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This season of Southeast Asianists celebrates and seeks to learn from eight scholars with diverse academic training, experiences, scholarly traits, and approaches to studying Southeast Asia.  

  • Prof Evelyn Goh on her struggle for analytical precision in writing about the dynamics of Southeast Asia and great power relations. 
  • Prof Anthony Milner on the importance of scholarly revision when considering Southeast Asia. 
  • Prof Khong Yuen Foong on Southeast Asia as a case study to understand great powers' approach to the rest of the world.
  • Prof Cheng-Chwee Kuik on generating conceptual insights from Southeast Asia.
  • Dr Rizal Sukma on his Track 2, Track 1.5, and Track 1 experience bridging the academic and policy worlds in Southeast Asia.
  • Prof Robert Cribb on the importance of varied scholarly interests in driving his investigation of power relations in Southeast Asia.
  • Prof Virginia Hooker on contextual analysis of texts and visuals from Southeast Asia.
  • Prof Anthony Reid on understanding Southeast Asia as a cohesive unit.

The producer, Emir Syailendra, is a PhD Candidate at the Strategic and Defence Study Center at the Australian National University. While the series is oriented toward academic audiences, it serves as a useful tool for those who desire to understand Southeast Asia as a region. Emir is inherently curious about the process that drives scholars to produce their groundbreaking works. In this series, he asks insightful questions to understand better what drives the Southeast Asianists into the field, their interactions with their environment as they conduct fieldwork, their writing process, their struggles, and what thoughts often keep them from sleeping at night when thinking about the region.

Episode 1 – Prof Evelyn Goh's Struggle for Analytical Precision

This Southeast Asianist’s ambition for analytical precision has always been her defining characteristic. Despite the seeming intentionality of every word written by Prof Evelyn Goh, her approach to constructing conceptual analysis is inductive, which requires her to constantly weigh what she sees externally and revise what she thinks internally.

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Like Agatha Christie’s works, Prof Goh is inherently curious about the process behind the occurrence of a phenomenon. From one masterful work to another, Prof Goh’s set a golden standard in the field on what constitutes analytical rigour. But Prof. Goh is no vessel of intellectual epiphany; analytical rigour is something she had to struggle with when writing. This Southeast Asianists episode discusses Prof Goh’s key works that have inspired me as a scholar and represent her evolution as a Southeast Asianist. She also discusses her thinking process, struggle, and what keeps her at night when thinking about Southeast Asia.

Evelyn Goh is the Shedden Professor of Strategic Policy Studies at the Australian National University, where she is also the Research Director at the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre. She has published widely on U.S.-China relations and diplomatic history, regional security order in East Asia, Southeast Asian strategies towards great powers, and environmental security. These include The Struggle for Order: Hegemony, Hierarchy and Transition in Post-Cold War East Asia (Oxford University Press, 2013); ‘Great Powers and Hierarchical Order in Southeast Asia: Analyzing Regional Security Strategies’, International Security 32:3 (Winter 2007/8):113-57; and Constructing the US Rapprochement with China, 1961-1974 (Cambridge University Press, 2004). Her most recent edited volume is Rising China’s Influence in Developing Asia (Oxford University Press, 2016), and her latest book (co-authored with Barry Buzan) is Re-thinking Sino-Japanese Alienation: History Problems and Historical Opportunities (Oxford University Press, 2020). She holds Masters (1999) and Doctoral (2001) degrees in International Relations and an undergraduate degree in Geography (1996), all from the University of Oxford. She also holds a Masters in Environment & Development from Cambridge (1997).

Episode 2 - Revision, Revision: Prof Anthony Milner's Search for Meaning in Southeast Asia

This Southeast Asianist scholarly life is driven by his constant search for meaning. Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Cien años de soledad," Prof Anthony Milner's work often blurred the sense of time, looking to the past to understand the present to look at the world from the inside out.

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Milner's exploration of Malay chronicles (Hikayat) sheds light on long-term themes in contemporary decision-making. He is not interested in drawing parallels between the past and the present per se but in conceptualising the long-lasting structures of meaning-making in traditional society. In his essay, Long-term Themes in Malaysian Foreign Policy: Hierarchy Diplomacy, Non-interference and Moral Balance, Milner demonstrates that insights acquired by learning by reading local chronicles could help us make sense of the modern behaviour of Malaysia. But his most defining trait is the constant bravery to revise his past argument as he acquired more wisdom. Like Einstein, who also constantly revised his past theory and acknowledged they were wrong in search of a better way to understand the world, Prof Tony Milner was open to saying that his past work was not completely accurate. His third book, the Malay to a large extent, was a revision and a critique of his past work that claimed a Malayisation of the Malay peninsula. His revision is more of a Bayesian assessment: instead of completely throwing away his past reflection, he reevaluates his preexisting convictions and makes constant revisions. This revision brings him closer towards making sense of how political entities in Southeast Asia make meaning.

