Syllabus Fall 2018 (Yale-NUS)

2018 Semester 1

Professor Erik Harms

Course Meetings: Tue, Fri 9:00 pm – 10:30 pm

Office Hours: Tuesday, 2:30-5pm
Location: CR2

Department of Anthropology

10 Sachem Street


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 / Map Annotations 10 X 5 = 50
All Semester Classroom Participation and Preparation 100
Tues, 4 September Map Quiz 50
Fri, 21 September Ripped from the Headlines Paper 100
Tues, 20 November Final Project Presentation 50

Fri, 30 November

Sunday, 2 December

Final Research Paper 200
Mon, 10 December Extra Credit: Upload paper to course blog 20

 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.  (Note: Readings marked with a hollow bullet point, “○”, are optional).
  • 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):

  • Barker, Joshua, Erik Harms, and Johan Lindquist (2012). Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. ISBN: 978-0-8248-3741-9
  • Mills, Mary Beth (1999). Thai Women in the Global Labor Force: Consuming Desires, Contested Selves. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. ISBN: 0-1835-2654-X
  • 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 Google Earth, at (using a chrome browser):



Week 1: Course Introduction: Encountering Southeast Asia

Tuesday, 14 August: Introduction to the class.

Friday, 17 August: TBD (Class Blogging exercise)

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

Week 2: Geography and the Human Landscape

Tuesday, 21 August: Rainy Season / Dry Season, Land / Water, Islands / Mainlands

Friday, 24 August: Upland / Lowland, Rural / Urban

Week 3: Ethno-Linguistic Diversity

Tuesday, 28 August: Linguistic Diversity and Socio-Linguistic Relationships

Friday, 31 August: The Politics of Ethnic Diversity

Week 4: Kinship, Family and Gender

Tuesday, 4 September: Kinship, the Family, and Identity

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

Friday, 7 September: Gender

Film: Match Made

Week 5: Religion and Cosmology

Tuesday, 11 September: Islam, Hinduism, Christianity

Friday, 14 September: Buddhism, Confucianism, and the World of the Spirits

Film: Love Man Love Woman

Week 6: Political Systems

Tuesday, 18 September: Political Developments in Post-Colonial and Post-War SEA

**Syllabus change: We will conduct in-class discussion of student investigations into Southeast Asian media and current events.**

Friday, 21 September: “Freedom,” ASEAN-style

**ASSIGNMENT 2: Ripped from the Headlines, due on course website by 5pm, Friday 21 September.**


RECESS WEEK: Saturday 22 September – Sunday 30 September


PART TWO: Political Economy and Conflicting Experiences of Modernity

Week 7: Modern Dreams and the Dark Side of Modernity

Tuesday, 2 October: The Cambodian Genocide and Other Modern Nightmares

Friday, 5 October: The Cambodian Genocide and Other Modern Nightmares

Film: New Year Baby

**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

For this week, please read:

  • Scott, James C. (1985). Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Tuesday, 9 October: What Counts as Resistance? Southeast Asian Agricultural Diversity and Agricultural capitalism

  • Read Preface. Ch 1, Ch 2, Ch 3 & Ch 4

Friday, 12 October: Debates about Hegemony, Thesis Writing Workshop

  • Read Ch 7 & Ch 8

**Final Paper Proposal Due. Note. We will share and workshop these proposals in class**

Week 9: Migration and Mobility

For this week, please read:

  • The Bangladeshi Worker (Singapore) and the Aspiring Overseas Student (Vietnam) in Barker, Harms & Lindquist (2012) Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity.
  • Mills, Mary Beth (1999). Thai Women in the Global Labor Force: Consuming Desires, Contested Selves. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Tuesday, 16 October: Migration and Mobility

Friday, 19 October: Migration and Mobility 2

Film: B.A.T.A.M.

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

Tuesday, 23 October: The Challenges of Urbanization and Industrialization

Friday, 26 October: Ecological and Social Crises of Development

PART THREE: The Arts of Change

Week 11: Literature and Social Change

For this week, please read:

Tuesday, 30 October: Is there a Southeast Asian Literature?

Friday, 2 November: 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, 6 November: Understanding Southeast Asian Music

Friday, 9 November: Art and Music as Political Statement

Week 13: Preparation for Student Project Presentations

During this week, professor Harms will be away at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Jose, CA. (He is the president of the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology, so isn’t allowed to skip the meeting this year).

Students are encouraged to use course meeting times on 13 and 16 November to work on final research project presentations, to be presented at the mini-conference the next week.

Week 14: [Week 13 Make-up]. Mini Conference as Course Conclusion

On a date to be determined, but most likely Tuesday, Nov. 20th, the course will convene as a half-day mini-conference in which students will give short, ten-minute presentations on their final paper topics. Following the presentations, Professor Harms will be available to discuss the papers with students either individually or in groups.

Week 14: [Week 13 Make-up]. Course Conclusion

On Tuesday, Nov. 20th, from noon to 2pm, the course will convene to discuss students’ thesis statement for their final paper topics. We will also discuss the larger themes of the course. Following the presentations, Professor Harms will be available to discuss the papers with students either individually or in groups.

**FINAL PAPER: due, Friday November 30th** New Due Date: Sunday, December 2nd 

**Extra Credit: Uploaded revised paper to course blog by Monday 10 December**