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Current research

Driving excellence in today’s academic research on Southeast Asia

We support researchers from across the University of Sydney to apply their disciplinary expertise to a broad range of real-world issues in Southeast Asia

Economic and social development

Lead: Dr Adrian Ellison
Discipline: Institute of Transport and Logistics
Grant: Sydney Southeast Asia Centre Cluster Research Grant

Dr Adrian Ellison is exploring the economic behaviour of taxi drivers in Singapore to understand how drivers respond to price and demand. Adrian is working with Professor Stephen Greaves and Dr Richard Ellison from the University of Sydney, and Dr Wai Yan Leong from the Land Transport Authority in Singapore.

The project addresses a significant issue the transport system in Singapore is facing: taxi services have to bridge the gap between mass public transport and the private car where reliable, on-demand, point-to-point travel is required. What is not fully understood is how individual taxi drivers behave in response to the price signals created through passengers’ demand for trips and the subsequent fares they receive.

The research team seeks to understand the behaviour of taxi drivers, and thus inform the design of effective and equitable transport policies to help the taxi industry fulfil the need for on-demand travel. Using data collected every 30 seconds on the status, location and driver from each of the 28,000 taxis in Singapore over a period of six months, they will record more than 1 billion observations throughout the project.

Employing the use of an innovative dataset and analysis, the researchers’ analysis will prove invaluable for the Singapore Government in formulating better transport policy that adequately reflects the needs and interests of citizens and the transport system as a whole.

Lead: Dr Aaron Opdyke
Discipline: School of Civil Engineering
Grant: SSEAC Southeast Asia Partnership Grant

By 2025 it is estimated that 1.6 billion people globally will lack access to secure, adequate and affordable housing. Compounding this crisis, disasters and conflict have displaced an unprecedented 65.6 million people from their homes around the world.

Led by Dr Aaron Opdyke from the Sydney School of Civil Engineering, the team comprises academics from the Sydney School of Architecture, Design, and Planning, Ateneo de Manila University and Mindanao State University. The project investigates informal sheltering practices in post-conflict and post-disaster contexts in the Philippines. Specifically, it aims to examine how shelter assistance, or the absence thereof, impact household needs. The research focuses on informal settler families (ISFs), relocated families in government-financed housing programs, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) hosted by family members with a focus on health, livelihood, education, and social impacts, examining sheltering pathways. Ongoing issues to be studied include land tenure, household’s sense of ‘ownership’ (relating to shelter and recovery processes more broadly), as well as potential for upgrading and retrofitting.

The project seeks to improve international humanitarian response to better assist developing communities to recover in the aftermath of disaster and conflict, with a particular focus on safe and equitable shelter. Working with humanitarian organisations, the team aims to uncover how new approaches, such as neighbourhood-focused programming and supporting self-recovery, can improve the scale and quality of humanitarian assistance in the Philippines. 

Lead: Dr Jeffrey Neilson and Dr Russell Toth
Discipline: School of Geosciences, School of Economics
Grant: ISEAL Alliance/Research Support

Jointly supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the ISEAL Alliance in London and the Ford Foundation, and with a total funding of AUD1.5 million, the 5-year initiative is part of a global project to evaluate the poverty impacts of standards.

Set to conclude in December 2019, the initiative is led by Dr Jeff Neilson (School of Geosciences), along with Dr Russell Toth (School of Economics) from the University of Sydney, in partnership with Indonesian researchers from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) Southeast Asia, the University of Lampung and the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute.

Sustainability standards are transforming the way the global commodity sector is governed. These standards are fundamentally changing relations between smallholder agricultural producers in the Global South and downstream agribusiness. Yet, very little is understood about the effects these standards are having on producer livelihoods.

Research findings to date suggest that households involved in sustainability programs receive improved access to training, higher average prices, develop enhanced awareness of environmental and social issues and deepened existing social networks. They were also more resilient to a damaging drought that affected the coffee belt of Sumatra in 2017 by virtue of their enhanced planting of shade trees on their farms. However, the research has found little supportive evidence for a key claim made by standards organisations – that they alleviate poverty amongst participating households through increasing yields.

Rural livelihoods in Indonesia are complicated and the target commodity (coffee in this case) is rarely viewed by rural households as the most viable pathway out of poverty. The research is engaging directly with global industry leaders, standards organisations and international development agencies in a way that is leading to significant changes in practices and attitudes by promoting greater sensitivity towards diverse producer livelihoods. To benefit smallholder producers in places like Indonesia, sustainability standards need to develop effective service provision and supports structures while moving away from a sole reliance on audit-based compliance systems.

