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Southeast Asia: Comparatist Errors and the Construction of a Region

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This paper questions the utility of traditional depictions of Southeast Asia as a region in terms of cultural criteria. These depictions, are essentialized characterizations and to the extent that they are directed at identifying Southeast Asia as a region, they reflect comparatist errors. It is argued that the central issue is not how Southeast Asia can or cannot be depicted as a region but, rather, conceptualizing regions and regionness as human constructs. Such an approach requires a focus on interactions instead of identity. From this perspective, regions may be seen as interpenetrated systems, both in a global sense and in sub-regional terms. Interpenetration is seen in terms of interactions of varying intensity and density centering on structures of interest which may be competitive or complementary and where the role of brokers and broker institutions are pivotal. Accordingly, from a long-term human historical perspective, endogenous experiences of region and regionness may well be regarded as variable phenomena depending on the structures of interest and the part played by brokers and broker institutions in any given historical period.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology National University of Singapore


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