Asian Studies and Geo-politics

In a new book review, JCA editor-in-chief Kevin Hewison of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looks at Framing Asian Studies. Geopolitics and Institutions (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1483999).

Published by Singapore’s semi-government ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Hewison suggests that the collection generally has a very optimistic tone. The co-editors argue that “Asian Studies appears alive and well. . .” in places as diverse as the US and Europe and and Australia and Asia itself.

He’s less happy with the framing of the chapters and the book. With “geo-politics” in its title, Hewison argues that:

“Area studies in the US and … elsewhere – including Asian studies – are deeply enmeshed in an intellectual conversation with Edward Said’s characterisation of Orientalism and post-colonialism. This is somewhat curious. In fact, much of the US’s area studies … saw … greatest expansion during the Cold War.”

He suggests that the focus on Said is a “decoy allowing the turbocharged state funding of area studies and Asian studies after World War II to be left only fitfully examined.”

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Injustice and Dams in Laos


The fifth article for a collection of articles on Laos being guest edited by Simon Creak and Keith Barney (Party-State Governance and Rule in Laos) has been published.

In “Structural Injustice, Slow Violence? The Political Ecology of a ‘Best Practice’ Hydropower Dam in Lao PDR” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1482560), David J.H. Blake, an independent scholar in the UK and Keith Barney of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra examine the political ecology of the Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Project.

The abstract states:


Large areas of the rural Lao landscape are being rapidly transformed by infrastructure development projects. Arguably, it is hydraulic development that is contributing most significantly to rural socio-ecological change, due to the profound socio-political ruptures dams precipitate. The nationally iconic Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Project, commissioned in 1998 and expanded in 2012, provides an illustrative case of hydropower’s complex social-ecological outcomes. Proponents have argued that the project represents a best-case example of planned, sustainable development, through successful mitigation of negative impacts and benefit-sharing with affected communities, and implemented in accordance with international good practice. This article questions the narratives of sustainability. It is argued that while the project could be considered successful in achieving certain economic objectives defined by the government and investors, evidence of social and environmental sustainability is questionable, raising questions about other dam projects in the country with weaker standards and oversight. Given the extent of negative impacts and associated social trauma in the Nam Hinboun basin, the article considers whether and to what extent such hydraulic development processes under authoritarian rule may be framed as expressions of structural injustice and slow violence.

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Thailand’s Constitutional Court and its politics


Björn Dressel is with the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University in Canberra. Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang is with the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Together they have researched the Constitutional Court in Thailand.

The resulting article, “Coloured Judgements? The Work of the Thai Constitutional Court, 1998–2016” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1479879) is now available at the JCA publisher’s website.


Given the extensive debate about judicialisation and politicisation of the judiciary in Thailand, especially since the 2006 military coup, this is an important piece of research.

The abstract for the articles states:

Created in 1997 as part of a major constitutional reform, Thailand’s Constitutional Court has since become embroiled in several high-profile political controversies. Since the 2006 coup, because a number of such decisions have favoured one political camp and considering obvious close and long-standing relations between judges and political elites, questions have arisen about the court’s ability to act as an independent arbiter. Is this view justifiable? To answer that question, this article first analyses how the court has behaved across political administrations in 32 high-profile cases since 2001. It then turns to the socio-biographic profile of the bench, the politics of nominations and changes to its composition, particularly since 2006. Finally, the article considers data on participants in classes offered by the Constitutional Court, which makes it possible to better understand the links between Thai political and judicial networks. The analysis finds evidence of politically biased voting patterns and increasingly partisan nominations to the court, though formally appointment procedures are apolitical, which suggests the politicisation of the court and growing ties between judicial and political elites. These findings raise new questions about the public’s perception of the Constitutional Court’s legitimacy and prospects for the rule of law.

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Issue 3 for 2018 published

Issue number 3 for Volume 48 (2018) of the journal has gone to print and is available electronically at the publisher’s site.

