Dr Lai Jia Yen

Research Fellow in Global Studies
School of Arts and Social Sciences

+603 5514 6000
Room 2-6-20
Orcid  ID No: 0000-0002-8156-8997

Jia Yen Lai is a Research Fellow in Global Studies at Monash University Malaysia. She completed her PhD in Geography at the University of Edinburgh, MSc in Urban Planning at National Cheng Kung University and BA in Political Science at National Taiwan University. Prior to beginning her academic career, Jia Yen had spent 8 years in consultancy in corporate social responsibility.

Her research interest is at the interface between forest governance, rural livelihoods and justice. Her recent publications on Land Use Policy (DOI: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.105234) and Environmental Impact Assessment Review (DOI: 10.1016/j.eiar.2020.106374) investigate how NGOs and technical experts can influence equal access to justice by women, indigenous people, and migrants in environmental decision-making in Indonesia.

In her role at MUM, Jia Yen is conducting a three-year’s research project on deforestation-risk commodity supply chains and environmental justice in Southeast Asia. Related topics include globalized market, land tenure conflicts, and community-based approaches.

Website: https://sites.google.com/view/jiayenlai/


PhD (Geography, University of Edinburgh)

MSc (Urban Planning, National Cheng Kung University)

BA (Political Science, National Taiwan University)

Research Interests

Jia Yen’s research focuses on tropical forests, climate change, and livelihood interactions in the Global South. She is interested in exploring community-based and inclusive approaches to sustainable and inclusive development. Four main themes have driven her research thus far: (1) deforestation-risk commodity; (2) land conflicts and land rights; (3) social movements and grassroots activism; and (4) power and justice.

She is particularly interested in how market-based instruments and various state and non-state actors (e.g., NGOs, MNCs, World Bank, UN) affect rural land-use and land cover change, how any conservation and development policies affect forests and the livelihoods of forest-dependent people, especially those under-represented social groups such as women, indigenous people and landless people.

Jia Yen seeks to connect environmental issues to social injustice, particularly in Southeast Asia. Her research draws on inspirations from social movements, political ecology, feminism, decolonialism, environmental justice and socio-ecological systems. She approaches the research in mixed and participatory methods.

Research Projects 

Access to justice across palm oil value chains in Southeast Asia (2021-2024). This study uses a case study system to understand the network landscape of upstream palm oil value chains on the inclusion or exclusion of justice by agricultural migrants in Indonesia and Malaysia. Policy analysis, social network analysis, and semi-structured interviews will be used to explore the opportunities for and barriers to access to justice through intermediaries, and useful strategies to empower migrants in the upstream palm oil value chains.

In Pursuit of Just Forest Governance: Lessons from the Everyday Practices of Environmental Impact Assessment in Indonesia (2016-2020). This study explores the roles, interests and perspectives of the people and organizations who mediate and negotiate environmental justice concerns within Indonesia's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The analysis of this study makes use of the method of policy analysis, semi-structured interviews and focus groups with a wide range of local people and specialists involved in the EIA process. This study contributes to the scholarship of forest governance and environmental justice by presenting differences in the ideas of justice held by different people and organisations within Indonesia's EIA process. Paying attention to the questions of what justifies a person or organisation in representing local voices and how to make them accountable for their actions also helps address the environmental justice concerns in forest governance policy and practices.

Understanding Adaptation: Lessons from Local Adaptive Measures to Coastal Risks and Hazards (2012-2014). Through a case study of Kukup water village, Malaysia, this study investigates the influence of coastal risks and hazards on coastal settlements’ spatial development, local construction measures for the adaptation of the coastal environment, and the implication of local adaptive measures on environmental policy and coastal management. The study collects data by a desk-based review and qualitative semi-structured interviews, and analyzes the spatial development and construction measures using an open-access 3D modelling tool,“SketchUp”. The study finds that natural, socioeconomic and cultural factors have contributed to the adjustment of spatial arrangement and that local adaptive measures reflect the local perception of coastal risks and hazards.


Jia Yen has taught in its School of Geoscience while doing her PhD at the University of Edinburgh. She has tutored undergraduate courses, including ‘Sustainability, society, and environment’; ‘Human geography’, and ‘Nature of geographical knowledge’. She has also demonstrated the graduate field trip of ‘Sustainable natural resource management’ to Edinburgh, Scotland, and a postgraduate field trip of ‘Environment and Development’ to Kathmandu, Nepal. Jia Yen has also given guest lectures to graduate and postgraduate students in University of Edinburgh, Universitas Mularwaman, and Southern University College.

Journal articles

* Lai, J. Y., Staddon, Sam, and Hamilton, Alistair. 2021. Technical Experts’ Perspectives of Justice-Related Norms: Lessons from Everyday Environmental Practices in Indonesia. Land Use Policy 102 (March): 105234. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.105234

* Lai, J.Y., Hamilton, A., 2020. For whom do NGOs speak? Accountability and legitimacy in pursuit of just environmental impact assessment. Environment Impact Assessment Review 82 (May), 106374. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eiar.2020.106374

* Lai, J.Y., Cheng, H.H., 2019. Understanding Adaptation: Lessons from Local Adaptive Measures to Coastal Risks and Hazards – A Case Study of Kukup Water Village, Malaysia. J. Des. Built Environ. 19, 13–23. https://ejournal.um.edu.my/index.php/jdbe/article/view/17784

* Transmigrants’ perspectives of environmental justice and land tenure Conflicts in Indonesia: Community, identity, and place. (Under review, Society & Natural Resources)

* Engaging emotions for greater geographical understanding in and through field work. (Under review, Special Issue of Journal of Geography in Higher Education)

Research Grants

Lai, J. Y. 2021 - 2024: Mapping the network landscape of palm oil value chain in Southeast Asia, Postdoctoral Fellowship, Monash University, RM60k

Lai, J. Y. 2016 - 2019: In Pursuit of Just Forest Governance: Lessons from the Everyday Practices of Decision-Making in Indonesia’s Environmental Impact Assessment, University of Edinburgh, GBP3000

Lai, J. Y. 2018 & 2019: In Pursuit of Just Forest Governance: Lessons from the Everyday Practices of Decision-Making in Indonesia’s Environmental Impact Assessment, Elizabeth Sinclair Irvine Bequest Centenary Agroforestry 89 Fund, GBP3000

Areas of Research & Supervision

Jia Yen welcomes enquiries on PhD supervision on projects in the areas of socio-ecological systems, land-use governance, decolonization and environmental justice. She is particularly interested in interdisciplinary research and participatory action research.


Principle’s Career Development Scholarships, University of Edinburgh (2016-2019)

Global Research Scholarships, University of Edinburgh (2016-2019)

Elizabeth Sinclair Irvine Bequest Centenary Agroforestry 89 Fund (2018 & 2019)

Outstanding Overseas Postgraduate Student Scholarships, National Cheng Kung University (2012 – 2014)

Distinguished Overseas Graduate Student Scholarships, National Taiwan University (2005 – 2008)