Tony Milner is a historian specialising in political culture in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, and on regional relations. After having been a member of the Department Of History in the Faculty of Arts at ANU and the Director of the Academy of the Social Sciences project on 'Australian-Asian Perceptions', he also became increasingly involved in research and Track II activity related to Australian engagement in the Asian region. He was Dean of Asian Studies from 1996-2005 and has held visiting appointments at The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, the National University of Singapore, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Kyoto University, Humboldt University, the National University of Malaysia, the University of Malaya and the Institute for Strategic and International Studies (Malaysia). Director, Australia-Asia Perceptions Project of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (1991-1994); Basham Professor of Asian History, ANU (1994-2013); Dean of Asian Studies (1996-2005); Research Chair, Australian Institute of International Affairs (1986-1992); Panel Member, Australian Research Council (1993-1997); Member of the Commonwealth Government's Foreign Affairs Council (1998-); Member of the Council of the ANU (2000-2002); Co-Convenor, 'Asialink Conversations' (2001-); Co-Chair of the Australian Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (2002-); Member of the Executive Committee of the Australia Thailand Institute (2005-2008); Member of the Executive Committee of the Australia Malaysia Institute (2005-); Member of the Board of Asialink (2006-); Member of the Board of the AustralAsia Centre of The Asia Society (2008-2012); Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne (2008-); Tun Hussein Onn Chair, Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia (2014-2015); Visiting Professor, University of Malaya (2016-). Tony Milner's research has focussed, first, on the history of ideas and political culture in the 'Malay World' – and he has been particularly interested in how the historian can draw upon other disciplines (such as Anthropology and Literary Criticism) in researching such topics. Secondly, he has been concerned with analysing the role of values and cultural perceptions in Asian regional relations.

Episode 3 - A Critical Mind: Prof Yuen Foong Khong's Lessons on How Not to Study Southeast Asia IR

This Southeast Asianist looks at Southeast Asia as a laboratory for his case study to dissect decision-makers' minds on how they generate lessons of the past. Prof Khong Yuen Foong uses cases from Southeast Asia to enable him to ask big questions and test theories about great power behaviour.

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His work on the Vietnam War demonstrates how decision-makers are often trapped in bad theories, processing information and generating lessons from specific analogies that influence not only why the US must intervene but also how it should conduct itself in Vietnam. Turning the tables, this episode treats Prof Khong as a case study of a critical mind to elucidate how scholars develop their methodology and contribute to the field. He is a case that demonstrates the duality of scholarly life. He built his schema framework by tearing apart and building off of the arguments of those he revered––From Alexander George's Operational Codes to Ernest May's Lessons of the Past. His scholarly journey was both laboured, where he sought Prof Stanley Hofman at Harvard to train him, and, as he put it, "serendipitous," where the inspiration came his way as he walked in Harvard Square and encountered Deborah Larson's book that later became a core of his methodology. He became an influential scholar of IR in Southeast Asia by criticising strict concepts such as the balance of power and proposing newer concepts such as soft balancing. This criticism offered a pathway to a new generation of scholars of Hedging theory, such as Prof Cheng-Chwee Kuik and Prof Evelyn Goh, who were inspired by his criticism but also criticised his reference point and remained faithful to 'balancing.' He is influential in spite of the scholars' disagreement with his idea. His intellectual innovation stems from getting inspired. Prof Khong thus offers a snapshot of a dialectical approach to scholarly life: how scholars work on the cutting edge by finding gaps in the current literature and offering a path for a generation of scholars to poke holes in his argument and advance the field. Above all, Prof Khong is a teacher and a student of International Relations in Southeast Asia.

Khong Yuen Foong is the Li Ka Shing Professor in Political Science at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, at the National University of Singapore. He was formerly a Professor of International Relations, and a Professorial Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford University. His research interests include United States foreign policy, the international relations of the Asia Pacific, and cognitive approaches to international relations. Professor Khong’s book, Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965 (Princeton, 1992; sixth printing 2006) was co-winner of the American Political Science Associations Political Psychology Book Award (1994). He also received the Erik Erikson Award for distinguished early career contributions to political psychology in 1996. A former Vice-President of the International Studies Association (U.S.A), 1999-2000, he has also served on the Social Science Research Council-MacArthur Foundation Committee on International Peace and Security. Professor Khong’s recent publications include ‘Power as Prestige in World Politics’, International Affairs (January 2019), ‘The American Tributary System’, The Chinese Journal of International Politics (2013) and ‘The United States Response to China’s Rise’, International Security (2013/2014). He is currently working on two long term projects, International Politics: The Rules of the Game and The American Tributary System.

