Labour and Politics in Cambodia


Labour and Electoral Politics in Cambodia” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1963810) is a new article by Kristy Ward and Michele Ford, both of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, The University of Sydney in Australia.

The abstract states:


In 2013, the Cambodian People’s Party faced two major threats: a near loss at the ballot box in the national election and large-scale demonstrations by garment workers dissatisfied with the minimum wage. Unsurprisingly, the government responded by cracking down on the opposition, the independent media and civil society groups. Labour leaders were persecuted and legislation passed that undermined unions’ ability to organise and register. Less predictably, this crackdown was accompanied by an attempt to woo garment workers through policies that delivered tangible benefits to them as individuals. There was a marked shift in the party’s focus from its traditional rural constituency to the urban working class. In this article we examine how labour acts collectively to shape politics within authoritarian regimes. We do this by interrogating labour’s role at a time when the state was clearly shifting towards hegemonic authoritarianism. By re-assessing the 2013 and 2018 national elections through this lens, we demonstrate the bidirectional nature of state–labour relations even in authoritarian regimes. We conclude that, even where election results are largely predetermined, elections can provide opportunities for workers to strengthen their position by prompting shifts in not only in patronage but in policy.


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Institutions, Governance and China’s Mobile Game Industry


Institutions, Chain Governance and the Predicament of Local Upgrading: A Case Study of Hangzhou’s Mobile Game Industry” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1964034) is a new article by Shengjun Zhu of the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences and MOE Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes, Peking University, China, Xiaohui Hu of the School of Geography, Nanjing Normal University and Jiangsu Center for Collaborative Innovation in Geographical Information Resource Development and Application, China, and Robert Hassink of the Department of Geography, Kiel University, Germany.


The abstract for the paper states:

This article focuses on one of China’s emerging creative clusters – Hangzhou’s mobile game industry – and investigates the various adaptations this cluster has undergone, as well as the mechanisms underlying the industrial and geographical dynamics within the cluster.


Specifically, it examines the power asymmetry of governance in the cluster, paying attention to how chain governance has been shaped by both local and national institutional contexts, affecting local firms’ upgrading prospects and trajectories of industrial development. It is argued that China’s peculiar institutions have shifted the power asymmetry in the mobile game chain in favour of game distributors, allowing them to grab more value than their counterparts in the USA and European Union do. Despite various adaptation efforts made by small developers, they are largely constrained by lead firms with little possibility to move up the chain, which will inhibit further transformation and competitiveness of the industry.

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China’s Overseas NGO Law


China’s Overseas NGO Law and the Future of International Civil Society” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1955292) is a new article by Heike Holbig of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, Hamburg and Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany and Bertram Lang of the Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies (IZO), also at Goethe University.

The abstract for the paper is:


China’s law to control international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) has sent shockwaves through international non-governmental organisations, civil society and expert communities as the epitome of a worldwide trend of closing civic spaces. Since the Overseas NGO Management Law was enacted in January 2017, its implementation has seen mixed effects and diverging patterns of adaptation among Chinese party-state actors at the central and local levels and among domestic NGOs and INGOs. To capture the formal and informal dynamics underlying their mutual interactions in the longer term, this article employs a theory of institutional change inspired by Elinor Ostrom’s distinction between rules-in-form versus rules-in-use and identifies four scenarios for international civil society in China – “no change,” “restraining,” “recalibrating” and “reorienting.” Based on interviews, participant observation and Chinese policy documents and secondary literature, the respective driving forces, plausibility, likelihood and longer-term implications of each scenario are assessed. It is found that INGOs’ activities are increasingly affected by the international ambitions of the Chinese party-state, which enmeshes both domestic NGOs and INGOs as agents in its diplomatic efforts to redefine civil society participation on a global scale.

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Social Network Analysis of China’s Leadership

Exploring Biographical Ties among Party and State Leaders in China: A Social Network Analysis” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1954233) is a new article by Alexey Tokarev, Adlan Margoev and Alexey Prikhodchenko, all of the Institute for International Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), Moscow, Russia.

