Globalization and its counter-forces in Southeast Asia
TERENCE CHONG (ed.)
Globalization and its counter-forces in Southeast Asia
Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2008. xii, 416 pp., ISBN 978-981-230-478-0 (pb S$54.90/US$43.90), 978-981-230-488-9 (hb S$69.90/US$54.90), 978-981—230-493-3 (pdf)
Reviewed by Victor King, University of Leeds
This is a substantial volume. Sixteen chapters and an introduction have emerged from two international workshops hosted at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. One was held as long ago as February 2004; this workshop has given its title to the book and was jointly organised by the Institute and the Swedish School of Advanced Asia-Pacific Studies (SSAAPS), hence the important contribution of Scandinavian researchers (seven in number: Stefan Amirell, Martin Andersson, Elin Bjarnegård, Christer Gunnarsson, Fredrik Gustafsson, Kristina Jönsson and Timo Kivimäki). The workshop delivered eleven of the chapters in this volume, focusing principally on the political and security dimensions of globalisation The second workshop took place over 15 months later focused on the theme of ‘Cultural Globalization in Southeast Asia’ and has provided the remaining five chapters. There is also a spread of contributors from across Southeast Asia – Indonesia (Dewi Fortuna Anwar), Thailand (Suradech Chotiudompant), Singapore (Terence Chong and Wayne Fu), Malaysia (Francis Loh Kok Wah, Helen Nesadurai and Tham Siew Yean), the Philippines (Janet Arnado), with several Australian-based academics (most of them Asian) (Terence Lee, Surin Maisrikrod, Carlyle Thayer and Yao Souchou) and an American contributor (Randolph Kluver, though Singapore-based). As the editor informs us it made sense to bring selected pieces from the proceedings of the two workshops together to examine the multi-dimensional character of globalisation processes and responses to them and there was added value in studying them in a multi-disciplinary way.
As is so frequently the case in books which carry Southeast Asia in the title, several countries of the region do not feature significantly, if at all. The usual candidates are missing again as Chong indicates in his preface; Brunei (‘for lack of appropriate scholarship’) and Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar (‘not discussed in separate chapters but studied as a collective’) (p. ix; specifically in the chapter by Jönsson). The book is divided into five sections which deal consecutively with political contradictions, economic regionalism, local security and global insecurity, social processes and cultural production.
The editor makes the point and it is reiterated in many of the chapters that globalisation generates a range of contradictory processes and perhaps this is what fascinates those who are intent on devoting themselves to its study; it provides opportunities to examine the tensions between the cross-national and intra-national, and between the homogenising and differentiating effects of internationalisation. Unfortunately whenever one addresses globalisation as a phenomenon there is usually an unsatisfactory, perhaps uneasy indeterminateness about the whole exercise (an ‘open-endedness’, p. 4). Chong and his contri-butors consider its ‘counter-forces’ which are equally indeterminate and embrace an array of actual and potential responses (‘actions, processes and behaviours’, p. 8, and of course ‘discourses’ and ‘ideological interests’, p. 13, 16), some intended and some not. Chong tells us that ‘[r]esistance, hybridity and sheer indifference are legitimate possibilities …’ (p. 3), and these operate at different scales from the individual, to the group, to the network, and through to the state, the region, and international agencies. Even more problematical social actors and other more nebulous entities can be both agents and counter-forces, strengthening and weakening globalisation. The problem is also, we are told, that these counter-forces are responding to different things: ideologies, institutions, or the process of globalisation itself. But whatever one’s interest one always returns to the issue of power, who holds it, its character, how it is exercised and in what degree and with what consequences (pp. 6-7).
Indeed the counter-forces are so diverse in this volume that it is difficult to say much that is meaningful about them as a collectivity. They appear to comprise individuals, national and local interests, nation-states, regional organisations, international agencies, NGOs, informal groups, civil society groups, elements within a social class, minorities, regional organisations like ASEAN, international criminal and terrorist networks, and ideologies including economic nationalism, Asian values, Third World feminism, pluralism, the ‘immigrant imaginary’ and cultural citizenship, culturally creative networks, and literary genres. Given the problems of getting a handle on all of this, it also seems a rather improbable exercise to measure something referred to as ‘global culture’ as Randolph Kluver and Wayne Fu attempt to do. The topics and themes in the book range over authoritarian states and economic policies in the region, Malaysian political pluralism and the ideology of developmentalism, Indonesia’s role in ASEAN, Thai politics and opposition under Thaksin, the economic role of the state, China’s economic rise and its relations with Southeast Asia, maritime piracy, Indonesian-European cooperation against international terrorism, radical Islam and terrorism, Asian values and gender inequality particularly in Thailand, women’s emancipation in the Philippines, Chinese education in Malaysia, measuring cultural globalisation using a cultural imports index, Singaporeans in Perth and their cultural connections with home, and magical realism in Thai literature.
Even though I remain deeply sceptical of the value of a lot of the work in globalisation studies, there is much in this volume which is worth reading. There are some very well written and thoughtful chapters, and the editor has expended much effort in trying to construct a degree of unity in diversity. However, it doesn’t quite come off. Chong, in attempting to find coherence in what seems to me to be a rather miscellaneous collection has strained to shoehorn the book into his all-embracing concept of ‘counter-forces’. It works for some chapters but parts of the book seem not to be overly concerned with the main theme.