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Abstracts and Speakers information

Keynote I: Resistance and Resilience: Coping with/against the State

Meredith L. Weiss (State University of New York)

Abstract: Southeast Asia offers a bewildering panoply of forms and outcomes of social resistance contra the state. At the same time, regimes across the region are variously disposed toward challenges served through “official” channels. As a result, we may discern from the region’s experience a veritable taxonomy of contained and transgressive, broad-based and narrowly-waged, allowed and suppressed, and successful and failed protest. What determines how activists and advocates pitch their claims, and how does venue shape content? To address this question, we begin with a comparative examination of spaces and forms of engagement in the region, building on the work of Garry Rodan and Kanishka Jayasuriya to develop a typology of regimes, demands, identities, and protest strategies. This investigation will explore how prevailing parameters shape, which issues and identity categories gain traction, what resources and allies are most germane, and the balance between electoral and less institutional modes of engagement. A selection of cases from more and less democratic regimes in maritime Southeast Asia will then allow us to probe these dynamics in greater depth. Doing so will permit consideration of dimensions of framing and brokerage, of cooptation and contestation, and of the logic behind activists’ strategic decisions of how best to take on a less than liberal state.

Keywords: Southeast Asia, resistance, civil society, opposition, social movements.

photo of meredith l. weiss
Meredith L. Weiss

Meredith L. Weiss is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is the author of Student Activism in Malaysia: Crucible, Mirror, Sideshow (Cornell SEAP/NUS Press, 2011) and Protest and Possibilities: Civil Society and Coalitions for Political Change in Malaysia (Stanford, 2006), as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters, and editor or co-editor of six volumes, most recently, the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Malaysia (2014), Electoral Dynamics in Malaysia: Findings from the Grassroots (ISEAS/SIRD, 2014), Global Homophobia: States, Movements, and the Politics of Oppression (Illinois, 2013). Her research addresses political mobilization and contention, the politics of development, collective identity, and its politicization, and electoral politics in Southeast Asia. 


Panel 1: Transnational Mobilization

Social Protests Targeting ASEAN: Political Opportunity Structures and the Protest Repertoire

Anders Uhlin (Lund University)

Abstract: Most research on social movements and social resistance have focused on cases in which a particular state has been the target of protests. This paper, by contrast, analyses social protests targeting a regional international organization–the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The overarching research question is: Why, how and with what effects do civil society movements target the ASEAN? Drawing on theories of social movements and transnational activism, the paper first highlights political opportunity structures for civil society activism in different member states as well as related to the regional organisation. Within social movement studies the openness of the formal political system and the existence of elite allies among government officials have been seen as constituting political opportunities for social movements. This analytical approach can also be fruitfully applied to international organizations and helps explain the occurrence of social protests and other types of activism targeting ASEAN. Second, the paper elaborates on different protest activities–the protest repertoire–and clarifies the nature of “outside” as opposed to “inside” advocacy strategies. The relative advantage of “inside” lobbying as opposed to “outside” protests is frequently debated among activists, but there is comparatively little research on these overarching strategies and how they are combined. Hence, the paper aims at making a theoretical as well as empirical contribution to our understanding of how “outside” protests interact with more conventional “inside” civil society advocacy in the context of ASEAN. Finally, the paper provides a preliminary assessment of the (lack of) influence of social protests on ASEAN. In addition to written material–accessed on the websites of ASEAN and various civil society organizations or obtained directly from the organizations during fieldwork–the study makes substantial use of interview material. Qualitative interviews with about 50 respondents have been conducted between 2010 and 2012. Interview persons include representatives of ASEAN as well as activists representing different civil society groups across Southeast Asia.

Keywords: ASEAN, civil society, social movement, protest, political opportunity structure.

photo of anders uhlin
Anders Uhlin

Anders Uhlin is Professor of Political Science at Lund University. His main research interests are civil society activism, democratization, transnational relations and the global governance of development. Geographically he is focusing on Southeast Asia. Recent publications include Civil Society and the Governance of Development: Opposing Global Institutions, Palgrave, forthcoming, (co-authored with Sara Kalm), Legitimacy Beyond the State: Re-examining the Democratic Credentials of Transnational Actors, Palgrave, 2010 (co-edited with Eva Erman) and articles in journals such as Democratization, Global Governance, Journal of Civil Society and Third World Quarterly. 


Panel 2: Resistance from Within

Under a Rebel Flag: Social Resistance under Insurgent Rule in Aceh

Shane J. Barter (Soka University of America)

Abstract: The ability of civilians to take part in social resistance and express their voices is trying in the best of political climates and is especially challenging in authoritarian settings. Extending this, one might think that social resistance is nearly impossible in conflict areas, specifically under rebel zones of control. This is certainly the sense one gets from humanitarian studies of war, who tend to portray civilians as passive victims of war. Even studies which frame civilians as decision-makers tend to focus on flight and collaboration, overlooking the potential for protest and resistance. What are the opportunities for civilian social resistance within zones of rebel control? What forms of resistance should we expect from those living under a rebel flag?

