During the early seventies in Southeast Asia, strong lines were drawn between the concepts “environment” and “development” and the groups identified with them. “Environmentalists” were a very small minority. They were generally young, foreign-educated, urban, ambitious intellectuals. Most were in the universities. The “developmentalists” were the officials, scientists and technicians who dealt with problems of production, economic growth and poverty, had recently gained a confident grasp of how to proceed, and saw little reason to be dissuaded from doing so. On the one hand, in a sense, were the idealists and, on the other, the pragmatists. Both held strong social convictions.
Today the distinctions are no longer meaningful. A convergence has occurred. It is embodied in laws, plans, policies, new agencies, agency operations, university programmes, production techniques and public attitudes. Although conflicts continue, as they inevitably must, environmental norms, and organizational and technical responses to them, permeate development philosophy and practice. The converse is also true; one need only recall the confinement of concern of early environmentalism to relict protection and industrial pollution to recognize how far things have progressed since them. In fact, the environmental and developmental constructs are merging in broad concepts of national realization that strike little difference between the progress of a nation, its earth, and its heritage.
The transition has been rapid. How has it happened? What is the situation today? Where might it lead to? What has been the scholar's role in the progress of events, and what might it become? These are the questions which will be pursued here.
The process of growth in nations is fundamental to contemporary events in Southeast Asia. The end of colonialism removed constraints on comfortable modes of political and economic accommodation, and replaced sharp boundaries of power and control with a flux requiring reformation of social, political and economic institutions.