Six students win awards for their research on Asia and Asian diaspora

Six York students have won five awards for their research on Asia or Asian diaspora this year from the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR).

Vanessa Lamb (right), a second-year doctoral candidate in geography, is the 2010 Vivienne Poy Asian Research Award recipient. Her research interests include the politics of the environment and development, feminist political ecology and critical science studies.

Lamb received her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, where she researched and studied the interdisciplinary understandings of conservation. Prior to attending York, she worked for the Bangkok-based organization TERRA, a regional non-governmental organization (NGO) that works on environmental issues within the Mekong Region. As a doctoral student she has worked as part of the Challenges of Agrarian Transition in Southeast Asia project team.

The award funds will assist Lamb in her dissertation fieldwork during the 2010-2011 academic year. Her research looks at knowledge-making and claim-making practices around resources of the Nu-Salween River, which supports an estimated six million people in China, Burma and Thailand as a source of livelihood and food. She will conduct interviews with local residents, activists, engineers and others connected to a large hydroelectric development project along the river at the Thai-Burma border. Specifically, her research will consider how different knowledges produced about the river interact and influence decision-making processes around development.

The award is named for Canadian Senator Vivienne Poy. It assists a graduate student in fulfilling the fieldwork requirement for the Graduate Diploma in Asian Studies.

Ei Phyu Han (left) and Rae Mitchell are the 2010 YCAR Language Award recipients. Han, a doctoral candidate in geography, will study Thai, while Mitchell, a master’s candidate in social & political thought, will use the funding to study Hindi in anticipation of her 2010 fieldwork in India. 

Han is examining gender identity formation of Karen refugees from Burma along the Thai-Burma border to learn how it is influenced by different actors and power groups at multiple sites of displacement. Her research aims to demonstrate how identity is influenced by place and therefore shifts during the process of being displaced because it is continually being renegotiated. This research has the potential to help improve resettlement programs, and she hopes it can play a role in future Canadian refugee policy changes.

"Although I am now a Canadian citizen, I migrated to Canada at the age of six from Burma with my family in the aftermath of the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations in 1988," says Han. "I believe that this project is important not only for the ways that it can influence policy and resettlement program changes, and its engagement and contribution to academic knowledge, but also because it is integral to learning more about the growing humanitarian crisis in Burma."

She completed her coursework and set the foundations for her fieldwork in the summer of 2009 in Chiang Mai, Thailand, by making contacts with NGOs and by taking Thai language courses. The YCAR Language Award will assist in the continuation of these studies. She will begin her fieldwork this month working with the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, Women’s Education for Advancement & Employment and the Karen Youth Organization.

Right: Rae Mitchell

Mitchell’s research interests include resistance, social movement theory, engaged Buddhism and social anarchism. Her current research focuses on Gandhian perspectives of the body, including the methods utilized by Gandhi to transform his body (and self) from British subject into revolutionary satyagrahi. She’s also interested in the ways that Gandhian approaches to social and political transformation are being adapted and utilized by female members of the Mahila Shanti Sena (Women’s Peace Force) in Northern India.

She will complete a four-week intensive Hindi language-training course at the Jaipur School of Hindi in Jaipur, Rajasthan. The school is run in affiliation with Shashvat Sansthan, a local NGO working for the welfare of Rajasthan’s tribal-indigenous communities. Mitchell will also be travelling with University of Toronto Professor Reva Joshee and Jill Carr-Harris, a development worker in India, throughout central India for three weeks in October to explore possible research collaboration on Ekta Parishad’s struggle for land and forest rights for marginalized and indigenous peoples in India.

Mitchell holds a combined bachelor of arts (BA) in peace studies and anthropology with a minor in religious studies from McMaster University.

The YCAR Language Award was created to support graduate students in fulfilling the language requirement for the Graduate Diploma in Asian Studies and to facilitate awardees master’s or doctoral-level research.

Ferdinand Dionisio Caballero (left), a master’s candidate in social anthropology, is this year’s recipient of the David Wurfel Award. The award will aid him in his fall archival fieldwork in the Philippines where he will focus on the entangled relations between the Catholic Church and the Filipino people.

The David Wurfel Award provides financial support to an honours undergraduate or master’s graduate student who intends to conduct thesis research on the topic of Filipino history, culture or society. 

Caballero’s major research paper will be an anthropological inquiry on religion, colonial subjects, post-colonialism and history. More specifically, he is interested in exploring and understanding the dynamics of power relations between religious institutions and the people.

He holds a BA in anthropology with a specialization in ethnographic studies from Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta.

The award was established in 2006 by Senior YCAR Research Associate David Wurfel. He wanted to contribute to the emergence of a new generation of Filipino leadership that is grounded in the country’s history, culture and public affairs. Wurfel is a Philippine specialist who received his PhD from Cornell University’s Southeast Asia Program.

Heather Barnick (right) is the 2010 recipient of the Albert C.W. Chan Foundation Fellowship. A doctoral candidate in the Department of Social Anthropology at York, her current research interests are related to the anthropology of media, digital anthropology, and techno-science with a specific focus on the visual and material cultures of video games and massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs).

Last month, Barnick began ethnographic fieldwork in Shanghai, China, following the ways in which online role-playing games have become significant sites for the formations of new national and cultural imaginaries in mainland China. Her fieldwork is supported by the Albert C.W. Chan Fellowship and a Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada doctoral scholarship.

This research follows on the heels of a project initiated by China’s General Administration of Press & Publication (GAPP) to encourage the production of 100 domestically produced MMORPGs. The narratives and imagery integrated into games developed under GAPP’s initiative frequently make use of famous fictional stories, such as the Journey to the West, and historical battles, such as Genghis Khan’s exploits and the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Focusing on the perspectives of youth from Shanghai, Barnick’s research will examine how these adapted histories come to have new meanings for life in the present. The primary goal is to understand how notions of national and cultural belongings and identities are continuously formed, expressed and re-imagined by Shanghai youth through their participation in MMORPGs produced in China.

Barnick earned a BA in sociology and anthropology from the University of Prince Edward Island and a MA in social and cultural anthropology from Concordia University.

The Albert C.W. Chan Foundation Fellowship was established by the Albert C.W. Chan Foundation to encourage and assist York graduate students to conduct field research in East and/or Southeast Asia and was made possible through the support of the Albert C. W. Chan family.

Adnan Amin (left) was selected from a strong group of graduate and undergraduate applicants to represent York at the Global Initiatives Symposium in Taipei next month. This opportunity is provided by the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Amin’s winning essay, “When East Meets West: A Personal Essay on Intersections of North American and East Asian Education”, reflected on his experiences as an English as a second language (ESL) teacher in Taiwan.   

Last year, Amin graduated from York with an honours double major degree in English and history, completed his concurrent bachelor of education degree, and held a position as student senator for the Faculty of Education Students’ Association. Amin has also held an international internship in the English Department of the Hong Kong Institute of Education and taught ESL in Taiwan. He is currently pursing his master of education degree at York.

Amin’s research interests are in teaching and learning strategies, immigrant experiences, English language learning and digital media technology. He currently works as a school settlement worker in Toronto high schools where he helps newcomer students and families with settlement needs.

The Global Initiatives Symposium will be held at the National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan, from July 12 to 16. It will bring together emergent leaders from around the world to discuss critical global issues. The topic for 2010 is The Emergence of New Giants: Evolution or Revolution. Participants will also take part in several days of cultural tours in Taiwan following the symposium.

Amin’s opportunity to represent York at the symposium was made possible by the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office and the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

For more information on any of the awards, visit the YCAR Web site.