Lead: Associate Professor Daniel Tan
Discipline: School of Life and Environmental Sciences
Grant: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research grant

In response to the need for crop diversity, Cambodian farmers have begun incorporating mungbean into rice cropping systems. However, mungbean is facing significant yield loss due to direct impacts of insect and disease pests. Improper pest management has worsened the issue, causing economic losses to farmers and environmental disruption through ill-informed chemical use. Use of broad-spectrum pesticides as a solution to all observed pests is common place in mungbean fields of lowland Cambodia and can be linked to unsuitable sources of agricultural information.

Associate Professor Daniel Tan, from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture, along with his team and in partnership with indigenous Australian start-up company Ngakkan Nyaagu (NGNY) Co., have developed an image-rich mobile phone application, Pest ID, to assist Cambodian mung bean farmers with insect pest identification and crop management. Upon the farmers’ request, a Khmer voice-over was added by University of Sydney Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Van Touch, to ensure the app was accessible to illiterate farmers in Cambodia’s more remote rural areas.

Pest ID adds to a series of mobile apps built by the Sydney Institute of Agriculture to assist Cambodian farmers to improve their farming practices.

Lead: Emeritus Professor Peter Windsor
Discipline: Sydney Institute of Agriculture
Grant: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research grant

Emeritus Professor Peter Windsor, from the Sydney School of Veterinary Science, is leading field-based research projects in Lao PDR, aimed at increasing knowledge of transboundary livestock disease and its impact on human health.

Through training on biosecurity practicesand animal vaccination programs, rural households were able to prevent disease transmission and increase their productivity. Sustainable farming practices have contributed to improving the local families’ livelihoods. With higher income levels, there was no need to do external work to seek additional revenue, which allowed parents to spend more time raising their children and even to afford university education. 

Environment and resources

Lead: Professor Bill Pritchard
Discipline: Human Geography
Grant: Australian Research Council (ARC)/Discovery Projects (DP)

Failure to meet the Millennium Development Goals on hunger reflects a disconnect between agriculture and nutrition caused by a misalignment between livelihoods options, and food and nutrition security.

Associate Professor Bill Pritchard, Professor Michael Dibley, and Associate Professor Anu Rammohan (University of Western Australia) are at the forefront of a global call by researchers to address this misalignment. Applying an interdisciplinary approach, the research team has drawn on their respective expertise in human geography, public health and health economics to shed light on the need for nutrition-sensitive development in rural Myanmar.

The aim of the project is to test the case for nutrition-sensitive development interventions by using a unique dataset collected from 1600 households across four regions of the country. The research team will create a unique lens into the question of how livelihood-nutrition interactions evolve under conditions of rapid economic and social change, and explore what this challenge implies for Myanmar’s development and transition to democracy.

"Previously, nutrition surveys were undertaken by health professionals and social scientists focused on the narratives of rural livelihoods," says Associate Professor Bill Pritchard. "The two fields never spoke and lacked each other’s knowledge. Now, nutritionists and social scientists are coming together in a problem-solving way to better respond to the agriculture-nutrition disconnect."

The project will provide an interdisciplinary framework that responds to global calls for better integration of health, agriculture and social science research. It is also innovative in other important ways: it prioritises analytical depth at the household scale, and uses a cross-seasonal panel data method. These aspects enable the project to chart livelihood pathways and nutrition relationships in Myanmar, and to answer key questions in the food and nutrition debate.

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Dr Sophie Chao - The University of Sydney, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry

Over the last decade, vast swaths of savannah and forest in the Indonesian province of West Papua have been razed to make way for agro-industrial oil palm plantations. Drawing from long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the rural district of Merauke, this paper examines how the proliferation of capitalist natures reconfigures bodies and selves among indigenous Marind communities. I begin by outlining how Marind make and become anim, or human, through their relations to each other and to other-than-human organisms within the forest. In particular, I examine how the 'skin' and 'wetness' of the body - manifest as sweat, blood, tears, and flesh - constitute central expressions of individuals' social and moral standing, that are enhanced through different forms of bodily contact and exchange. I then analyze how deforestation and the expansion of industrial oil palm plantations undermine the capacity of Marind to become and remain anim by contaminating and depleting the flesh and fluids of the landscape and its multispecies inhabitants. I describe how Marind attribute these adverse transformations to the anti-social and rapacious nature of oil palm itself as an agentive being. Drawing from Marinds' conception of personhood as a multispecies trait, I consider the implications of conceiving capitalism as a concomitantly dehumanizing and more-than-human force.

