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Southeast Asia / Southwest China Seminar

Dr. Jacob R. Hickman

 Fall 2021: Tues / Thurs 2:00am-3:15am

245 KMBL


In many ways, Southeast Asia is entering a new age of history. The region is marked by dramatic political, economic, and environmental changes that we are only beginning to understand. Politically, realignments towards China simultaneously breed new opportunities and raise new concerns, while forcing renegotiations with Western alliances as regional connections between ASEAN and China grow in global importance. These shifts have led to populist reactions and social and cultural movements that challenge traditional social scientific understandings, and they are also leading to important shifts in the structures of the academe itself. Economically, the region is figuring out how to navigate its place in the “Belt and Road Initiative,” as one of China’s most immediate regional partners (and competitors). The “anthropocene” presents existential environmental concerns to both mainland and island Southeast Asia. Amidst all of this, connectedness, movement, and technology underlie how these impacts play out and affect local and regional communities. Some of these changes foster the very existence of new forms of transnational communities. In this critical moment, this seminar will cover both classical and contemporary research in the region that seeks not only to investigating these shifts in the region (and the global significance of the region), but also seeks to develop new modes of scholarship that will develop new transnational capacities for understanding these changes.


Several cutting-edge theoretical and area studies concerns inform the discussion and debate that we will undertake in this seminar. First, the debates around “Zomia” (see van Schendel 2002, Scott 2009, Michaud 2010, Turner and Michaud 2015) on the one hand appropriately challenge methodological nationalism in the region, but on the other hand suggest problematic understandings of transnational groups, including reducing their cultural frameworks to “anarchist” formations that seek to flee state formation at all costs (whether from within or without). These formulations reduce local notions of sovereignty to false consciousness at the expense of what highland minority groups see themselves as the fundamental goals of their social movements. Two problems emerge in this current debate that we will address head on in our research programs under this project. We will critically analyze the historical arguments as they relate to contemporary imaginings of “Hmong culture,” “Dai/Tai culture,” and other transnational Southeast Asian groups, and we will also ask more contemporary questions that go beyond the historical limitations of some prominent Zomia arguments (e.g., Scott 2009), such as analyzing new forms of transnationalism that are enabled by new technologies and influenced by new socio-political-economic dynamics in the region. Drawing on these important trends, we will develop a thoroughly transnational understanding that tries to escape the trap of methodological nationalism not just in our topics of study (e.g., sticking strictly to “Thai studies” or “Burmese Studies), for example), but in the intellectual grounding of our analyses. In fact, it may well be that one of the key problems with James C. Scott’s version of the “Zomia” thesis is problematic—what leads him to write of Hmong religious experience as false consciousness, for example—may well be its inherent rootedness in Western social theory (Hickman 2021). 


Second, and on the broader scale of social theory, this is a critical moment for collaborations both across and beyond the region in developing social theory. Contemporary concerns about “decolonizing the canon” (Lewis 2018, Sanchez 2018) of social theory, and the “ontological turn” (Holbraad and Pederson 2017, Viveiros de Castro, Batalha, Wagner 2015) in anthropology and related disciplines call for new sources of social theory and critique that extend beyond the current canon, which is still strongly determined by Western philosophy. Taking Southeast Asian philosophical and ontological frameworks more seriously—as an interlocutor in the production of theory rather than simply as ‘data’ to be analyzed—will constitute a core thrust of our approach in the seminar. 


Both political and intellectual trends of the day point to a de-centering of the West in Southeast Asia. Of course, decentering the West does not mean that the West has become irrelevant in political, economic, and social considerations that are central in the region. However, it does mean that other influences and voices become comparatively more important, in a poly-vocal set of considerations that is reminiscent of the history of mandala political spheres of influence in Southeast Asia. Whether one focuses on economic concerns, political orientations, or even strategic planning for modern universities, modern internationalization entails a balance of multiple simultaneous relationships, such as Vietnam or Thailand balancing their political and economic ties between China and the United States. In the field of contemporary Southeast Asian studies and the theoretical and empirical accounts derived by scholars of the region, we will debate whether a similar intellectual re-balancing needs to be undertaken with greater vigor than has heretofore been the case. 


Books to Purchase 


(Identified by author's last name in the reading list below; other readings will be provided as PDFs)

Chang, Wen-Chin. 2014. Beyond Borders: Stories of Yunnanese Chinese Migrants of Burma. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Hoskins, Janet. 2015. The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.


Weinstein, Jodi L. 2013. Empire and Identity in Guizhou: Local Resistance to Qing Expansion. Seattle: University of Washington Press. (There is an open access version of this book online at

Winichakul, Thongchai. 1997. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Yao, Alice. 2016. The ancient highlands of southwest China: from the Bronze Age to the Han Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Reading Schedule

University and Course Policies

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FHSS Diversity and Inclusion Syllabus Statement

