CRISEA conducts interdisciplinary research on five 'arenas' where regional forces compete:


The Environment: Securing the Commons (WP1)

The University of Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the University of Lodz, Poland, lead the team research on the extent to which competition over regional ‘commons’ – in the milieus of sea, river, land, forest and air – is reaching a tipping point, with potentially wide-ranging consequences for the region’s security. Failure to face transnational environmental challenges could undermine ASEAN’s legitimacy.

The environment remains at the heart of many development dilemmas in Southeast Asia. New actors and technologies, changing domestic politics, policies, and economies, as well as shifting geopolitics, all hold implications for nature-society relations in the region. In this WP, we are particularly concerned with how contestation over “commons” – for land (e.g. forests), seas, rivers or even air –  at scales ranging from the local to the regional (transborder) –  is emerging as processes of regional economic integration and regionalism unfold, surrounding three themes, namely: sea; rivers; and transition to a low-carbon economy.  

Our main conceptual approach considers the co-production of ecological knowledge and ecological governance. Drawing on the work of Sheila Jasanoff (2004) and Shubhra Gururani and Peter Vandergeest (2014), amongst others, we consider the production, circulation and consumption of ecological knowledge at and across the local, national and global scales and its relationship to ecological governance. Through macro and micro case studies, we relate this dynamic process of co-production to other concepts, including: environmental justice; (re)territorialization; accumulation by securitization; mobile political ecology (Elmhirst et al, 2018); and feminist political ecology.

Regarding “sea”, our research addresses two topics. One project examines the impacts of sand mining and land reclamation in Indonesia. A second project examines the marine resources of the South China Sea. Here, consideration is given to the evolving regional demand for fishery products and its political economy, including the competitive relationship between industrial-scale and small-scale fishing practices.

For the theme of “rivers”, five research projects focus on two major transboundary rivers, namely the Salween River and Mekong River. Both rivers are simultaneously seen as (potential) engines of economic growth, in particular for large-scale hydropower dams and irrigated agriculture; as well as natural resource foundations of rural subsistence livelihoods; and as important domains for environmental conservation. Two projects explore the hydropolitics of the Mekong River, including the shifting relationship between China and downstream countries that has emerged with the China-led Lancang Mekong Cooperation Framework and offers new challenges and opportunities for transboundary governance. More locally, a third project examines the impact of resettlement at a large hydropower dam from the perspective of human security. For the Salween River, a fourth project will analyze the history of cross-border teak trade and its implications for border-making, whilst the last project examines the contemporary politics of the ‘Salween Peace Park’ recently created in Karen State, Myanmar and the reterritorialization it implies within the complex, fragmented sovereignties of that area of the basin.

Our final theme, “transition into a low-carbon economy”, entails two research projects. The first examines sustainable energy transition in ASEAN, considering the political economy of the electricity sector and under what conditions entry of more sustainable technologies might occur. The second explores international cooperation through knowledge exchange networks between Southeast Asia cities. Here, the particular interest is how ecological knowledge for improved city planning, for example on energy efficiency, is facilitated by these regional and global knowledge networks.


Chayan Vaddhanaphuti


Tomasz Kaminski

[Read More]


The Economy: Competing Models and Practices of Capitalism (WP2)

The University of Malaya, Malaysia, and the University of Naples L’Orientale, Italy, lead study to assess development models adopted in ASEAN economies and to determine the impact of locally- as well as globally-driven economic change on the legitimacy of these models and their underlying political frameworks. Module 1: Competing models of developmental capitalism, involves an assessment of the varieties of capitalism employed in specific institutional contexts, structured by the state, domestic enterprises of different sorts and global engagements; Module 2: Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and industrial parks, will undertake a review of regional production networks examining whether integration has supported or hampered Southeast Asian countries from pursuing industrial upgrading; and Module 3: Labour mobility across different regimes and social security frameworks, involves an appraisal of ‘circulatory migration’, the lives of industrial workers (and, specifically, industrial workers) after they cease to participate in industry, and the consequences and implications for social security policy of the precarization of labour.

Module 1.

A review of the scholarly literature on the evolution of ASEAN countries would indicate the stress on the state’s role in achieving structural change and high economic growth, through a model described as the ‘developmental state’. However, although Southeast Asian countries were inspired by the developmental state model, they had not adhered to its fundamental tenets for reasons ascribed to historical context, the evolving regional division of labour and underlying institutional differences. Moreover, most governments of these countries have been equally inspired by a vastly different model of development, neoliberalism, which endorsed universal-type policies in an open economy with minimal state intervention, while actively promoting the privatization of the public sector, liberalization of trade, deregulation of the economy and a decentralization of administrative functions. By factoring in the importance of crises we propose to undertake both a more informed discussion on how models of development are conceived and in SEA and how these models inform forms of enterprise development, modes of industrialization and state-business-labour relations.