Lead: Professor Budiman Minasny
Discipline: School of Life and Environmental Sciences
Grant: Sydney Southeast Asia Centre Regional Mobility Grant

Volcanic eruptions are a natural phenomenon that can have catastrophic consequences for humans and wildlife, but their aftermath leads to some of the most productive soils in the world. These soils have the capacity to sustain high human population densities, such as Indonesia’s 255 million.

Using instruments available at the Soil Security Laboratory at the University of Sydney, Dr Fiantis analysed samples of volcanic ash to collect data to determine how this ash contributes to soil fertility in volcanic regions. The analysis contributed to the basic science of soil formation, and the quanti cation of geochemical properties of volcanic soils will lead to a better understanding of the global signi cance of Indonesia’s soil. Findings from the analysis and collaboration led to several publications in international journals as well as presentations at conferences around the world.

Professor Minasny went on to secure a SSEAC Sabbatical Visitors Grant to host Dr Fiantis in Sydney in November 2016. Their work in Sydney and surrounding areas has provided a valuable opportunity to derive new theories on soil diversity.

“The funding allowed Dr Dian Fiantis to work in our laboratory on soils formed from recent volcanic activities in Indonesia,” Professor Minasny explains. “These new materials are a contrast to the old and weathered landscape of Australia. Knowing how soils formed from time zero enabled us to reconstruct the history of the soil and made us aware of the fragility of our soils.”

Dr Fiantis gave a public presentation with SSEAC in November 2016. In her seminar, ‘The aftermath of volcanic eruption: How ashes turn into productive soils and support Indonesia’s dense population’, Dr Fiantis explored what volcanic ash is, how it can make fertile soil, and its role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere.

Collaborative research such as this between the University of Sydney and Universitas Andalas, the oldest university in Indonesia outside Java, has a strong impact and will serve as a reference for other scientists working on volcanic ashes and soils both in Indonesia and around the world.

Health

Lead: Associate Professor Robyn Alders
Discipline: Veterinary Science
Grant: Timor-Leste Village Poultry Health and Biosecurity Program

Funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Associate Professor Robyn Alders is collaborating with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources on the Timor-Leste Village Poultry Health and Biosecurity Program.

The program is developing sustainable options for nutritious and safe diets in rural areas of Timor-Leste. Building on locally available foods and controlling disease in village chickens, the project is making the consumption of chicken meat and eggs a possibility, sustainability reducing the incidence of undernutrition in children.

A large percentage of the Timor-Leste population is dependent on rural primary production. As such, food and nutrition security is a continuing major challenge for Timor-Leste. Subsistence agriculture is carried out by up to 80 percent of the population, but marketable surpluses are not always produced and certain times of the year are marked by food scarcity in many villages. Increases in poultry production potentially will benefit some of the poorest members of the community through increased availability of high quality protein from eggs and chicken meat.

The program's main objective is to demonstrate effective poultry management strategies in a small number of “pilot” villages in Timor-Leste. Management and vaccination techniques for Newcastle Disease demonstrated to be effective in improving village poultry production will then be adapted. Useful techniques demonstrated through the pilot villages will also be communicated to other villages in Timor Leste using a targeted extension program.

The health of village poultry will also be protected by work to strengthen international border and village biosecurity to reduce the reintroduction of poultry diseases into Timor-Leste and its villages, which will promote better understanding of the importance of animal health at the village level. Improved collaboration between villages and government will also support more effective disease surveillance systems and improved nutrition and prosperity.

Lead: Professor Glen Davis and Dr Daniel Hackett
Discipline: Faculty of Health Sciences
Grant: SSEAC Mobility Grant for Research collaboration

Malaysia is expected to become an ageing nation by 2030, wherein the elderly population will comprise 15% of the total population. This raises concerns over an increase in age-related conditions, such as loss of muscle mass and muscle strength. This age-related loss of muscle mass together with decreasing of muscle strength is defined as sarcopenia. It is well recognised that sarcopenia is one of the major determinant factors in frailty and is ultimately a risk factor for all-cause mortality among older adults (≥ 60 years). A study conducted by Norshafarina et al. reported a 59.8% prevalence of sarcopenia among 388 elderly people in Malaysia.

