The September issue of Pacific Affairs is a special themed issue titled “Context, Concepts and Comparison in Southeast Asian Studies.”
The issue opens with an engaging introductory article by Jürgen Rüland and Mikko Huotari, “Context, Concepts and Comparison in Southeast Asian Studies,” in which the authors provide an overview of this Special Issue’s objectives: to advance the agenda of context-sensitive and methodologically reflected Comparative Area Studies (CAS) and to infuse new meaning into the embattled genre of Area Studies. Here the authors argue that the challenges of comparative research provide a productive ground for exchange in interdisciplinary Southeast Asian Studies. They then expand on the contributing authors’ arguments by providing a typology of comparative research practice that captures the value of various forms of Area studies comparisons and reflecting on the conceptual preconditions for fruitful comparisons.
In the issue’s second paper, “Context and Method in Southeast Asian Politics,” author Thomas Pepinsky introduces and evaluates a central debate about context sensitivity in Southeast Asian political studies, developing the idea of unit context (traditionally, the area studies concern) and population context (traditionally, the comparative politics concern) as parallel organizing principles in Southeast Asian political studies. The core distinction between the two is the assumption of unit homogeneity, or comparability across units. While a diverse Southeast Asian political studies—embracing many disciplines and many methodologies—is possible, unit context and population context are fundamentally incommensurate as frameworks for approaching Southeast Asian politics.
This is followed by Amitav Acharya’s article, “Remaking Southeast Asian Studies: Doubt, Desire and the Promise of Comparisons.” In his contribution, Acharya challenges Southeast Asian specialists to rise above the false dichotomy between area studies and disciplinary approaches and recognize the value of comparisons. Comparative studies within and between regions can help Southeast Asian studies meet the challenges from globalization and discipline-based approaches and overcome the self-doubt among its scholars about the field’s authenticity, quality and relevance. To this end, it outlines two directions: ‘transnational area studies’ and ‘disciplinary regional studies.’
Next, is Erik Martinez Kuhonta’s “Southeast Asia and Comparative-Historical Analysis: Region, Theory, and Ontology on a Wide Canvas.” Here the author seeks to assess the contributions and key characteristics of comparative-historical analysis in the field of Southeast Asian studies. It does so by examining three specific issues that emerge from this methodological genre: the conceptualization of the region of Southeast Asia, the role of theory, and the emphasis on macro structural ontology. These issues are analyzed in three disciplines: political science, history, and anthropology.
The following article, “Modular Comparisons: Grounding and Gauging Southeast Asian Governance” by Christian von Lübke, argues that analytical tensions between comparability and distinctiveness, which often drive a wedge between disciplinary and area-studies debates, are not irreconcilable. Drawing on original research of public governance in Southeast Asia, the discussion blends different levels of analytical scope and abstraction—offering a valuable methodological instrument for cross-fertilizing empirical depth and breadth. The combination of within-case and cross-case analyses provides a systematic and contextually grounded perspective on ‘what makes governments work’ in the region.
Closing out this Special Issue is a concluding article by Donald Emmerson, “The Spectrum of Comparisons: A Discussion.” Here the author posits that Area studies can benefit from a “comparative turn” toward more cross-case research provided it does not marginalize scholarly knowledge that is local or locally acquired. The challenge is not only how to manage comparisons consistently in search of generalized findings that are more than the artifacts of a reductive design, but also how to cultivate openness to unrefined comparisons through immersive experiences involving a specific place on behalf of insights that resonate beyond their point of origin. The ways of drawing instructive contrasts and similarities across and within cases are richly varied and potentially complementary. Emmerson argues that methodological pluralism is essential to sustaining that spectrum of comparisons, and with it the health of scholarship on Southeast Asia or any other part of Asia or the world.
For additional details we invite you to visit our Current Issue Page.
Pacific Affairs is an interdisciplinary journal committed to advancing empirical and conceptual knowledge in the field of Asia Pacific-focussed area studies. We view area studies as combining serious commitment to original research on specific regions and countries in Asia and the Pacific with insights and analytical rigour derived from multiple disciplines and various theoretical perspectives.
Impact Factor Score: .444 (27 out of 63 Area Studies journals) – cites in 2013 to articles published in 2011 and 2012.
5-Year Impact Factor Score: 0.552 (21 out of 63 Area Studies journals) – cites in 2012 to articles published from 2008 to 2012
Immediacy Index Score: 0.087 (25 out of 63 Area Studies journals) – cites in 2013 of articles published in 2013
Article Influence® Score: 0.255 (31 out of 63 Area Studies journals)
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Pacific Affairs is a peer-reviewed, independent, and interdisciplinary scholarly journal focussing on important current political, economic and social issues throughout Asia and the Pacific. Each issue contains approximately five new articles and 40-45 book reviews. Published continuously since 1928 under the same name, Pacific Affairs has been located on the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, since 1961. The journal is committed to providing to the scholarly community and the world at large high quality research on Asia and the Pacific that takes readers beyond the headlines and across multiple disciplines.
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