To start with definitions may seem trite, but it is necessary. The necessity may be less pressing with one term in the title of this book than with the other. ‘Southeast Asia’ has come to be accepted at least as a satisfactory geographical term for a region that encompasses the territory of the contemporary mainland states, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and the archipelago states of Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and East Timor. Few would agree, however, that it covered the Andaman and Nicobar islands, though geography would suggest it, while most would accept that it covered the Indonesian territory of West Irian, though geography would be more equivocal. In other discourses, too, Southeast Asia has been, and remains, a contested

term. Well before ‘deconstruction’ became fashionable, philosophers warned about ‘reification’. ‘Words like ‘‘Southeast Asia’’ and ‘‘unicorn’’ enable us to discuss topics about which we would not otherwise be able to hold a conversation’, J. R. E. Waddell wrote in 1972, ‘but we should be wary of attributing any more solidity to these concepts than the facts will allow.’1 In an article published in 1984, Donald K. Emmerson quoted this alongside Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ ‘Some names’, wrote Emmerson, ‘like ‘‘rose’’, acknowledge what exists. Others, like ‘‘unicorn’’, create what otherwise would not exist. In between lie names that simultaneously describe and invent reality. ‘‘Southeast Asia’’ is one of these.’2