Challenging Authoritarianism: Politics of Protest in East & Southeast Asia

Course content

What facilitates the development of protests under hostile environments and how might these events change politics in the long run? This course introduces students to major protest movements and mobilizations that have shaped East & Southeast Asia’ current societies. These protests cover a wide variety of demands, from broad anti-regime and pro-democracy goals to specific claims on gender equality, labor rights, land rights, etc. As contentious politics across Asia’s authoritarian states exhibits highly diverse dynamics that transcend regional borders, lessons on mass activism from here can shed light on important questions surrounding contemporary social movements around the world.


The course will begin with an introduction to theoretical frameworks underpinning contentious politics under authoritarianism. We will then examine specific cases of protest mobilization and their operating environments in each of the region’s most populous countries, including: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma/Myanmar. In the third and final part of the course, we will analyse some cross-cutting themes, such as: gender & sexuality issues, migrant labour activism, the role of social media, and transnational activism. The course highlights various methodological approaches to study contentious politics under authoritarianism, including: archival research, ethnography, onsite survey, and social media analysis.


MSc in Political Science

MSc in Social Science

MSc in Security Risk Management

Bachelor in Political Science


In the autumn 2022 the course is also offered to students at the

- Master Programmes in Social Data Science


Enrolled students register the course through the Selfservice. Please contact the study administration at each programme for questions regarding registration.

Learning outcome


Students will be able to reflect on both theoretical foundation and empirical knowledge regarding a wide range of protest mobilizations across authoritarian states in contemporary Asia.



Students will be able to identify and engage critically with major theories and research designs surrounding contentious collective actions under authoritarianism.



Students will be able to produce nuanced analysis on important issues facing many contemporary protest movements, including: the influence of political systems and social norms on protest dynamics, factors that enable protest success under hostile environments, roles of women and other marginalized groups in protest mobilization, and impact of international response and interventions.

Classes will be interactive. Each class begins with a presentation by instructor, followed by discussions and student presentations.

In order to hone students’ ability to turn their knowledge into concrete real-world outputs, the course also encourages students to work together in small groups in order to co-produce a podcast on a self-selected topic relevant to the course content.

Preliminary reading list (a full syllabus list will be available two weeks before the start of the semester):


Part 1: Introductions

Conceptualizing contentious politics

Sidney Tarrow. 2011. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Third Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pages 1-36.

Charles Tilly. 2006. “Repertoires, Meet Regimes.” In Regimes and Repertoires. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

James C. Scott. 1985. “Normal Exploitation, Normal Resistance.” In Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Conceptualizing protest mobilizations

Robert D. Benford and David A. Snow. 2000. “Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment.” Annual Review of Sociology 26: 611-39.

Michele Ford. 2013. “Social Activism in Southeast Asia: An Introduction.” In Michele Ford (Eds.), Social Activism in Southeast Asia, (pp. 1-21). London and New York: Routledge.

O’Brien, Kevin J., and Rachel E. Stern. 2008. “Studying Contention in Contemporary China.” In Popular Protest in China. Edited by Kevin J. O’Brien. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Part 2: Country perspectives

China (Mainland)

Hurst, William. 2008. “Mass Frames and Worker Protest.” In Popular Protest in China. Edited by Kevin J. O’Brien. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wright, Teresa. 2008. “Student Movements in China and Taiwan.” In Popular Protest in China. Edited by Kevin J. O’Brien. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mary E. Gallagher. 2014. “China’s Workers Movement & the End of the Rapid-Growth Era.” Daedalus 143(2): 81-95.

Diana Fu & Greg Distelhorst. 2017. “Grassroots Participation and Repression under Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.” The China Journal. 79: 100-122.

China (Hong Kong)

Francis Lee & Joseph Chan. 2011. Media, Social Mobilisation and Mass Protests in Post-Colonial Hong Kong. Page 1-20.

Ngok Ma and Edmund Cheng. 2020. The Umbrella Movement: Civil Resistance and Contentious Space in Hong Kong. Page 11-24.

Francis Lee, Edmund Cheng, Hai Liang, Gary Tang, Samson Yuen. 2021. “Dynamics of Tactical Radicalisation and Public Receptiveness in Hong Kong’s Anti-Extradition Bill Movement.” Journal of Contemporary Asia: 1-23


Vincent Boudreau. 2004. Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pages 103-133, 215-237.

Edward Aspinall. 2005. “Regime and Opposition.” In Opposing Suharto: Compromise, Resistance, and Regime Change in Indonesia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

The Philippines

Vincent Boudreau. 2004. “People Power and Insurgency in the Philippine Transition.” In Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Patricio N. Abinales. 2012. “The Philippines: Students, Activists, and Communists in Movement Politics.” In Student Activism in Asia: Between Protest and Powerlessness. Edited by Meredith L. Weiss and Edward Aspinall. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lisa Brooten. 2013. “Social Movements, Contentious Politics and Media in the Philippines.” In Mediation and Protest Movements. Edited by Bart Cammaerts, Alice Mattoni and Patrick McCurdy. Bristol: Intellect.


Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet. 2005. The Power of Everyday Politics: How Vietnamese Peasants Transformed National Policy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pages 1-36.

Andrew Wells-Dang. 2010. “Political Space in Vietnam: A View from The ‘Rice-Roots.” The Pacific Review 23(1): 93-112.

Erik Harms. 2012. “Beauty as Control in the New Saigon: Eviction, New Urban Zones, and Atomized Dissent in a Southeast Asian City.” American Ethnologist 39(4): 735-50.


Prajak Kongkirati. 2012. “Thailand: The Cultural Politics of Student Resistance.” In Student Activism in Asia: Between Protest and Powerlessness. Edited by Meredith L. Weiss and Edward Aspinall. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kevin Hewison. 2014. “Thailand: The Lessons of Protest.” Asian Studies 50(1): 1-15.

Bruce D. Missingham. 2003. The Assembly of the Poor in Thailand: From Local Struggles to National Protest Movement. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. Pages 1-14, 215-220.

Duncan McCargo. 2021. ”Disruptors’ Dilemma? Thailand’s 2020 Gen Z protests.” Critical Asian Studies. 1-17.


Vincent Boudreau. 2004. “Protest and the Underground in Burma.” In Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kyaw Yin Hlaing. 2008. “Challenging the Authoritarian State: Buddhist Monks and Peaceful Protests in Burma.” Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 32: 125-144.

Ingrid Jordt, Tharaphi Than, Sue Ye Lin. 2021. How Generation Z Galvanized a Revolutionary Movement Against Myanmar’s 2021 Military Coup. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing.

This course complements other current courses on Asian societies and contentious politics at UCPH, including: Contentious Electoral Politics in Southeast Asia; Protest, Resistance, Rebellion and Revolution; etc. I encourage that students have taken these or other similar courses in order to establish essential understanding and relevant knowledge for our discussions.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Type of assessment details
Free written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester


Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Social Data Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Mai Van Tran   (7-8a75828886758254827d7587427f8942787f)
Saved on the 28-04-2022

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