Asia Institute - Theses

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    Resilience in a different voice
    Mikami, Akina ( 2022)
    What does it mean to stay resilient while also move forward resiliently in the “slow” nuclear disaster recovery? What happens if the means to remain resilient becomes undermined by the very ideas and practices done in the name of resilience? How can resilience be reimagined? In this thesis, I examine how the contested notion of resilience is shaped by civil society practice in disaster recovery context. Existing scholarship on the role of civil society in resilience-building tends to offer either instrumentalist evaluations assessing how civil society mobilizes resources to support the disaster-affected community or deconstructionist critiques uncovering how civil society facilitates resilience as a form of neoliberal governmentality. Offering a different voice to the debate, I demonstrate civil society practice as a site of contestation where the notion of resilience becomes critically reflected and creatively acted upon. From 2017 to 2021, I became a volunteer with SWK, a charity association based in Cairns, Australia, that acts alongside the children of Fukushima affected by “3.11” or the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and the subsequent nuclear accident in Fukushima on March 11, 2011. Adopting an Action Research approach, I engaged in a collaborative inquiry to explore the different meanings and possibilities for action to create a place where children can be free from unwanted disaster-induced radiation concerns. On the one hand, I illuminate a paradoxical process of resilience in which the need for a place where children can be free from radiation concerns is being sustained, not merely by the diffusion of radionuclides as a result of the nuclear accident, but also by the very interventions done in the name of “building back better.” On the other hand, I shed light onto the grassroots resilience that reimagines how resilience can be done differently. I highlight the continuous (re)making of translocal relations (tsunagari) that center the concerns and hopes voiced by the children of Fukushima to explore more liveable, different futures —including nuclear-free future. I argue that, despite appealing to more peaceful and sustainable future, resilience thinking rooted in neoliberal environmentalism that preserves the sociotechnical imaginary of nuclear power is unsustainable, alienating and forecloses the capacity to pursue “better” futures. I call for a rethinking of resilience notion through a care perspective that places the flourishing of children and the planetary wellbeing at the heart of disaster resilience research, policies and practice.
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    NatDem Fictions: Revolutionary Experiences in Contemporary Film and Literature in the Philippines
    Castillo, Laurence Marvin ( 2021)
    Southeast Asia's longest-running communist armed revolution -- the national democratic (NatDem) revolution led by the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) -- is the subject of fiction films and novels produced aboveground decades after the Marcos dictatorship, a period that covers the post-Cold War global ascendancy of neoliberal capitalism, the country's democratic transition, and the crises and recovery of the NatDem movement. These works examine the complex history of, and experiences in, the political struggle, and engage with the question of the relevance of the revolution as a project of national liberation. I refer to these works as NatDem fictions -- fictional narratives that sympathetically portray the struggle, and affirm the legitimacy of its agenda for social transformation. This thesis studies a selection of these films and novels, reflecting on their construction of revolutionary experiences. Informed by a range of theoretical resources such as Raymond Williams' notion of structures of feeling, Neferti Tadiar's conceptualisation of experience, and the writings on Party politics by scholars like Jodi Dean and J. Moufawad-Paul, I conceptualise revolutionary experiences as an emergent and transformative ensemble of social relations and practices of revolutionary subjects in the struggle against the Philippine government to transform the country's semi-colonial, semi-feudal order. Through this conceptualisation, I closely read these filmic and novelistic fictions, as they deal with a range of themes and issues such as the construction of Martial Law memory, post-EDSA revolutionary errors, Left melancholia, and contemporary neoliberal violence. My analyses position these works in dialogue with their creators, who navigate the democratic openings and counterinsurgent mechanisms that complicate cultural work in the country, as well as with an engaged public who generate their critical interpretation of these works. The thesis argues that these selected NatDem fictions mobilise a dynamic view of revolutionary experiences to foreground how revolutionary subjects overcome political crises, setbacks, and challenges, and configure their socio-political practices in ways that interact with, and address, the socio-historical developments in the Philippines in the past few decades. These imaginative articulations of the complex experiences in the struggle function to argue for the enduring legitimacy of the revolution, and serve as important oppositional culture against widespread state anti-communism. This study therefore offers an account of how filmmakers and novelists engage in political contestations about the ongoing struggle through their aboveground figurations of the transformative and emergent makings of an alternative social order in the Philippines.
