Civil Society in Southeast Asia

Civil Society in Southeast Asia. Power Struggles and Political Regimes by JCA author Garry Rodan and published by Cambridge University Press, is currently available for free download, ending 6 October.

The abstract for the book is:

Contrary to popular claims, civil society is not generally shrinking in Southeast Asia. It is transforming, resulting in important shifts in the influences that can be exerted through it. Political and ideological differences in Southeast Asia have sharpened as anti-democratic and anti-liberal social forces compete with democratic and liberal elements in civil society. These are neither contests between civil and uncivil society nor a tussle between civil society and state power. They are power struggles over relationships between civil society and the state. Explaining these struggles, the approach in this Element emphasises the historical and political economy foundations shaping conflicts, interests and coalitions that mobilise through civil society. Different ways that capitalism is organised, controlled, and developed are shown to matter for when, how and in what direction conflicts in civil society emerge and coalitions form. This argument is demonstrated through comparisons of Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

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Gambling on Development

In a new review for JCA, Scott MacWilliam of the Department of Pacific Affairs, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific, at the Australian National University, looks at Gambling on Development: Why Some Countries Win and Others Lose by Stefan Dercon, published by Hurst and Company.

MacWilliam is critical of Gambling on Development for its framing of economic development “prescriptions” and “recipes,” and as outcomes of elite bargaining. It is, he says, an “approach popularised by the World Bank in the World Development Report 2017. In using this approach, Dercon “says the quiet part out loud, espousing the politics which underpins neo-liberalism.”

Dercon’s treatment of history is said to be shallow. MacWilliam adds:

Dercon’s argument is worth consideration if only because it shows the extent to which neo-liberalism substitutes for liberalism in disarray: lots of enthusiasm for the development framed by elites and markets, even some states, none for representative democracy, personal freedoms, and equality.

MacWilliam sees poverty and the poor receiving “simplistic treatment” in this book. He adds that:

The discussion of China is especially egregious given that there may be more very wealthy in that totalitarian country than in any other. Simultaneously in China the urbanisation and industrialisation since 1979 which has produced the wealthy resulted in millions of the elderly and young living in rural poverty while parents have travelled for work in cities. Yet China remains a success story for Dercon and for many other development economists.

If nothing else, the reviewer credits Dercon with making it obvious that political authoritarianism “is prevalent on the policy right…”.

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The first JCA paper to achieve 25,000 electronic views is “Who Governs and How? Non-State Actors and Transnational Governance in Southeast Asia” authored by Shaun Breslin and Helen E. S. Nesadurai and was published in Volume 48, No. 2, 2018.

Congratulations to the authors.

The paper remains free to download.

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Fulfilment of Election Pledges in India

Pankaj Adhikari

“The Fulfilment of Election Pledges in India” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2022.2114101) is a new article authored by Pankaj Adhikari of the School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, Sania Mariam of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay-Monash Research Academy, and Robert Thomson also of the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

Sania Mariam

The abstract for the paper states:

The central idea of promissory representation is that parties make promises to voters during election campaigns and then fulfil those promises after elections if they have the power to do so. Until now, most comparative research on the making, breaking, and keeping of parties’ campaign promises, or “election pledges,” has considered Western democracies.

Robert Thompson

The present study examines pledge fulfilment in India, focusing on pledges made by the two main Indian parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress at the 2009 and 2014 national parliamentary elections. The evidence indicates that election pledges are prominent parts of electoral discourse and policymaking in India, as they are in Western countries. However, the form of pledge making and keeping is characterised by the distinctive features of Indian politics, notably the prevalence of valence politics on socio-economic issues and identity politics on issues relating to religion, castes and tribes, and gender.

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States, Civilisations, and the World Order

JCA editor Kevin Hewison has a new review available. He reviews States, Civilisations and the Reset of World Order by By Richard Higgott, and published by Routledge.

50 copies are available for free download to those who are quick. Use this link:

The book acknowledges the decline of US global power, the rise of China, and increased global instability. For the author, these events mark the decline of the post-1945 liberal international order established under US hegemony.

The author seeks to explain how this situation has come about and what it means for the world order. Dealing with the US’s lurch to the right under Donald Trump, Brexit and Conservative buffoonery in the UK, the rise of identity politics and communitarianism, a climate crisis, and the economic and social turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, Higgott’s perspective on the current liberal order is understandably pessimistic. His alternative is for a “rebuilt world order” through a “common sense” call for a rediscovery of the “co-operative urge” and a new and “hard-headed internationalism.”

Hewison concludes that the book is a useful account of the current crisis of the US-dominated liberal international order. It is a liberal plea for a new world order and a renewed multilateralism. However, he sees some issues with the attention to civilisationalism, and sets these out in the review. Noting Higgott’s nuanced positioning, Hewison rejects the cultural determinism associated with the civilisational approach where discussions of values, culture, and civilisations are made a part of the well-organised and interconnected extremist positions.He points to a need for more attention to capitalist crisis and inter-imperial rivalry.

