by Victor T King Print book : State or province government publication
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A general Sociology of SE Asia   (2008-09-04)
This book, a “general sociology of Southeast Asia” is a remarkable tour-de-force, dealing with a region of extreme social diversity. The text refrains from yielding to short-lived modernist trends in Sociology and sticks to the classical core competencies of the sociological profession: class, inequality, ethnicity, work and gender and urbanization, anchored in the European sociological tradition of Marx, Weber and Durkheim. This allows an integration of this book into a wider sociological curriculum. On the other hand the text does by no means shy away from crossing disciplinary boundaries and casts its net widely into the neighbouring domains of history, anthropology and development studies. Thus gender issues, housing policy or cultural values get their due attention.
As the author quite rightly remarks a general book cannot satisfy every specialist. Development policy and practice is not a topic of this book and industrialisation (mentioned as a core process, but not analysed further), social movements, education and knowledge societies are somewhat underrepresented, as are many other special topics. The state and government bureaucracy turn up in a chapter on patronage and corruption and therefore in a somewhat negative garb. Continuity of research on certain areas and theory-oriented research seem to be the guiding principle of selecting topics for inclusion into the book. This way a remarkable coherence of the whole book has been achieved.
Large passages of the book read like book reviews or summaries of important papers and thus approximate the style of introductory lectures, but there are also contradictory issues that lend themselves to further debates and, last not least, exam questions. Examples would be the question whether ethnicity or class structures Southeast Asian societies (chapter 6), the debates surrounding modernization theory (chapter 3) or on the nature of Southeast Asian urbanism (chapter 10).
The book ends with a very well argued final chapter that reflects on the path of Southeast Asian sociology so far and argues for a new focus on comparative studies of the area with a possible extension to East (why not South?) Asia. Here as elsewhere in the book the work of Southeast Asian scholars is taken seriously into account, with due attention to the research output of the Department of Sociology of the Singapore National University, IKMAS of the National University of Malaysia and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Here it becomes apparent that the vernacular literature of Thai or Indonesian research institutes like LP3ES, LIPI-LEKNAS or the Population Studies Centre of Gadjah Mada University have not found entry into this otherwise comprehensive book.
To write about the sociology of a diverse region like Southeast Asia is a formidable task that was brilliantly solved by Professor Victor King, a noted authority on the subject. The text is well written and easy to read which predetermines the book as a text book for advanced undergraduate classes in Asian sociology (and possibly also for political science, anthropology and social history). At the same time it is a report on the state of the art of Southeast Asian sociology that will guide Ph D candidates and other researchers in search of research topics.
Center for Development Research, University of Bonn
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