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Modular Comparisons: Grounding and Gauging Southeast Asian Governance

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This paper argues that analytical tensions between comparability and distinctiveness, which often drive a wedge between disciplinary and area-studies debates, are not irreconcilable. Drawing on original research of public governance in Southeast Asia, I contend that modular comparisons—which blend different levels of analytical scope and abstraction—offer a valuable methodological instrument for cross-fertilizing empirical depth and breadth. To showcase modular comparisons in practice, I present four interconnected studies of public governance in Southeast Asia. The analysis combines in-depth city-level analyses and subnational cross-sections (that draw heavily on Indonesia's multilevel governance experience) with an intraregional governance comparison (that expands the focus towards the Philippines and Thailand). To shed further light on “what makes governments work,” the discussion traverses micro/macro-level confines and within-case/cross-case boundaries. In doing so, the concept of modular comparisons provides a systematic and contextually grounded perspective on Southeast Asian governance and a means for narrowing prevailing area-discipline divides.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2014

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