Social Transformation in Southeast Asia
The School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS) at Monash University Sunway Campus focuses on social and political issues in the Southeast Asian region as its educational strength. Specifically, we are interested in the way certain individuals and/or groups of people are included or excluded because of certain social and/or political developments in a particular country. In considering these issues, we look at cultural, ethical and global issues and the way they can impact on the region’s progress.
Although there are other higher institutes of learning in the region which also focus on the above issues, SASS’s approach is unique because of our commitment to interdisciplinary methods of teaching. We pride ourselves on our use of theories drawn from disciplines such as gender studies, sociology, history, literary and film studies, anthropology, political science and international studies, to understand the current social and political issues with which Southeast Asia is grappling. From theorizing these issues, we then challenge our students to confront them through ethical, responsible, critical and informed thinking.
SASS’s educational strength support Monash University’s overall mission to be socially inclusive. Our aim is to make our students aware of the concerns confronting modern Southeast Asia, and to equip them with the knowledge that is vital when facing these challenges. As education in the Humanities and Social Sciences should ideally transform students into ethically and socially responsible individuals, it is SASS’s vision that in meeting this ideal, we will be a leading school and university in Southeast Asian studies.
Monash’s SASS aims to pioneer and emphasize social and political inclusion and exclusion as an important dimension in Southeast Asian studies. We have narrowed our concerns to two main themes:
In both, we are interested in questions such as: how have these groups/communities become privileged/disadvantaged? What are the ethical considerations for such developments? What must we do to address or redress such developments? Why should it matter that we do this?
Our primary focus is on Malaysia, but we are also interested in comparative studies using Malaysia as a case study against which other countries in the Southeast Asian region and beyond can be compared and contrasted. While we emphasize the study of political and social inclusion/exclusion in this country, we challenge our students, especially the international students, to provide insights into their countries’ policies and practices in order to encourage debates. As a foreign and private university, Monash Sunway is uniquely positioned to develop such a learning environment – one that combines “insider’s” perspectives with those of our international friends. In this way, the educational emphasis shifts from merely “learning” about issues, to actively engaging with them, thereby challenging students to be more critical and questioning.
Methods and Approaches
The two themes mentioned above will be further subdivided into four disciplinary areas, from which important issues relating to the themes will be taught to the students:
To achieve the educational strength’s objectives, SASS has several strategies in place, some which are already happening, while others will be implemented step-by-step over the next three years. With careful monitoring and reviewing of these strategies, we hope to develop a clear educational focus within the school that will be meaningful to the communities in this region. Our vision is not only to graduate students, but to graduate future leaders who are ethical, responsible, socially and political aware, progressive-looking and global in outlook.
Below is a brief overview of some of the strategies that are already in place:
(a) SASS’s curriculum.
Many of the subjects taught in the School are linked to the educational strength of social and political issues in the Southeast Asian region They are structured in such a way that they promote debates and argument about the various social and political concerns in the region in order to foster ethical and critical thinking. Some of these subjects include:
Governing the Global Economy: Stability, Efficiency, Justice (INT2085/3085) – this unit introduces students to the politics of governing Southeast Asian and global economy. It explores the way local and regional factors influence the processes and institutions that constitute economic governance, and the extent to which they focus on efficiency and stability as primary goals, and whether justice is and should be a central focus.
Postcolonial and Diasporic Literature (WRT2407) – this unit introduces students to the literature of Southeast Asia and other Asian nations that were once under colonial rule. Through studying these texts, students will confront the historical and cultural factors that have influenced the formation of Southeast Asian identities, and the extent to which these factors continue to operate.
Malaysian Cinema (FTV2120/3120) and Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia (FTV2110/3110) – these units are concerned with the historical legacy and contemporary practice of regional cinemas in the way they capture, represent and problematize political/social issues.
The three subjects mentioned above are designed by academics of the School specifically for students on this campus. There are many other units (imported from Monash campuses in Australia) with a strong focus on issues of inclusion and exclusion, such as the following:
The School is currently working on introducing a new Arts major that is based on the educational strength, provisionally called the Bachelor of Arts (Southeast Asian Studies), which will emphasize theories and issues of political and social inclusion/exclusion in the region. It is hoped that this new major will be launched in 2014.
The School has a placement program which will enable students to work directly with local NGOs or the various media/communication organizations. This program takes the form of a subject which students can enroll and gain credit points. The aim of this subject is to encourage students to participate actively in NGO concerns. It is also linked to the School’s NGOw Your World Day (see below).
To strengthen the educational strength further, SASS encourages postgraduate students to work on areas related to this strength and in doing so to use a multidisciplinary approach. Comparative studies, especially those which include Malaysia as a focus, are especially encouraged.
The abovementioned strategies benefit the School and the University as a whole in many ways. Amongst its most significant outcomes are:
All SASS Academic Staff are Members of the Education Strength.
Leader: Dr Joel D. Moore