Based on primary ethnographic fieldwork, this paper looks at civilian voice and social resistance in the recent secessionist conflict in Aceh, Indonesia. I focus on rebel zones of control along the north coast of the province, where we might expect the least anti-rebel resistance, due both to rebel coercion and popularity. Despite the dangers of challenging the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), I show a surprising degree of resistance against both state and rebel forces in Aceh. I look at four forms of civilian resistance: engagement, weapons of the weak, defiance, and combined support and resistance. Engagement, in which civilians exert independent preference in non-oppositional ways, was evident when village chiefs worked to remain neutral in defense of captured villagers. As we might expect, weapons of the weak such as rumours and false compliance provided ideal methods for resisting the demands of armed groups while avoiding confrontation, limiting resistance to the private sphere. I find a surprising degree of defiance as well though, with a variety of civilian challenging rebel arrests and even GAM's vision for an independent Aceh. This was most evident when civilians criticized the rebels for expelling ethnic Javanese. Finally, many social forces, such as activists and Islamic leaders, resisted GAM from within, with each force joining the rebels and transforming their organization over time. While we must not exaggerate the potential for voice, civilians in Aceh were able to resist the rebels in a variety of important ways. The rebels hardly took kindly to resistance, but tolerated it in part because of their popularity in relation to the Indonesian military, but also because they did not want to be seen in the same light as their enemy among ethnic Acehnese.

Keywords: Civilians, protest, defiance, Indonesia, secessionism.

photo of Shane Joshua Barter
Shane Joshua Barter

Shane Joshua Barter (PhD, University of British Columbia, 2011) is an Assistant Professor at Soka University of America and is the Associate Director of the Pacific Basin Research Center (PBRC). He is the author of Civilian Strategy in Civil War: Insights from Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines (Palgrave: 2014) as well as several articles related to armed conflict, Islam, and democracy in Southeast Asia. He has also served as an election observer with the Carter Center, European Union, and Canadian Government.



This is Not Your Land: Nativist Resistance to Internal Migration in China and Indonesia

Isabelle Côté (Leiden University)

Abstract: Large-scale inter-provincial migration have often resulted in violent clashes between the ethnically-distinct ‘native’ or ‘local’ populations and internal migrants—i.e., what Weiner (1978) termed ‘Sons of the Soil’ (SoS) conflicts. While resistance against internal migration exists in several Western and non-Western liberal democracies, the majority of SoS conflicts take place in ethnically diverse Asian non-democracies or democratizing countries (Fearon and Laitin 2011:200). A sizeable proportion of the literature on the topic examines migration-related resistance in regions with strong secessionist movements (e.g. Cote, forthcoming; Tambiah 1988; Upton 2009), but this only represents a minority of regions where internal migration takes place. How do SoS conflicts emerge and escalate in regions without a strong secessionist movement, where conflicts are arguably less violent and the migrants targeted are those working in companies exploiting a region’s natural resources?

Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper compares and contrasts nativist resistance to internal migration in Indonesia (Riau) and China (Inner Mongolia), highlighting the role of three sets of actors in the process –i.e. natural extraction companies, the ‘Sons of the Soil’ or native population, and the State. Despite their different political regimes, I show that the dynamics of nativist resistance in these two countries are more alike than meets the eye. In both cases, companies’ rapacious exploitation and destruction of local resources along with their discriminatory hiring policies threatened local people’s lifestyle and economic subsistence. As locals started resisting such policies, the hiring of often brutal (migrant) security forces to protect companies’ assets escalated the violence against migrants.

Nativist resistance to economic migration represents a unique type of social resistance for it does not typically challenge the State; instead, it targets migrant workers who, despite being ‘natives’ of their respective country, are relative newcomers locally. Still, the State plays a key role in anti-migration nativist mobilization. The presence of a national discourse portraying migrants as the legitimate owners of all national lands, putting them squarely at the heart of national developmental projects, limits the State’s ability and willingness to make a credible commitment to restrict all future migration. This leaves us with the following dilemma: how can the State reconcile the tensions between the individual rights of some of its citizens to relocate anywhere within a country’s borders, and the collective rights of other citizens who consider themselves ‘Sons of the Soil’ and see the mass influx of migrants into ‘their’ territory as something that must be actively resisted?

Keywords: migration, resistance, Sons of the Soil conflicts, China, Indonesia.

photo of Isabelle Côte
Isabelle Côté

Isabelle Côté received her PhD in Political Science from the University of Toronto in 2014. Based on nine-months of fieldwork, her dissertation examines the impact of internal migration on Sons of the Soil conflicts in China and Indonesia. She is currently a research fellow at KITLV (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) in Leiden, Netherlands, where she investigates the impact of internal migration on the concept of citizenship in Indonesia. She has published in the Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies; PS: Political Science and Politics; Education, Citizenship and Social Justice; and Asian Ethnicity, as well as a chapter on the effect of internal migration on Uyghur’s autonomy in Xinjiang in the volume Political Autonomy and Divided Societies (2012).


