Find out why students choose to study and travel in Southeast Asia, the difference it has made in their lives, and the real-world issues they’re researching.
Faculty of Science
Country of expertise: Cambodia
Project: Integrated plant disease management for rice in Northwest Cambodia
Northwest Cambodia (NWC) is known as the “rice bowl” due to its high productivity and rich soil fertility. Many plant diseases persist in this lowland rice-growing region and are one of the most significant causes to yield loss and to the reduced quality of rice. In NWC, the distinction between pathogenic organisms (bacterial, viral and fungal) is rarely known with most rice farmers referring to all plant diseases as “Kra” meaning “sick plant” in Khmer. Misidentification and misdiagnosis of plant diseases leads to incorrect management decisions resulting in money and time resources being wasted. Additionally, the overreliance and misuse of chemical pesticides to control plant diseases and other pests can lead to illnesses, chemical poisoning and even death. Information on the safe use of chemical pesticides is critical in ensuring farmers and their communities are minimising their risk of harm.
My project aims to develop a mobile application that addresses the current problems in plant disease management of rice in Northwest Cambodia. Accessibility to smartphones and mobile apps are not constrained to the developed world with the use of smartphones increasing in lesser developed countries, including remote farming communities. Mobile apps can be used as innovative tools for access to accurate and reliable information for agricultural producers and other stakeholders.
I use a mixed methods approach, collecting and analysing both qualitative and qualitative data to give a voice to study participants and ensure that study findings are grounded in participants’ experiences and practices. I have a strong focus on working collaboratively with other stakeholders, especially using the “students as partners” model. Thus far, I have worked with Khmer Masters students in Cambodia to collect survey data from farmers, and Postgraduate Engineering students in Sydney to develop the prototype for my mobile app.
My interest in Southeast Asia began in my early 20’s when travelling through Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. In 2018, the opportunity arose for me to do an Honours project in Cambodia with an ACIAR-funded project; an existing collaboration between the University of Sydney, National University of Mean Chey and the National University of Battambang. I excitedly accepted and during my first field trip to Northwest Cambodia fell in love with the country, Khmer people and way of life. I feel humbled and grateful that I am able to continue researching in this region throughout my Doctorate.
Abercrombie Business School
Country of expertise: Malaysia
Project: Internationalization and the outsidership challenge: A longitudinal process case study of a firm entering a foreign market
The case study explores how sub-units of an MNC manage their network relationships and balance their liability of outsidership within their internal international organizational structure and the local collaborators in Malaysia.
This research aims to provide plausible explanations of the patterns of organisational relationships and the on-going decision making process by elucidating how context, content and process interplay over time. Analysing the relationships between the macro, meso and the micro environment of the firm over time provides understanding of the different causal perspectives which enables the firm to lower its business risks for business longevity in the foreign market.
Using a longitudinal processual approach, based on the tenets of the liability of outsidership (LoO), the data is collected through semi-structured interviews, observations and archival documents. The fieldwork covers several sites but mainly focused on the two sub-units based in Malaysia.
The intended outcome of this research is to:
Family background and a curiosity about how business operates in Malaysia.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Country of expertise: Indonesia
Project: Indonesian Contemporary Art in Australia 1975-2019
My project is grounded in the sociology of art and culture and examines how Indonesian contemporary art is, and has been, valued by Australian art collecting institutions including state galleries and universities.
This research is needed to better understand the evaluative practices of Australian curators dealing with Indonesian art. Art is an important avenue for the representation of Indonesia to the Australian public. Which art is selected and why is of importance in understanding how the people and culture of Indonesia are represented to the people of Australia. Furthermore, the decisions made by institutional curators have a flow on effect to market valuations of Indonesian art. Consequently, understanding these decisions gives an important insight into how the art market functions. More generally, the sociology of art is a much-neglected field in Australia and my research will contribute to its development beyond my specific focus on Indonesian art.
My research draws widely on the philosophy of art and on the sociology of the arts and culture and uses methods including social network analysis, discourse analysis and ethnography. It also draws heavily on the theories of Boltanksi and Thevenot on justificatory logics and Lucien Karpik on evaluative devices.
The main outcome of this project will be an understanding of how the evaluative practices of Australian institutions operate with respect to Indonesian contemporary art function and have changed over time.
I lived and worked in Southeast Asia for 15 year.s
Sydney Law School
Project: Civil society and legal activism in Southeast Asia
My project considers the ways that civil society promotes legal change and greater accountability for human rights in Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines. The project will examine local activists’ perspectives about the legal changes that are required in the transition from authoritarianism. This will include considering how activists both understand and seek to influence legal issues such as the enactment of human rights law, constitutional change, the establishment of human rights commissions and dealing with historical rights violations. The research findings will be used to better theorise the relationship between civil society and law reform in countries that are transitioning towards greater respect for democratic principles and human rights.
