Defining Southeast
Asian Studies

The SEASREP Foundation views Southeast Asian studies from the lens of a Southeast Asian residing in the region. This perspective, which we call ‘own country plus’, recognizes the inherent identification of countries in the Southeast Asian region (at the very least, by reason of geography) as Southeast Asian. At the same time, we wish to avoid the exclusive concentration on the study of the self (whether this be one’s own country, nation, history, culture, etc.) and the conflation of the study of the self with that of the Southeast Asian region (for the two are different).

The SEASREP definition has been applied in a number of ways: through the study of a country in the region other than one’s own; a comparative study of two or more Southeast Asian countries, peoples, cultures, or histories; a thematic study that cuts across national borders, including cross-border studies within the Southeast Asian region and between Southeast Asia and other countries and regions of the world. The latter, in particular, builds on geographic concepts (sea, massif) that cut across geographies and borders. ASEAN studies fall within the purview of our definition, although our concept of Southeast Asia as place, peoples, and cultures is larger than ASEAN, which tends to be defined by nation-states.

‘Own’ country programs such as Thai Studies in Thailand, Philippine Studies in the Philippines, or Khmer Studies in Cambodia, will not be included in the landscape of Southeast Asian studies programs in the region. (One can safely assume anyway that each country in the region would be a specialist on itself.) ‘Other’ country/regional study programs, however, such as, say, Myanmar Studies in Thailand, or Mekong Studies in Vietnam, fall within the scope of the project. Cross-border, cross-country/region programs, such as that of the China- Southeast Asian Studies Center in Chiang Mai University are included. It is important to note that there are different layers of Southeast Asian connectivity with the rest of the world, which Southeast Asian studies also take into account.

Finally, Southeast Asian studies are multidisciplinary. Our definition includes the humanities and social sciences. Studies of nature or science from a social science or humanities perspective, such as the history of medicine in the region or the impact of new technologies on Southeast Asian life, are included.

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