Asia Institute - Theses
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Imagining Singapore: Pictorial photography from the 1950s to 1970s
This thesis explores the development of pictorial photography in Singapore and the different roles it has played in broader Singapore society. After World War II, photography practice in Singapore exploded via the numerous camera clubs and salons. Pictorial photography was the dominant expressive form of photography during this period and was deliberately positioned as art through its circulation in exhibitions and catalogues, similar to the display and distribution of painting and sculpture. The same period saw sweeping changes within Singapore as it fought for and gained independence from British rule, and embarked on a comprehensive industralisation programme. Pictorial photography in Singapore was shaped by these developments and took on traits unique to its circumstances. I contend that the specificities of the Singapore experience led to a distinct variant of pictorial photography that I term “Singapore Pictorialism”. Pictorial photography offers a useful platform to examine representation and ideology, especially given photography’s close relationship with realism. Pictorial photography, with its own ideas of reality and aesthetics, provides access to questions of politics and imagination. This study looks at the politics involved in the production and consumption of Singapore Pictorialism, from the ideologies of Singapore’s colonial period to those of the post-colonial shift to independence. It places pictorial photography within this social history to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the visual representation of Singapore. By examining the activities of the photographers and the photography clubs, this thesis uncovers a vibrant photographic scene, which not only had a prominent place in Singapore’s art history, but shaped the way modern Singapore was imagined and represented. Of particular importance to the research are Singapore’s nation-building activities during this period and the role the state played in driving developments within photographic circles, leaving a formidable impact on photographers’ imagination of their country. Photography during this period took on multiple roles, acting as a symbol of democracy and modernity, staging national identity and providing a mechanism for Singaporeans to engage with ideas of the past, present and future.
Financial sustainability of the pension system in China: Impact of fragmented administration and population ageing
With a rapidly ageing population and a highly fragmented pension system divided into over 2,000 pools managed separately by local governments, the financial sustainability of the Chinese pension system is facing serious challenges. This study aims to investigate the impact of fragmentation and population ageing on pension sustainability in China. By examining the history of pension reform and policy evolution in the context of overall development of China, the study conducts an analysis on the consequences of fragmentation based on both evidence obtained from fieldwork and secondary data including policy documents and official statistics. The distortion in incentives for local governments is documented in case studies covering both the coastal and inland regions. These case studies demonstrate how pension sustainability is compromised by various adverse effects produced by fragmentation, such as the moral hazard caused by the disarticulated intergovernmental fiscal responsibility. An overlapping generations (OLG) model is updated with the latest demographic data and used to perform a prospective assessment of the impact of population ageing on pension sustainability in China and to help determine whether adjustment in retirement age can ensure long-term financial sustainability under various demographic scenarios in the rest of the century. Overall, the findings of this research reveal that, compared to the population ageing, the issues stemming from the fragmentation pose a more insidious threat to pension sustainability in China. The retirement age reform alone can only provide a necessary but not sufficient condition for ensuring the system’s long-run financial sustainability, abstracting from the significant negative impact of the fragmentation. Problems of moral hazard such as noncompliance by local governments and challenges of adverse selection resulting from the administrative loopholes in the highly decentralised system, if left unchecked, are classic reasons why insurance policies including pension schemes go bankrupt. Therefore, if China wants to ensure the long-term sustainability of the pension system, it is imperative to take its reform to the next level by defragmenting the system. The possibility of the fertility cliff and the danger of the de facto bankruptcy brought by the population ageing further highlight the urgency to address the fragmentation as the underlying cause of the many defects of the system that are damaging pension sustainability.
