Title Date & Time
Retrograde and Sophisticated Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia
Dr Lee Morgenbesser


To account for a perceived change in the quality of modern authoritarian rule, this paper introduces the theory of “retrograde” and “sophisticated” authoritarianism. The overarching goal of contemporary dictators and dominant parties is to continuously exemplify the virtues of democracy, be it accountability, contestation, participation and representation, without actually succumbing to democratization. This occurs across five newly conceived features: institutional configuration, control mechanism, governing model, information management and international engagement. Using this theoretical framework, which currently encapsulates 116 behavioral choices, this paper indexes all continuous regimes in Southeast Asia on a scale from retrograde dictatorship to sophisticated authoritarianism. The findings are pertinent to ongoing debates within the fields of comparative authoritarianism, comparative democratization and Southeast Asia politics.

Short bio:

Lee Morgenbesser is a lecturer with the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith University and recipient of a Discovery Early Career Research Award from the Australian Research Council (2018-2020). His most recent book is Behind the Façade: Elections under Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia (New York: SUNY Press, 2016) and his forthcoming book is The Rise of Sophisticated Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019). In addition, he has published articles in Asian Studies Review, Contemporary Politics, Democratization, European Journal of East Asia Studies, Political Studies and The Pacific Review. His research areas are authoritarianism, dictators, democratization, flawed elections and Southeast Asian politics.

15 Jan 2018 (Mon)
How do we compare Global Slaveries? War Captives and Cultural Exchange in Southeast Asia
Dr Bryce Beemer


Systems of slavery and captivity differed widely across cultures and time, and the comparative study of slavery can reveal surprising histories of cultural transformation and exchange. Unlike American slavery, in many parts of the world systems of slavery were more “open”, containing means by which slaves could be incorporated into the society of their captors. In these more “open” systems, slavery was an important conduit for the exchange of culture between two societies. Southeast Asia was one such region. My talk will explore the ways that foreign war captives taken to upper Burma from Thailand and Manipur in the 18th-19th c. introduced new artistic, theatrical, and religious traditions to that kingdom.

Short bio:

Bryce Beemer has a PhD in Southeast Asian History from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa where he also studied World History and comparative slavery. He is currently an SSRC Transregional Research Fellow for InterAsian Contexts and Connections. Professor Beemer held previous positions as the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Comparative World History at Colby College, and as a Research Professor at Sogang University where he edited TRaNS, a journal devoted to transnational research on the Southeast Asia region.

His research is on the transcultural ramifications of slave gathering warfare in mainland Southeast Asia and Northeast India with a special focus on enslaved artisans, religious rituals, and processes of creolization and cultural exchange. The Fulbright-Hays (DDRA) and a Watumull Foundation grant for research in South Asia funded his research which was conducted in three countries—Thailand, Burma, and Manipur (India)—over a two-year period. His Ph.D. was awarded the 2014 Best Dissertation Prize by the World History Association (WHA). His publication “Southeast Asian Slavery and Slave-Gathering Warfare as a Vector for Cultural Transmission: The Case of Burma and Thailand” received several academic awards for its innovative research methods.

Please click here for youtube video of the seminar.

23 Oct 2017 (Mon)
The Politics of Flooding in Bangkok
Dr. Danny Marks


This presentation challenges the dominant approach to examining flooding through a case study of the 2011 Bangkok floods, the fourth‐costliest disaster ever and which led to over 800 deaths. The alternative approach developed here views floods not only as outcomes of biophysical processes but also as products of political decisions, economic interests, and power relations. This approach illustrates how vulnerability to floods in Bangkok, which is a combination of exposure to floods and capacity to cope with them, and the extent to which floods are a disaster, are uneven at multiple scales across geographical and social landscapes. 

Short bio:

Dr. Danny Marks is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the Department of Asian and International Studies of City University of Hong Kong. Prior to this position, he was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs of the University of Toronto. Dr. Marks has spent a number of years conducting research and working in Southeast Asia, particularly in the fields of climate change adaptation and environmental governance. He completed his PhD dissertation, An Urban Political Ecology of the 2011 Bangkok Floods, at the University of Sydney. His research interests are disaster governance, climate justice, and Thai domestic politics.