Resistance training is an interventional strategy that has been shown to augment muscle mass, strength, and function in older adults. Whilst muscle is a generator of strength, it is also an important organ performing protein storage, glucose regulation, hormone production and other cellular mechanisms. Therefore investigating strategies to maximise the hypertrophic effect of resistance training in older adults is critical to improve the health of this population. 

Working in partnership with the University of Malaya, Professor Glen Davis and Dr Daniel Hackett are researching how dietary and exercise strategies may contribute to the prevention and management of muscle hypertrophy in older adults. Specifically, this project seeks to examine whether the highly innovative strategy of fasted resistance exercise followed by protein consumption enhances muscle hypertrophy in older adults. The study will also investigate the feasibility, safety, and adherence of performing fasted resistance training in older adults. 

Lead: Associate Professor Gregory Fox
Discipline: Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, Sydney Medical School

Grant: National Health and Medical Research Council Grant

In Vietnam, one of the 15 high‐burden TB countries in the world, more than 130,000 people contract the bacterial lung disease every year. Efforts to combat TB in Vietnam have

high public‐health importance for Australia as Vietnam is the third‐largest carrier of TB to Australia. But this is not the only reason academics and physicians are investing in Vietnam. As a middle‐income country in Southeast Asia with a hierarchical health system, Vietnam has the capacity to change policy and practice and lead the way in the region.

The research team for the new project includes Associate Professor Joel Negin, Head of the Sydney School of Public Health, and Professor Guy Marks from the South Western Sydney Clinical School at the University of New South Wales and the Woolcock Institute, as well as the directors and heads of key national health bodies in Vietnam and 55 local clinical staff. The randomised trials for the research project will take place at 40 clinics throughout Vietnam, with 1000 participants during the rst phase and about 3000 overall.

As an implementation research project, the overall aim is to develop the evidence required to reduce the burden of COPD in Vietnam and engage local and national policymakers in translating the established protocols into new practices and policy that can ultimately be applied widely across the region.

The five‐year project will take place over three phases:

  1. Stakeholder engagement to analyse current policies and practices

  2. A stepped‐intervention cluster randomised trial

  3. Translation of the ndings of the trial into evidence that informs policy and practice.

One of the University of Sydney Medical School’s key af liated research groups, the Woolcock Institute has strong ties to hospitals and research centres in Vietnam. Dr Fox has previously worked extensively in the country as part of the Woolcock’s tuberculosis (TB) program and has been part of very successful, competitive research grants in his time there.

Heritage and the arts

Lead: Professor Roland Fletcher
Discipline: School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry
Grant: Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant

Professor Roland Fletcher, Director of the Angkor Research Program has been awarded a ve‐year Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant to investigate the demise of the ancient city of Angkor to uncover potentially serious global implications for our future.

Research on Angkor has been upending conventional beliefs regarding the ancient city for the past 20 years. Now, in a new stage of research, this project aims to build on the previous 20 years of interdisciplinary work on the region to discover what happened to the people of Angkor after the destruction of their city and what it could mean for low‐density cities facing climate change in the present day.

Since 1998, the Angkor Research Program has been the cornerstone of the University of Sydney’s engagement with Cambodia. Researchers from across the University have determined that the city of Angkor was a gigantic, low‐density urban centre and the site of an extensive canal system. The system’s purpose was to control excess water and distribute it to the surrounding rice fields, thus levelling out the risk of instability in a region marked by intermittent drought and monsoon.

While incredibly innovative for its time, the system was nevertheless irreparably damaged by the unprecedented amount of water brought on by the mega‐monsoons characteristic of the extreme period of climate change that marked the transition of the Warm Medieval period of the 14th century to the Little Ice Age of the 16th century.

With the destruction of the infrastructure that held the city together, the population dispersed. The ruling class and elite resettled in the modern‐day capital of Phnom Penh, continuing in present‐day Cambodia. Angkor and the whole of the central heartland was abandoned. The landscape, which had been developed and transformed to accommodate a gigantic settlement, reverted to forest and small‐scale farmland. In the centuries to follow, a new arc of urbanisation occurred, following the Mekong River from the southeast of the country up and around Tonle Sap Lake in the northwest.