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    A grammar of Southern Bai
    Christie, Simon James ( 2021)
    Bai is the language spoken by the Bai people located in Yunnan, China and surrounding provinces. The southern dialect, Southern Bai, is spoken by approximately 500,000 people in and around the Dali Bai Autonomous prefecture. Through a descriptive linguistics framework this study provides detailed description and analysis of the phonetic, morphological, and grammatical systems within Southern Bai. Expanding on features already described in previous studies on the central dialect, considered the standard in the People’s Republic of China, this study presents further detail and description of under described features. Among these features, discussed in this study are the limited morpho-syntactic system including inflection on personal pronouns, classifier derivation from nouns, affixation, and compounding formed from right-headed modification. Aspect marking is performed via coverbs grammaticalised from lexical verbs and sentence final pragmatic particles play a major role in the formation of non-declarative sentences. In addition to describing the linguistic systems of the language, a secondary aim was to explore how speakers express motion and placement events, which can be found in Chapter Ten. Based on this description, this study argues that Southern Bai should be considered a satellite-framed language according to Talmy’s (1985, 2000, 2007) typology. This thesis represents the first comprehensive study of Southern Bai. As such, the findings of this study can contribute to the greater typological discussions surrounding the world’s languages.
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    Women in Islam: How Australian Muslim Feminist women practise their faith in a gender-positive way
    Hammond, Kate ( 2021)
    This thesis researches how Australian Muslim feminist women practise their faith in a gender-positive way. The practical aspect of Islamic feminism in the Australian context has been under-researched within the Islamic Studies discipline, despite the growing popularity of pro-faith feminism. This research seeks to understand how Muslim feminist women have challenged and reframed traditionally patriarchal practices and interpretations of their faith in order to support or form their belief in divinely sanctioned gender equality. The position of women in Islam is a topic fraught with disagreement and controversy. While many Muslims argue that God has proclaimed men and women to be equal, others declare that the Qur’an and Muhammad’s sunnah place men in a position of superiority over women. Some Muslim women argue that Islamic practices that favour male superiority are not due to the Qur’an placing men in a position of authority. Rather, they are due to the tradition of men interpreting the foundational texts and imbuing within them a patriarchal bias. Muslim women are challenging this convention through interpreting the texts themselves from a feminist perspective. The result of these changing interpretations is a version of Islam that empowers women and encourages gender equality. Yet there are some controversial aspects of Islam - for example, Qur’an verse 4:34, often known as “the beating verse” - that present more of a challenge than others in being reinterpreted as gender-positive. This thesis, therefore, addresses these aspects of the faith that have traditionally been utilised to support male superiority and patriarchal practices. Due to the paucity of existing research on this topic in the Australian context, this research relies heavily on independent fieldwork in the form of semi-structured interviews. This thesis utilises the theoretical framework of standpoint feminism, which places women’s lived experiences as central to understanding society and for challenging patriarchal knowledge paradigms. Through employing a feminist standpoint as a theoretical framework, this research presents a counter-narrative to the persistent characterisation of the Muslim woman as an oppressed, agentless being who needs to be ‘saved’ from her culture. In order to challenge patriarchal practices within Muslim communities, the voices of Muslim women presenting an alternative, yet equally legitimate interpretation of the faith must be amplified.
