Workshop: Doing fieldwork in the time of COVID-19

What does fieldwork look like in the absence of a field?
Join us for a workshop on doing fieldwork in Southeast Asia in the time of COVID-19.

Who: Academics and Higher Degree by Research students at the University of Sydney with research interests in Southeast Asia
When: 1:00-3:00pm (AEST), Thursday 6 August 2020
Where: Online via Zoom (pre-registration required)

This workshop is designed for scholars at the University of Sydney whose fieldwork-based research in Southeast Asia has been impacted by COVID-19. Researchers who rely on fieldwork for their data collection have been seriously affected by the combination of travel restrictions, reduced budgets and health considerations associated with the global pandemic. While some scholars have been able to shift their projects online, many others have had to re-evaluate the feasibility of their research plans altogether.

This workshop recognises the challenges and limitations of using field-based methods in the present, and the uncertainty around when fieldwork may be possible again, and in what form. But it also asks what opportunities might present themselves as a result of the changes we’ve experienced in 2020, what strategies researchers can use to identify and capitalise on new research methods, and what this might mean for the production of knowledge in the future.

Registrations are now closed.



Justin Beardsley is a New Zealand trained infectious disease specialist, fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and clinical researcher. He completed his PhD in 2017 through the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City. His research in Vietnam was focussed on fungal infections. He conducted a multi-national randomised clinical trial into adjunctive steroid therapy for Cryptococcal Meningitis in Southeast Asia and Africa (Beardlsey et al, NEJM 2016). His other core research focussed on epidemiology of fungal infections, immune responses in Cryptococcal Meningitis, pharmacokinetics of anti-fungal drugs in the central nervous system, and temporal trends in cryptococcal drug susceptibility.

Sophie Chao is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry and the Charles Perkins Centre. Her research explores the intersections of capitalism, ecology, indigeneity, and health in Southeast Asia. Sophie previously worked for indigenous rights organization Forest Peoples Programme in Indonesia.

For more information, please visit her website: www.morethanhumanworlds.com.

Michele Ford is Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. Her research focuses on Southeast Asian labour movements, labour migration and trade union aid. Michele’s work has been supported by a number of Australian Research Council Discovery Project grants related to these and other topics. She has also been involved in extensive consultancy work for the International Labour Organisation, the international labour movement and the Australian Government.

David Guest AM is Professor of Horticultural Science, then Plant Pathology, in 2004. His current research focuses on the constraints faced by smallholder farmers in tropical horticulture that limit adoption of improved crop management and family livelihoods. He has supervised over 40 postgraduate research students, published over 100 research articles, three books, 19 chapters and peer-reviewed articles and been awarded over $17 million in research funding. He is a Fellow of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society, Past-President of the Asian Association of Societies for Plant Pathology recipient of a Career Medal for Agriculture and Rural Development from the Government of Vietnam and is a Member of the Order of Australia.

Holly High is an anthropologist. She uses ethnographic methods and anthropological analysis to understand human experience. She has written about anthropological approaches to debt, power and desire; psychoanalytic theory and anthropology; Lao policy (including cultural, poverty, health and agricultural policies) in relation to lived experience in that country; everyday politics in Laos; emerging infectious disease as an intercultural zone; and religion in Laos. She is currently investigating transformations in pregnancy, birth and early childhood in Laos.

Jeff Neilson is an Associate Professor in Geography at the University of Sydney. He is also the Indonesia Country Coordinator for the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.

Jeff's research focuses on economic geography, environmental governance and rural development in Southeast Asia, with specific area expertise on Indonesia. Jeff’s research interests are diverse and include issues of food security and food sovereignty, the global coffee industry, the global cocoa-chocolate industry, agrarian reform movements, sustainable livelihoods and alternative measures of well-being, agroecology, and environmental governance. He is currently leading a five-year research project examining the livelihood impacts of farmer engagement in value chain interventions across Indonesia. This research is contributing to cutting-edge international debates on the development effects of sustainability and certification programs, Geographical Indications and direct trade initiatives. 

Jeff is a fluent Indonesian language speaker and has conducted extended periods of ethnographic field research in the Toraja region of Sulawesi, where he pursues research in cultural change, landscape history, the ceremonial economy and oral poetic traditions.

Aaron Opdyke is a Lecturer in Humanitarian Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sydney and the Philippines Country Coordinator for the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. His research seeks to strengthen preparedness for and recovery after disaster and conflict, through the lens of safe and equitable shelter and housing. He has worked for nearly a decade on disaster risk reduction and humanitarian response programmes in the Philippines, both in practice and research.

Aim Sinpeng is a Lecturer in Comparative Politics. An award-winning educator, her research interests centre on the relationships between digital media, political participation and political regimes in Southeast Asia. Aim is particularly interested in the role of social media in shaping state-society relations and inducing political and social change. Together with Dr Fiona Martin, Aim was recently awarded funding by Facebook to help the social media giant understand how better to regulate hate speech online in the Asia-Pacific region. Her other scholarly works examine popular movements against democracy in democratising states, particularly in Thailand. 

Aim is the co-founder of the Sydney Cyber Security Network and has served as the Expert Contributor for Varieties of Democracy and the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index, which measure degrees and types of democracy. Prior to her academic career she worked for the World Bank, a Toronto-based investment bank, governments of Thailand and the Czech Republic and the New York State Democrat Party. Aim is also a regular commentator on Southeast Asian politics for the ABC, SBS, CBC, Channel News Asia, Al Jazeera, CNBC and Sky News.

Josh Stenberg is a Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies. He obtained his BA from Harvard College, his MA from the University of British Columbia, and his PhD in Chinese Theatre from Nanjing University. He was a Fulbright Taiwan Fellow and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in Theatre and Film before taking up his current position at the University of Sydney.

Workshop information






Session One: Adapting your research

Prof David Guest

A/Prof Jeff Neilson

Dr Aim Sinpeng


Breakout groups  
13:30-13:35 Report back  
13:35-13:40 Break  
13:40-14:00 Session Two: Alternatives to traditional fieldwork

Dr Justin Beardsley

Dr Sophie Chao

Dr Josh Stenberg

14:00-14:10 Breakout groups  
14:10-14:20 Report back  
14:20-14:40 Session Three: Long-term impact

Prof Michele Ford

A/Prof Holly High

Dr Aaron Opdyke

14:40-14:50 Breakout groups  
14:50-15:00 Report back and wrap-up

To participate in this program, applicants must:

  • be an academic or Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student at the University of Sydney 
  • be a SSEAC member (free to join), and
  • be conducting research on any of the countries within Southeast Asia (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vietnam), or Southeast Asia as a region.

Please note that places are limited and only University of Sydney scholars and HDR students are eligible to apply. 

Please forward the information to your colleagues and students who may be interested in this opportunity!