For five years (starting 2017), the Angkor Research Program led by Professor Fletcher will ask: Why did the heartland empty out? What happened to the people of Angkor? And what does this mean for present‐day, low‐density industry cities facing climate change?

The findings will be immensely important for industrial cities such as Sydney, Shanghai and London. Like Angkor, these cities were created through a massive re‐engineering of the landscape, are dependent on infrastructure of an irreparable scale and are facing a period of climate instability.

According to Professor Fletcher, if these cities fail in the same pattern as Angkor, history tells us it may not merely mean a dispersal of population, but a clearing out of a region’s heartland with potentially catastrophic consequences. This groundbreaking research will uncover a phenomenon the world needs to understand to nd out if we are all at risk.

Lead: Dr Nerida Jarkey
Discipline: School of Languages and Cultures
Grant: Australian Research Council Discovery Project

Dr Jarkey is concerned with the ways in which speakers use grammar to convey meaning, and how this might relate to cognition, culture and the expression of social identity. This interest makes her well placed to be a lead investigator in her new ARC Discovery Project, ‘The integration of language and society’, which will study related groups in areas of Papua New Guinea, Africa, Asia, Amazonia and Australia in contrasting physical and social environments.

In 2015, Dr Jarkey was awarded a SSEAC Conference Grant to present a paper at the 25th annual meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistic Society (SEALS) on an aspect of grammar in the Southeast Asian minority language of White Hmong. The paper drew on rigorous topological research of the language that is highly relevant to the new project, which will study the associations between the substantial social and lifestyle differences between human societies, and the particular features of the structure of their languages.

The project aims to provide insights into the human dynamic by drawing inductive generalisations concerning signi cant associations between societal and language parameters, for example, varying techniques of address relating to kin systems and social hierarchy. It is unique in its capacity to traverse such a wide landscape of languages due to the breadth of the collaboration.

The two other lead investigators are Professor Alexandra Aikhenvald and Professor Robert Dixon from James Cook University. The three will be aided by partner investigators Professor Anne Storch of University of Cologne and Professor Maarten Mous from Leiden University. The only Southeast Asian linguist in the group, Dr Jarkey feels that her ongoing research on a minority language is partly thanks to feeling valued and supported by the institution she works in.

“SSEAC has helped me feel that my research on White Hmong is really part of my core business, and is genuinely valued by the institution, not just something I do on the side,” she says.

Lead: Dr Jane Gavan
Discipline: Sydney College of the Arts
Grant: Sydney Southeast Asia Centre Cluster Research Grant

Dr Jane Gavan is developing the capacity of artists to undertake placements within manufacturing communities in Ho Chi Minh City. She is collaborating with artists at the University of Fine Arts in Vietnam (UFAV) to build on recent research that shows how artists producing creative works within manufacturing communities can raise levels of creativity and innovation within these communities.

The Factories as Studios project aims to expand opportunities for practice for artists while addressing the strategic need to increase innovation in manufacturing. Jane is collaborating with the Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture, the Saigon University of Technology, the Dong Nai College of Decorative Arts, and the Hanoi University of Culture.

"The Sydney Southeast Asia Centre Cluster Research Grant has allowed me to develop a range of connections with a variety of disciplines within Vietnam such as art and design, architecture, museum and cultural studies, and business. It’s also allowed for increased institutional partner involvement."

The partners have welcomed this fresh approach to art and design practice, flagging two tangible benefits. First, the project has incited unprecedented cooperation between a variety of institutions across Ho Chi Minh City; secondly, partners have expressed a willingness to use this pilot project as a training ground for creative leaders.

The Vietnamese institutions have drawn on University of Sydney expertise in curriculum design when reviewing their programs to take into account this form of experiential learning to advance contemporary creative practice.

The project also aligns closely with the Vietnamese Government’s focus on making use of “social resources” in a range of sectors including manufacturing, to build a competitive advantage such as improving labour productivity.

Lead: Professor Adrian Vickers
Discipline: School of Literature, Art and Media
Grant: Getty Foundation’s Connecting Art Histories initiative

Following the success of the Ambitious Alignments project, in 2019 University of Sydney-based researchers launched the first stage of a new approach to understanding the visual culture of Southeast Asia, Site and Space. This new stage is funded by the Getty Foundation’s Connecting Art Histories initiative with support from the Power Institute, as part of both organizations’ shared vision to develop more global, interconnected fields of art history and museums. Both Ambitious Alignments and Site and Space advance Southeast Asian art history by providing research students and early career researchers in the field opportunities to conduct new and innovative research and create collaborative networks within and beyond the region.