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    Mental illness manga in contemporary Japan: patients (tojisha) as knowledge producers
    Marjanovic, Jovana ( 2021)
    The thesis aims at exploring lived experiences of mental illness in contemporary Japan by looking at the manga created by those with direct experiences (tojisha). The manga analysed were all published in the period after the inclusion of psychiatric patients in the employment quota in 2018. Written by mental health tojisha, or those who self-identify as living with mental health challenges, these works provide insight into the authors’ subjective experiences of mental illness, as well as diverse ways of coexisting with disability and moving forward. They reflect not only personal experiences but recent mental health care transitions to community-based care and policy reforms that support tojisha’s independent living. Tojisha narratives revealed that individuals’ illness journeys are unique, depending on their circumstances. To convey their subjective psychological experiences and reclaim their selfhood from homogenising medical diagnosis, authors use metaphors and other storytelling devices. However, some commonalities in how mental illness is lived and negotiated in the authors’ daily lives were observed. The manga provided insight into different aspects of illness experiences including (1) how illness affects tojisha’s sense of self and how tojisha (re)construct their identities through graphic narratives; (2) how illness symptoms affect tojisha’s daily functioning; (3) how tojisha experience medical encounters and healthcare institutions; (4) how the social networks respond to tojisha’s condition and how societal responses affect tojisha; (5) what kind of treatment and self-care strategies tojisha engage in to manage their condition; (6) how the Internet is used in contemporary illness management; (7) how illness affects tojisha’s employment participation and what systems of support are available to encourage tojisha’s independent living; (8) how gender and sex shape tojisha’s illness experiences. Through graphic storytelling, the authors not only reconstruct their identities disrupted by illness, but provide readers companionship, useful information, and tips for navigating illness. By being useful to peers, the authors transform from patients to what Frank (1995) termed “wounded healers”. By presenting the richness of embodied experiential knowledge found in tojisha manga, the thesis argues for the importance of listening to the voices of mental health patients who have historically been underrepresented and misrepresented. Their manga represents a valuable source of knowledge not only for peers and caregivers but medical professionals, scholars, and policymakers.
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    Precarious Workers in the Gig Economy: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents in Indonesia
    Yasih, Diatyka Widya Permata ( 2021)
    This research explores the expansion of a new form of precarious work tied to the gig economy and shaped by the imperatives of neoliberalism. It examines the effects on workers’ identity and politics through a study of Indonesian workers in app-enabled transport services. It argues that in a context where standard employment relationships have never been the norm, while labour and broader society movements have been weak, workers’ political struggles are not likely to be articulated through a discourse based on precarity. Instead, workers’ autonomy and entrepreneurial identity are reiterated, thereby undermining forms of solidarity that could enable workers to address the structural underpinnings of precarious work, although without entirely eschewing collective organisation and mobilisation. The argument is constructed through a historical and comparative approach that synthesises insights from the works of Michele Foucault and a non-deterministic type of historical materialist analysis as espoused by Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff. Such a synthesis provides a way to address the tendency of prior studies to overlook contradictions inherent in the expansion of precarious work as a material consequence of neoliberal transformation, intertwined in a mutually reinforcing relationship with ideological permutations that allow for heterogeneity in subjective experiences.
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    A culture of effort: Social poetics and the transnational parkour community
    Ross, Ashley Miranda Wright ( 2021)
    How do our embodied experiences affect the choices we make, and the actions we take, within our communities? How do our emotional narratives help us to produce social interventions through creative collaboration? What story do we tell about our values with our actions? Parkour training fosters a culture of effort, integrity, and altruism. This research is an exploration of parkour vision and expressions of embodied learning in the transnational parkour community. Foregrounding the experiences of practitioners in Melbourne, Edinburgh, and Tokyo, I explore notions of play, embodiment, and emotion in considering our relationship to our environment. These embodied experiences are often expressed through in-the-moment, of-the-moment responses to challenges which characterize the experience of training. Through the intimacy of participant observation and utilizing social poetics as a tool, I explore how these experiences offer insight into the relationship between values and action. Further, the dynamic between a parkour practitioner, their environment, and the challenge of training is a glimpse into how these relationships and experiences relate to creating social interventions in a wider cultural context. The final focus of this research is in creating an intervention to engage directly with the challenge of misrepresentation facing the transnational parkour community. Utilizing both the constellation of narratives in a qualitative ethnography, and the principles of applied visual anthropology, I facilitate a collaboration using an action-oriented research strategy to engage directly with this challenge. Throughout, I critically examine the nature of embodied research through my experiences in the field, and in reflection consider how my role as a researcher affects the community. The central focus of this research is on the embodied experience of parkour culture as it is changing. The pulse and texture of deep embodied experiences reveal broader cultural and social narratives written on the lives of individuals, and the strength, flexibility, and creativity needed for change.
