State-Minorities Relations in Mainland Southeast Asia
Do you want to challenge yourself academically, but have fun while doing it? Do you have an adventurous spirit? Do you want academic experience in the field, and not simply in the classroom? Do you want to take a special summer session module (May 13- June 22, 2013) planned in large part by USP students like you?
If so, read on!
If you are interested in this module, please submit your CV and a Cover Letter explaining your interests in the course.
You do not need prior fieldwork experience to apply for this module.
The cover letter should be concise. No blathering.
I recommend that you craft your cover letter in terms of your academic, intellectual, and/or professional interests.
I would dissuade you from writing a cover letter that expounds on how much you like to travel recreationally.
This intensive course will examine state-minority relations in mainland Southeast Asia, focusing in particular on highland minority groups in Thailand and Laos. As an interdisciplinary class, you will formulate your own research interests within the framework of the module--these might include such topics as development, infrastructure, social change, medical practices, education, religion, migration, the impact of new media, or other topic that can be plausibly studied during the fieldwork. The module begins with two preparatory weeks at NUS where you will do background reading, train in ethnographic field techniques, and formulate your specific interdisciplinary research questions. In the subsequent three weeks, we will travel to mainland Southeast Asia (Thailand/Laos) to undertake field research. In the field, you’ll write extensive fieldnotes, conduct interviews, and collect a variety of ethnographic data. The final week of the course will be dedicated to writing a relatively short but cogent course paper, based on your own research questions and fieldnotes, and prepared in an intensive writing workshop modeling the parameters and deadlines of academic publishing.
Sound intense? It will be. But it will also be extremely rewarding!
The module will be taught in part as seminar, partly as rigorous fieldwork, and partly as intensive writing workshop. It will model the arc of ethnographic research, beginning with preparation (inc. background reading, research question formulation and methods training), through fieldwork, and resulting in the transformation of that background knowledge and fieldwork into authentic academic knowledge in the form of written, evidence-based argument.
In the beginning of the course, we’ll read and critique a set of academic articles about upland minorities and their social challenges as they face development and displacement. Thereafter students will form small teams in which you will work for the duration of the module. Teams will read intensively on self-selected, interdisciplinary subtopics directly relevant to the broader course topic. In this way, the module offers everyone a common critical perspective while still allowing you to pursue your specialized interdisciplinary interests.
You will be introduced, in workshop format, to a variety of techniques for collecting ethnographic data. We’ll examine a key distinction between ethnographic aims of research versus participatory action research. Synthesizing the readings, the affordances and constraints of field techniques, and your expectations of what you will encounter in the field, teams will then formulate concrete–albeit tentative–research questions.
Once in the field, each team will be assigned a local translator/field assistant. You’ll collect qualitative data in the form of fieldnotes, photographs, and interviews using the techniques practiced at the beginning of the course. Your data will be even be somewhat comparative since you will have the opportunity of collecting data in three or four different villages. You will gain experience in conducting ethnographic interviews and participant observation, in working with local translators and field assistants, and in navigating the vagaries inherent in fieldwork.
Every evening in the field, team members will meet to collate their information, share the progress and obstacles they encountered in collecting data, propose possible revisions to their formulation of the research questions, and discuss concrete instantiations of the fieldwork problematic they are working on. These meetings will also become part of your ongoing fieldnotes, so that you will develop a sense of the strictures that the real conditions of fieldwork place on the theoretical questions you initially formulated and the problems you predicted. By so doing, you’ll learn to critically reflect and adapt your initial assumptions to the realities you encounter in the field.
During the fieldwork trip there will be time in the interstices between research days where an additional task will be assigned. Our course will maintain a small development budget of a few hundred dollars which you the students must decide how to spend. That decision will be made through debate during the interstitial periods during the module, and will result in a collaboratively written spending plan and justification for the fund. The assignment aims to help you differentiate the aims and goals of divergent approaches to fieldwork in the human sciences—whether research explicitly aims for social development or for the production of academic knowledge. The assignment encourages you to examine what a researcher’s role in such development ought to be, how the methodological approaches differ, what entailments they have, and where they may overlap.