This number is a regular issue, featuring six research articles, a commentary and four book reviews. Two of the articles are on Thailand, an article and commentary on Indonesia and articles on India, Taiwan and South Korea. This is the contents of the issue:

Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance by an Anonymous author

Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies by Jacob Ricks

Material Realities: Why Indonesian Deforestation Persists and Conservation Fails by Bernice Maxton-Lee

Taiwan’s Anti-Nuclear Movement: The Making of a Militant Citizen Movement by Ming-Sho Ho

Precarious Elderly Workers in Post-Industrial South Korea by Yun-Young Kim, Seung-Ho Baek & Sophia Seung-Yoon Lee

Political Neo-Malthusianism and the Progression of India’s Green Revolution by Adam B. Lerner

Commentary: A Last Word: Amendments and Corrections to Indonesia’s Colonial Surplus 1880–1939 by Alec Gordon

The book reviews in this issue are:

Energy, Governance and Security in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma): A Critical Approach to Environmental Politics in the South reviewed by Ashley South

Constitutionalism and Legal Change in Myanmar reviewed by Jonathan Liljeblad

Colonizing, Decolonizing, and Globalizing Kolkata. From a Colonial to a Post-Marxist City reviewed by Kevin Hewison

International Intervention and Local Politics by Natasha Hamilton-Hart

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Africa and Asian Solidarity

In a new review available at JCA, Silvia Tieri of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, writes about a republication of a book that was previously only available in India.

Africa in the Indian Imagination: Race and the Politics of Postcolonial Citation by Antoinette Burton was published by Duke University Press in 2016.

Tieri is enthused by a book that is “a work of demystification, aimed at identifying and analysing the untold, the unsettling and the uncomfortable concealed under the officialdom of political narratives.” It is a work that examines the “ideals of friendship and partnership among post-colonial nations were epitomised at the Bandung Conference…”. Burton uses a set of novels and journalist’s accounts to provide alternative perspectives on the relationship between India and Africa, Indians and Africans.

Tieri concludes that the book is useful for a broad audience:

Burton’s critique is a powerful admonition against simplistic and celebratory narratives of South-South co-operation, including our understanding of current phenomena including India’s activity in Africa and the emergence of post-colonial Asian states as world powers.

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Police and Deadly Force in the Philippines

A new Commentary at the publisher’s website addresses an critical issue in the contemporary Philippines: the excessive use of deadly force in policing.

As evidenced by the title “Excessive Use of Deadly Force by Police in the Philippines Before Duterte” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1471155), Peter Kreuzer of the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) in Germany, examines data for the period before President Duterte launched his deadly war on drugs.

The data collected (and available for download) show remarkable patterns and also variation in police violence even before more recent events. The abstract for the Commentary states:

Under President Duterte the Philippine National Police have killed several thousand suspects in so-called legitimate encounters. While this has engendered much media attention and scientific research, earlier police violence is still a black-box in many respects. This article provides at least a partial filling of this void. It establishes several indicators for measuring lethal police violence. Moreover, it presents a detailed mapping of regional and sub-regional patterns of armed police encounters for the decade from 2006 to 2015. The spatial and temporal comparisons show that even though actual levels of deadly police violence have been quite low in several Philippine provinces and cities, the Philippine National Police almost always shot to kill suspects and not to incapacitate them. While there was significant variation over time and between sub-national units, neither the magnitude nor the levels of lethality of the violence are related to the threat levels to which the police officers were exposed.

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Adult Education and Revolutionary Hegemony in Laos

The fourth article for a collection of articles on Laos being guest edited by Simon Creak and Keith Barney (Party-State Governance and Rule in Laos) has been published.

This paper, “Abolishing Illiteracy and Upgrading Culture: Adult Education and Revolutionary Hegemony in Socialist Laos” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1470251), is by Simon Creak of the Humanities & Social Studies Education at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

The abstract states:

This article examines the monopolisation of political space by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, before and after 1975. Together with coercive measures, the Marxist-Leninist regime consolidated rule by establishing and disseminating new concepts of state power, social responsibility and socialist subjectivity, which formed the basis of a radical form of revolutionary hegemony. The Party propagated a new rhetoric of rule through mandated activities including village meetings, co-operatives and a much expanded but poor-quality mass education system. This article examines the system of adult education, where the Party sought to eradicate illiteracy and “upgrade culture” among economically productive 15 to 45-year-olds. Motivated by both politics and pedagogy, the Party imported this system from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the 1960s before institutionalising it after 1975. The resulting organisational structure fanned the rhetoric of rule across the national territory in an extensive manner that reached the illiterate “masses” in large numbers. Even where the programme encountered material shortages and apathy, mandated participation in adult education propagated the vocabulary and grammatical structure of socialist Laos, providing a codebook for how to participate in socialist society.

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