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 Arts and Social Sciences
Country: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore
Project: Historical Practices and Genres in Equatorial Southeast Asia to 1700
The project investigates the development of historical writing in equatorial Southeast Asia up to the 17thcentury. By studying this development, I try to understand how the textual processes that underpin these histories are connected to their status as history. My study makes use of manuscript and epigraphical traditions, mediated by colonial and postcolonial scholarship. I pay particular attention to the growth and transmission of specific genres of historical writing across the archipelago. By examining these texts in a comparative manner, the project offers a richer understanding of how Southeast Asian pasts were produced and organised.
The project is a comparative textual study of historical writing. It uses methods of literary analysis, generalising over many historical works, to propose a ‘history of historiography’ in equatorial Southeast Asia. My source materials are traditional manuscripts and inscriptions, which use regional languages of equatorial Southeast Asia, such as classical Malay, archaic and modern Javanese, and Balinese. I draw on skills from the disciplines of history, philology, literary criticism, and anthropology to describe and explain how traditional histories were made.
The research argues for new perspectives in Southeast Asian history and historical theory, based on a conviction that traditional historiography should be valued more highly by the historical profession. This project aims to provide a pathway beyond the impasse faced by many historians: whether to treat traditional Southeast Asian texts as reliable historical sources or as ahistorical cultural products. I advocate for an expanded definition of historicity that is properly grounded in Southeast Asian text, and show how narrowly-construed Western criteria for historicity are not suitable for this kind of research. In their place, I argue that historicity is primarily an effect of certain conditions of textuality that govern how sources are obtained and incorporated into historical research. This expanded view of historical writing moves beyond ethnocentric approaches that appraise Southeast Asian historiography by how well or poorly it conforms to Western models.
I have a family connection to Bali and went to primary school there, where the state-dominated history curriculum gave a fascinating though compromised vision of the region’s pre-modern past. Growing up, my interest in Indonesia deepened out of both general fascination with the mechanisms of time and specific desire to understand the complexities of the politics and culture of the country and the region.
Sydney School of Veterinary Science
Project: Understanding smallholder farming households in Cambodia and identifying mechanisms to improve household income and reduce poverty
I’m part of the Mekong Livestock Research team that conducts animal health research projects in Cambodia and Laos. Our team has been working in these countries for a number of years with smallholder livestock owners to improve animal production, increase income and alleviate poverty. My PhD research is based in Cambodia where we have a project entitled ‘Village-based biosecurity for livestock disease risk management in Cambodia’. The project aims to improve village level biosecurity for livestock and reduce the incidence of diseases that limit productivity and affect household income. As part of this project, I am investigating smallholder farming households involved in the project, their socio-economic status and identifying ways in which they can improve their productivity to increase household income and living standards.
My approach to this research is to conduct socio-economic surveys and case studies of households involved in the project and to conduct data analyses of existing and new data sets to determine household benefits of project interventions such as forage growing. The main expected outcome is that project households will increase their income and household status by improving livestock biosecurity and animal health and husbandry.
I worked with the Mekong Livestock Research Team for my Honours project in 2012 where I investigated the socio-economic benefits of improved smallholder farming in Cambodia as part of a previous project entitled ‘Best Practice Health and Husbandry of Cattle, Cambodia’. During this time I spent 4 weeks in-country and travelled out to villages to conduct surveys and interview farmers. I was immediately drawn to Cambodia – despite everything that has happened it is a wonderful place and the people are so welcoming. Cambodia is a bit of a rough diamond – once you scratch the surface there is something very special about it.
Faculty of Science
Project: The impact of coffee certification on the livelihoods of producer communities in South Sumatra, Indonesia
Western consumers are reasonably familiar with the concept of certified coffee. Certified coffee is generally sold at a premium price for which a consumer can be assured of certain environmental outcomes and/or socio-economic outcomes favourable for producer communities. However, the true impact of these certification schemes has not always been rigorously evaluated by independent researchers.
Quantitative assessment will be conducted through semi-structured, informal interviews across four villagers in coffee producing areas in South Sumatra Province and Lampung Province, Indonesia.
The main expected outcome from this project is a more targeted roll-out of certification in producer communities, and ability to disperse more detailed information to consumers about the benefits that their purchase is fostering.
Southeast Asia represented an opportunity for something different, besides my general interest in the growing relationship between Australia and the region.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Project: Do not try this at home: performance, performative and transgression in Singaporean oral history
Cheng's doctoral research explores oral history as performance: how, for instance, the oral history interview can be understood as an embodied, performative event. Additionally, performative oral history understood as such can be a ‘transgressive’ force. Keeping in mind the Anglo-American inflections in such a notion, Cheng critically recontextualises this idea in her home country Singapore. In doing so she hopes to come away with a potential framework for making Singaporean oral history which pays attention not only to the verbal saying (as is the current paradigm) but also the embodied doing: the performance in the heightened, charged space of the interview. The potential for oral history to open up new ways of thinking about our past, and the construction of it, will be explored in the context of largely top-down Singaporean historiography.
During my first year of undergraduate study I took up Indonesian Studies, which was the closest alternative to learning Bahasa Melayu, Singapore’s national language. I ended up majoring in Indonesian Studies and it became a big part of my undergraduate degree ¬– a highlight was taking a historiography course in Universitas Gadjah Mada under Pak Bambang Purwanto, where I did my first oral history project. For my postgraduate career I decided to take what I’ve learned from my experiences in Indonesian Studies and focus on my home country.
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
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
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
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 Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Timor-Leste 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 post-authoritarian countries that are in the process of 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
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
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.