Chinese Language Use by School-aged Chinese Australians: From a Dual-track Culturalisation Perspective
Over the past decades, the topic of Chinese immigrants has attracted wide attention and increasing academic interest, due to the rapid growth of Chinese immigration across the globe. However, many existing viewpoints are mainstream-centric, homogeneous and dated. To overcome the current research problems and elaborate Chinese immigrants’ culturalisation process through one important factor—language use—this research takes school-aged Chinese Australians as a case study, analysing their use of Chinese language from a dual-track culturalisation perspective. The 2016 Australian Census reveals that over 1.2 million people in the country claim their Chinese ancestry (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018). Among them, people who regard Mandarin and Cantonese as the most preferred language to speak at home are 46% and 22% respectively, which jointly contributes to the prevalence of Chinese language use in the Chinese community in Australia. This drew our attention to why and how school-aged Chinese Australians learn and use Chinese language and how its use influences the construction and reconfiguration of their ethnic and cultural identity. Drawing upon interviews and participant observation, this study addresses the research questions above by presenting the complex decision-making process of Chinese immigrant families and the dynamic relations between the broad cultural environment at macro level, the Chinese community in Australia and Chinese families at micro level, and school-aged Chinese Australians themselves. The findings of this research project contribute to our understanding of international migrant children’s culturalisation process, through their language use and multidimensional identity negotiation, and highlight school-aged Chinese Australians’ agency in the transformation of the immigrant community in Australia via their dual-track language practices. Though research findings in this study are based on the case of Chinese-Australian children and adolescents, many aspects of their experience could be shared by immigrants in other age groups and of other ethnicities, due to the representativeness of Chinese immigrants as one of the largest immigrant groups and Australia as a typical immigrant country.
Broadcasting Paradox? A Study of Content Diversity and Ownership in Contemporary Indonesian Television
Independent media in a democracy is an arena where the exchange of a diverse range of information and views facilitates the formation of public opinion. It took the fall of the almost 32-year-long authoritarian regime before Indonesians finally experienced democracy in 1998. The spirit of democracy was reflected in the implementation of new regulations, which are more liberal and freer from government control. Departing from the principle of diversity of ownership and diversity of content, the implementation of the new laws resulted in a growing number of media outlets. Diversity of content is commonly accepted as a founding principle in communication policy. Discussion on programme diversity as a performance goal has been particularly lively and relevant in the case of television, as is well documented, for example, by Blumler (1991) and Napoli (1999). Accordingly, the principle of a wide range of programme options is typically included in national broadcasting legislation, and both public and commercial broadcasters have faced the requirement of diversity, set by the various regulatory bodies. But previous research in the Indonesian context has shown that this diversity of media outlets and content as an essential aspect of Indonesia’s new democracy has been threatened by various developments. The first threat concerns the issue of media ownership and conglomeration. The second threat to media diversity is political: Half of the media owners also serve as the leaders of political parties. This study examines the diversity of market structure and programme content of Indonesian television in the context of the 2014 legislative and presidential elections. Using a Critical Political Economy approach, it addresses two key questions: 1) Does ownership have an impact on television structure and content?; and 2) Do corporate connections to politics have an impact on television journalism? One of the findings is that television owners only endorse the idea of diversity if it can bring them profit, or further their political interests.
Belonging and Trust in the Inter-Media Society: The Case of the 3.11 Disaster
The 3.11 disaster in Japan is an epitome of an unexpected, highly complex and intrinsically disruptive media event, and remains an ongoing concern even after eight years. The complexity of the triple disaster not only brought destruction to the surrounding environment but also reconfigured many people’s sense of place, security and communal belonging. In addition to the material reconstruction in the aftermath of disasters, it became equally essential to understand the social aspects of disasters, including how different media forms can aid recovery by strengthening connections with self, family and society. In the context of the sense of communal belonging and perceptions of trust in media, significantly shaped and reconfigured by the 3.11 disaster, this study expands the scholarship on the role of media in disaster communication to focus predominantly on individual media usage patterns and behaviour within contemporary Japanese society. Examining individual media usage experiences utilising various media forms, from traditional mass media forms such as television and newspapers to new, digital players, social media platforms and online news websites, this study looks specifically at how individuals experience their sense of communal belonging and trust in the context of the complex, inter-media environment of the 3.11 disaster. Based on in-depth interviews and social media data from Japan, this research examines the role of traditional mass media and non-traditional online media in evoking and amplifying a sense of belonging to spatial and relational communities. Here, the study elaborates on the role of online media in disaster communication and challenges they impose on traditional mass media use. Furthermore, this research looks at changes in individual perceptions of media credibility in a disaster context and present day, elaborating how shifting trust in media intersects with the changes in the way individuals use and rely on media. Main findings of the study suggest that in the wake of the disruptive media event, Japanese media users move from using traditional mass media as a sole source of news to personalised, inter-media environment which supports the emergence of affective connection to a community. The intensified sense of communal belonging further facilitates the practice of seeking and evaluating information and media credibility through new media forms of connectivity.
