The Limits of Civil Society: Social Movements and Political Parties in Southeast Asia

Edward Aspinall, Meredith Weiss

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Beginning in the late 1980s, peaking in the 1990s and continuing into the 2000s, both scholars of Southeast Asia and reformers in the region enthused about the democratic potential of civil society (for example, Budiman 1990; Uhlin 1997; Clarke 1998; Alagappa 2004). They imagined civil society, commonly defined as the realm of associational life between family and state, as a site where ordinary Southeast Asian citizens were organizing autonomously, carving out democratic space, and challenging the legitimacy of authoritarian regimes. Scholars and activists alike pointed to the enormous range of associations – human rights, environmental and women’s groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of various stripes, growing labour and farmers’ organizations, to name just a few – that were emerging across the region. These organizations were apparently flourishing in conditions as diverse as post-Marcos Philippines and Suharto’s Indonesia, and even sending out shoots in the infertile soil of Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore and the yet more desert-like conditions of military-ruled Burma (Kyaw 2004) or the one-party state of Vietnam (Kerkvliet et al. 2003). Both the patterns of civil society organization that arose in the 1980s and 1990s in SoutheastAsia, and the enthusiasm for such organization, were in large part a product of the nondemocratic regimes then dominating the region. Suppression of or limitations on opposition political parties led many middle-class reformers to look to alternative means of exercising political influence, often within radically decentred and loosely coordinated civil society sectors.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Politics
    Editors Richard Robison
    Place of PublicationNew York USA
    PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
    ISBN (Print)9780415494274
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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