Resisting Village Elite Rule: Domination, Power, and Resistance in Rural Indonesia, 1998-2009

Takeshi Ito (Sophia University)

Abstract: Domination, rather than resistance, is the normal condition of millions ordinary villagers in much of rural Indonesia. Falling outside the influence of the rule of law, the relationship between village elites and ordinary villagers is often characterized by personal rule including patron-client relations, which function as a basis of highly institutionalized forms of domination. What are forms of domination and resistance in the relationship between village elites and ordinary villagers in rural Indonesia? How and under what conditions do subordinates resist domination by their immediate powerholders? How does subordinates’ acceptance of power relations affect their ability to behave in accordance with or contradictory to dominants’ expectations?

This paper examines the everyday forms of resistance practiced by ordinary villagers in West Java during Indonesia’s transitional period from the authoritarian regime to a democratic regime (1998-2009). Simultaneously, it explores the processes by which the so-called “public transcript” of elite domination is constructed, maintained, and challenged. The collapse of Suharto’s authoritarian regime in May 1998 ushered in a nationwide movement of governance reform toward democratic decentralization. However, ordinary villagers remained skeptical about and did not use newly introduced democratic institutions such as the village council and the mechanism of participatory development. Instead, ordinary villagers chose to disengage from the formal democratic institutions through which village elites tried to hide the dirty linen of elite rule in the new language of democratic rule. Attention is also paid to the local political process by which workers-cum-villagers became labor activists during the transitional period to challenge factory managers’ dominance.

Furthermore, this paper explores conditions under which the public accommodation to the existing distribution of power does or does not collapse and find public expression. During the early phase of the democratic transition, resistance against local elite rule briefly swept through from the city to the countryside. In Majalaya subdistrict of Bandung district, an urban development project involving the unilateral sale of subdistrict office land without popular consultation to a developer was brought to public attention and led to serious confrontation between the subdistrict government and local people, resulting in the forcible removal of the subdistrict head by local people. In so doing, this paper explores various forms of domination and resistance, and suggests both limitations and possibilities of popular resistance in transforming the existing social relations between dominant and subordinate.

Keywords: Domination, power, state formation, village, Indonesia.

Takeshi Ito teaches and researches at the Faculty of Liberal Arts and the Graduate School of Global Studies, Sophia University. His research concerns Agrarian and Environmental Change, Development and Poverty, Political Economy, Southeast Asia, and theories of Hegemony and Resistance. His courses include Introduction to Comparative Politics, Political Economy of Development, Southeast Asian Politics, Environmental Politics of Agriculture, Agrarian Societies, and Human Ecology: Rivers (field-based summer course in Hokkaido). He is currently working on a project that critically examines the ways in which neoliberal institutionalism manifested in development practices reshapes and transforms political and social relations of the poor in Indonesia. His another research project looks at (un)sustainable practices of resource use and management of river basins such as water, wetlands, grasslands, forests, birds, and fish.  His recent publications include “Everyday Citizenship in Village Java,” (forthcoming) in Citizenship and Democratization in Southeast Asia and “Power to make land dispossession acceptable: A policy discourse analysis of the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE), Papua, Indonesia,” (2014) with Noer Fauzi Rachman and Laksmi A. Savitri. Journal of Peasant Studies 41(1). He earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University.

Panel 3: Development and the People

Civil Society Actors’ Resistance and Water Pollution in Vietnam

Tran Tu Van Anh (University of Bonn)

Abstract: Over many decades since 1975, Vietnam has been ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). The Party has made significant efforts to control the economy, politics and society. Communist government type has resulted into social resistance from social groups such as the civil society groups especially in terms of accessing natural resources. In the recent past, following the Millennium development Goals in particular sustainable development, the Vietnam government has geared efforts towards balancing the economy and environment albeit of dissimulative situations. This has been met with a lot of pressure from the civil society groups who are demanding practical environmental protection measures as a form of diversity action. Water and water bodies are some of the key resources in Vietnam in similar resistance dilemma due to industrial pollution. This study was therefore carried out with specific objective of answering the question of; “under what conditions can civil society actors’ resistances be effective in protection of water from industrial pollution?” To answer this question, the study not only delineates the various social resistances between passive and active activities, but also explains the factors influencing the success or failure case. Therefore, three factors were assessed: (i) The solidarity of informal civil society network; (ii) The support by state and (iii) civil society group leaders. Hypotheses set to test these factors included: (i) the more close the network maintain, the more successful they gain (ii) local government officers tend to tamper with civil society group’s resistance in water pollution in state owned, in comparison to foreign owned companies; and (iii) Position of civil society group leaders in higher education and government offices is variable to successful resistances. Data was collected using qualitative methods; case study, observation and professional opinions. Pollution of Dong Nai River was addressed one case study, seasoning Powder (Vedan). Sample size was about 100 and included; local officials, farmers, officers of farmer association, lawyers and journalists. Results indicate that government trend to favor civil society activities again environmental pollution from foreign companies rather than state companies. Findings also show position of civil society group leaders in higher education and government offices can lead to successful resistance to protect residents from water pollution.