In the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, our classroom participation and behavior are guided by our mission statement(i), the BYU honor code(ii), and principles of Christian discipleship(iii). It is imperative that we value and respect every person as a child of Heavenly Parents who has divine worth. Consequently, we need to take steps to listen to, learn from, and love one another by striving to consider thoughtfully the opinions of others and use language that is polite, considerate, and courteous even when we strongly disagree. It is essential to create an educational environment that ensures "the gift of personal dignity for every child of God"(iv). This includes embracing one another compassionately and "eliminating] any prejudice, including racism, sexism, and nationalism"(v) "regardless of age, personal circumstances, gender, sexual orientation, or other unique challenges." (vi) It is vital to delight in individuality and welcome diverse perspectives and experiences as we "work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation."(iii) To accomplish these goals we seek unity in higher principles of equity, charity, collaboration, and inclusiveness in order to build an environment in which all students, faculty, and staff can participate in, contribute to, and benefit equally from the academic community.
i "provide an education that helps students become informed citizens and thoughtful leaders who make the communities and families in which we live more just, equitable, and happy."
ii "[we live] in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and strive to maintain the highest standards in [our] personal conduct regarding honor, integrity, morality, and consideration of others."
iii "The Creator of us all calls on each of us to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God's children." President Russell M. Nelson, News Release, 2020; 
"he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile." (2 Nephi 26:33)
iv Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "A Perfect Brightness of Hope", April, 2020
v Elder M. Russell Ballard, "The Trek Continues", October, 2017
vi President Russell M. Nelson, "The Love and Laws of God", September, 2019


Academic Honesty

The first injunction of the Honor Code is the call to "be honest." Students come to the university not only to improve their minds, gain knowledge, and develop skills that will assist them in their life's work, but also to build character. "President David O. McKay taught that character is the highest aim of education" (The Aims of a BYU Education, p.6). It is the purpose of the BYU Academic Honesty Policy to assist in fulfilling that aim. BYU students should seek to be totally honest in their dealings with others. They should complete their own work and be evaluated based upon that work. They should avoid academic dishonesty and misconduct in all its forms, including but not limited to plagiarism, fabrication or falsification, cheating, and other academic misconduct.


Covid 19 Statement

While COVID 19 conditions persist and until further notice, students and faculty are required to wear face coverings at all times during class; faculty are not at liberty to waive this expectation.

Students who feel sick, including exhibiting symptoms commonly associated with COVID 19 (fever; cough; shortness of breath/difficulty breathing; chills; muscle pain; sore throat; new loss of taste or smell; etc.) should not attend class and should work with their instructor to develop a study plan for the duration of the illness.



Intentional plagiarism is a form of intellectual theft that violates widely recognized principles of academic integrity as well as the Honor Code. Such plagiarism may subject the student to appropriate disciplinary action administered through the university Honor Code Office, in addition to academic sanctions that may be applied by an instructor. Inadvertent plagiarism, which may not be a violation of the Honor Code, is nevertheless a form of intellectual carelessness that is unacceptable in the academic community. Plagiarism of any kind is completely contrary to the established practices of higher education where all members of the university are expected to acknowledge the original intellectual work of others that is included in their own work. In some cases, plagiarism may also involve violations of copyright law. Intentional Plagiarism-Intentional plagiarism is the deliberate act of representing the words, ideas, or data of another as one's own without providing proper attribution to the author through quotation, reference, or footnote. Inadvertent Plagiarism-Inadvertent plagiarism involves the inappropriate, but non-deliberate, use of another's words, ideas, or data without proper attribution. Inadvertent plagiarism usually results from an ignorant failure to follow established rules for documenting sources or from simply not being sufficiently careful in research and writing. Although not a violation of the Honor Code, inadvertent plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct for which an instructor can impose appropriate academic sanctions. Students who are in doubt as to whether they are providing proper attribution have the responsibility to consult with their instructor and obtain guidance. Examples of plagiarism include: Direct Plagiarism-The verbatim copying of an original source without acknowledging the source. Paraphrased Plagiarism-The paraphrasing, without acknowledgement, of ideas from another that the reader might mistake for the author's own. Plagiarism Mosaic-The borrowing of words, ideas, or data from an original source and blending this original material with one's own without acknowledging the source. Insufficient Acknowledgement-The partial or incomplete attribution of words, ideas, or data from an original source. Plagiarism may occur with respect to unpublished as well as published material. Copying another student's work and submitting it as one's own individual work without proper attribution is a serious form of plagiarism.

Respectful Environment

"Sadly, from time to time, we do hear reports of those who are at best insensitive and at worst insulting in their comments to and about others... We hear derogatory and sometimes even defamatory comments about those with different political, athletic, or ethnic views or experiences. Such behavior is completely out of place at BYU, and I enlist the aid of all to monitor carefully and, if necessary, correct any such that might occur here, however inadvertent or unintentional. "I worry particularly about demeaning comments made about the career or major choices of women or men either directly or about members of the BYU community generally. We must remember that personal agency is a fundamental principle and that none of us has the right or option to criticize the lawful choices of another." President Cecil O. Samuelson, Annual University Conference, August 24, 2010 "Occasionally, we ... hear reports that our female faculty feel disrespected, especially by students, for choosing to work at BYU, even though each one has been approved by the BYU Board of Trustees. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be. Not here. Not at a university that shares a constitution with the School of the Prophets." Vice President John S. Tanner, Annual University Conference, August 24, 2010

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Mental health concerns and stressful life events can affect students’ academic performance and quality of life. BYU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS, 1500 WSC, 801-422-3035, provides individual, couples, and group counseling, as well as stress management services. These services are confidential and are provided by the university at no cost for full-time students. For general information please visit; for more immediate concerns please visit

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