Underclasses and the Law in Southeast Asia: Epistemologies and Experiences

Valerie  Yeo's picture
Call for Papers
August 3, 2023 to August 4, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Social Sciences, Law and Legal History, Race / Ethnic Studies, Anthropology


Underclasses and the Law in Southeast Asia: Epistemologies and Experiences
Date: 3-4 Aug 2023
Venue: Hybrid (National University of Singapore & Online via Zoom)

This publication-driven workshop considers the role of law in the formation, erosion, and mobilization of identities known collectively as the “underclass”. It examines the epistemological processes and institutions underlying the legal/administrative/scholarly construction of the “underclass” in Southeast Asia. Following recent work that has sought to unpack this notion of a “subpopulation” in a predominantly N. American context, we explore how this community of “advanced marginality” has been constructed in Southeast Asian contexts over time and space (Wacquant 2022). Second, this workshop directs fresh attention to exploring the lives, experiences, and contributions of an epistemological underclass—bureaucrats, paralegals, witnesses, defendants, jurors, translators, clerks, informants, court personnel, legislators, archivists, fixers, editors, and web designers—who operate in the background, alongside, or behind the scenes of the knowledge production process (Said, 1989). In doing so, we treat “the underclasses” not only as the object of legal-scholarly epistemologies, but we consider their role as active subjects in the construction of knowledge pertaining to marginality in Southeast Asia.  

General questions that the papers included in this workshop will examine include:

  1. What is the role of the law in the construction of the underclasses?
  2. What aspects of legal rationale, method, and/or practice contributed to the construction of underclasses as both a legal and humanities/social science category?
  3. How are notions of identity, community, and culture acquired and appropriated by law in their rendering of the underclasses?
  4. In what ways did particular social, political, cultural, or intellectual contexts or concerns shape legal notions of the underclasses?
  5. In what ways do spatial contexts inform legal understandings of the underclasses and in what ways does law delineate spaces associated with the underclasses?
  6. What constitutes the epistemological underclasses and what is their role in the epistemological construction of Southeast Asian society?
  7. What are the epistemological legacies of research on the underclasses in our understanding of historical and contemporary Southeast Asia?
  8. How has court or judicial rhetoric shaped discourses of the underclasses and how have discourses of the underclasses shaped legal rhetoric?


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (300 words maximum), and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission by 1 February 2023. Please also include a statement confirming that your paper has not been published or committed elsewhere, and that you are willing to revise your paper for potential inclusion in a special issue submission (in collaboration with the workshop organizers and other participants).

Please submit your proposal using the provided template on our website to Ms Valerie Yeo at valerie.yeo@nus.edu.sg. Successful applicants will be notified by the end of February. Panel presenters will be required to submit drafts of papers (4,000-6,000) words by 15 July 2023. These drafts will be circulated to fellow panelists and discussants in advance. Drafts need not be fully polished. Indeed, we expect that presenters will be open to feedback from fellow participants.

The workshop will accommodate both in-person and online participants, as needed. If possible, the Asia Research Institute will provide overseas participants full or partial airfare as well as three nights of accommodation. Please indicate in the proposal form if you require funding support.


A/P Maitrii Aung-Thwin | Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Dr George Radics | Department of Sociology & Anthropology, National University of Singapore

Contact Info: 

Valere Yeo
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Contact Email: