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The politics of culture in Southeast Asia


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies specialisation Southeast Asian Studies or to the MA Asian Studies (research) with relevant knowledge and skills at the level of the entry requirements for the MA Asian Studies specialisation Southeast Asian Studies, except the Southeast Asian language requirement (readings will be in English). Students who are interested in taking this course, but who not admitted to one of these MAs or are uncertain whether they meet these requirements are requested to contact the convenor, “Prof.dr. B.”.


Ballet Philippines, the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra, the Malaysian National Literary Laureate, the University of Culture in Yangon, the Pornography Law in Indonesia (which addresses 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. 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 culture. The politics of culture in Southeast Asia serves 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 that we may call cultural.

The course consists of two main blocks. In the first, 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 a few concrete cultural categories. In 2010/11 these will be dance, puppetry, and pop, thus covering both genres that tend to be developed under state patronage and genres that tend to be left largely to the market, and allowing us to examine transnational cultural connections and flows as well. In the second block we consider the workings of institutional, communal, and individual control in the realm of culture, giving attention to theoretical perspectives on the basis of case studies of the performance of language in Java, Indonesia.

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.



Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • weekly tasks based on the readings and/or primary materials (40% of final mark)

  • a concluding written examination (60% of final mark)


Blackboard will be used for:

  • table of contents of the seminar

  • study materials

  • weekly tasks

  • announcements and other communications

Reading list

Weekly readings to be announced later.


Registration through uSis mandatory

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please consult the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Contact information

Prof.dr. B. Arps