Sydney School of Education and Social Work
Project: A postcolonial analysis on community-based medical education at a post-disaster area: Purposes, pedagogies, and predicaments in Indonesia
This study aims to explore the nature of medical doctors/teachers-students-community members’ interactions during CBME in a post-disaster area in Indonesia.
This study is significant for a number of reasons. First, it will be one of very limited number of studies that focus on the interaction between medical professionals and communities in a post disaster area using a framework of educational interventions. Second, some studies have utilised postcolonial theory as a lens to explain the foundational problems in health profession education However, these studies illuminate ideas in theoretical framework where there is a high possibility of applying theory in a more practical context. Finally, this study employs an ethnography-informed approach as a methodology and method, which is common to the field of medical anthropology, but relatively uncommon in the field of medical education, specifically.
I am using postcolonial theory as a theoretical framework and ethnography as methodology. My data collection methods comprise interview, focus group discussion, participant observation, text analysis. I am analysing my data using content analysis approach.
As I am writing my findings chapters, I have obtained insights from patients, experienced doctors and medical students in post-disaster context on their interactions in medical encounters during community-based medical education program. The results unfold the realms of complex doctor-patients interactions circled with issues on family separation and mental health, which intertwined with lack of integrated/holistic approach in patient management.
It came naturally as I work in the Southeast Asian region. I am a medical doctor by training, graduating from Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. After graduating, I worked as a rural doctor at a health center in Peukan Bada, one of 22 subdistricts of Aceh Besar district, near my hometown in Aceh. Being affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, I was internally displaced and then worked at a field hospital under the management of Indonesian Red Crescent Society (BSMI) as its director for two years (2005-2007). I worked in conjunction with many volunteer medical doctors around the world. I encountered many problems in patient management due to lack of medical doctors skills. This motivates me to turn my career to education field. I applied to be a medical teacher and was accepted, was assigned to work at the exact position I wanted, in Medical Education Unit, which is responsible for designing the new curriculum for future doctors. To be able to do a better job I pursued a master program in Health Profession Education at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, sponsored by MUNDO and Q-Park, a parking corporation at European Union.
Graduating from the master program, I came back and worked as medical teacher in Syiah Kuala University and sought collaboration in research with other experts in various fields working in post-disaster areas by joining the Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Center (TDMRC). After several years of working as a curriculum designer, I have decided to pursue PhD program at The University of Sydney to do research in community-based medical education, a form of education that I believe will be able to accelerate the dialogue and knowledge transfer between post-disaster community and medical society.
Sydney School of Veterinary Science
Country: Lao PDR
Project: Progressing smallholder large ruminant productivity and transboundary disease risk management for poverty reduction in Northern Lao PDR
Future food security and poverty reduction remain complex challenges as a result of rapid urbanisation and the increasing demand and trade in livestock products, as well as risks from global financial shocks and climate change impacts. Smallholder livestock farmers are important in addressing those challenges. In the northern upland areas of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR or Laos), large ruminant production is one of the most important livelihood activities for smallholders farmers and is increasingly recognised as a national priority, both in terms of addressing rural poverty and reducing reliance on shifting cultivation. This economic sector remains under-developed, feeding into the deficiency and disease outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease and Haemorrhagic Septicaemia. Moreover, the limited knowledge of smallholder farmers on large ruminant health and production are major constraints to large ruminant advancement in Laos. These challenges require an enhanced understanding of how to manage the many health and husbandry constraints that compromise smallholder livestock productivity. My PhD aims to examine and document the progress of these interventions through an assessment of improvements in farmer awareness of biosecurity and many other aspects of their large ruminant production system, as well as to identify key extension strategies that can address the identified gaps in knowledge of biosecurity and transboundary disease management - particularly FMD - in Northern Laos.
I come from a farming background and a rural area of central Lao PDR. Growing up helping my grandfather on the paddy fields surrounded by cattle and buffalo during the school holidays, it has always been my intention to research cattle and buffalo health and production, food security and rural development in Lao PDR.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Project: Social networks: opportunities or obstacles? A case study of Vietnam-South Korea temporary labour migration
The study aims to explore the positive and negative aspects of Vietnamese migrant workers’ migration networks during all phases of migration to South Korea, including pre-departure, staying abroad and returning home.
The main pillars of the theoretical approach of this study are the theory of social capital and social networks analysis. These theoretical approaches help to categorise the different kinds of social capital and social networks generating different kinds of resources and support, primarily based on gender, legal status and non-citizen status of Vietnamese migrant workers. These theoretical approaches are employed since the study aims to examine how social networks are formed and how Vietnamese migrant workers can approach and obtain resources from these networks.
To comprehensively understand how and why social networks are formed, how these networks’ functions change throughout the entire migration cycle, how resources are generated, the accessibility of Vietnamese migrant workers to these resources and networks, and whether social networks always benefit or also cause problems for participants, the study relies on a qualitative methodology in which individual migrant workers are the units of analysis. The key methods for data generation for this study are interviews and observations from fieldwork conducted in Vietnam and South Korea in 2013 and 2015.
Based on the findings, the study hopes to provide insights into the social networks of Vietnamese migrant workers, contributing to knowledge of social capital and social networks of migration research, particularly temporary labour migration. In addition, the study expects to contribute to theories of social capital theory and social network analysis since these theoretical approaches do not address issues of migration, especially temporary labour migration.
My home country is Vietnam. I hope my studies may contribute to the sustainable development of Vietnam and enhance mutual understanding between Vietnam and other countries.
School of Life and Environmental Sciences
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
Country: 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.
Top photo credit: Bojan Bozic.