My sense is that on New Mandala we could, in this our fourth year, do a better job of identifying and explicitly dealing with a wider range of social and political issues in mainland Southeast Asia. It’s not that we do a bad job; it’s just that sometimes we don’t step back from the immediate issues to consider the hardest questions. More generally, we are still prepared to put important regional issues in the “too hard basket” where, I’m afraid, they may remain for decades.

Recently I invited input from New Mandala readers about Thailand-related issues that are under-studied or even un-studied. It garnered a productive set of responses and a number of interesting, and potentially important, threads for further exploration. It was a great start.

To build on that previous effort I have now put together my list of fifty-two questions for the study of mainland Southeast Asia.

A list of this type will only make sense if I don’t actually know the answers. I can assure you that in all these cases I really don’t know — even if I have hunches or think I know parts of the answers. I hope you will want to add your own questions. Or you may even want to have a go at answering some of these ones yourself.

Obviously not everybody will like the questions but I still feel that they are all worth asking. Some of these are, I’m sure, unanswerable and some of them, until now, have been unaskable.

I offer them as a modest service to the field. All are posed in a spirit of scholarly inquiry.

  1. Will the educated children of Thai farmers go back to the land?
  2. In Thailand, what is the nuts-and-bolts process for initiating a prosecution against an alleged lese majeste offender?
  3. Is any type of class analysis relevant to the modern societies of mainland Southeast Asia?
  4. What does Senior General Than Shwe do for fun?
  5. Is China a greater positive influence in the region than we tend to acknowledge?
  6. What is daily life like for rank-and-file troops in the United Wa State Army?
  7. Why does the Lao government usually escape the critical scrutiny that falls on Burma and other similar regimes?
  8. In Thai society is Privy Council Chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda as powerful as we assume?
  9. How many people are employed by Burma’s censorship apparatus?
  10. Is mainland Southeast Asia, as a whole, more peaceful in 2009 than it has been at almost any other time in history?
  11. What are the most appropriate chapter headings for A People’s History of Modern Thailand?
  12. How important are ethnic Chinese business and political networks for the survival of the Burmese government?
  13. Do Thais eat differently now that Tesco, Big C, and all the other superstores are on the scene?
  14. Has the online world forever changed the mechanics, and costs, of government (and non-government) propaganda campaigns?
  15. Is it possible to quantify the velocity of gossip about Thailand’s royal family?
  16. What strategies are likely to work best in any future effort to topple the Burmese government?
  17. With the past decade in mind, do we need to re-theorise understandings of mainland Southeast Asia’s “semi-democracies”?
  18. Does Thailand have a republican movement in 2009?
  19. To what extent do academics and journalists still self-censor to retain access to countries like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Burma?
  20. Do the ceasefire groups in Burma expect to be fully dis-armed?
  21. Who ordered the recent “hit” on People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul?
  22. What impact does narcotic consumption have on the functioning of Burmese society?
  23. Are the economic benefits of Thaksin-style “populism” greatly exaggerated?
  24. What income could a country like Burma receive in any future global “avoided deforestation” scheme?
  25. Will there ever be quick-and-easy road transportation between Bangkok and Bangladesh?
  26. Does Thailand intentionally keep Burma unstable so that it can benefit from cheap labour?
  27. How do cadets at Burma’s Defense Services Academy conceive of their role in the world?
  28. What part has the US government played in the wars that have raged in eastern Burma?
  29. Why has King Bhumibol seemingly failed to guarantee an orderly succession?
  30. Are Hun Sen and Thaksin close?
  31. What names are on the Thai or Burmese immigration/entry “blacklists”?
  32. How important is drug trafficking as an income source for members of the Thai elite?
  33. Do the ramifications of the Vietnam War echo in the countries of Southeast Asia more than we realise?
  34. Why do most voters in Thailand still need to return to their home province to cast a vote?
  35. What does former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai think of the current configuration of political power in Thailand?
  36. How is the history of the Khmer Rouge period taught in Cambodian schools today?
  37. What ambitions do the Burmese generals harbour for acquiring nuclear weapons?
  38. Are countries such as Russia, Israel, India and Brazil more important in mainland Southeast Asian affairs than we realise?
  39. What are the military, political and economic implications of dams along the Mekong?
  40. Why is there still resistance to embracing academic blogging among scholars, young and old?
  41. Is Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn really as bad as people make out?
  42. Will any of the governments of mainland Southeast Asia be prepared to grant long-term and substantial autonomy to the many political movements that still actively resist central control?
  43. Why did so few people in Thailand condemn the 2003 “War on Drugs” at the time?
  44. What has been the role of the Singaporean government in supporting dictatorships in mainland Southeast Asia?
  45. How much of what we currently consider, say, “Burmese”, “Chin” or “Karen” culture would be unrecognisable to people living in those areas 200 years ago?
  46. What is the ideal role of an academic working in the field of mainland Southeast Asian Studies?
  47. In September 2006 was Thaksin plotting to maneuver his friends into top positions with the goal of sidelining the monarchy, and democracy, for good?
  48. Has the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis shifted political feeling in the Delta, or in other parts of Burma?
  49. Is Laos a viable nation-state in the long-term?
  50. What changes have mobile phones made to Southeast Asian family dynamics, roles and mores?
  51. Has the Communist Party of Thailand ever stopped being a force in Thai politics?
  52. Now that last decade’s buzz about “Asian Tigers” has largely faded, is there a new economic model for the countries of mainland Southeast Asia?