Syllabus 2020 (Subject to Minor Revision)

Anthropology 244a Fall 2020

Professor Erik Harms

Course Meetings: T,Th 9:00 am – 10:15 am

Sections: 1hr Optional

Teaching Fellow: Jill Tan

Office Hours: Tuesdays, 2:00-4 pm

To be held on Zoom

Location: ZOOM

Department of Anthropology

10 Sachem Street


Default will be to not record sessions, unless an expressed need arises for accessibility reasons.

Enrollment will be capped at 18.


This course offers a comprehensive introduction to the extraordinary diversity of Southeast Asian peoples, cultures, and political economy. Broadly focused on the nation-states that have emerged since the end of World War II (Brunei, Burma [Myanmar], Cambodia, Indonesia, East Timor, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), the course explores the benefits and limits to a regional perspective. Crossing both national and disciplinary boundaries, the course will introduce students to key elements of Southeast Asian geography, history, language and literature, belief systems, marriage and family, music, art, agriculture, industrialization and urbanization, politics and government, ecological challenges, and economic change. In addition to providing a broad and comparative survey of “traditional” Southeast Asia, the course will place special emphasis on the intellectual and practical challenges associated with modernization and development, highlighting the ways different Southeast Asian nations contend with the forces of globalization.

The principle readings will include key works from a multidisciplinary range of fields covering anthropology, art, economics, geography, history, literature, music, and political science. No prior knowledge of Southeast Asia is expected.


Grades will be based primarily on the written assignments (including drafts and final essays, and in-class writing assignments), and student participation in the class.  The total course grade will be calculated as a percentage of accumulated points. (A = 93-100; A- = 90-92; B+ = 87-89; B = 83-86; B- = 80-82; etc.).

  • · Major assignments are indicated in the chart below, and include blogging assignments, one short essay concerning a Southeast Asian news event chosen by the student, and one independent research paper on a topic chosen by the student. A map quiz will be worth 50 points. Students will also contribute five short responses on select course readings, worth 10 points each. Students will select which five readings they would like to write about after week three.
  • · Attendance and classroom participation are essential to success in the course, and students who fail to attend all class meetings, or who consistently arrive late or fail to participate, will see their final course grade affected.

Major assignments and their due dates are as follows:

Date Due Topic Weight of Paper
Periodic (5 per semester) Reading Responses 25 X 2 = 50
All Semester Classroom Participation and Preparation 100
Sept. 22 Map Assignment 50
Oct. 16 Ripped from the Headlines Paper 100
Dec. 1 & 3 Final Paper Draft and Presentation 50
Dec. 10 Final Research Paper 200

 Course Policies

  • Students must attend all of the scheduled classes, unless excused in advance by the instructor.  Students anticipating the need to miss class for religious holidays or for approved participation in University athletics should inform the instructor during the first two weeks of class.
  • Students must hand in papers on time at the beginning of class on the date indicated on this syllabus.  Unless otherwise indicated, papers should be double-spaced, using standard 12 point font, with 1 inch margins.  Unexcused late papers will not receive anything higher than a “B”.  Students anticipating the need for an extension must forewarn the instructor at least one week in advance.  On occasion, I will ask you to submit papers online using the “canvas” course website or via email.  Papers or assignments submitted electronically should always be saved as Microsoft Word documents with standardized filenames according to the following format:

          yourlastname.assignment#.doc  (e.g.: “harms.1a.doc”)

  • Unless otherwise noted, the readings indicated for a particular week should be completed by the first class meeting of the week.
  • Don’t plagiarize!  Students should be familiar with Yale’s policy on academic honesty, located in the student handbook (pages 42-44):

And students should visit the following useful guide to citing sources at:

If you have questions about citing sources or remain unclear about plagiarism, please feel free to ask prof. Harms, a reference librarian in any of the Yale libraries, or staff members at the Yale College Writing Center. If you plagiarize you will fail the class.

Course Materials

The following required texts are available for purchase wherever you purchase books these days (I wish it was a small independent brick and mortar bookseller, but I suppose I’m a dreamer):

  • Scott, James C. (1985). Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN: 978-0-300-03641-1

All other course readings indicated in the course schedule are available as electronic text reserves accessible online via the links on this syllabus or alphabetically at the course bibliography:

  • On an experimental basis, I will be periodically uploading map-based lecture notes and study guides. In order to access these, students should download the free version of Google Earth, available at:



Week 1: Course Introduction: Encountering Southeast Asia

Tuesday, September 1st: Introduction to the class.