Please click here for the Youtube video of Dr Marks's seminar.

9 Oct 2017 (Mon)
Political killings and the ‘war on drugs’ in the post-Marcos Philippines
Mr. Danilo Andres Reyes


The Philippines has been characterized by persistent political killings since the end of Marcos's authoritarian rule in 1986. Today, the target in President Duterte's ‘war on drugs' might be new – drug dealers and users – but the phenomenon of extrajudicial killings is not.

Thousands have been killed in the ‘war on drugs’ since Duterte became president. Under his, and past administrations, there have been numerous killings of leaders and followers of the political left, including many operating legally, due to the persistence of an anti-communist ideology.

After Duterte withdrew from the peace talks with the communists in July 2017, killings of leftist leaders and followers have once again increased. This is similar to the Aquino (1986-1992) and Arroyo (2001-2010) administrations in which killings of leftists increased after the peace talks collapsed.

This workshop examines this enduring pattern of political killings across the six administrations after Marcos. It seeks to answer this question: Why do political killings persist, and why are they carried out with impunity?

The presentation will argue that there is a political utility for both the killings and the impunity. This analysis is drawn from the findings of extensive research that examined individual cases of such killings.

Short bio

Danilo Andres Reyes is a PhD candidate at the Department of Asian and International Studies (AIS), City University of Hong Kong (CityU). He completed his Master of Laws in Human Rights (LLM-HR) at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). He is a recipient of Li Po Chun Charitable Trust Fund Scholarship (for postgraduate students) 2016/17, Outstanding Academic Performance Award (CityU), 2016/17 and 2017 Asian Graduate Student Fellowship (NUS). His recent academic paper on killings under Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ was published in Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs (JCSAA).

Please click here for the Youtube video of Mr. Danilo's seminar.

24 Sep 2017 (Sun)
Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia
Dr. Michael Vatikiotis


• How will the deepening religious divisions in Indonesia and Malaysia affect the world?

• What is China's growing influence in the region?

• Why is Malaysia riddled with corruption?

• Why do Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines harbour unresolved violent insurgencies?

‘The gun is never far removed from the political arena in Southeast Asia,’ writes Michael Vatikiotis in his part memoir and part political study of the dynamics of modern Southeast Asia, a frontline of two of the most important global conflicts: the struggle between a declining West and a rising China, and that between religious tolerance and extremism. Southeast Asia accounts for sizeable chunks of global investment and manufacturing capacity; it straddles essential lines of trade and communication. Whether it is mobile phone parts or clothing and accessories, Southeast Asia is a vital link in the global supply chain. Yet peering beyond brand new shopping malls and the shiny glass towers of Bangkok and Jakarta, Blood and Silk highlights why it is one of the most perennially unstable regions of the world and reveals the true struggle of people’s lives, the brinkmanship played by its leaders, vivid portraits of the personalities who pull the strings and the many issues that have a global impact from the Islamic jihadist groups of Central Java to the right-wing Buddhist nationalists of Rakhine State in Myanmar. From negotiating with deadly Thai Muslim insurgents, mediating between warring clans in the Southern Philippines to consoling the victims of political violence in Indonesia, Michael has first-hand, hair-raising experience of the endemic violence in these countries and interweaves this in to the narrative of this many-layered portrait of the region.

Short bio

Michael Vatikiotis is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and gained his doctorate from the University of Oxford. He is a member of the Asia Society's International Council and has a decade of experience working as a private diplomat and conflict mediator for the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. He is a former BBC journalist who has worked in Asia for over thirty years, living in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. He now lives in Singapore and is the author of two previous books on the politics of Southeast Asia. @jagowriter

Please click here for the Youtube video of Dr. Vatikiotis' seminar.

4 Sep 2017 (Mon)