Episode 4 - Generating Insights: Prof Cheng-Chwee Kuik’s Theorising of Southeast Asian States

This Southeast Asianist is constantly zooming in and out, trying to generate insights from Southeast Asia. He is hovering between the desire to split by unpacking nuances behind variation of behaviour and lumping or the desire to create general insights. For Prof Cheng-Chwee Kuik, one consistent thread is being precise. Prof Kuik studied smallness in World Politics not just to learn about their behaviour but to understand the underpinning of International Politics.

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Kuik is a Professor of International Relations and Head of the Centre for Asian Studies, at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies, at the University Kebangsaan Malaysia (National University of Malaysia). He is concurrently a non-resident Fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Foreign Policy Institute (FPI). Dr Kuik’s research focuses on smaller-state foreign and defence policies, Asian security, and international relations. He has held consultant positions for Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Asian Development Bank (ADB). He also served as Head of the Writing Team for the Government of Malaysia’s inaugural Defence White Paper. Dr Kuik’s essay, ‘The Essence of Hedging’, won the Michael Leifer Memorial Prize awarded by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He is also a co-author (with David Lampton and Selina Ho) of Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia (2020) and co-editor (with Alice Ba and Sueo Sudo) of Institutionalizing East Asia (2016). His current projects include: hedging in international relations, domestic politics and foreign policy choices, and the geopolitics of connectivity cooperation.

Episode 5 - A Scholar-Practitioner: Dr Rizal Sukma in between Ivory Tower and the Southeast Asian Policy World

This Southeast Asianist offers unique insights on how to bridge the policy and academic world, having been part of both worlds. Dr Rizal Sukma has traversed Track 2 (the academic world) as an academic at the CSIS Jakarta, Track 1.5 (the informal policy world) as an active participant at CSCAP and various networks, and Track 1 as part of President Joko Widodo's policy advisory team and as Indonesia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), London, from 2016 to 2020. 

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In this episode, Sukma and I discussed his decision to embark on his PhD journey instead of pursuing a career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As fellow Sumatran, we exchanged ideas on what drives our passion.

Dr Rizal Sukma is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta. He has worked extensively on such issues as Southeast Asian security, ASEAN, Indonesia’s defence and foreign policy, military reform, Islam and politics, and domestic political changes in Indonesia. Dr Sukma has served as a member of the National Committee on Strategic Defence Review at the Ministry of Defence and the National Drafting Committee for the National Defence Bill (2000–2002) and the Armed Forces Bill (2002–2003). He was the first Indonesian to receive the Nakasone Award, in July 2005, and named one 100 Global Thinkers in 2009 by Foreign Policy magazine. Dr Sukma has published three books: Security Operations in Aceh: Goals, Consequences, and Lessons (Washington, DC: East-West Centre, 2004); Islam in Indonesia’s Foreign Policy (London: Routledge, 2003), and Indonesia and China: The Politics of A Troubled Relationship (London: Routledge, 1999).

Episode 6 - How Prof Robert Cribb Let His Interests Drive His Study of Southeast Asia

This Southeast Asianist taught himself to make maps. Prof Robert Cribb's scholarly journey is guided by intuition and passion. Snowballing is his method of choice. During his PhD, he was trained under a meticulous supervisor, Prof Ruth McVey, but his training was gained by spending time in various places, including the Hague and Ithaca. He also gained insights from being in the location of his study. He made connections in the field and put together his observations like patchwork. This curiosity drives Cribb to ask philosophical questions on what it is to be human in a quest for authority and power. 

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Robert Cribb grew up in Brisbane, Australia, and spent much time as a child wandering the bush and the Barrier Reef with his botanist parents. After completing his undergraduate studies in Asian History at the University of Queensland, he took his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, with a thesis on Jakarta during the Indonesian revolution, 1945-1949. After graduating, he taught at Griffith University and the University of Queensland (both in Brisbane) and as guest lecturer at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands. He held research positions at the Australian National University, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study and the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, where he was also director for two years. He re-joined the Australian National University at the beginning of 2003.

Robert Cribb's research interests focus mainly on Indonesia, though he has some interest in other parts of Southeast Asia (especially Malaysia and Burma/Myanmar) and in Inner Asia. The themes of his research are: mass violence and crime; national identity; environmental politics; and historical geography. Current research projects include: the origins of massacre in Indonesia; 'Puppet states revisited: Empire and Sovereign Subordination in Modern Asia' (with Li Narangoa); and War crimes and the Japanese Military, 1941 - 1945  (with Sandra Wilson).

