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Politics of Culture in Southeast Asia (5 EC)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (60 EC, 120 EC or research). Students who are interested in taking this course, but who have not been admitted to one of the MA programmes mentioned are requested to contact their co-ordinator of studies.


Ballet Philippines, the University of Culture in Yangon, Thailand’s National Identity Board: as these examples indicate, culture is a beloved object of state cultural policy, not least in the Southeast Asian region. UNESCO and non-governmental organizations are active in this field as well. And culture is also an industry; the market has a serious commercial interest in certain cultural genres. In earlier eras, too, the powers that be as well as oppositional groups used cultural genres like performance and literature to promote novel ideas and practices, or to try to maintain established ones.

The politics of culture in Southeast Asia has a double aim: to provide a comparative survey of Southeast Asian national politics in the cultural realm, in historical perspective, and on a more theoretical level to examine the ways in which institutions, communities, and individuals attempt to control the ways of doing and thinking that we call cultural.

There are two versions of this course, worth 5 EC or 10 EC. The 5-EC version consists of two parts. After two introductory seminars (= Part A), we survey cultural politics in the respective Southeast Asian countries, on the basis of weekly course readings, in seminars 3–7 (comprising Part B of the course). To give our discussions empirical substance and to facilitate comparison within Southeast Asia and with other parts of the world, we focus on concrete cultural categories. In 2021/22 these categories are performative: ritual, dance, music, drama, and literature. Some of the genres in question tend to be developed under state patronage while others tend to be left largely to the market. These genres allow us also to examine certain transnational connections and flows within and outside Southeast Asia. We begin our survey today and in the recent past, and gradually broaden our purview to include the early-modern period as well.

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 timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

The core of each seminar in Parts A and B is a group discussion of that week’s readings. In preparation, all students formulate a webposting, reflecting critically on these readings. The aim of a webposting is to formulate a critical opinion that will trigger a productive group discussion of the readings. Postings must be published on the Brightspace course site at least 24 hours before the seminar begins. Every week one or two students will give short presentations (five minutes each).

Attendance at seminar meetings is compulsory. Students must contribute actively to in-class discussion. If a student cannot attend because of illness or misadventure, they should promptly inform the convener. Absence without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from assessment components and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

The course is assessed by evaluating your active participation: academic quality of weekly webpostings, presentations, sustained constructive contribution to seminar discussions

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
academic quality of weekly webpostings 40%
presentations 20%
sustained constructive contribution to seminar discussions 40%

Active participation in the seminars (webpostings, presentations, discussion) is a requirement for passing the course. In order to receive a mark for the course, you must have submitted webpostings for and participated actively in at least 75 per cent of the seminars. Webpostings submitted after the deadlines are not taken into account.

In order to pass the course, you must obtain a total weighted average mark of 5.50 (=6.0) or higher.

All elements of the course belong together and must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


A resit (second chance to pass the course) is possible if you received a total weighted average mark for the course of 5.49 or lower. The resit will take the form of additional assignments.

Inspection and feedback

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

To be communicated in due course.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof.