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
Project: Beyond the Golden Khersonese: a comparative archaeology of the cities and settlements of coastal and island Southeast Asia
Michael’s research explores the trajectories and transformations of urbanism in coastal and maritime Southeast Asia between 600-1600CE. What are the urban traditions of Southeast Asia and why did these forms emerge?
The research is needed as we currently lack a clear understanding of the development of urban forms and settlements in Southeast Asia. Emerging research from the Greater Angkor Project shows that many assumptions of Southeast Asian urbanism are incorrect. Most studies of the region have focused on text bound and art historical approaches. These approaches tend to perceive the region as made up of highly differentiated groups along the lines of idealised ‘ethno-states’, and have been unhelpful when considering comparative region wide phenomena, -such as urbanism and historical climate change. Michael’s approach fits within a tradition of comparative landscape archaeology focusing on relationships connecting society, material culture and the environment.
Michael’s research provides a new way of understanding large scale phenomena in Southeast Asia. The research enables further comparisons of trends beyond the regional and temporal scope of the thesis. An examination of the development and transformation of urbanism will help us understand the impacts of past climate changes on Southeast Asian urban societies and the resilience of modern Southeast Asian cities to climate change.
I first became interested in Southeast Asia through the Greater Angkor Project. I'm fascinated by the diversity of Southeast Asia, this led to my honours thesis Crumbling the Façade, A Comparative Materiality of the British Colonial System East of Suez, which examined the relationships between social diversity, power and material culture in the Asian British Empire.
Faculty of Pharmacy
Project: Investigation to practice change in Australian and Indonesian community pharmacy: an insight for the development of community pharmacy practice in Indonesia
Within the past six decades, the practice of community pharmacy has changed dramatically, marked by the increasing attention to delivering professional services in addition to the traditional dispensing of medications. This change undoubtedly provided a new wave of challenges for the community pharmacy industry. In the international context, community pharmacy in Australia has been a frontrunner in practice change. Although there were some substantial issues associated with the change, overall, community pharmacy in Australia has played a significant role on the frontline of the healthcare system, particularly as the most accessible primary provider in healthcare. On the other hand, community pharmacy in Indonesia has entered a new era of healthcare under the universal coverage system. Although there are few opportunities available in the current system, there is potential that community pharmacy in Indonesia may play a greater role in the healthcare agenda. Therefore, this study investigates the practice change in both Australia and Indonesia with the objective of gaining insights into developing the practice of Indonesian community pharmacy.
The project adopts the theoretical framework developed by Walt and Gilson by understanding the context, content and process of policy and practice change in pharmacy through the role of actors at the micro level (individual pharmacist), meso level (institutional community pharmacy network) and macro-government level (national policy). Therefore, a qualitative study in the form of in-depth semi structured interviews with a wide-range of key stakeholders in the pharmacy and healthcare system is proposed to extract information, experiences and the future agenda of both countries. This method allows the research team to align the theoretical approach with the real-life experiences of the key players, which further cultivates understanding on how the system works and how it can be improved.
With the increasing number of pharmacy graduates and pharmacy outlets in Indonesia, it is expected that the outcome of this research may provide alternatives for the practice model of community pharmacy in Indonesia. In the other words, the need for community pharmacy to advance may well be facilitated by this research by looking at the key aspects required for pharmacy to change across three levels (micro-meso-macro).
Southeast Asia is one of the most progressive regions in the international setting. In addition, by the end of 2015, it will become one of the largest economic societies under the ASEAN Economic Community. While this initiative without a doubt implies huge opportunities for development in the region, Southeast Asia still faces fundamental problems particularly related to healthcare delivery. As an Indonesian and pharmacist, I am concerned with how to optimise the role of the pharmacist and pharmacy network to improve the level of healthcare in the community. Therefore, I am investing time and knowledge to research the complex relations in community pharmacy with a primary mission to create a model of community pharmacy that can contribute to the well-being and health of all.
Sydney School of Education and Social Work
Project: Hearing voices: an art-based participatory study on children’s experiences of inclusion in primary schools in Indonesia
The study aims to understand current inclusive practices in three public primary schools in Indonesia through the lens of the children. A phenomenological inquiry is employed to examine children’s experiences about inclusion in their schools. In the data gathering process, individual drawings and collections of school photos taken by the children are used to encourage individual children and a group of children, with and without disabilities, to talk about inclusion, exploring what inclusion may mean for them, how they feel about it and how they enact it. Further, it also explores barriers, exclusionary practices, support and resources that the children have received and experienced.