Episode 7 - Translating Text and Visual in Context: Prof Virginia Hooker's Active Scholarship

This Southeast Asianist strives to be true when translating and analysing texts and visuals. Therefore, Prof Virginia Hooker chose the exhausting route of contextual translation when approaching big work such as translating Tuhfat Al-Nafis or the Precious Gift, a key text in Malay literature, or surveying key Malay literature in her work Writing a New Society.

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The contextual translation is demanding because it requires an author to get a wholistic picture before making a decision. This often requires collaboration with other scholars, being in a location of the text, and interacting with the author and artists which Prof Hooker attempted to translate. When translating the Precious Gift, Prof Hooker undertook a multiyear project with Prof Barbara Andaya Watson, often involving posting and reading the text to each other, which produced key text to understand the literature of the Malay world. The process is exhausting, but the result is a more thorough understanding of the subtle beauty of the act of worship in the Southeast Asia Islamic world, the beauty behind the ugly, and an understanding of the intention behind the creation of art.

Virginia Matheson Hooker is Professor Emeritus and Fellow in the Dept of Political & Social Change, College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University. She retired as Professor of Indonesian and Malay in the Faculty of Asian Studies, the Australian National University in January 2007. Her research has focussed on Islam in Southeast Asia, literature and social change in Malaysia and Indonesia, and Indonesian political culture. Her most recent book, co-edited with Dr. Greg Fealy, is an award-winning sourcebook on contemporary Islam in Southeast Asia. She has organised international conferences on Islam in Southeast Asia (1993 and 2000), with the proceedings of the second being published in 2004 as Islamic Perspectives on the New Millennium (co-edited with Amin Saikal). She has contributed eight articles to the benchmark Encyclopaedia Islam (E.J. Brill, the Netherlands) as well as to Malaysian encyclopedias. She has been a member of the Humanities committees of the Australian Research Council and participated in a number of reviews of Asian Studies in Australia. She is known for her contribution to the development of Asian Studies, especially studies of Indonesia in Australia. Between 2003 and 2009, she coordinated a special Muslim Leaders Exchange program between Indonesia and Australia (funded by the Australia Indonesia Institute, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade). She has been awarded major grants to provide graduate research training programmes for academic staff of Indonesian regional Islamic universities. She was a member of the Board of the Australia Indonesia Institute for eight years and a former member of the Foreign Affairs Council of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2000-2003). She was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2003. In 2022, She was awarded the Order of Australia AM for ‘Significant Service to Tertiary Education, and to Asia-Pacific relations’ and Awarded the Australia Indonesia Institute (DFAT) Distinguished Service Award for her contribution to Indonesian Studies.

Episode 8 – Southeast Asia as a Time and a Place: Prof Tony Reid’s Sojourn to Understand Southeast Asia

This Southeast Asianist views Southeast Asia as a cohesive unit. Prof Anthony Reid emphasises various factors, including commonalities of environment and factors contributing to the shaping of political identities. He started his journey by imagining and constructing the images of Southeast Asia from various archives as he finished his PhD work at King's College Cambridge. He then journeyed through Southeast Asia as he worked at Prof Wang Gungwu's History Department. This was when he started viewing Southeast Asia differently as a cohesive unit. His subsequent works charted the various evolution of Southeast Asia as a region. The result is a deep understanding of Southeast Asia as a time and a place. 

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Anthony Reid was a member of ANU's former Department of Pacific & Asian History from 1970 to 1999, after an initial position teaching Southeast Asian History at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur (1965-70). In 1999, he became the founding Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UCLA, Los Angeles. In 2001, he became the founding Director of the Asia Research Institute of NUS in Singapore. He retired to Canberra in 2009, though accepting visiting positions at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University (2009-10), and at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2012-13). He was honoured with the Fukuoka Prize for Asian Culture (Academic) in 2002 and the Life Achievement Award of the Association of Asian Studies in 2011. He has been a fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities since 1987 and the British Academy since 2008. His research interests include the history of Southeast Asia, with particular interests in Indonesia and Malaysia, early modern history, nationalism, minorities, social, economic and religious history, and Sumatra. Having recently completed a new history of Southeast Asia, he is exploring the interface between history and geology in Indonesia's natural disaster record.

Southeast Asianists - Trailer

The series trailer. 

'Southeast Asianists Interview Series' Supercut – What is Southeast Asia?

This is a supercut of the eight-episode interview series, offering a taster of the entire Southeast Asianists series. As a preview, this video essay asks the foundational question: What is Southeast Asia? As a region with key geostrategic importance, answering this becomes a foundation to approach and study Southeast Asia. The answer is clear but not easy to grapple with because it entails the comfortability of accepting a multiplicity of propositions as a result of being in a fragmented, diverse region.

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