Beginning with a planning workshop in Singapore, Site and Space has attempted to create a new methodology for understanding visual culture and the built environment in Southeast Asia through attention to cultures and histories of space and place. A previous planning workshop, organised out of the University of Sydney’s centre in Siem Reap, identified Penang, Yangon and Hue as unique cultural matrixes. These sites have their own self-contained cultural worlds, but are not necessarily central to regional accounts of art history. After a rigorous selection process to identify teams for each site, the July 2018 Singapore workshop was the first opportunity for participants to meet together. 

The National Gallery of Singapore, as host of the workshop, is a key regional partner in the project. The team leaders come from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds, and include University of Sydney PhD graduate Simon Soon, now at the University of Malaya, who is Penang team leader. 

Between August and October, each of the teams established field schools in their respective sites, with strong inter-group fertilisation. These field schools included the involvement of Dr Stephen Whiteman as lead investigator. Dr Whiteman’s departure from the University of Sydney for the Courtauld Institute in London has not seen any lessening of his involvement. Another key cross-site role has been played by Hedren Sum of the Digital Humanities Lab at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore, who has created a website that is also a research tool, and is working with the teams to integrate digital research into their work.

The full cohort will reconvene in Phnom Penh in July 2019 for discussions led by the project’s chief investigators, including University of Sydney Professors Adrian Vickers (Asian Studies) and Mark Ledbury (Art History), about the teams’ research in progress, plans for Year 2 and beyond, and the methodologies underpinning the project’s work. 

State and society

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SSEAC is partnering with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on a $46 million project to promote women’s economic empowerment in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.

In collaboration with the Business School’s Women and Work Research Group, SSEAC has assembled a high‐powered multidisciplinary team involving Professor Marian Baird (work and organisational studies), Professor Michele Ford (Southeast Asian studies), Dr Elizabeth Hill (political economy) and Dr Sandra Seno‐Alday (international business).

This team is working within and across disciplines to fill the knowledge gap around women, work and entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia. This project is an example of how SSEAC seeks to leverage expertise across the University to secure research funding, facilitate ground‐breaking academic work and assist in its translation in ways that make it accessible to policy‐makers and other stakeholders in Australia and in the region.

The team has produced numerous fact sheets about the state of paternity leave, workplace gender diversity and other related topics in Southeast Asia, which can be downloaded below.

  • Fact sheet about paternity leave in Indonesia
  • Fact sheet about paternity leave in Myanmar
  • Fact sheet about paternity leave in the Philippines
  • Fact sheet about paternity leave in Vietnam
  • Fact sheet about workplace gender diversity in Vietnam
  • Fact sheet about workplace gender diversity in the Philippines
  • Fact sheet about workplace gender diversity in Indonesia
  • Fact sheet about work and care in Indonesia
  • Fact sheet about work and care in Vietnam
  • Fact sheet about work and care in the Philippines
  • Fact sheet about women's activism in the Philippines
  • Fact sheet about women's activism in Indonesia
  • Fact sheet about women's activism in Myanmar
  • Fact sheet about women's activism in Vietnam
  • Fact sheet about work and care in
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  • Fact sheet about women entrepreneurs in Indonesia
  • Fact sheet about women entrepreneurs in the Philippines
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Lead: Dr Aim Sinpeng
Discipline: School of Social and Political Sciences
Grant: SSEAC Digital Research Grant 

The spread of disinformation, hate speech, and so-called ‘fake news’ on the internet in Southeast Asia has been identified as a major accompaniment, even a key driver of, intensifying communal tensions in some countries. The case of Myanmar has shot to prominence in 2017 after government officials themselves were accused of aiding the spread of ‘fake news’ online amid alleged ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya population. In Indonesia, the divisive 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election saw a noticeable surge in the prominence of inflammatory berita hoax or ‘hoax news’ aimed at tapping into deep wells of anti-Chinese prejudice in the majority indigenous Muslim population. 

Dr Aim Sinpeng is leading a team of international researchers to examine digital content produced from two countries of different democratic and media climate, Indonesia and Myanmar, to shed further light on questions of where ‘fake news’ finds an outlet, who engages with it, and how it comes to affect ‘real world’ forms of ethnic and religious animosity.