Overseas Chinese Communities in Transition: Capable Agency, Translocal Positioning, and Community Re-organisation
The rapid growth of China-born immigrants around the world has attracted intense attention from researchers, the public, and policymakers. However, much understanding of this population is clouded by speculation and misinformation, thus resulting in heated debates and even social anxieties. This research seeks to inform these debates concerning overseas Chinese communities by presenting an empirical case study conducted in Victoria, Australia. It argues that the significant influx of China-born immigrants since the late 1980s and early 1990s has seen an ongoing community reorganising process. Although this process has been influenced by convoluted forces at macro-, meso-, and micro-levels, the thesis demonstrates that it is more endogenous than exogenous. In other words, the process is fundamentally driven by Chinese immigrants who have strong inclinations and capabilities to self-organise for personal advancement and collective betterment. This research is grounded in offline and online ethnographic fieldwork spanning over three years. It is also informed by Chinese and Australian government reports, Australian national censuses, archival resources generated by the local Chinese community, as well as historical and cross-sectional comparisons. The five discussion chapters of this thesis identify and elaborate on the following key manifestations of the reorganising process respectively: a parallel rise of (1) homeland-engaging (transnational) and (2) hostland-embedding (local) activism, (3) heightened community engagement activism, (4) a feminisation turn, and (5) a redrawn organisational landscape. Addressed in this thesis is an under-researched and under-theorised topic central to the study of Chinese Overseas. This research also problematises state-centric analysis and demonstrates how a community-focused perspective can effectively illustrate and account for the dynamism and mechanism of immigrant community development. The co-evolutionary model developed in this research has proved constructive to unpack these convoluted and dynamic processes. In addition, this perspective also sheds light on the lived experiences of transnational mobility, the promises and pitfalls of accelerated transnational migration, and changes unleashed by accelerating globalisation. In so doing, it offers new avenues to studies on international migration and globalisation.
The state of disorder: Non-state violence in post-authoritarian Indonesia
This thesis examines the proliferation of non-state violence groups in post-authoritarian Indonesia. It argues that non-state violence characterises the workings of predatory forms of capitalism in the way understood by Marx as primitive accumulation. The persistence of non-state violence in different political settings is due to the significance of predatory capitalism, characterised by the use of extra-economic means in the accumulation of power and wealth. Within this context, non-state violence is not an obstruction, but instrumental for accumulation process, constituting the state of disorder. This argument criticises Weberian notions of the state in which it is defined as an entity that monopolises the legitimate use of violence. The existence of non-state violence is neither an indicator of the weak capacity of the state, thus enabling militias, gangsters or vigilante groups to take up certain state functions, as argued within institutionalist perspectives, nor the result of the fragmentation of power, as argued in the Migdalian state-in-society approach. As shown in the Indonesian case, non-state violence is endemic to predatory states as part of their purpose of facilitating capital accumulation.
A Grammar of Lakkja, South China
This thesis proposes to present a synchronic investigation of the Lakkja language which is spoken in South China with approximately 9,000 speakers. It aims to offer a full descriptive grammar of Lakkja by observing, documenting and analysing the language as manifested in its sound system, lexicon and grammar, not only to provide valuable data for typological and comparative studies but also help to preserve a precious cultural heritage for mankind. Adopting a functional-typological approach, this study begins with an introduction of the language and its people, including the topography, demography, ethnographic issues and sociolinguistic situations in Lakkja-speaking area, along with the typological profile of the language, the background, significance and methodology of this research, followed by an account of the phonological properties and changes before giving a description of the internal structure of words and morphological processes. The forms and functions of the noun phrase are discussed, as are the characteristics and functions of the verb phrase, as well as the semantic and syntactic properties of adjectives and adverbs. Serial verb constructions are treated in some detail, along with the temporal-aspectual system. An overall account of sentence types are explored. Grammatical relations between verbs and its arguments concludes the thesis from morpho-syntactic perspectives. The sound system of Lakkja generally follows the principles of historical phonology in Tai-Kadai languages. Lakkja by and large preserves the historical voiceless and voiced distinction in tonal selection. The sound system is not stable and undergoing a tendency of being simplified as a result of language contact. Monosyllabic words constitute the majority of Lakkja words, while loan words from local Chinese are disyllabic or polysyllabic. Word formation in Lakkja is characterized by affixation, compounding, reduplication and phonological alternation. A significant number of noun classifiers and lexical words may function as prefixes and suffixes to signify a specific entity or to mark gender, case and number, among others. A few typological features such as circumfix are found in Lakkja, which is quite unusual cross-linguistically. Compounding is typically derivational, head-initial and endocentric, with noticeable exceptions. Complex semantic properties and syntactic behaviours are noted in the noun phrase and the verb phrase. Constituent order determines the semantic relations and syntactic functions to a great extent. There is a continuum between morphology and syntax in certain lexical items, blurring the boundary between adjectives and adverbs, between nouns and verbs. A considerable number of Lakkja words have dual or multiple membership, with some in the process of being grammaticalized. Lakkja clauses include simple and complex clauses as well as simplex, subject-less and verbless clauses. Intonations and clause-final particles play a significant role in differentiating various types of sentences. Although Lakkja may be described as having an SVO (AVO) word order, the semantic, syntactic and thematic relations between arguments present a more complex picture. Lakkja holds a key to Kam-Tai. It is hoped that this study may shed some light on our understanding of the internal structure of Kam-Sui and Tai-Kadai, contact-induced language change, and more importantly, the relationship between Tai-Kadai and Austronesian.
