:

  • Students enrolled for the bachelor’s programme CADS of Leiden University

  • Students enrolled for bachelor’s programmes of Leiden University

Course Description

The idea of Southeast Asia has been called many things, from a colonial construction to a relic of the Cold War; it has been seen as embodying an economic miracle without precedent and as nothing more than the backyard of its more successful neighbours to the East and North. This course will focus on the Southeast Asian region in its own right dealing with how its constituent nations and Southeast Asia as a whole have been imagined and shaped by various actors in present times, from powerful capital to its often porous borders, from dominant ethnicities to those living at the margins; and from local nationalist histories to pan-regional initiatives such as ASEAN. We shall scrutinize the articulation of global and local processes through diverse ideas of nationhood, citizenship and cultures. We shall also examine how poverty and wealth have been shaped and transformed through various development processes and understandings of modernity. We will explore these topics by comparing case studies from various Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Topics dealt with in this 12 week course will include nationhood and multiculturalism, labour regimes and social inequalities, the new Asian middle class and their patterns of consumption, gender, migration, popular religion, cultural heritage tourism, environmental change and the fate of Southeast Asia’s indigenous people in the 21st century.

What is Southeast Asia’s place in today’s world, and in the minds of the colourful and widely divergent range of its own communities, people and citizens? While constantly questioning the merits of a comparative approach this course will strongly emphasize how Southeast Asians (based on their diverse social and cultural backgrounds) perceive their own region, as our weekly sessions will include discussion of essays, poetry and newspaper cuttings dealing with current affairs, as well as scholarly analyses of regional experts.

Students should note that besides classes we are planning an evening programme in which we shall screen relevant feature films, documentary films and short films by and about Southeast Asian people and nations. The films will be shown with brief introductions and the hope is that they will be followed by group discussions. The evening film programme will be voluntary.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course, students will have learned to:

  • Apply a historical and comparative perspective to understand the contemporary cultural, social and political diversity and inequality of modern-day Southeast Asia

  • Critically evaluate the merits and limitations of studying Southeast Asia through the lenses of the nation-state and area studies

  • Effectively convey ideas and synthesize information in written assignments and reports

  • Develop their skills for critical reading, thinking and analysis


Dates can be found on our website.

Methods of Instruction

10 ECTS = 280 study hours (sbu):

  • Lectures 12 × 3 = 36 hours * 1,5 = 54 sbu

  • Additional literature study circa 1,000 pages = 142 sbu

  • Written assignments totalling 4,500 words = 60 sbu

  • Review essay 1,600-2000 words = 24 sbu

Assessment Method

Three take home assignments on course literature (40%)
review essay monograph (40%)
group presentation (20%)

Registration in uSis

Registration in uSis is required. Once registered for the course, students need not register for an exam because this course has no final classroom exam.

  • The registration closes five days before the start of the course.


Brightspace is the digital learning environment of Leiden University. Brightspace gives access to course announcements and electronic study material. Assignments will also be submitted in Brightspace. Announcements about and changes to courses are given via Brightspace. Students are advised to check Brightspace daily to keep informed about rooms, schedules, deadlines, and all details of assignments. Lecturers assume that all students read information posted on Brightspace.

  • How to login

The homepage for Brightspace is: Brightspace

Please log in with your ULCN-account and personal password. On the left you will see an overview of My Courses.

For access to courses in Brightspace students must be registered for those courses in uSis.

Course Literature

Articles from electronic journals and encyclopaedias are available through the digital university library.

A monograph to be chosen from:

  • Basarudin, A. (2016) Humanising the sacred: Sisters in Islam and the struggle for gender justice in Malaysia. University of Washington Press.

  • Hau, C. S. (2014) The Chinese question: ethnicity, nation, and region in and beyond the Philippines. Singapore: NUS Press.

  • Killias, O. (2018) Follow the maid: domestic worker migration in and from Indonesia. Copenhagen: NIAS press.

  • Ly, B. (2019) Traces of trauma: Cambodian visual culture and national identity in the aftermath of genocide. Honolulu: University of Hawaii press.

  • Smith, W. (2020) Mountains of blame: climate and culpability in the Philippine Uplands. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

  • Sopranzetti, C. (2017) Owners of the map: motorcycle taxi drivers, mobility, and politics in Bangkok.Oakland: University of California Press.


Course coordinator Dr. Suzanne Naafs