The abstract for the paper states:

This article offers a new perspective on Chinese elite politics in the Xi Jinping era by overcoming the drawbacks of the factional approach to the study of the Chinese elite. It analyses professional connections among 71 members of the category of party and state leaders of China based on information drawn from their official biographies and compiled by the authors into a single dataset. Four types of centrality – degree, betweenness, closeness, and eigenvector centralities – as well as the Louvain method for community detection, are applied to weighted and unweighted edge lists deriving from the dataset. The results reveal a positive correlation between the eigenvector centrality (unweighted) and the level of the formal political influence of a member of the Chinese elite. A distinct hierarchy of power is observed, with Politburo members and those coming from important areas, such as Shanghai, Fujian, and Zhejiang, ranking at the top. Louvain clustering (weighted) distributes members of the elite across institutional affiliation, while for the unweighted edge list it identifies both territorial and institutional, as well as mixed, clusters. The model reflects the formal political influence of the members of the elite and visualises the existence of informal groups.

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Wages of Burman-ness: Contradictions of Privilege in Myanmar


Revisiting the Wages of Burman-ness: Contradictions of Privilege in Myanmar” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021. 1962390) is a new article by Stephen Campbell of the School of Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Elliott Prasse-Freeman of the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore.

This paper provides a critique and assessment that begins with Matthew Walton’s 2013 paper in JCA, “The ‘Wages of Burman-ness’: Ethnicity and Burman Privilege in Contemporary Myanmar.


The abstract states:

Myanmar’s much lauded but short-lived transition to a liberal capitalist order was marked by an upsurge in Islamophobia, anti-Muslim riots and the violent expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh. Amid this conflagration, debates over ethnic inclusion, privilege and nationalism were prominent. Yet within these debates, even seemingly antagonistic positions incorporated the class-blindness characteristic of US liberal white privilege theory. In this article, we engage these debates by recalling an earlier radical theorisation of racial privilege that later liberal conceptions went on to displace. Taking capitalist class relations seriously, we argue that, for the poor Burman, ethnic privilege has been deeply ambiguous and ultimately harmful. Burman supremacy, in short, has served as ideological-material scaffolding for the enduring subjugation of the Burman proletariat itself. In order to elaborate our argument, we tell a critical history of Burman chauvinism in Myanmar – a history that reveals “Burman-ness” as a sign not simply of ethnic/racial privilege, but of class privilege as well.

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A Books Deal

Cornell University’s Southeast Asia Program is giving away some spare copies!

They say you pay the shipping, and we’ll send you any of the following that you might want:

The SEAP Data Papers Series (full run)

The Journal Indonesia (full run or individual issues)

The Cornell Modern Indonesia Project (full run or individual titles)

Thai Cultural Readers

The Studies on Southeast Asia Series (SOSEA, full run)

The SEAP Translations Series (full run)

If you are interested in a physical copy of any of the above, please reach out to us at

Note that some of these can be downloaded electronically.

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Korean Debates on Colonial Modernisation vs. Colonial Plunder

The ‘Peculiarities’ of Modernisation In Korea: Revisiting The Debate on ‘Colonial Modernisation’ vs. ‘Colonial Plunder’” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1953110) is a new article by Hae-Yung Song of the Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University in Seoul.

