Untitled Document

Rethinking Development Studies in Southeast Asia: 

State of Knowledge and Challenges  

7 – 8 March 2015, UNISERV, Chiang Mai University

Host organizations

  • Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD), Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University
  • Center for ASEAN Studies (CAS), Chiang Mai University



Development studies as a distinctive academic subject has proliferated after the World War II in response to need to understand, interpret, induce and question social transformation occurring in developing countries.   The social transformation as we have observed is quite complex, comprehensive and dynamic, and it is commonly described as “development” or “modernity”—a trajectory which transforms developing countries to be like the Western world.  To understand and interpret the global phenomena of development and modernity, multi-disciplinary approach is required, particularly social sciences.  Academics and practitioners of development and modernity have subscribed to, as well as reflected upon, different paradigms, such as, dependency theory, Marxist and Neo-Marxist development theories, and postmodernism.  While these metta-theories tend to analyze the causes and consequences of the social transformation, the postmodern turn suggests that emphasis should be placed on wide range of possibly discordant and even contradictory views, voices and discourses.  Thus, “development” is one of the very metta-narratives that is to be questioned.   How postmodernism would lead to disentangling the malaise of development still needs to find out.

It is interesting to see how the subject of development studies has generated multiple sub-fields of study allowing scholars from different disciplines to look into development phenomena.  The conventional rural development approach is gradually replaced by community-based, participatory development, while environment and resource management and agrarian transformation have become a new terrain of investigation. The crucial role of the nation-state in the context of globalization in the control of natural resources and citizens still receives great attention.  Lately, some scholars take a “cultural turn” in approaching development paying attention to representation and power leading to an increasing interest in governmentality.  They also pay attention to the way in which countries mobilize cultural power to create their imageries to rebrand themselves.   Development studies also encompasses the intersect between development and various aspects of society, such as gender and development, ethnic conflict and state, civil society, social capital, globalization and localization, religion and development, media and consumption, urbanization and climate change, etc., to name a few.  To a certain extent, this evolution of development studies tends to unnecessarily create departmentalization and boundary maintenance.    

At the emergence of regional integration of Southeast Asia in pursuance of neo-liberal economic model, the region has encountered another era of development that is characterized by accelerated rate of economic changes and investment, transborder/ boundary migration and mobility, extractive industry, environment degradation, land and water grabbing, flow of culture and ideas, human right violation, etc.  In light of this, there is an urgent need for “rethinking” of development studies, that is, how the subject should expand or refocus in order to better address the emerging issue in the region, what kind of knowledge is needed to understand the regional integration and its inclusion and exclusion. 

The seminar will involve those representing development studies program in/on Southeast Asia to reflect upon their development studies program.  Questions on how development studies in the program is conceptualized, positioned and planned.  Discussion of direction of development studies program in/on Southeast Asia will be attempted as well as a network of development studies can be fostered in Southeast Asia and beyond.


  • To reflect, share and exchange experiences in teaching/research with regard to development studies in Southeast Asia
  • To identify new challenges  and emerging issues in development studies in changing context of Southeast Asia

Format of the seminar

Format of the seminar will be a roundtable discussion based on short paper presentation by representatives of development studies programs. A number of invited scholars of the field will be asked to add comments and share their experience.  The issues of each presentation include:

1) The orientation of the program and the thematic issues which each program emphasizes or specializes;

2) In light of integration of ASEAN Community, how each program redesigns its program and curriculum, revises courses, and evaluates methodologies or refocuses upon new emerging issues and debates. Also how the program of study envisions collaboration to be forged to encourage exchanges and mutual learning among faculties and students.

3) Recommendations for academic collaboration, information sharing, as well as staff and student exchanges. 


Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD)
Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University
239 Huay Kaew Road, Tambon Suthep, Amphoe Muang, Chaing Mai
e-mail: rcsd@cmu.ac.th
URL: http://rcsd.soc.cmu.ac.th
Tel: 053-943595-6  Fax: 053-893-279