- Methodology and Research Practice in Southeast Asian Studies ed. by Mikko Huotari, Jürgen Rüland and Judith Schlehe
Over the past decade, the discipline of Southeast Asian Studies has grappled with the tension — real or perceived — between universalistic disciplinary knowledge and area-specific inter-disciplinary knowledge production. What is the function and future of area studies, and Southeast Asian Studies in particular, in the process of knowledge accumulation? Is it a coherent research method, research agenda or simply a scholarly identity? Is it still relevant and useful as a field of studies and/or an institutional foundation? If so, how can scholars and students of Southeast Asian Studies come to terms with, and reconcile, this tension in order to make a contribution to knowledge accumulation and dissemination that is more broadly relevant? In particular, are there any practical methodologies that area experts could deploy to generate “context-sensitive practices of social science knowledge”? (p. 1) What do these methods look like?
This volume, edited by three German scholars, is an effort to answer these pressing questions which are relevant to Southeast Asian scholars around the world. Fourteen chapters (including Mikko Huatari’s introduction), contributed by nineteen scholars primarily based or trained in Germany and Southeast Asia, seek to advance and advocate different methodologies, approaches and strategies based on their own research and teaching experiences to generate “context-sensitive practices of social science knowledge” in Southeast Asian Studies, and possibly to overcome the aforementioned tension between disciplinary and area-studies boundaries. In short, it is a collective enterprise among those who care about the region to reinvigorate and re-emphasize the utility and meaning of Southeast Asian Studies as a field of study, and to search and invent workable methodologies to this end. According to Huatari, this volume intends to cultivate and advocate a “middle-ground” position (p. 11), and what can be characterized as “situated methodologies” (p. 4) that bridge universalizing and particularizing tendencies within the field of Southeast Asian Studies.
Although the overall goal and sentiment is commonly shared among all the contributing authors, differences and disagreements are evident in terms of how to achieve this goal, and what purposes area-specific empirical knowledge should serve, depending on their respective disciplinary and pedagogical background, geopolitical [End Page 150] position, and probably generational difference. On the whole, anthropologists, including Eric Haanstad, Michaela Haug, Sita Hidayah, Victor T. King and Kathryn Robinson, appear at ease with the tension derived from disciplinary and area-specific knowledge production. For them, searching and analysing unique and specific cultural features and practices — gender relations, performance arts, tribes or rituals — are inter alia their research and profession. Methodologies in anthropology, most obviously ethnographic research, are largely established, widely practised and contribute to disciplinary knowledge. Moreover, as exemplified in Haanstad’s and Robinson’s chapters, local specific practices in Southeast Asia that those scholars have studied — the role of women and dance performances — have contributed not only to the accumulation of local specific empirical knowledge, but more importantly, to the innovation of methodological techniques, conceptual tools and theoretical knowledge. Against the backdrop of such scholarly tradition, a younger generation of scholars from Southeast Asia, such as Deasy Dimandjuntak and Michaela Haug (Indonesia), Paruedee Nguitragool (Thailand) and Sita Hidayah (Indonesia) co-authored with her German colleague, Judith Schlehe, appear comfortable and confident in strategically adopting ethnographic and other social science approaches to tackle their respective research questions. In a similar vein, economists do not see the division between disciplinary and area knowledge to be irreconcilable or problematic. The chapter by Krisztina Kis-Katos and Günther G. Schulze, for example, demonstrates that area specific empirical research on corruption has made an indispensable contribution to our general theoretical knowledge about why particular types of corruption occur in particular places and in particular manners.
Huotari, a political scientist, indicates that the tension in regard to the area studies and discipline divide — and onslaught against area studies within the discipline — is most pronounced in Political Science (p. 10). Area...