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    Social Service Delivery in Rural China in its Post-industrial Era
    Zhang, Qianjin ( 2021)
    This dissertation focuses on the development, practice, and nature of local government approaches to social service delivery, targeting the marginalised groups in rural China, in an era when the country’s economy is transitioning from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. China’s economic boom and rapid urbanisation have contributed to increased numbers of left-behind children, unaccompanied elderly, and unemployed or underemployed adults in rural areas, which has in turn given rise to a range of social problems. The Chinese central government has sought to address these social problems by investing ever-increasing resources into a variety of schemes aimed at improving the well-being of rural residents. To guide the use of these resources, the central government has also introduced a wide range of policy directives, including a measure requiring local governments to externalise social service delivery—that is, to involve non-state actors, including private firms, non-profit organisations, volunteers, and clients in the provision of social services as service providers. As policy implementers, lower-level governments have had to put in place arrangements for social delivery that comply with these top-down directives. Drawing on surveys conducted in six counties from three provinces in China and empirical data collected from multiple sets of social service programs targeting the left-behind children, unaccompanied elderly, and rural residents faced with employment difficulties, this research seeks to i) identify the dynamics of local responses to the national policy directives suggesting the involvement of external providers in social service delivery; ii) unpack the black box of the formation of different externalisation approaches; and iii) assess their implications for strategies aimed at improving the quality of social service delivery in rural China. It argues that i) the key determinant of lower-level governments’ approaches to externalising social service delivery is their respective levels of political will to deliver quality services to marginalised populations, and ii) the level of political will reflects the interaction of a) the extent to which local level leaderships have a developmental orientation in the sense of being concerned about the welfare of the marginalised within the regions and b) the extent to which external providers have an interest in obtaining government funds as opposed to other non-material motives.
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    Shaman-Queens and Sacral Princesses: A Re-Examination of the “Golden Age” Narrative of Female Sacral Power in Ancient Japan
    McKay, Natalie Louise ( 2021)
    Among scholarship of ancient Japanese women’s history, a traditional narrative has formed in which the ancient period emerges as a “golden age” of female power, an age in which women – through magico-religious performance – occupied positions of authority that were later usurped by the coming of patriarchal value systems, surviving only in traces. Recent decades have seen revisions to this “golden age” narrative, proposing more complex models of how this ancient “power” may have been configured, and how it may have been eroded by changing gender norms. However, many core assumptions from the early “golden age” narrative persist throughout modern scholarship, such as the existence of contrapuntal male-female rule as a standard format of power across the archipelago, or the interpretation of later female positions of (sacral or monarchic) power as direct legacies of a more empowered age. This research thus performs a critical re-evaluation of the “golden age” narrative in its various incarnations, examining its arguments against images of women and female sacral performance from a variety of surviving contemporary texts. It also aims to bring to light new perspectives on the discourse, such as the overlooked consideration of regional diversity in ancient Japan, and the multiplicity encompassed within the concept of “power”. Through this work, it can be seen that, while modern scholarship has developed to encompass greater nuance and diversity, several threads of the “golden age” narrative persist into the modern day, contributing to the oversimplification and homogenisation of what in actuality appear as a complex range of relationships between women, religion, and power throughout ancient Japan. By identifying and challenging these points of homogenisation, we may come to a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of women’s experiences in ancient Japan.
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    China’s intervention policies in the Middle East and North Africa during the late-Obama era
    Liu, Ted Chung-Cher ( 2020)
    This thesis considers the role of the United States as a conditioning factor for China’s intervention practices in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with a particular focus on three cases studies during the late-Obama era: the external interventions in Libya during 2011, the Syrian civil war, and the multilateral involvement in the Iranian nuclear proliferation case. Drawing from the most recent field interviews with stakeholders involved in the three cases and a comprehensive review and content analysis of daily statements and communications between the highest levels of the Chinese government and the Obama administration, this thesis argues that Beijing’s perception of the American-led interventions in MENA during the late-Obama era is a major conditioning variable in its decision to balance against, hedge, or cooperate with the United States. More importantly, this thesis illustrates that in addition to unit-level and localized explanations of Chinese interventions, a structurally and power-oriented analysis enhances existing understanding of how and why China intervenes in MENA and other regions contested by the two major powers.