“Which interests should the Southeast Asian scholar serve?”

… asks Pingtjin Thum in his impassionate article on “Southeast Asian studies as a form of power”.
Inspired by Howard Zinn’s writings on the uses and responsibilities of scholarship, Thum, co-ordinater of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford, and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, urges Southeast Asian scholars to “be critics of power, rather than its perpetuators and apologists”.
After a short historical sketch of Southeast Asian studies he discusses more recent developments in the field, locating them within larger trends inside and outside academia. Thus, confronted with issues of knowledge (production) and (political) power and their relationship with each other he poses the question cited above in the blog title.
“It is inevitable”, Thum concludes, “that Southeast Asian studies will continue to be shaped by values and agenda. It should be.” What kind of values one should promote through one’s work, however, is for him a matter of personal choice. While he thinks scholars should serve “fundamental humanistic interests” like fighting “poverty, war, racism, and restrictions on individual freedom”, he knows that these are not the only ones scholarly work will and should focus on. What is important for all Southeast Asian scholars though, Thum emphasizes, is that “they are self-aware and understand what values they are working for”.

The thought-provoking piece has been published in the recent International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) Newsletter #62 and is available for download here…

For more information on the current issue of “The Newsletter” see here…