Keywords: Resistance, civil society, effectiveness of civil society, water pollution.

photo of Tran Tu Van Anh
Tran Tu Van Anh

Tran Tu Van Anh graduated from the University of Ho Chi Minh City Social Sciences and Humanities in Vietnam in 2009. Major in sociology, she worked as a lecturer at Department of the Sociology, Social Work and Southeast Asia at the Open University of Ho Chi Minh City. She is now a doctoral student at the Center for development research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany working on “Civil society network and water management: The conditions influence the effectiveness of civil society network in protecting water resources: Case of Industrial Pollution of Dong Nai River, Vietnam”.


Local Resistance, Decentralized Development, and the Accumulation of Degradation: The Case of Eastern Indonesia

Max Regus (Erasmus University)

Abstract: The paper is based on field research in the case of mining industries investment in contemporary Indonesia. In the perspective of the this study, mining industries in eastern part of Indonesia to be an important ‘analytical mirror’ in explaining the problems of local development in which many agent, actors, motives that have been involved in the whole process of local development.  This paper intends to answer the main question on what causes of the emergence of local resistance and local protest in the context of decentralized development in Indonesia.  This case study have concluded four main reasons of local resistance. First, local people cannot enjoy the benefits of the mining industry investment. The accumulated profits obtained only predominantly by capital owners and local authorities. Second, the mining industry causes environmental damage associated with the life of local communities. Third, local communities living in the poverty line even mining industry operates in local area. Fourth, the social sustainability of local communities have been threatened because of ecological damage by mining industries. All of these facts define accumulation of degradation in local level.

The paper attempt to analyze the complexity and dynamics of local development under democratic transition trajectories in Indonesia. Local development, within decentralization political scheme, relating to political changes in Indonesia since the fall of authoritarian regime under President Suharto, 1966 – 1998, becomes one of the series of political achievement in the country. This case study intends to analyze the pattern of an asymmetric relationship between the three important spaces are society (local community), state (local government) and market (capital class). The study has managed to find a relationship between market and state in the case of political collusion between local authorities on one hand and capital class on the other hand in constructing economic manipulation by local regulatory system provided by local government. This situation causes local protest from local community. At the end, the paper also intends to describe the fact on how main actors in local community organize resistance and protest in struggling against domination of capital class and local state-actors.

Keywords: Local community, protest, development, decentralization, degradation.

photo of Max Regus
Max Regus

Max Regus received his Master Degree in Sociology of Development from University of Indonesia in 2010, with thesis on “Local Resistance and Mining Industries: The Problems and dynamics of relationship between society, state and Market in Flores, Eastern of Indonesia”. He served as a researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University from 2012 to 2014, and as a scholarship holder from The Institute of Missiology, Aachen, Germany from 2012 to 2016. He is now a PhD candidate cum researcher at the Graduate School of Humanities, Tilburg University, Netherlands.


Keynote II: Protests Movements, State Responsiveness, and Repression

Eva Hansson (Stockholm University)

Abstract: Large-scale public protests have increased dramatically in Southeast Asia, even in authoritarian and semi-authoritarian political contexts where there are severe restrictions on rights of organization, protest and assembly. Public protests with varying motives and strategies have become a common feature in major cities as well as in rural areas. To investors and others, quickly escalating protests, sometimes with violent outcomes, often seem to have come as a surprise. However, popular mobilization leading to public protests is not a recent phenomenon in the region. Structural changes along with past trajectories and patterns of social protests may provide important keys to understanding current developments. This talk draws on recent examples of social protests in Southeast Asia in order to explore possible causes and patterns as well as differences and changes in state responses to social protests.

Eva Hansson is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, where she teaches international politics, democratization and political economy. She is also the coordinator of Forum for Asian Studies ( Her research interest is primarily focused on why and how authoritarian political regimes change, in particular in the Southeast Asian context. Among her publications are Civil Society and Authoritarianism in the Third World (with Beckman and Sjögren), Growth without Democracy: Challenges to Authoritarianism in Vietnam (2011), she is currently working on a book about the Redshirt movement in Thailand.

Panel 4: Contentions in Authoritarianism

Why Do People Protest? Evidence from the China General Social Survey

Lynette H. Ong and Donglin Han (University of Toronto)

Abstract: Drawing from a rich set of individual-level data from the China General Survey of Social Science 2011, we seek to answer what drives people to take part in political protests. We examine a whole host of possible explanations, including feelings of relative deprivation, perceived injustice, perceived efficacy of actions, a range of occupational and identity variables, self-interest motivation and protest target. Grievances and efficacy appear to be the most salient factors driving people to take part in contentious politics. 

