Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Resistance and Resilience: Coping With/against the State

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Resistance and Resilience: Coping With/against the State

Article excerpt

Southeast Asia offers a bewildering panoply of forms and outcomes of social resistance contra the state. At the same time, regimes across the region are variously disposed towards challenges made through "official" channels. The result is a spectrum of contained and transgressive, broad-based and narrowly waged, permitted and suppressed, and successful and failed protest. What determines how activists and advocates pitch their claims, and how does venue shape content? A comparative examination of spaces and forms of engagement in the region, building on the work of Garry Rodan and Kanishka Jayasuriya to develop a typology of regimes and modes of engagement, serves to address these questions. That framework allows deeper consideration of the dynamics behind demands, identities and strategic choices than studies of contentious politics and state-society relations usually accommodate. It makes possible exploration of how prevailing parameters determine which issues and identity categories gain traction, what resources and alliances are most germane, and where the balance between electoral and less institutional modes of engagement falls. Examples from a selection of cases from more and less democratic regimes in Maritime Southeast Asia allow us to probe these dynamics in greater depth. This probing in turn permits consideration of dimensions of framing and brokerage, of co-optation and contestation, and of the logic behind activists' strategic decisions of how best to take on a less than liberal state.

Keywords: Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, mobilization, political participation, civil society, electoral authoritarianism, political opportunity structures.

Southeast Asia offers a panoply of forms and outcomes of social resistance contra the state. At the same time, its regimes are variously disposed towards challenges made through "official", or "contained", rather than "transgressive" channels (McAdam et al. 2001, pp. 7-8). The region's experience thus presents a full spectrum of broad-based and narrowly waged, permitted and suppressed, and successful and failed protest--although not all activists' goals or demands face the same menu of available venues and tactics. Exploring how activists and advocates pitch their claims, and how space shapes content, sheds light on the inner dynamics of social resistance in the context of more and less politically liberal states. When do proponents of a given cause see the greatest benefit in working with the state and when, against it? Or, to put it differently, how does an aspiring activist encounter the nooks and crannies of the state edifice? I propose that, while scholars tend to focus on ruling regimes in considering spaces or opportunities for activism, such a "supply-side" view is only partial. Moreover, while the literature likewise tends to consider engagement with formal politics as distinct from civil societal activity, I suggest that the line between the two may be hazy in practice. Activists exert independent agency in determining how and where to engage. These determinations depend on activists' perceptions of the reliability or suitability of different channels, both institutional and non-institutional. Common measures of relative regime liberalism or state capacity do not then line up neatly with metrics of activism and possibilities for influence, since differently oriented activists may assess their options differently. Similarly, the space for advocates to wield influence need not align neatly with the scope or density of civil society.

This investigation explores the interplay of context, issues, strategies and identities. It does not presume that relevant categories of actors, targets and tactics are static or predetermined, but rather regards them as always contingent. Under what circumstances do activists facing an authoritarian electoral regime choose to engage via opposition politics and elections rather than through less institutionally fixed social movements? …

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