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Interpreting the politics of Southeast Asia: debates in parallel universes

Robison, R. (2012) Interpreting the politics of Southeast Asia: debates in parallel universes. In: Robison, R., (ed.) Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Politics. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, London, England, pp. 5-22.


Among the critical questions that have defined debates about the politics of Southeast Asia, three have been especially enduring. One of these asks why liberal politics has proven so fragile across the region and why various forms of authoritarianism or electoral politics based on one-party rule or money politics have been so pervasive. A second question is concerned with the relationship between market capitalism and political institutions and ideas; in particular why various forms of interventionist state and predatory systems of governance have survived and flourished despite the embrace of market capitalism. A third is concerned with more recent patterns of decentralization of authority, the spread of democratic reforms and the participation of social movements and local actors in the political arena. It is a matter of contention whether these developments signal the long-awaited rise of a progressive and self-reliant civil society or the consolidation of new social and economic oligarchies and mechanisms for control on the part of the state. This chapter examines how these important questions have been addressed within different schools of thought and how they have themselves been consolidated and transformed over time.

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group
Copyright: The Author
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