Keywords: Large-scale protests, grievance, motivation, framing, China.

photo of Lynette H. Ong
Lynette H. Ong

Lynette H. Ong is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, and Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs, at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Prosper or Perish: Credit and Fiscal Systems in Rural China (Cornell University Press, 2012). Her publications have appeared in Comparative Politics, China Quarterly, International Political Science Review, among others. Her opinion pieces have been published in Foreign Affairs, China Economic Quarterly, and East Asia Forum. She receives her PhD from the Australian National University, and was An Wang postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.


State-Society Relations and the Varieties of Social Resistance in China

Yu Tao (University of Oxford)

Abstract: Anger and grievance are common, if not ubiquitous, in non-democracies. Yet, social resistance appears in different forms at different localities throughout less democratic countries. Why, then, do anger and grievance trigger fierce contention in certain localities but not in others? Why do some citizens resist authoritarian regimes through transgressive protests whereas other citizens choose to adopt more institutionalised means and ways to express their anger and grievance? Under which conditions are ordinary people more likely to proactively flight for their rights and interests rather than to employ ‘the weapon of the weak’? This paper intends to make sense of the various forms of social resistance in non-democracies through answering the foregoing questions. More specifically, based on original empirical data collected from contemporary rural China, it aims to raise a single explanatory framework to depict the heterogeneous pattern of social resistance in authoritarian countries, and it also intends to reveal the underlying mechanisms. For such purpose, this paper systematically exams how discontent peasants response and react to the 'stability maintenance' regime in China, which places tremendous pressure on local cadres to reduce, if not to eliminate, social resistance. It finds that the varieties of social resistance in non-democracies are likely to be determined by two elements that are both closely related to the local state-society relations. First, credible negotiation channels between the state and the society are important: citizens are more likely to resist through contained manners when credible negotiation channels with local cadres are available, whereas social resistance tends to go transgressive in absence of mediators who are simultaneously trusted by the state and the society. Moreover, the strategies that local cadres employ to cope with transgressive resistance can make a difference: whilst peasants are more likely to apply 'weapons of the weak' in villages where local cadres consistently repress resistance through harsh means, social resistance tends to appear in forms of large-scale collective action in villages where local cadres response with pragmatic short-term tactics. The aforementioned pattern is examined against original national survey data collected from 120 randomly selected sample villages throughout rural China, and the underlying mechanisms are revealed through comparative case studies based on rich fieldwork conducted in rural China between 2007 and 2012. According to the findings reported in this paper, while anger and grievance are normally prerequisites of social resistances, it is the variation of local state-society relations that leads to the various forms of social resistance in non-democracies.

Keywords: Varieties of social resistance, state-society relations, conflict resolution, negotiation channels, local states.

photo of Yu Tao
Yu Tao

Yu Tao is finishing his doctoral project at the Department of Politics in the University of Oxford. He is also a Dahrendorf Scholar at St Antony’s College, Oxford. Trained as a political sociologist, his primary research interest is contentious politics and social forces in authoritarian states, especially in contemporary China. His current research focuses on the varieties of social capital, the roles of religious groups, and the collective contention in contemporary rural China. Prior to Oxford, Yu studied at, and graduated from, the University of Cambridge and Peking University. He is also a co-editor of, a leading on-line initiative which aims to introduce the latest social scientific research on China to the general public in China.



Bounded Contention: Spaces for Citizen Politics in China Today

Sophia Woodman (University of Edinburgh)

Abstract: Snapshots of political life in China often present a study in contradictions. On the one hand, extensive government censorship of online and mass media restricts access to critical information, and dissenters can face harassment, violence and even imprisonment. On the other, surveys show a majority of Chinese people feel they enjoy unprecedented personal freedom, while almost daily reports of street protests reflect a rising tide of popular contention, both individual and collective.

Both sets of images are aspects of institutional forms and practices that create spaces for contentious claims while at the same time seeking to constrain these within certain bounds. Drawing on sources including ethnographic fieldwork in northeast China, this paper will outline manifestations of this bounded politics, particularly the local anchoring of social and political citizenship, the segmentation of publics and the targeted character of repression. It will outline the operation of the institutions—formal and informal—that underpin these examples, with a focus on how boundaries are set and maintained.

Delimiting spaces for political contention is a state technology of rule that contributes to the resilience of authoritarianism in China, not only by blocking cross-sectoral and cross-regional organizing that could present a challenge to the incumbent elite, but also by providing channels for the articulation of claims and allowing for feedback from below. Yet the setting of boundaries is not merely a question of application of central government rules; social practices and cultural norms also reinforce limitations on contention. And while this system maintains authoritarian rule, it can give citizens opportunities to turn their concerns into public matters (albeit within a segmented sphere) in ways unavailable to many people in formally democratic systems. 

The focus of this paper on how boundaries that are officially fuzzy come to be translated into effective knowledge of what is and is not allowed in specific fields of political life has recently become an area of interest in the study of Chinese politics. As well as contributing to this new focus, the paper also helps in understanding the unwritten rules that underlie regularities in the Chinese political landscape. Through examining these issues, it also adds to knowledge of how scale matters in shaping opportunities for citizen engagement in authoritarian regimes.

