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Anthropology in Southeast Asia: National Traditions and Transnational Practices

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Abstract Over several generations, since the mid-20th century, anthropology has become an established academic discipline throughout much of Southeast Asia. Academic anthropology in Southeast Asia is emerging as a scholarly practice driven increasingly by local initiatives and dynamics, though still maintaining ties to global academic networks. The purpose of this article is to contribute to an assessment and understanding of the national traditions and transnational practices of anthropology in Southeast Asia through a comparative perspective. I focus on four national traditions — those of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. While providing a comprehensive account of these diverse traditions and practices is not possible in the space of a single article, I attend to four significant issues relevant to the current state of anthropology across the region. First, I compare the emergent national traditions of the four countries, focusing on the transnational conditions shaping their development, particularly in the late colonial and early post-colonial period (i.e., the mid-20th century). Second, I compare the structuring of anthropological selves and others across these traditions, which shapes the ways in which anthropologists see their work and the people they write about. Third, I discuss ways in which localised anthropological practice can and should contribute to theory building by way of grounded theory and critical translation projects. And finally, I conclude by examining emergent transnational linkages and practices, which suggest current directions that anthropology is taking in the region. While only a partial of narrative anthropology in Southeast Asia, this article is a provocation to think beyond both the older dynamics of the-West-versus-the-rest and the newer constraints of methodological nationalism in anthropologists’ on-going efforts to build a vital and valuable discipline.

Affiliations: 1: National University of Singapore


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