Organisational Relations of Kurdish Political Parties and their Evolution
Since the separation of the Middle East after World War One, the Kurds have found themselves to be minorities spread over four states. Within each of these states – Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria – the Kurds have organically organised themselves into political groups and organisations. To differentiate themselves, the organisations’ have generally followed one of two ideologies: Socialists, who are Marxist in orientation, and nationalists, who are more conservative. Both ideologies have, in time, gained traction in each state and although the specific rhetoric of the individual groups is regionally focused, they still all loosely follow the two main ideological figurehead groups: the socialist PKK from Turkey or the more traditional KDP from Iraq. The Kurd’s ideological divisions have left a legacy of violence and mistrust. When this mistrust is combined with the pressure from their parent states to conform to the government’s sanctioned status quos, the Kurds have had their rights diminished then fought over the issue. Recently, the rise of the Kurdish autonomous areas in Iraq and Syria have challenged this ideological stalemate. The ability to express their ethnicity has given the groups the room to operate in a more democratic fashion that idealises discussion over violence. The opinions Kurds have of their own groups are also important in determining how indentured the biases are throughout their society. By utilising ethnographic research, it becomes clear that the ideological contention between the groups has become part of the ‘norm’ for Kurds and even though they have come a long way towards reconciliation, there is still much to do.
Liberated women, enlightened men: discourses on the 19th century Arab Renaissance in Egypt and Syria
Arab scholarship of the history of the Arab world's relationship with the West has typically been characterised by a narrative of struggle against Western hegemony and colonial domination. This narrative has failed to give sufficient recognition to the fact that in the nineteenth century, numerous Arab intellectuals, important members of the elite and significant segments of the general public were positively receptive and admiring of Western ideas. Significant segments of the general public embraced these ideas with open arms and seemed, initially, to be quite accepting of the apparatus of colonialism. European influence on nineteenth century Arab culture was more substantial than originally understood by Arab writers. A more nuanced perspective of Arab engagement with the West, adopted in this research, shows how Arab intellectuals who were fascinated by the West's achievements tailored Western Enlightenment ideas to suit their own society. The impact of the Western Enlightenment and early modernity on nineteenth century Egyptian and Syrian society and on women's education was profound. The focus of this study is on educational reforms which empowered women and allowed Arab women to enter the intellectual life of the nineteenth century. The emergence of female Arab writers and journalists affected not only women's domestic lives and the development of their consciousness regarding their rights, but also enabled women to participate in other spheres of public life. The establishment of women's literary societies and salons led to the development of a social consciousness that later allowed women to secure key legal, educational and marital reforms at the national level. This study illustrates the lasting influence of Western ideas on Arab society in the nineteenth century, particularly with regard to the education and advancement of women.