I first became aware of Southeast Asia when Indonesian was the only language on offer at the tiny high school I attended in rural NSW. This was introduced to us through a charming taped correspondence course, featuring gamelan and tropical fruits. It was only when I continued studying Indonesian as an undergraduate at the University of Sydney that I began to think about the complexity of the political events that had been happening at the time I was learning from these tapes – the fall of Suharto and the Timor-Leste independence vote. These transitions from authoritarianism fascinate me, and thinking about them led to my interest in human rights and social activism in the Southeast Asian region more broadly.
Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Country of expertise: Indonesia
Project: Acehnese sitting dances: a traditional performance phenomenon
My PhD research project concerns a family of dances originating in Indonesia’s Aceh province, commonly labelled ‘Saman dance’ after the most well-known variety from the Gayo Lues region. They are performed by dancers kneeling together in a row facing the audience, and are characterised by rapid movements of the arms, head and torso, body percussion, and singing in unison. Since coming to public attention in Indonesia after a televised performance in 1974 these dances have exploded in popularity and are now performed by countless traditional dance clubs at schools and universities across the country. This research project seeks to document the story of these dances, from obscurity in Aceh to national dominance, and in doing so explore issues related to cultural ownership, gender in performance, continuity of traditional performance, government support for the arts, music psychology, rhythmic entrainment and the dynamics of group musical performance. The project seeks to investigate how participants’ experiences of learning, performing and teaching Acehnese sitting dances relate to relationships between participants, to their communities, and to their ethnic, religious, regional and national identities.
The story of these dances’ recent spread and rise in popularity is a phenomenon that deserves investigation. From a local performance tradition, mainly featured in weddings and other local celebrations, Acehnese sitting dances are now performed at numerous events and competitions across Indonesia and, indeed, the world. In 2011, ‘Saman dance’ was added to the UNESCO register of intangible cultural heritage, and in 2018 a sitting dance performance took pride of place as the opening act at the Asian Games Opening Ceremony in Jakarta. The fact that this process has occurred against a backdrop of civil war (1970s–2005) and natural disaster (the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004) in Aceh province compounds the unique interest of this story. The research also has the potential to shed light on current questions in evolutionary musicology by exploring the link between experiences of group rhythmic entrainment and music’s benefits to social cohesion. Requiring intense rhythmic co-ordination between participants, unmediated by musical instruments, Acehnese sitting dances are a productive site to explore this issue.
The research will be pursued mainly through ethnographic interviews with up to 50 participants in Acehnese sitting dances, drawn from dance groups in Aceh, across Indonesia, and in Australia, as well as participant observation, media analysis and musical analysis.
This research project will be of benefit to communities in Indonesia and Australia, deepening scholarly understanding of Indonesian performance traditions and national cultural heritage. The objectives of the project are to document the remarkable rise in popularity of Acehnese sitting dances and their spread across Indonesia and the world; to record participants’ motivations for taking part in music/dance traditions and explore their perspectives on Acehnese sitting dances as valued traditional culture and markers of ethnic, religious, regional and national identity; and to bring insights from the dancers to bear on current questions in music scholarship around the biology and evolutionary history of group music-making and performance.
I have had an interest in Indonesia since first visiting Bali as a child. I started learning Bahasa Indonesia around 5 years ago and have deepened my interest and understanding through my travels around the country. I see deepening mutual understanding between Australia and Indonesia through cultural exchange as very important to the future development of this sometimes under-valued relationship.
Faculty of Science
Country of expertise: Cambodia
Project: The architecture of collapse: using network theory to understand the decline of complex civilisations
The project aims to employ a systems theory approach in the analysis of the devolution of complex, low-density societies. Using the Khmer Empire as a case study, it will investigate the power of a subset of systems theory – network theory – in explaining the structural and spatial disintegration of the kingdom.
The project will use palaeo-environmental techniques to reconstruct landscape histories (and from which infer settlement occupation histories) of a number of peripheral settlements throughout the Empire from the beginning of the Angkor period to the Empire’s collapse, and onward through Cambodia’s transition to modernity.
Moving beyond the reductionist approach of causal correlation models and toward one that captures the broader, dynamic principles at work in human-environment systems (without ignoring the more complex and multivariant inputs specific to each case), this project will provide necessary insight into the resiliency or vulnerability of complex societies and contribute to the understanding of the processes governing complex systems in general.
I was interested in the decline and collapse of ancient civilisations and this project based on Angkor seemed like a really interesting research opportunity.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Country of expertise: Laos
Project: ‘Sert Has Gone’ – Managing Modernity on a Ridgetop in Laos
This research project is based on a year of ethnographic field research conducted in the ethnic Khmu-Akha hamlet of Baan Kak (a pseudonym) in Laos' northernmost province of Phongsali. It provides an intimate account of the multifaceted ways in which upland peasants in mainland Southeast Asia have been engaging with nation-building, modernization and socio-economic development.
The project will offer new insights and stimulating perspectives on ongoing debates surrounding nation-building, modernity/modernism, development and globalization. It will also shed further light on an important but hitherto understudied part of Laos.