Module 2

FDI-led and export-oriented industrialization is promoted as the most viable model for emerging Southeast Asian economies leading to the creation of Special Economic Zones. , The study on SEZs and industrial parks - within the context of evolving regional production networks - will be based on selected cases in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia Myanmar, the Philippines and Cambodia.

Module 3

This module will look at the mobility of industrial workers across different labour regimes and different social security frameworks. The large-scale expansion of industrialization in Southeast Asia since the late 1980s was characterized by a more fluid movement of people between rural and (often peri-urban) industrial areas, in a process that was described as “circulatory migration”. Precarization of labour has not only occurred at an early stage of industrial development, but also appears to represent a characteristic feature in the process of regional economic integration. Given that a precarious and transient labour force characterizes industrial development in the region, what is the implication for social protection mechanisms in the region?


Edmund Terence Gomez


Pietro Masina

[Read More]


The State: Contesting the Liberal State (WP3)

Southeast Asia’s political history has been marked by the emergence of states characterized by a great diversity of regime forms, institutional capacities, and ideological orientations. This diversity is a product of the region’s ethnic and religious heterogeneity, varied colonial experiences, the uneven impact of Cold War-era conflicts, and of differing patterns of economic development. Amidst this diversity it is perhaps not surprising that many Southeast Asian states continue to face serious questions concerning their claims to political legitimacy.

This work package takes as its starting point the fact that the liberal/illiberal character of the state has been, and remains, one central dimension of ideological and political contestation across Southeast Asia. It is, furthermore, based on the assumption that liberalism and democracy may fruitfully be regarded as analytically distinct and that states are akin to mosaics in that they combine liberal and illiberal and democratic and undemocratic elements in different, perhaps unique, ways. As others have recognized, the formal and informal institutions and practices assembled within the state are often in tension, not only with one another, but also with legitimating ideas. We posit that the frictions thus generated drive, at least to a certain extent, political change in southeast Asia. By mapping these assemblages and identifying the areas of friction, WP3 will advance our understanding of political change, not only at the macro level but also in a variety of distinct institutions and policy areas. In the study of Southeast Asian politics, questions concerning democratization have been privileged, while the fate of political liberalism has been less well understood. Seeking to partially redress this imbalance, the research conducted within this work package therefore takes “the liberal state and its discontents in Southeast Asia” as its overarching thematic focus. The central research question is: How is the character and legitimacy of the Southeast Asian state contested, and with what consequences?

WP3 takes political ideology seriously. It explores how ideas about the state—and especially its relationship to rival conceptions of “the people”—have been articulated across Southeast Asia. Recognizing that faith remains an important source of legitimating ideas in the region, we will explore how religious movements, beliefs, and practices continue to provide powerful challenges to liberal rationalities and modes of governance. The relationship between political regimes and state practices will be explored, with particular attention paid to civil-military relations and to civil-society activism. Finally, we ask to what extent institutions such as courts and national human rights commissions are able to protect enclaves of political liberalism within the state itself as well as within civil society.

A caveat, the research to be undertaken as part of this work package does not assume that the liberal state exists or has ever existed, in any perfect form, in Southeast Asia (or anywhere else, for that matter). However, it does assume that the politically liberal state has been and remains an important but deeply contested point of reference in discourses of political legitimation—domestically, regionally, and globally. 


Tomas Larsson


Pham Quynh Phuong

[Read More]


Identity: Forging Regional Belonging (WP4)

The integration of Southeast Asia is typically framed in economic terms. Its institutional configurations, especially those related to ASEAN, are couched in intergovernmental agreements, increase mobility and the circulation of goods and professionals in key areas. These agreements take advantage of the region’s productive sectors composed of a highly educated youth, aspirational middle class households, and skilled professionals. The awareness that ASEAN integration is thus perceived as elitist serves as a backdrop to our Work Package’s interest in the role of non-state actors in fostering alternative regional identities. More specifically, WP4 investigates different modes of alternative regionalist projects in which non-state actors such as NGOs, transnational corporations, and various types of social networks and movements are involved. This form of regional integration that takes place from below influences the ways citizens think about themselves as members of an ASEAN or Southeast Asian community. It also has an impact on the strategies they deploy to collectively address issues confronting the region today.