In the study, inclusion is referred to as an apprenticeship to build a sustainable community (Slee, 2010). We are challenged to create space for those who have been structurally denied a voice and to build civic engagement in democracy. It is important to develop inclusive services that reflect individual civil rights rather than individual needs and this involves listening to children’s perspectives (Jones, 2005). This study uses a phenomenological approach to meet its aim. Phenomenological research is an attempt to interpret the lived experiences of individuals with the purpose of understanding a phenomena (Creswell, 2013). In this study, art-informed methods are employed in order to draw on the richness of students’ experiences and ability to articulate their feelings through their own visual representations. The art-informed method is a systematic inquiry involving the researcher using some forms of direct art making as its primary mode (McNiff, 2011).
The study aims to investigate students’ experiences of inclusion in reformed schools following a regulation on inclusive education. Findings and recommendations of the study may benefit teachers, principals, and policy makers, helping them to make informed decisions regarding future policy and practices of inclusion, in particular the future adoption of inclusive principles by regular public schools. Further, this study will bring a culture of more inclusive research on efforts to study inclusion in Indonesia by valuing the voice of children, especially children with special needs.
I joined a postgraduate retreat conducted by the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre in late 2013 and became the Postgraduate Coordinator for a year. Engagements with the Centre and postgraduate students from Southeast Asia have broadened my interests as well as eagerness to learn more about the inclusive education movement in Southeast Asia.
The University of Sydney Medical School
Country: Lao PDR
Project: Determinants of maternal and child nutrition in Lao PDR
Despite more than a decade of rapid economic growth, Lao PDR continues to have some of the poorest maternal and child nutrition outcomes on both a regional and global scale. Investments in hydropower, mining and plantations have provided opportunities for the country, but such economic activities have also brought risks and uncertainties to the poor and vulnerable. Of particular concern are the unequal effects of resource development on people’s access to food and their nutritional wellbeing.
The purpose of this research is to assess the associations between key immediate, underlying and distal basic factors, and maternal and child nutrition in the Nam Ngum Watershed in Laos and to translate these findings into recommendations to aid the development of policies and programs that seek to tackle food and nutrition insecurities in rural Laos.
The study will employ a mixed-methods research approach. Quantitative data analyses will be conducted using an existing data set from a cross-sectional survey conducted in the Nam Ngum Watershed, Laos in 2014. Multi-level modeling will be used to assess the relationships between determinants of maternal and child under-nutrition at the community, household and individual level.
The findings from the quantitative analyses will be used to purposively select a sub-sample of households identified as having a child under the age of 5 that is malnourished and to develop the interview checklist for the qualitative data collection at the household and individual levels. In-depth interviews with mothers of the children younger than five years, Focus Group Discussions (FGD) with their fathers, and direct observations of infant feeding, care practices and health related behaviours in these households will be conducted to collect information on the ways in which households experiencing malnutrition perceive and experience food and nutrition insecurity.
With a growing population and continued investments into large-scale resource developments, Laos faces intensified competition over its already limited natural resources, which could exacerbate the existing nutrition and food security problems. To effectively address these issues in Laos, reliable and timely information on the status of food and nutrition security within the communities experiencing these resource pressures is vital.
Upon completing a Masters of International Public Health at the University of Sydney in 2010, I was successful in obtaining a position as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development in Lao PDR. During my time in Laos, I worked on maternal and child nutrition programs. Both my Masters and work in the region cultivated my desire to further my studies and continue working in the Southeast Asia region.
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.
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.
Museum and Heritage Studies
Project: The illicit trade in cultural heritage in Indonesia
I first visited Indonesia in 1997, and the volcanoes, nasi goreng and legend of Nyai Loro Kidul were enough to convince me I wanted to learn more about this country. I returned to Sydney to study a Bachelor of Arts (Asian Studies) in Indonesian and History at UNSW, including a semester in Yogyakarta with the Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS). I graduated in 2002 with First Class Honours.
I joined the Department of Defence Graduate Program in 2003, and worked on the Indonesia and East Timor policy desks. I completed a Master of Arts (Strategy and Policy) in 2006 at UNSW@ADFA before joining the international team at Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing agency, AUSTRAC. I am a Fellow of the Asialink Leaders Program (2009), which exposed me to a wide range of professionals, academics and government representatives, all passionate about Asia.
My focus shifted beyond Southeast Asia when I moved to Hong Kong in 2010. I worked in the Gallery team at the new Asia Society Hong Kong Center. I also had the opportunity to work at the Asia Society Museum in New York on their Iran Modern exhibition in 2013. My work with the Asia Society has continued through my involvement in the inaugural Arts and Museum Summit in 2013. I completed my Masters of Museum Studies in 2013 as part of the University of Sydney’s Museum Studies program in Hong Kong.
I am now approaching the end of the first year of my PhD in Museum and Indonesian Studies, focusing on the illicit trade in cultural heritage in Indonesia. My research combines my interest in Indonesian culture and heritage with my professional experience in anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing.
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.
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.