Having grown up in Brunei, and having family ties to Laos, I have long been involved with and interested in Southeast Asia. I spent the better part of a decade living and working for various donor-funded projects (e.g. UNDP, giz, KfW) in rural Laos and Vietnam. My academic interest in Laos and the wider region stems from these personal and professional engagements.
Faculty of Science
Country of expertise: Timor-Leste
Project: Discovering the links between village chickens and human diets and nutrition in Timor-Leste
The government of Timor-Leste is battling to reduce chronic undernutrition, currently affecting 50% of children under 5 years. A limiting factor in achieving a high-quality diet is the low consumption of nutrient-rich animal-source foods. Although a large proportion of households own scavenging chickens, flock sizes are small due to high rates of disease and predation. The control of Newcastle disease is expected to decrease flock mortality, increasing the availability of village chickens and eggs for household consumption and sale. This research project monitors the effect of Newcastle disease vaccination on village chicken flocks, and investigates the relationships between village chickens and maternal and child diets and nutrition. This research also examines food availability in rural areas of Timor-Leste across the seasons, and aims to identify the barriers to consuming a high-quality diet, particularly in infants and young children.
This research is important because although human nutritional outcomes are often cited in programme outlines, to date there are few animal health programmes that rigorously monitor the effect on diets and nutrition.
This is a mixed methods research project, with qualitative data collected through key informant interviews and focus group discussions. Quantitative data includes seasonal collection of dietary diversity and anthropometric data for mothers and children, as well as haemoglobin measurements for children. Chicken flocks are monitored monthly for flock size and activity, including sale, consumption and loss through mortality or predation.
It is hoped that improving the health of village chickens increases production and gives households more opportunity to consume chickens and eggs, however, sale of the chickens and purchase of other foods that increase variety and nutrient content of local diets is also a favourable outcome.
Growing up, I used to always hear of the struggles in Timor-Leste on the radio as they fought for independence. As an adult, reading the history of this new nation gave me a greater understanding of the struggles they have overcome, and inspired me to actively contribute to the continued advancement of Timor-Leste.
Faculty of Science
Countries: Cambodia and Thailand
Project: Producing scales of resistance: transboundary community-based responses and resistance to Mekong River mainstream dams in the Lower Mekong Basin
My research project aims to examine the translocal assemblages, spaces and processes through which selected Thai and Cambodian riparian communities have endeavoured to influence decision-making processes surrounding the controversial Xayaburi Dam and the Don Sahong Dam, located on the mainstream of the Mekong River in Laos. First, the project aims to identify and trace the shifting spaces of participation and resistance that are located within, and shaped by, the broader political-economic and institutional assemblages of governance within the Lower Mekong Basin. Second, the project will examine the strategies, tactics and practices that the Thai and Cambodian riparian communities have come to use in their campaign against mainstream dams to target national governments, dam developers, private financiers, and the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission. This will be contextualised within the dynamics and relationships between the riparian communities and the transnational advocacy networks that they are entwined with. Lastly, the project will examine how the efforts of the Thai and Cambodian riparian communities have influenced and re-assembled the politics of environment surrounding hydropower development on the Mekong River’s mainstream.
Overall, the project will shed some light on the potential for change in the seemingly relentless push for large mainstream hydropower dams on the Mekong River.
When I was an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, I took part in a six-week Geography field studies programme to Thailand, and a one-week field trip to Cambodia. Through these programmes, I was introduced to fascinating perspectives of Southeast Asia that I was previously completely unaware of. We visited cities, rural villages, and the borderlands, while learning about the complex and fluid social, cultural, economic, environmental and political geographies that made up these myriad land and water-scapes. We had many opportunities to learn about the lives of the (extra)ordinary people in these countries and to understand their everyday lives, their aspirations, and their struggles. These eye-opening experiences made me realise that there was so much more to know about the fascinating region that I live in.
Abercrombie Business School
Country of expertise: Thailand
Project: Antecedents and Consequences of (Group) Silence
Many employees engage in silence, choosing not to share their thoughts or crucial information about important work-related issues. Employee silence can have detrimental consequences for employees, teams and organisations. Nevertheless, scholars are still attempting to make better sense of its nature and related factors. Beyond the individual, there is lack of knowledge of silence as a collective phenomenon, and how it can be influenced by external factors, such as leadership behaviours. Through a multi-level approach, this research aims to develop a better understanding of (group) silence and its antecedents and outcomes, through various case-studies conducted in Thailand.
I am originally from Thailand, and find that different places in the world exhibit different types of cultural values, norms and beliefs. I find those in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, unique and interesting. I am particularly interested in how people in Southeast Asia communicate in the workplace, especially in their teams. From a practical point of view, various industries in Southeast Asia lack the knowledge in improving employee and human capital capabilities, especially regarding leadership and teamwork. Therefore, my research aims to recommend ways in which these employees can better collaborate, communicate and work better together.
Top photo credit: Bojan Bozic.