In the final phase of the module, each team will organize and collate their findings with the other teams, and in the process, each of you will refine a specific topic for your final written work. For this culminating assessment, you will author a medium-length (2500-3000 word) critical article, based on your concrete experience in the field. This part of the module will be conducted as an intensive writing workshop, modeled on a collaborative writing group. Time will be short, and so we will write at a brisk pace.
Over the course of this writing module, from preparation to fieldwork to authoring your article, we believe you will develop a meta-view of the process that producing academic knowledge entails, and really it is this more epistemological understanding, to be gained through practice, that forms the core pedagogical goal of the course.
The fieldwork trip will take us to two regions: Luang Namtha in Laos, and Nan Province in Thailand. We will stay in several indigenous Khmu and L’wa villages, eating local foods (sometimes *very* local), and participating in daily village life.
Be aware that conditions will be rather rudimentary, so an adventurous spirit is required!
Each team will have a local assistant to help with English translation and other logistics.
The Grading Assessment breakdown for the module is as follows:
Class Participation 10%
This course requires dynamic, engaged participation during the preparation; alacrity, perseverance, flexibility, and resourcefulness during the fieldwork; efficiency, cooperation, and dedication during the writing workshop.
Preparatory work: Précis and Research Proposal 20%
Includes close reading and writing critical précis of at least seven academic articles, and the generation of a plausible research question which draws on those précis.
Requires the student to record notes at every research site and interaction during the fieldwork; to elaborate those notes in the evening; to share and discuss those notes with team members each evening during the research. Requires students to revise their research questions and aims based on the exigencies encountered in the field, and to begin planning how the revised plan will lead to a final paper.
Final Paper 35%
Requires the student to write a 2500-3000 word academic article, based on models (to be provided). The article will be based on a concrete field experience; will incorporate the fieldnotes; will address the initially proposed research question; will integrate secondary sources prepared in the beginning of the course, with the possibility of including 2-3 additional secondary sources after the completion of the fieldwork.
Development Proposal 10%
This exercise helps students differentiate the aims of divergent research methodologies. While the bulk of the module focuses on ethnography and the production of academic knowledge in the human sciences, this exercises contrasts that aim with an activist agenda called participatory action research. The assignment requires students to propose, in succinct written form, a development-oriented plan stemming from their field observations and based on a budget of not more than S$500. The plan proposal, not to exceed 1000 words, will include four sections:
• A detailed description of the plan
• A justification for the plan
• A budget and description of implementation logistics
• A method of evaluation, including a metric for assessing success, and for enabling sustainability.
Every student’s work is graded individually.
If you take this module, you won't be able to take another during the first special session in summer.
This course requires engagement. If your goal is simply to complete unit requirements over the summer session, this is probably not the course for you.
Health issues, like vaccinations and other preventative care, are your responsibility. Consult your family doctor or medical professional for appropriate advice well in advance of the course.
The highlands we visit have fewer mosquitos than the lowlands. Still, they are a vector of disease, and our main line of defense is to not get bitten.
Socks, repellant, and other basic means to avoid mosquito bites will be regularly emphasized.
If you take prescription drugs, make sure you bring enough for the duration of the trip. If possible, bring some spare medicine (at least 2-3 days worth) that you keep separate (i.e. with someone else) in case of emergencies.
In the unlikely case of serious accident or illness, we highly recommend treatment in Thailand rather than Laos and will do our best to arrange logistics in the case of such an eventuality.
We recommend wearing glasses over contact lenses.
Everyday toiletries can be found in the field, and therefore it is not necessary to lug these along unnecessarily.
Each team will have a basic first aid kit.
We will eat local food, and we will determine whether to consume local water or pack water in depending on local conditions when we arrive.
Food is usually of excellent quality, locally grown, but may not be what you are used to. Adaptability is key!
Since much of the local fare is vegetable and fish-based, we have not in previous years had any difficulty accommodating vegetarian or Halal diets.
Passports and Visas
Make sure your passport valid at least through the end of 2013 (i.e. 6 months +)
If you are Singaporean, Thai and Lao visas are not a problem.
If you are not Singaporean, you need to check what the visa requirements are for Laos and Thailand and prepare accordingly.
(And be sure to bring passport-sized photos with you for visa applications).
We will conduct a short session on how to pack sensibly for the fieldwork.
Watch our short movie from 2012 here !
Some photos from the course in 2012