The sprawling, archipelagic region of Southeast Asia usually receives more attention from tourists and beach bums than political scientists and commentators. Despite the fact that it is the most economically dynamic area in the world, is home to about 630 million people and contains the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia, it is often overlooked in favour of its outsized neighbours, China and India. Even South Korea prompts more interest, if only because it is always on the verge of being eviscerated by North Korea.
Nevertheless, there has long been a small band of social scientists who have profitably mined the region for stories and data to buttress their grand theories. J S Furnivall, a British colonial administrator and academic, coined the term ‘plural society’ to describe the communities of Burma and the Dutch