South-East Asia: Burma/Myanmar and Siam/Thailand in comparative perspective

Course Material 2020/21

This module will provide students with an insight into state formation, identity politics, and political and economic development in two polities on the Southeast Asian mainland: Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Thailand (previously known as Siam).

The two countries are quite similar in many ways: Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion, and Buddhist kingship was the traditional form of government. Since the 1960s, the two countries have been under military rulef or extended periods. Relations with ethnic and religious minorities have frequently been conflictual—and relations with Malay Muslims in Southern Thailand and Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar particularly so. However,the two countries also differ in important respects. Most notably, Burma experienced colonization (by Britain) while Siam, alone in Southeast Asia, managed to retain nominal independence. The two countries thus provide an excellent opportunity to consider the historical and contemporary significance of different experiences with colonialism and imperialism. Another important difference relates to economic management and development: for much of the post-WWII period independent Burma adopted a socialistic and autarkic approach to the economy, whereas Thailand embraced capitalism and globalization.

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