The abstract for the article states:

This article revisits the “colonial modernisation” thesis and its nationalist critique, the thesis of “colonial plunder” in the context of Korea. The two accounts have long been subject to politically charged disputes: while the former posits a causal link between Japanese colonialism and Korea’s rapid industrialisation, the latter suggests that Korea’s transition to capitalist development was blocked and distorted by Japanese colonialism. This article offers a critique of both accounts at the theoretical and historical levels. For a theoretical critique, it draws on the Marxist discussions of the notion of the “peculiarities” of national capitalism with reference to Britain and Germany. The article argues that both theses, by deriving the presumed ills or virtues of Korean capitalism from Japanese colonialism, assume the existence of a “normal” and “benign” path to capitalism and look at Korean capitalism and Japanese colonialism in isolation from the universal contradictions emanating from their being integral to the capitalist world-system. For a historical critique, this article assesses the dissolution of Chosŭn Korea at the turn of the twentieth century and the formation of the Korean capitalist class and shows that Korea’s transition to capitalism was both an inherently global process and driven by violent class struggles.

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Researching under authoritarian regimes

With authoritarianism becoming entrenched in Asia and democratic regimes attracted by repressive political strategies, it is appropriate to consider research strategies. “Reflections on Conducting Fieldwork under Digital Surveillance: Investigating Labour Politics in China’s Tech Industry” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1955293) is a timely Commentary for JCA, authored by Hong Yu Liu of the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge in the UK.

The article’s abstract states:

This article discusses how digitally mediated state control of citizens and society are affecting fieldwork in the People’s Republic of China. The aims of this article are: (i) to present my first-hand experience of conducting fieldwork in Shanghai and Hangzhou as a foreign investigator; and (ii) to exposit two types of digital surveillance encountered during fieldwork. The first is referred to as “digital profiling”: state authorities’ profiling of researchers based on their online identity and online activities. The second is “digital monitoring”: state authorities’ monitoring of the communication and interactions between researchers and informants online. In the final part of this article, some of the ethical considerations pertaining to the conduct of fieldwork under digital surveillance in China are considered. Consequently, it is hoped that the analysis presented here will benefit researchers at all career levels who are planning to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in authoritarian countries such as China.

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Japan’s Political Economy

The Japanese Economy is a new book by Hiroaki Richard Watanabe and published by Agenda Publishing. It is reviewed by Kwang-Yeong Shin of the Department of Sociology, Chung-Ang University, Seoul, Korea.

The book covers the political economy of Japan from the Meiji Restoration to the 2010s. It provides “a panoramic view of the Japanese economy, politics and society, dealing with the labour market, welfare, industrial policy, birth rate, aging and interest-based politics.”

Shin states that Watanabe rejects “perspectives influenced by modernisation theory,” to emphasise:

comparative political economy and institutionalism, discussing major changes in the economy, society and politics in a holistic manner…. He argues that Japanese economic institutions have become increasingly incompatible with the economy as capitalism has rapidly transformed the global economic environment. While administrative guidance in the developmental state has promoted industrial production, it is interest group politics, developed under Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) rule, that has protected inefficient and low-productivity sectors.

Shin concludes that the book:

a brief but compelling account of the history of Japan’s political economy. While it deals with almost all significant issues based on academic research in each period, it conveys non-technical narratives that can be read by those with a general interest in Japan. In short, readers without much knowledge of Japan could understand the country’s economy over two decades as it went from economic miracle to prolonged recession.

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Women Students and Japan’s New Left

Coed JapanJan Bardsley of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has reviewed the book Coed Revolution: The Female Student in the Japanese New Left, authored by By Chelsea Szendi Schieder and published by Duke University Press.

Most histories of Japan’s radicals have missed the women involved. In Coed Revolution, Schieder sets the record straight, focusing “on several young women who achieved notoriety for their involvement in New Left protests, drawing attention to their writing, its influences and the direction their activism took.”

These women recall the “gendered stereotypes rife in the movement and sexist coverage in the media…”. They describe “how campus activism led them to feminist activism…”. Bardsley observes that Coed Revolution moves “chronologically from 1957 to 1972, [with] the focus of the five main chapters ranges from close readings of some individual female students’ writing to broader analysis of the gendered dynamics of the student movement.”

Bardsley views the book as an “approachable, fascinating study …[that] provides important scholarship on gender and politics in post-war Japan and the role media plays in spinning narratives that shape public opinion.”

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