Lead: Professor Simon Butt
Discipline: Centre for Asian and Pacific Law
Grant: Australian Research Council (ARC)/Future Fellowship

Professor Simon Butt is examining the operation and performance of Indonesia’s regional anti-corruption courts. Established in 2011, these courts can be found in each of Indonesia’s 34 provincial capitals. Each court has heard all of Indonesia’s corruption trials for the past five years, but we know very little about how they are faring.

Indonesia has notoriously high levels of public-sector corruption that are eroding support for democracy and decentralisation, and threatening stability in the country. Simon’s project will be the first to examine the effectiveness of the country’s regional anti-corruption courts.

If prosecutors present convincing evidence, are these courts convicting defendants; and, if so, are they sentencing them to significant prison terms? Simon’s research focuses on the operation and performance of five of these courts, located in Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan and Papua.

Lead: Professor Michele Ford
Discipline: SSEAC
Grant: ARC Discovery Project grant

SSEAC Director Professor Michele Ford and her research team have been awarded an ARC Discovery Project grant that will allow them to study garment worker responses to Myanmar’s increasing integration into the global production networks of leisurewear and fast fashion brands like Adidas, H&M and Zara.

The team will compare conditions in strategic suppliers to leading global garment brands with factories that produce primarily for regional buyer networks in order to analyse the in uence of international organisations and corporate-led initiatives, changes in the structures of the local labour movement, and the local labour movement’s interactions with its international allies.

This analysis will allow the team to assess the implications of integration for garment workers; workers’ capacity to act collectively to in uence the processes and outcomes of integration; and the impact of integration on the structure and capacity of the local labour movement. The team will use these findings to better theorise how labour agency influences the operation of these global production networks.

The first major study of its kind, the project builds on the previous academic and consultancy work of Professor Ford and her collaborators, including a joint ARC Discovery Project grant held by Professor Ford and Dr Gillan on the role of the Global Union Federations in India and Indonesia and joint preliminary work conducted in Myanmar from 2012.

The team is confident that the project’s findings will not only contribute to the theorisation of labour voice and representation in global production networks, but also provide a strong evidence base for decision-making by local and international stakeholders.

Lead: Dr Sonja Van Wichelen
Discipline: Department of Sociology and Social Policy
Grant: Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) Fellowship

Dr Van Wichelen’s research engages with the body, law, and science in the age of globalisation and the effects that changes in socio-legal governance of new gene technologies in Southeast Asia have on our understanding of citizenship.

Genetics first piqued Dr Van Wichelen’s interest when she was researching politics and religion in Indonesia and came into contact with international adoptees searching for their birth mothers. This led her to further investigate the legalities surrounding transnational adoption, reproduction technologies, and how genetics is implicated in stories about adoption.

In her new project Dr Van Wichelen plans to carry out pilot studies in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. During the project she will interview lawyers, bioethicists and judges about the social and legal impact of new gene technologies. From there she will determine whether this largely theoretical project can develop into empirical research.

Lead: Professor Luke Nottage
Discipline: Sydney Law School
Grant: SSEAC Regional Mobility Grant

With the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), Professor Luke Nottage is helping to ensuring there are minimum standards of consumer protection.

When the Association of Southeast Asian Nations created the AEC in 2015, trade in goods and services was significantly liberalised. Its blueprint recognised the need to set minimum standards of consumer protection in all ten member states to avoid a regulatory ‘race to the bottom’ and sub-standard products being exported. In response, the ASEAN Committee on Consumer Protection was formed.

Professor Nottage was involved as a senior consultant in the project on Supporting Research and Dialogue on Consumer Protection and contributed to policy digests that drew on wider comparative consumer law and policy experiences

In 2016, Professor Nottage co-edited the book ASEAN Product Liability and Consumer Product Safety Law, based on a conference funded by Chulalongkorn University’s ASEAN Studies Centre in 2015 involving academics, practitioners and the private sector.

Professor Nottage has also received SSEAC Regional Mobility Grants to support further research in Thailand and collaborate with colleagues from the region. He attributes the shift in his research trajectory from North Asia to Southeast Asia to the funding, support and encouragement he has received from SSEAC.

‘I am grateful to the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre for providing publication funding to allow this book to be made freely available to many national and international regulators NGOs and academics, as well as to a wider audience.'

    – Professor Luke Nottage, Sydney Law School