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The Everyday Political Economy of Southeast Asia: Widening and Deepening Markets

Organiser & Chair:
Dr. Juanita Elias
University of Warwick


Panel Abstract

It has been over fifteen years since the onset of the Asian financial crisis. The crisis itself led to a consolidation of the political economy literature on Southeast Asia and has provided a fertile ground for advancing political economy scholarship on the region. However, much of the literature is focused on elites, especially the tensions that emerged between different groupings of state elites in the crisis aftermath. By contrast, this panel will adopt an ‘everyday political economy’ perspective looking at how the emergence of more marketised forms of economic policymaking are sustained, reproduced and challenged through everyday practices. In their paper, Elias and Rethel provide an outline of this research agenda – suggesting that focussing on the ‘everyday’ provides insights into how processes of marketization are being produced and sustained in the region. The papers by Martin and Fischer point to the way in which everyday consumption practices amongst the region’s middle classes have taken root alongside transforming understandings of religious identity and gender roles (Fischer looking at the market for halal products and Martin focussing on the popular cultural consumption practices of middle class Malay women). Finally Louth’s paper looks to the ways through which the financial opening of Cambodia (in particular the opening of a stock market) is experienced by ordinary citizens. All of the papers, then, examine the nexus between (and also the tensions that emerge around) the region’s ongoing economic transformation and the lived experiences of ordinary Southeast Asians.


Paper 1: Towards an Everyday Political Economy of Southeast Asia: Economic cultures and global flows

Juanita Elias
University of Warwick

Lena Rethel
University of Warwick

Southeast Asia provides an important site for considering how processes of economic transformation are refashioning the lives of ordinary people – their decisions to migrate across borders; their experiences of growing affluence as well as of inequality, poverty and associated forms of violence and destitution; their activities as activists, citizens and workers; and the ways in which economic and social relations, responsibilities and activities are being refashioned. Southeast Asia is, and will remain, a heterogeneous region of the world, but this very diversity of culture, politics, religion, society and economics – intersecting with divisions of race, class, gender and even age – provides important insights into how economic transformation takes shape. In this paper we set out how an everyday political economy perspective serves to challenge the elitist focus of much Southeast Asian political economy scholarship. In this perspective, we not only consider the ways in which economic transformations ‘touch down’ within the lives of ordinary people, but also how the emergence of more marketised forms of economic policymaking is sustained and challenged through everyday forms of political economic practice such as consumption, the experience of work and forms of resistance.


Paper 2: The Political Economy of Muslim Markets in Singapore

Johan Fischer
Roskilde University

Halal (literally, ‘permissible’ or ‘lawful’) production, trade, and certification have become essential to state-regulated Islam and to companies in contemporary Singapore, but also globally. In the rapidly expanding global market for halal products, Singapore (along with Malaysia) holds a special position, in that it is one of only two countries in the world where state bodies certify halal products as well as spaces (shops, factories and restaurants) and work processes. In shops around the world, consumers can find state halal-certified products from Singapore. Building on ethnographic material from Singapore, this paper provides an exploration of the role of halal production, trade and regulation between Islam, state and market. Important questions in this paper are how supermarkets/hypermarkets live up to increasing halal requirements in terms of training; audits/inspections; and keeping halal/haram products separate.


Paper 3: Creating Space: Cambodia’s Financial Opening and the Lived Experience of the Everyday

Jonathon Louth
University of Chester

The paper examines the development and recent launch of the Cambodian stock market as being emblematic of a wider temporal-spatial re-imagining of the Southeast Asian region. Following fits and starts, the eventual opening of the Cambodian Securities Exchange has been vaunted as a long awaited entrance into the global market. For Cambodia it offers a move away from US dollar dependency and towards more sophisticated intra-regional trade-regimes, particularly with its ASEAN neighbours. However, it is argued that this process is simply a continuation of the recent Cambodian experience of violent neoliberal accumulation under the guise of clean and order-inducing neoclassical economic concepts. This paper argues the abstractions of neoclassical frictionless movement and spatial transformations formulate the technocratic, administrative and pseudo-scientific discursive acts that inform the neoliberal agendas of international financial institutions, states, NGOs and governance structures more generally. Importantly, the paper takes the position that the whole process of producing space and capacity is not a neat and linear set of affairs. It is a multi-scaler process, where the international, national, local and individual worlds overlap and interact to co-constitute the production of space. The political economy of the everyday illustrates that the lived experience has a roughness that cannot be completely subsumed by dominant discursive acts. The world of abstractions cannot completely subsume the lived experience. Even within the most repressive confines there is an opportunity for everyday lives to resist and to consider alternatives.