Thursday, September 3rd: Getting Situated

PART ONE: Geographical, Social-Cultural, and Political Diversity

Week 2: Geography and the Human Landscape

Tuesday, September 8th: Rainy Season / Dry Season, Land / Water, Islands / Mainlands

Thursday, September 10th: Upland / Lowland, Rural / Urban

Week 3: Ethno-Linguistic Diversity

Tuesday, September 15th: Linguistic Diversity and Socio-Linguistic Relationships

Map assignment for next week:

Thursday, September 17th: The Politics of Difference (Ethnicity and Racism, and also “Spacism”)

Week 4: Kinship, Family and Gender

Tuesday, September 22nd: Kinship, the Family, and Identity

**ASSIGNMENT 1 DUE: In-class Map Quiz**

Thursday, September 24th: Gender

Film: Match Made (view clip in class, link to full film here)

Week 5: Religion and Cosmology

Tuesday, September 29th: Islam, Hinduism, Christianity

Thursday, October 1st: Buddhism, Confucianism, and the World of the Spirits

Film: Love Man Love Woman

Week 6: Political Systems

Tuesday, October 6th: Political Developments in Post-Colonial and Post-War SEA

Thursday, October 8th: “Freedom,” ASEAN-style

**Ripped from the Headlines Assignment: Post a few blog posts about SEA Media by Friday, Oct. 9th.


PART TWO: Political Economy and Conflicting Experiences of Modernity

Week 7: Modern Dreams and the Dark Side of Modernity

Tuesday, October 13th: The Cambodian Genocide and Other Modern Nightmares

Thursday, October 15th: Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya in Myanmar

Film: New Year Baby

**ASSIGNMENT 2: Ripped from the Headlines, due on course website by midnight, Friday Oct. 16th.**

**PAPER PROPOSALS**Before the end of Week Eight please post a brief, one paragraph proposal for your final paper to the course website. Proposals should include a brief description of the topic, and a preliminary bibliography. As the semester progresses, we will schedule individual meetings to discuss your final paper proposals.

Week 8: Agricultural Economies, Social Change, and Resistance

Tuesday, October 20th: What Counts as Resistance? Southeast Asian Agricultural Diversity and Agricultural capitalism

  • Scott, James C. (1985). Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press. [Read Preface. Ch 1, Ch 2, Ch 3 & Ch 4]

Thursday, October 22nd: Continued discussion: Hegemony or False Consciousness?

  • Read Ch 7 & Ch 8 of Weapons of the Weak

**Final Paper Proposal Due Before October Recess**

Week 9: Migration and Mobility

Tuesday, October 27th: Migration and Mobility

Thursday, October 29th: Migration and Mobility 2

[[Note Revised Syllabus for Weeks 10-13 below]]

Week 10: Research and Writing Interlude

Tuesday, November 3rd:Research Interlude

  • Two or three peer-reviewed articles of your choice on the topic of your final paper

There will be an in-class exercise in small groups to discuss some of the ideas emerging from your reading of sources for your papers.

Thursday, November 5th: Writing Interlude

In class we will discuss the short story and also engage in some creative descriptive free-writing, using the image you bring as a prompt to get you thinking about your papers.

In class, read excerpt from Tsing (2011) “Dark Rays.”


PART THREE: The (Dark) Arts of Change

Week 11: Ambivalent forces of Social Change (Urbanization and Environment)

For this week, please read:

Tuesday, November 10th: Cruel Beauty, Dreams and the Dark Side of Development

Thursday, November 12th: Apparitions of Modernity

Week 12: Art and Music

Tuesday, November 17th: The Politics of Southeast Asian Art and Music

Thursday, November 19th: Music Party (and (hypo)thesis sharing workshop)

  • Before class, please post a link to this google doc of at least 2 of your favorite songs from Southeast Asia (past, present, or future). If you don’t have a favorite song from Southeast Asia, ask a family member, a friend, a lover or even an enemy to suggest some. If you feel inspired, consider picking a song that might work as the “soundtrack” to the paper you are writing for this class.

In class, we will listen to some of the music selections, and also spend some time in small groups discussing your hypothetical thesis statements and tentative outlines for your papers.

**Be Ready to Chat ABout your paper After November Recess**

November Break:  Nov. 21-29

Week 13: Student Project Presentations

For this week, please prepare and practice a presentation of your final research project:

Tuesday, December 1: Discuss Papers

Thursday, December 3: Group B Presentations and Course Conclusion

**FINAL PAPER: due, Friday Dec. 10th**

Previous week 10-13 before the revision

Week 10: Development and its Limits: Urbanization and Ecological Crisis

Tuesday, November 3rd: The Challenges of Urbanization and Industrialization

Thursday, November 5th: Ecological and Social Crises of Development

PART THREE: The Arts of Change

Week 11: Literature and Social Change

For this week, please read:

Tuesday, November 10th: Is there a Southeast Asian Literature?

Thursday, November 12th: In-class peer review of Final Paper Outlines / Annotated Bibliography

**Annotated Bibliography and Final Paper Outlines Due in Class**

Week 12: Art and Music

For this week, please read:

Tuesday, November 17th: Understanding Southeast Asian Music

Thursday, November 19th: Art and Music as Political Statement

**Draft of Final Paper Due After November Recess**

November Break:  Nov. 21-29

Week 13: Student Project Presentations

For this week, please prepare and practice a presentation of your final research project:

Tuesday, December 1: Group A Presentations

Thursday, December 3: Group B Presentations and Course Conclusion

**FINAL PAPER: due, Friday Dec. 10th**