The project has developed through two substantial research projects. The first was conducted from 2003-2006, under the name “Southeast Asian Regional Identities” and funded by grants through the National University of Singapore. In that research, Dr. Thompson conducted fieldwork visits to nine of the ten ASEAN member nations, collecting survey responses from university students in eight of them. The core of the project was a comparative examination of the students’ knowledge of “countries” (as a semantic domain) and in particular their perceptions of Southeast Asia and ASEAN through the lens of that domain.
The second and most recent phase of the project, sponsored by the ASEAN Foundation, consisted of a ten nation “ASEAN Awareness Survey,” conducted from September-November 2007, again among university students. The survey measured the students’ attitudes toward ASEAN as a whole, knowledge about the region and Association, orientation toward the region and countries, sources of information about the region and aspirations for regional integration and cooperation.
The broad aims of Dr. Thompson’s project are two-fold. Empirically, it seeks to enhance our knowledge and understanding of ASEAN as a regional grouping within a broader area-studies and international relations literature on Southeast Asia. Theoretically, he is using the data collected to speak to the concept of culture. Culture for these purposes is most simply described as learned, shared knowledge.
In November 2007, Dr. Thompson presented four facets of the broader project at the American Anthropological Association in Washington D.C., based on data and evidence collected through multiple methods from research conducted between 2003-2007 in all ten ASEAN nations:
- Countries as a domain term, including discussion of the historical context in which this shared domain displaced an earlier, Sanskrit-based cosmopolitan political culture.
- Samples from secondary school textbooks from around the region, which is a primary medium for diffusion and reproduction of “countries” as a semantic domain. The textbooks also demonstrate variance in the reproduction of the domain within different national contexts.
- Cognitive maps of the domain from several of the ASEAN nations, based on free-list and judged-similarity (triad) surveys.
- A comparison of the judged-similarity data focusing on five groups of respondents, which demonstrates the correlation of national frames of reference and ethnic frames of reference to conceptions of the relationship among countries in the region.
[Slides of the third and fourth points above are available here.]
The ASEAN Awareness Survey, which was coordinated by Dr. Eric C. Thompson of the National University of Singapore and Dr. Chulanee Thianthai of Chulalongkorn University, aimed to provide a cross-national, intra-ASEAN assessment of the orientation, knowledge and attitudes toward ASEAN among young educated citizens of ASEAN member nations. The survey was conducted among over 2000 students from leading universities across Southeast Asia namely: University Brunei Darussalam, Royal University Phnom Penh, University of Indonesia, National University of Laos, University of Malaya, University of the Philippines, National University of Singapore, Chulalongkorn University, Vietnam National University plus distance education students in Myanmar. It covered questions such as:
- Do youths today consider themselves to be citizens of ASEAN?
- Are the region's youth enthusiastic or skeptical about ASEAN?
- How well do the region's youth know ASEAN and its members?
- What are their concerns for the Association and the region?
The responses from the survey suggest that students across the region demonstrate a relatively high level of knowledge about the Association, generally positive attitudes toward it, and go so far as to consider themselves “citizens” of ASEAN. There are also many points on which students from all or almost all nations tend to agree – the importance of economic cooperation and addressing poverty and development needs, shared orientations shaped by common desires, a desire to know more about the region, and most importantly, a perhaps embryonic but nevertheless perceptible sense of ownership and stake in ASEAN as citizens of the region. The survey, however, also indicated some clear differences in knowledge and opinions or even ambivalence on certain matters which deserve further attention and study if ASEAN is to achieve some semblance of a regional entity and identity.
- "Attitudes and Awareness toward ASEAN: Findings of a Ten Nation Survey" conducted by Dr. Eric C. Thompson and Dr. Chulanee Thianthai
- "Cultural Configuration of 'Countries' in Southeast Asia" presented by Dr. Eric C. Thompson.
Thompson, E.C. and Chulanee Thianthai (2008) Attitudes and Awareness toward ASEAN: Summary of Findings from a Ten Nation Survey (Summary Report), Jakarta: The ASEAN Foundation.
Thompson, E.C., Chulanee Thianthai and Irwan Hidayana (2007) “Culture and International Imagination in Southeast Asia,” Political Geography 26(3):268-288
Chulanee Thianthai and E.C. Thompson (2007) “Thai Perceptions of the ASEAN Region: Southeast Asia as Prathet Phuean Ban,” Asian Studies Review 31(1):41-60
Thompson, E.C. and Zhang Juan (2006) “Comparative Cultural Salience: Measures Using Free List Data,” Field Methods 18(4):398-412
Thompson, E.C. (2006) “Singaporean Exceptionalism and Its Implications for ASEAN Regionalism,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 28(2):183-206