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Tech Worker Unions in India

Rianka Roy of the Department of Sociology, University of Connecticut, USA contributes a new article for JCA. The abstract for “Politics Through Precarity: Tech Workers’ Unions in India During the Covid-19 Pandemic” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2022.2110925) states:

The Indian technology industry is an economic asset for the State. Successive governments and corporations identify tech workers as privileged and their mobilisation as unnecessary. High-skilled tech workers are apparently different from non-tech workers and remain secluded from politics. Tech workers’ trade unions, however, can decisively subvert these claims. From three tech unions’ Facebook posts in 2020, the first COVID-19 year, this study finds that politics remains central to their discourses. Even though tech workers are understood to be “apolitical,” their trade unions have been interacting with political institutions, ministers, bureaucrats, and other non-tech trade union organisers. Some of these tech unions are even affiliated to political parties. The article also identifies some explicit similarities between the unions of tech and non-tech workers in India, and politicised labour movements worldwide. The continuing precarity of unemployment, overwork, and drastic pay cuts that peaked during the pandemic has exposed the tenuous structures of white-collar privilege. By affecting workers in all industries, oppressive neoliberal forces have ironically paved the way for labour solidarity through political resistance.


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Ethnic Domination in Sri Lanka

Ethnic Domination under Liberal Democracy in Sri Lanka” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2022.2105739) is a new, open-access article by Rajesh Venugopal of the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics.

The abstract for the paper states:

How is ethnic domination produced, legitimised, and sustained under conditions of liberal democracy? This article engages with this problem and provides a re-conceptualisation that draws on the experience of Sri Lanka. Ethnic domination is typically understood in terms of a liberal normative framework, through the lens of the state, or primarily in terms of the one-sided coercive power of the dominant group. This article points instead to the importance of looking into inner processes, moral frameworks, and the way these are acted upon by contending ethnic groups. Instead of outcome typologies such as “ethnic democracy” and “ethnocracy,” it emphasises the need to look beyond and below the state, and in particular, at the mechanisms through which stable hierarchies are produced.

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Varieties of Capitalism: South Korea and Hong Kong Compared


East Asian Varieties of Capitalism and Socio-Economic Inequality: South Korea and Hong Kong Compared” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2022.2105738) is a new and open-access article for JCA.

It is authored by Yin-Wah Chu of the Department of Sociology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Baptist University Road, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong, and Tat Yan Kong of the Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK.

The Abstract for the article states:


This article examines the deepening of socio-economic inequality manifested as dualisation in South Korea and deregulation in Hong Kong. It explains the extreme manifestations of inequality by reference to the nature of economic co-ordination, organised labour power and societal corporatism, and the politics of democratisation. It finds that South Korea’s legacy of state-orchestrated co-ordinated market economy favoured the retention of a manufacturing core despite globalisation. However, the neo-liberal inclinations of the state and big business groups led to the marginalisation of less privileged firms and workers. These inclinations reinforced the defensiveness of the small but strong labour organisations, preventing effective societal corporatism. These phenomena are fully understandable only with reference to the country’s conservative democratisation that divided the liberal and left political forces. The geo-political legacy also induced identity conflicts that overshadowed socio-economic issues. By contrast, Hong Kong’s liberal market economy coupled with the absence of security concern had allowed a radical de-industrialisation in the 1990s and wholesale casualisation in the 2000s. Divided by identity politics, organised labour was unable to challenge the trend. The same conflicts also led pro-China labour organisations to side with business interests in the post-1997 electoral autocracy and prevented the introduction of more fundamental reforms.

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Legacies of the Cold War in East and Southeast Asia: An Introduction” by Eva Hansson, Kevin Hewison, and Jim Glassman has now been viewed 15,000 times. This is an important milestone.

This article is an introduction to a special issue and  remains available for free download.

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COVID and the Australian Regulatory State


COVID-19 and the Pathologies of Australia’s Regulatory State” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2022.2106883) is a new article by Tom Chodor of the Department of Politics and International Relations, School of Social Sciences at Monash University in Australia and Shahar Hameiri of the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland in Australia.

The abstract for the paper is:


The COVID-19 pandemic has elicited a wide range of national responses with an even wider range of outcomes in terms of infections and mortalities. Australia is a rare success story, keeping deaths comparatively low, and infections too, until the Omicron wave. What explains Australia’s success? Typical explanations emphasise leaders’ choices. We agree, but argue that leaders’ choices, and whether these are implemented effectively, is shaped by the legacy of state transformation. Decades of neo-liberal reforms have hollowed out state capacity and confused lines of control and accountability, leaving Australia unprepared for the pandemic. Leaders thus abandoned plans and turned to ad hoc, simple to implement emergency measures – border closures and lockdowns. These averted large-scale outbreaks and deaths, but with diminishing returns as the Delta variant took hold. Conversely, Australia’s regulatory state has struggled to deliver more sophisticated policy responses, even when leaders were apparently committed, including an effective quarantine system, crucial for border controls, and vaccination programme, essential for exiting the quagmire of lockdowns and closed borders, leading to a partial return to top-down governing. The Australian experience shows that to avoid a public health catastrophe or more damaging lockdowns in the next pandemic, states must re-learn to govern.

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