Keywords: China; citizenship; censorship; political boundaries; segmented publics

photo of Sophia Woodman
Sophia Woodman

Sophia Woodman studies how citizens in contemporary China deploy resources such as socialist rhetoric, laws and regulations, moral judgments and personal connections in their political projects. She connects micro-politics with larger structures, showing how various institutions shape the citizenship order, whether communist-era ‘work units’, or transnational human rights networks. She also researches asymmetry and formal autonomy in state systems, which is the subject of her recent edited book, Practising self-government: a comparative study of autonomous regions (Cambridge, 2013). She joined Sociology at the University of Edinburgh in 2013, after completing her PhD at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Prior to becoming an academic, she worked in the NGO sector doing research and advocacy on human rights issues.


Panel 5: Strategies, Alliances, and Networks

Playing the Game: Hybrid Modes of Collaboration–New Interfaces between the State and Transnational Networks of Urban Poor in the Philippines

Josefine Fokdal, Astrid Ley, and Peter Herrle (Berlin University of Technology)

Abstract: Asia houses a variety of hybrid forms of political regimes, while some are not within the scope of democracy, others showcase the many flaws of democracy. In the case of the Philippines, exclusion of urban poor and their limited access to resources is crucial and led to social resistance and conflicted interfaces between urban poor communities and the state in the past. Against this background, the heterogeneous civil societies of right-based and more collaborative agents join efforts under the umbrella of the Urban Poor Alliance (UP-ALL). This article will focus on the Homeless People Federation Philippines (HPFPI) and their means of creating interfaces vis-à-vis the state through hybrid modes of collaboration with various allies to tackle multiple levels of governance.

The national alliance of HPFPI and their supporting NGO Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiative (PACSII) (a belief based NGO) embody the hybrid of the world-wide operating network of urban poor federations Slum/Shack Dweller International (SDI) and the more regional focused network of NGO allies under the umbrella of the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights (ACHR). Whereas the transnational network of SDI facilitates multiple horizontal exchanges, promotes savings and creates access to funding and policy makers on an international stage, the regional network of communities granted founding thought the Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) program provides space for learning and empowerment on ‘the ground’ as well as backing in local negotiations vis-à-vis the state of highly respected professionals within the region.  

In spite of the transnational scope of these networks, the changing political context (e.g. elections in which an existing national network had successfully negotiated for a 10 billion housing grant for the urban poor) in the Philippines has required the HPFPI to group up with the already existing national network UP-ALL, which is strongly supported by academics in various fields to gain access to policy circles. Thus, the Philippine Alliance has tackle the issue of housing urban poor on multiple levels, through hybrid modes of collaboration within a very heterogeneous civil society on a national level and using transnational and regional networks for creating interfaces with the state and international organizations, impacting the local level through collaborative modes rather than social resistance, an approach that is being replicated through out Asia in-dependent of the kind of political regime.

Keywords: Urban poor, Philippines, housing, governance, transnational networks.

photo of Josefine Fokdal
Josefine Fokdal

Josefine Fokdal is a researcher currently at the Hong Kong University through the Marie Curie funded Urban Knowledge Network Asia. She has been researching and teaching at Habitat Unit, Institute for Architecture and International Urbanism at the Berlin University of Technology since 2009 and has been part of the research team on networking of urban poor in the housing field since 2011. Her research and writings spans the research fields of spatial theory, housing, and urban patterns of mega-cities. Her current research focuses on spatial perception in Asia, especially in contemporary cities in China. Contact: josefine [dot] fokdal [at] tu-berlin [dot] de

Astrid Ley is research analyst at the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) and researcher at Berlin University of Technology. She worked as project coordinator for Local Agenda 21 at Agenda-Transfer in Bonn (2001 – 2003) and as senior lecturer at Habitat Unit, TU Berlin (2003-2014) and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (2010) as well as consultant and trainer to bilateral and international development agencies since 2004. Her expertise and publication record include topics related to the urbanisation in the Global South, housing processes, the role of local governance and civil society. Contact: astrid [dot] ley [at] tu-berlin [dot] de

Peter Herrle, 1995 – 2012 Professor for International Urbanism and Director of the Habitat Unit at Faculty VI, Berlin University of Technology. Research on megacities, urban informality, urban governance, housing, and cultural identity. Consultant to bilateral and international development agencies in various fields including housing, decentralization, participative planning, urban management and urban planning in many countries mainly in Asia and Africa. Advisory Professor at the Tongji University Shanghai. Numerous publications on urban development issues. Editor of the ‘Habitat International Series’ at LIT-Publishers and co-editor of the ‘Megacities and Global Change’ at Steiner Publishers. Contact: peter [dot] herrle [at] tu-berlin [dot] de



Civil Society Actors Digitally Connect in Vietnam: Recoding Spheres of Resistance

Duyen Bui (University of Hawai‘i at Manoa)

Abstract: Although media is state-owned and interest groups are party-controlled in Vietnam, oppositional politics still occur within the political system. Given opportunities for critique, the media reports on corruption and state failures. In other instances, members of interest groups may collude with local officials to diminish the authority of the central government. However, recent public protests against China’s assertiveness on the South China Sea reveal that there are civil society actors outside of government channels creating social change. Digital technology provides a field for political contestation autonomous of the state. This paper will focus on the role of the Vietnamese government and activists who use, shape, and build a digital terrain where there is competition for power, control, and freedom. Likewise, these digital technologies also become an active agent that shapes and defines the interests of the state and activists.