Towards strengthened primary care in China: an early evaluative study of the government’s role between 2003 and 2015
Since the early 2000s, the Chinese government has significantly increased its subsidies for health care and made new promises. Among different reform areas, primary care has been prioritised. This thesis evaluates the Chinese government’s role in strengthening primary care between 2003 and 2015. Two main research questions are addressed: 1. What has the Chinese government done to strengthen primary care? and 2. What were the outcomes of these efforts? In order to answer these research questions, data were drawn from both secondary research and fieldwork conducted in China between October 2016 and March 2017. More specifically, data were collected from the China Health Yearbook and China Health Statistical Yearbook, relevant policy documents and academic publications. During my fieldwork, primary data were obtained from semi-structured interviews and observations. These data were analysed using a framework developed from the existing literature. The strengthening of primary care was considered both as a goal in itself and as a means to improve the Chinese health care system. When considered as a goal in itself, the strength of primary care was broken down into structures and processes, which were then further divided into eight dimensions/features. Under each dimension/feature, the Chinese government’s intentions were described, followed by what the government did and intervention outcomes. The major findings of this study can be summarised as follows. To strengthen primary care, the Chinese government has relied heavily on increasing requirements for public primary care facilities and injecting more subsidies. The government has been successful in increasing the inputs of primary care facilities and meeting its own quantitative targets. Primary care facilities have become more spacious, better equipped and staffed by more people. They have delivered a large quantity of essential public health services free of charge, offered essential medicines at wholesaling prices and provided many medical services at below-cost prices. However, problems also exist. The quantitative targets set by the government are not always well justified. The effectiveness of various government efforts has been compromised by a mismatch between targets and funds, weak monitoring and a poor data foundation, compounded by the fragmented administrative structure. The strengthening of primary care facilities has been further complicated by their competitive relationship with hospitals. In the past 15 years, hospitals expanded rapidly, and the relative market share of primary care facilities dropped. The government has realised that diverting patients from hospitals to primary care facilities requires a more comprehensive approach. More recently, the government has further stepped up its efforts to strengthen primary care. Some promising initiatives have been initiated. However, the problems identified in this study have not yet been fully addressed, and these may continue to pose challenges for the government to achieving its intended goals.
In search of hegemony: Islamism and the state in Indonesia
In post-authoritarian Indonesia, but particularly following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Islamism has become a contentious matter of scholarly debate. The prominent accounts emerging from security and democratisation studies place much analytical weight on ideology and culture by often portraying the relationship between Islam and politics in essentialist fashion, associating the dynamics of Islamism with interpretations of Islamic doctrine or the contest between moderate and radical Muslims. The institutionalist literature, on the contrary, explains the rise of Islamism as the result of the weak capacity of the state following the fall of the centralised New Order authoritarian regime. Another variant draws attention to the moderation of Islamic politics as the result of participation in democratic processes, especially electoral politics. Yet, such linear and teleological explanations obscure the complex circumstances that establish the different trajectories of Islamism. They also fail to comprehend how the prevalence of Islamist discourse on power struggles in the current democracy can produce a more conservative and illiberal form of Islamism. In contrast, this thesis utilises the politics of hegemony approach as developed in the traditions of political discourse theory. By looking at Islamism and state transformation, this study is concerned with analysing the way various political struggles organised under the banner of Islam shape, and are being transformed by, the distinct configurations of power in specific historical conjunctures. It asks about the social conditions and contradictions that enable the articulation of dissent and demands through the narrative of Islam and how these relate to different forms of Islamist political projects. In particular the thesis addresses the way contestations and social coalitions forged throughout a process of struggle are constitutive for Indonesian politics and the practices of Islamism. This thesis argues that the dynamics and trajectories of Islamism have been shaped by broader socio-political changes and political contestation both within and beyond Islamists in specific historical conjunctures. This study identifies three central discursive settings in which the relations between Islamism and the state in Indonesia have been constituted and contested, namely anti-colonialism and nation-state formation (1900s-1965), developmentalism (1966-1998) and democracy (1998-present). It is shown that the building of different Islamist political projects, as a mode of articulating diverse demands and dissent of social groups for the purpose of reshaping a given social order has influenced the reconfiguration of their interests, identities, subjectivities and relationships. By highlighting the logic of political contingency, this study explains the ways Islamists’ hegemonic struggles constitute distinct forms of contestation and coalitions which have significantly affected Indonesian politics and Islamism itself. The main insight of this thesis is to offer a non-essentialist reading of Islamic politics by linking distinct socio-political conditions and the discursive formation of Islamism within the evolution of Indonesian political history.