The WP will explore how a sense of regional identity related to ASEAN has emerged in recent years and seeks to ascertain to what extent this identity is very much shaped by and confronted with different sets of national, ethnic, religious, and other Southeast Asian identities. These imaginings go far beyond the purely politico-economic realm and also take into account the increasing awareness of the interrelatedness of the region’s diverse cultures. The emphasis of cross-cutting ethnic patterns, over and beyond the nation-state, represents a promising new approach to imagining the region. In this light, WP4 is interested in how integration takes place outside or on the fringes of the official institutions of the ASEAN community. Our general research question thus is as follows: What factors are instrumental in forging regional identities in Southeast Asia?

This broad question will be addressed in three respects. First, we investigate the state of mind of ASEAN youth (millennials), who make up a significant portion of the population. We explore their attitudes toward openness and integration, concerns and priorities for strengthening national identity, and understanding of their role for the future of ASEAN. Second, we seek to explore the role of transnational formations in the region based on ethnic and religious affinities. Third, in our two inter-related research modules on Generations and Violence, we shall study how violence or, to be more precise, the perception and memory (as well as forgetting) of violence shapes and transforms collective identities.

As a transversal theme we will study multiple mobilities –notably mobile populations such labour migrants, pilgrims, tourists, and refugees – to explore whether movements compete with or legitimise forms of Southeast Asian identity. Another transversal theme is the importance of security for regional solidarity among the peoples of Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, As we explore identity construction, gender is another transversal theme that informs our studies. A gendered perspective informs our studies on religious resurgence among Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists based on various motivations including pious feminism, nationalism, prosperity, and proselytization.


Volker Grabowsky


Jayeel Serrano Cornelio

[Read More]


The Region: ASEAN’s Contested Centrality (WP5)

This WP examines the evolution of the ASEAN project within the global geopolitical and geo-economic context, with particular attention to the Association’s legitimacy - both in the process of its enlargement, past and present - and in the face of, what has been argued, is a crisis of globalisation. This WP will examine the dynamics of integration and disintegration, namely the centrifugal and centripetal forces, impacting on the Association in multi-lateral, ‘mini-lateral’ and bi-lateral contexts. We propose to examine the perception and reality of ASEAN as an institution by in four research modules, examining the Association as such, membership experiences, and ASEAN within wider regional and global contexts.

Research Module 1 examines ASEAN’s specific characteristics and norms and to what extent they have contributed to an imagined regional identity. Is ASEAN, as some neo-realist scholars would have it, more about “process than progress”? This module will involve studying ASEAN practice in areas such as energy security, military cooperation and maritime connectivity. This WP seeks to examine the rhetoric of the ASEAN way in the cold light of the praxis of ASEAN members.

Research Module 2, will undertake a comparative study of ASEAN enlargement, by looking at new domestic / foreign interfaces through a comparative case study of a recent existing member, Myanmar, and a candidate for ASEAN membership, Timor Leste. These case studies will address questions of social learning and norm diffusion through a study of domestic actors.

Research Module 3 focuses on ASEAN's centrality in the context of competing regional projects. For example, competing FTA projects (CPTPP, RCEP), involving in the latter case only some ASEAN members, could at least, potentially be divisive. Moreover, is Foreign Direct Investment - especially that from China under the Belt and Road Initiative - in certain ASEAN members a factor facilitating or, on the contrary, one which is both divisive and thus, potentially, capable of undermining ASEAN’s centrality? It has been argued, for example, that both Cambodia and Laos are Chinese client states very reluctant to express solidarity with other ASEAN members who feel threatened, for example, by assertive Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea. Moreover, significant cross border actors, such as the Chinese province of Yunnan, would appear to have their own agenda in relation to their very close Southeast Asian neighbours.

Research Module 4 examines SEA regional integration in a wider global context and asks whether ASEAN is really central in the evolution, not only of East Asia, but also in relation to other regional constructions such as the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific. We propose to examine the impact of external forces - Sino-American rivalry, Russia’s East Asian thrust and a global European Union - in engendering integration or disintegration within ASEAN. The resurrection of the Quad – a partnership involving Australia, India, Japan and the United States – and the concomitant promotion of the Indo-Pacific as a geopolitical entity, is merely the latest regionalist development impacting on ASEAN.


Sophie Boisseau du Rocher


Moe Ma Ma


Natthanan Kunnamas 

[Read More]
Three transversal themes - Migration, Gender and Security - are examined in each Work Package.