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.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Project: Life cycle and sociocultural change: a study of the impact of female transnational labour migration on a Javanese village
My PhD investigates the interplay between the agency of Indonesian women and the society they inhabit by exploring transnational labour migration from the New Order era onwards. My research uses an interdisciplinary approach that highlights the interplay of self and society/culture, the interplay of time and place, and multiple-destination migration. I seek to examine the cultural, social, and human-geographical challenges that village women have faced and how they handle these challenges by using survival strategies that draw on social rules and resources. Recognising that is only possible to understand the local and the global by examining the way they interact, I aim to show how female labour migration affects village communities. In order to do so, I analyse the changing cultural framework that these women use to interpret their world, the struggles that they have experienced in and against their changing social context, and the nature of the human agency that they have developed and deployed to attain their life goals.
To understand the interplay between the agency of Indonesian women and the changing social, cultural and geographical structure, my research employs Giddens’ structuration theory. To avoid determinism and voluntarism, and in line with its adoption of a research strategy that blends interdisciplinary, macroscopic thinking with biographical analysis to attain a more complex understanding of transnational labour migration, this study employs mixed methods that are borrowed from anthropology, social history and human geography. This investigation uses a) anthropological and geographical fieldwork, b) social-history research on the basis of archives, oral testimonies and material culture; and c) biographical analysis. My research I use my linguistic skills in both Indonesian and Javanese (including its various levels).
The challenges I faced as a young lecturer at The State of Surabaya made me realise that even to understand the interrelations of gender, sports, and society in contemporary Indonesia, I could not depend on just one discipline (Psychology). I became aware that I needed academic training in interdisciplinary and area-based approaches, focusing on Southeast Asia, so I completed an MA in Southeast Asian Studies at Ohio University and am currently pursuing a PhD at The University of Sydney.
Faculty of Science
Country: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam
My project seeks to reconstruct the past climates, ecosystems and land-use (especially burning regimes) of the monsoonal dry forests of north-east Cambodia over the past 6,000 years. These ecosystems form part of the broader mainland south-east Asian lowland dry forest ecoregion that extends from Thailand, across Cambodia and southern Laos into western Vietnam.
It uses a palaeo-environmental approach to reconstruct past climatic and ecological dynamics for the region. Specifically, the sediments from two crater lake cores (taken from the heart of the south-east Asian dry forest ecoregion) are dated using radiocarbon techniques, and sampled for geochemical, sedimentological, charcoal, and plant microfossil (pollen and spores) analysis in order to reconstruct climate, land-use and forest dynamics through time.
Understanding how South-east Asian dry forests respond to climatic and land-use forcing is important for predicting the future behaviour of these systems in the face of change, and will assist in providing traction for the development of policy around the protection and management of these forests.
My interest in north-east Cambodia was largely driven by the usual lowland monsoonal forests that occur within the region. In particular, I became interested in why these mostly closed ecosystems occur as relatively continuous units in a climatic zone that tends to favours more open communities in other parts of the world, particularly when burnt.
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 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.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Country: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Timor-Leste
Project: Making histories: the organising principles of traditional historical texts in Southeast Asia
The project characterises how traditional historical texts of equatorial Southeast Asia were organised as texts. By comparing written histories from different regions and in different languages, I investigate whether there was a common set of conventions for structuring the past in texts. I focus on temporal organisation that is produced through a range of textual devices. My study makes use of manuscript traditions, mediated by colonial and postcolonial scholarship, spanning the 16th to 19th centuries. I pay particular attention to the histories of hegemonic courts: Melaka, Gelgel (east Bali) and Mataram, since the texts emerging from these courts have central and privileged positions within the relevant genres of historical texts. By examining these texts in a comparative manner, the project brings a richer understanding of how Southeast Asian pasts were produced and organised.
The project is a comparative textual study of historical texts. It uses methods of literary analysis, generalising over many historical works, to construct a schema for how these works are temporally organised. Its methodology is therefore closely related to that of the historians labelled by Alun Munslow as “deconstructionists”, such Hayden White, Frank Ankersmit and Roger Chartier. This way of doing history, active since the 1960s, studies the past as a product of textual practices, broadly understood to include writing, speech, performance and other means of commemoration.
My source materials are traditional manuscripts, books and performances, which use regional languages of equatorial Southeast Asia, such as classical Malay, archaic and modern Javanese, Balinese and Makassarese. To characterise the textual properties of these sources, I am developing my facility with these languages while making use of available translations and scholarly editions. I draw on skills from the disciplines of philology, archivism, 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 texts should be valued more highly by the historical profession. This project may provide a pathway beyond the impasse faced by many scholars of these texts: whether to treat them as reliable historical sources or as ahistorical cultural products. By advocating for an expanded definition of historicity that includes alternative methods of temporal organisation, I show how narrowly-construed Western criteria for historicity are unsuited to Southeast Asian texts. This work is therefore part of the vast and vital project of decolonising history in postcolonial Southeast Asia.
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.
Top photo credit: Bojan Bozic.