The case studies examined focus on the growth of a digitally connected civil society that is able to overcome a level of government control to challenge the one-party state in Vietnam. At the same time, the technology civil society is using to connect with one another to push for social change can be recoded by the government to protect its image and power. This complex interaction in the digital sphere between the Vietnamese government and activists have occurred more frequently because of issues, such as the territorial disputes with China, and technology, such as the growth of Facebook in Vietnam, which have spawned greater political action from Vietnamese citizens.

This paper examines three case studies, from 2006 until 2014, in which civil society actors and the Vietnamese government shape and reshape the public sphere. The first instance is the development of political organizations that make their public appearance through blog websites. The second illustration is the mobilization of public pressure through online petitions. The third example is the use of social media for collective action online and on the streets. In each of these cases, the civil society actors and Vietnamese government respond to one another, being enabled and limited by the coding of digital technology. In this sense, resistance in non-democracies like Vietnam does not require one to work from within the political system. Social change should be examined through the complex interaction between those within and outside of the State.

Keywords:  Civil society actors, social resistance, digital technology, non-democracies, Vietnam.

photo of Duyen Bui
Duyen Bui

Duyen Bui completed her undergraduate degree at Georgetown University in International Politics with a certificate in Asian Studies. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa with a concentration in International Relations and Comparative Politics. Duyen is also a Graduate Degree Fellow of the East West Center, a research institution focused on promoting better relations in the Asia Pacific region. She has always been fascinated by the power of people who can bend the arc towards justice. In this regard, her research is focused on how the interactions between the state and society through law and social media can lead to social change, particularly in Vietnam.

Panel 6: Military, Coup, and the People

Interpreting Social and Political Activism in (Post-) Authoritarian Myanmar

Maaike Matelski (VU University Amsterdam)

Abstract: In Myanmar (formerly Burma), a rapid political liberalisation process since 2010 has been accompanied by increasingly visible public manifestations of organised civil society from within the country. The causality of these two developments however is far from clear. While neoliberal notions of civil society contain assumptions of politically vocal civic organisations contributing to democratisation processes, field studies in non-western countries with closed political structures suggest that individuals and organisations often employ other methods than overt political resistance to bring about change. Social actors in such contexts may consider public displays of political dissent too dangerous, inappropriate to the local context, or simply ineffective. They may choose to employ other activities such as social welfare provision on the local level, with or without an underlying long-term political objective. In doing so they may display subtle opposition to the state, but they may also seek acceptance by or even cooperation with state actors. State actors in turn may regard these activities as useful contributions or as undesirable competition, and they may or may not choose to turn a blind eye to the potential political implications. This variation makes the potential for social and political activism in non-democracies highly context dependent.

Based on research with Burmese civil society actors inside and outside Myanmar from 2010 onwards, this paper describes the various shapes and aims of civil society organisations emerging from fifty years of military rule, and discusses to what extent people living in a repressive environment can be expected to openly aspire political goals. In a situation where the risks of public dissent are potentially high, civil society actors may choose more covert goals and methods for change than they would have in more conducive political surroundings. However, this does not mean that all non-confrontational activities can simply be interpreted as political acts in disguise; rather, each type of activity must be evaluated based on the intentions of the actor, the possible consequences, and the cultural environment in which it takes place. An over-emphasis on political change may misinterpret the intentions of local activists, while a too ready acceptance of ostensibly non-political goals misses the subtleties of disguised political activities in authoritarian contexts. In this paper I discuss the dynamics of social and political activism aimed at bringing about change in Myanmar with reference to several examples I encountered in the field at the early stages of the contested democratisation process.

Keywords: Burma, Myanmar, civil society, social and political activism, authoritarianism, democratisation.

Maaike Matelski is a PhD candidate at VU University Amsterdam. She previously studied Social Psychology, Human Rights and Development at the University of Amsterdam and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and has worked for various civil society organisations. She has been conducting research on Myanmar since 2009 and has been a regular visitor to the country. Her thesis explores the views and strategies of Burmese civil society actors trying to achieve social and political change in Myanmar, both from within and from abroad. Her publications can be found on and she can be reached at m [dot] matelski [at] vu [dot] nl or maaikematelski [at] gmail [dot] com.


