Reflecting on one's intellectual journey can only be an enterprise coloured by one's current lens and disposition. Inevitably, such a project risks the conflation of manifold experiences of the self into a journey more coherent than what it had been in practice. After all, thinking is a transformative process not easily pinned down to any linearity of time, events, or thought. This chapter is no more than a caricature of my intellectual journey, with the hope that it may provide a glimpse into possible contexts, processes, and ethics under which Southeast Asian scholars of my generation, which is of the sixties, have come to think about Southeast Asia.
My arrival at a position to “think from” Southeast Asia is very much a product of a combination of history, geography, personal pursuit, and providence as I moved across various intellectual environments over time. Looking back, I realize how my journey has been shaped by the imprints of intellectual currents associated with emancipatory struggles emanating from Western human sciences as I began my undergraduate training in Malaysia, and then moved on to Japan, Australia, and New York for my graduate and postgraduate studies respectively. It was an initial education in the periphery where intellectuals were actively engaged in class and Third World struggles for self-determination that set in place a radical foundation. This foundation would lead to my eventual captivation with newer critical currents on feminism and postcolonialism, pushing my work beyond class analyses towards questions of gender, culture, and race. It was, however, as I struggled to live up to my role as an educator, observer, and resident of Southeast Asia, in an area study programme in Singapore, that I became aware of the debilitating effects the newer critical politics had had on an area study enterprise outside the West and political agency within the region. It was this realization that forced me to see Southeast Asia not just as a site of study, but also as a place from which to make known the nuances of critical thinking and action from the region, which while connected to Western progressive imaginations and politics, are also different from them. What follows is a narration of my experiences of the places where I came from, where I have been, and where I now am, as part and parcel of how my theoretical-political imaginings about Southeast Asia have taken shape.