In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Southeast Asian Politics

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Data and Collections
  • Political Parties
  • Religion and Politics
  • Ethnicity and Politics
  • Nationalism
  • Civil Society
  • Transitional Justice
  • International Relations

Political Science Southeast Asian Politics
Erik Martinez Kuhonta, Nhu Truong
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0343


The study of Southeast Asian politics has its roots in the scholarship of colonial civil servants, but flourished especially in the postwar period, as new Southeast Asian countries emerged from the debris of World War II and the fading colonial empires. Much of the postwar literature on Southeast Asian politics focused on the countries’ prospects for modernization, and also had a strong emphasis on the role of culture in shaping political outcomes. In the 1980s and 1990s, the literature was especially notable for contributions in the areas of political economy and democratization, reflective of the fact that the region was experiencing a transformative economic boom and some countries were also transitioning to democratic governments. Since the 2000s, significant studies on state formation, political parties, and political economy have been produced. Much of the more recent scholarship has tended to be more explicitly comparative and more self-consciously methodological.

General Overview

There are a number of very solid general studies of Southeast Asian politics. Owen 2005, Bertrand 2013, Case 2015, Ba and Beeson 2018, and Croissant and Lorenz 2018 all provide good entry points into the region, but with differing emphases: Bertrand and Case focus on regime type, Croissant and Lorenz on the institutions and actors, Owen’s work is a broad historical survey with an emphasis on the modern era, and the edited volume by Ba and Beeson contains short essays that cut across the most salient topics on Southeast Asian politics. Although Alagappa 1995 is focused on the question of legitimacy, it also serves as a good introduction to some of the central political dynamics of the region. Similarly, while Taylor 1996 emphasizes elections, the breadth of its coverage can serve as an accessible entry point for the study of Southeast Asian politics. Some other more general work focuses on methodology, theory, and area studies—an issue that has been of increasing interest to Southeast Asianists (Kuhonta, et al. 2008; Rudolph and Huotari 2014). A classic work that analyzes the etiology and meaning of “Southeast Asia” is Emmerson 1984.

  • Alagappa, Muthiah. Political Legitimacy in Southeast Asia: The Quest for Moral Authority. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995.

    A compilation of analytical and empirical essays which focus on the concept of legitimacy in the region.

  • Ba, Alice, and Mark Beeson, eds. Contemporary Southeast Asia. 3d ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018.

    The volume contains brief, focused selected readings, covering a range of thematic topics pertaining to Southeast Asian politics.

  • Bertrand, Jacques. Political Change in Southeast Asia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139047135

    A solid and accessible introduction to the region framed by a comparative lens and divided into country chapters.

  • Case, William, ed. Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Democratization. London: Routledge, 2015.

    A broad, comprehensive volume on the many issues and challenges of democratization in the region.

  • Croissant, Aurel, and Philip Lorenz. Comparative Politics of Southeast Asia: An Introduction to Governments and Political Regimes. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-68182-5

    Surveys the politics of institutions, actors, and processes through country studies of the region.

  • Emmerson, Donald K. “Southeast Asia: What’s in a Name?” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 15.1 (March, 1984): 1–21.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0022463400012182

    This classic essay questions the extent to which the name “Southeast Asia” signifies a meaningful identity internal to the region itself by providing an account of how the name and its definition of the region were historically conceived. Extremely valuable for understanding the origins of the region qua region.

  • Kuhonta, Erik Martinez, Dan Slater, and Tuong Vu, eds. Southeast Asia in Political Science: Theory, Region, and Qualitative Analysis. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008.

    Useful for scholars seeking to understand and assess the dialogue between Southeast Asian area studies and political science, especially within the context of North American debates about discipline and methodology. The volume as a whole makes an argument for the importance of qualitative methods and area studies for building theory.

  • Owen, Norman, ed. The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia: A New History. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

    A much revised version of an earlier collaborative history book first published in 1967 (David Steinberg, ed., In Search of Southeast Asia: A Modern History [Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press], 1988 revised edition). This version provides deep and succinct historical analysis, as well as well-chosen photographs that beautifully illustrate the distinct history of the region.

  • Rudolph, Jurgen, and Mikko Huotari, eds. Special Issue: Context, Concepts, and Comparisons in Southeast Asian Studies. Pacific Affairs 87.3 (September 2014).

    Advances the idea of “comparative area studies” that seeks to embed area studies more directly within cutting-edge comparative research. The essays by scholars in Europe, the United States, and Canada address broad debates about the relationship among methodology, discipline, and area studies, including whether researchers should focus on analytical breadth or in-depth case work.

  • Taylor, Robert H. The Politics of Elections in Southeast Asia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    An insightful comparative volume on the different meanings and effects of elections in both democratic and authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia.

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