Legal Mobilization as a Brokerage Mechanism between Rural Villagers and Urban Middle-Classes in Resisting Military Rule in Thailand

Eugenie Merieau (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales)

Abstract: In Thailand, social resistance to coups d'etat and military rule has dramatically developed over the course of the last eight years. An atomised red-shirts movement was created in 2006 in reaction to the 2006 coup. It evolved into a very broad and efficient organization (the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship) able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters as well as to lead successful electoral campaigns. The red-shirts movement was built on two main subgroups: educated urban middle-classes and rural villagers.

As the red -shirts movement grew over the years, repertoires of contention (Tilly 1984) diversified. Rural villagers staged street protests organized by the UDD while educated urban middle-classes chose online forums, seminars and informative talks to circulate their ideas and mobilize people. From 2010 onwards, the red-shirts movement started to gain autonomy from its leaders as rural villagers adopted urban middle-classes modes of contention. It resulted in the creation of a counterhegemonic subculture.

This paper argues that brokerage, by which a new connection is being made between previously unconnected groups (Tilly and Tarrow 2007) ie educated urban middle classes and rural villagers, was achieved from 2010 onwards through the emergence of a rights discourse and calls for legal reform through constitutionalist claims. It further analyzes how this phenomenon, which occurs in several other authoritarian or hybrid regimes, was first launched by ruling elites to advance their own strategic interests before being used by social movements against the State.

Keywords: Social movements, Thailand, legal mobilization,  democratization, constitutional politics.

photo of Eugenie Merieau
Eugenie Merieau

Eugenie Merieau is a PhD candidate in political sciences at INALCO Paris. She graduated in international relations from Sciences Po Paris, in law from La Sorbonne (Paris 1) and in Thai language and studies from INALCO Paris. Her PhD thesis focused on the relation between constitutionalism and traditional institutions such as the monarchy and Buddhism in Thailand, examining processes of legal acculturation. She worked numerous years for the Thai administration in Bangkok before becoming a lecturer at Sciences Po Paris. Her main research interests include: constitutionalism, legal anthropology, legal mobilization and social movements. She recently published "The Red-Shirts of Thailand" (Paris: IRASEC, 2013) [in French].



Crisis Rather than Reequilibration: Analyzing Post-Coup Political Protests in the Philippines and Thailand, 2001-2010

Aries A. Arugay (University of the Philippines-Diliman)

Abstract: Does protest activity subside after coups? What are the differences in the contentious mobilization of social actors before and after these critical events? Do instances of social resistance after a coup strengthen or undermine democratic stability and quality? The existing consensus in the theoretical literature within young democracies conclude that coups and other forms of extra-constitutional leadership change are stabilizing events capable of reequilibrating the current democratic regime. For example, episodes of democratic crises in Latin America from 2000-2010 empirically verify this argument as seen in Honduras, Paraguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, and others. This paper argues that democratizing states in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines and Thailand, confound this causal inference. In a region where democracy norms are not relatively entrenched, coups intensify social polarization, increase the political autonomy of the military, and further erode democratic institutions. I provide evidence for this argument through a comparative analysis of post-coup democratic crises in the Philippines and Thailand. I specifically focus on the protests against the Arroyo presidency from 2010-2007 and the mobilization against several anti-Thaksin governments in Thailand from 2006-2010. Despite significant variation on a host of political, economic, and cultural factors, both countries experienced a wave of political contention after the extra-constitutional removal of the elected governments of Joseph Estrada in 2001 (Philippines) and Thaksin Shinawatra (2006) in Thailand. Rather than settle political problems, coups inflame existing grievances and create new ones. They also force states to adopt a defensive posture by employing violence in dispersing societal protests. After a theoretical discussion of the political consequences of coups, the paper discusses the circumstances that led to the crises engendered by democratically-elected leaders in the Philippines and Thailand as a background. It then proceeds to describing the nature, participants, outcomes, and impact of the post-coup protests in the two case countries. It pays particular attention to the role of civil society actors as well as political elites (including the military). The third part of the paper compares the consequences of the post-coup protests for the democratic regimes within these two countries. By way of conclusion, I summarize the contributions of the comparative analysis of these two Southeast Asian cases in understanding the role of protests and social resistance in present and future democratizing states.

Keywords: Protests, coup d’état, democratization, Southeast Asia, civil society.

photo of Aries A. Arugay
Aries A. Arugay

Aries A. Arugay is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines in Diliman. He is also Fellow at the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies, Inc. (ISDS Philippines). His research interests are comparative democratization, contentious politics, civil-military relations and security sector reform, and politics in Latin America. He obtained his PhD in political science at Georgia State University in Atlanta under a Fulbright scholarship. His doctoral dissertation compared protest-induced crises and coups in the Philippines, Thailand, Bolivia, and Venezuela which he is now planning to transform into a book manuscript. He also has a MA (2004) and BA cum laude (2000) in political science from the University of the Philippines in Diliman.




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about the event

25-26 November


  • 25 November
    Venue: Palaestra Et Odeum (Paradisgatan 4, Lundagård)
  • 26 November
    Venue: Edens Auditorium (Paradisgatan 5H, Kvarteret Paradis)

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Focus Asia poster november 2014

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