Graduated research students
Master of Arts
Destablizing Realities: Black humour in the fictions of Heller, Pynchon and Vonnegut
My thesis revisits a literary concept popular up to the mid twentieth century, but has since been on a decline in scholarship: black humour.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Andrew Ng Hock Soon and Associate Professor Sharon A. Bong
Beh May Ting
Space, Identity, and Foodscapes in the Coffee Houses of George Town, Penang, Malaysia
This thesis examines how the recent proliferation of new artisanal cafés in the historic port city of George Town, Malaysia – recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage city since 2008 – is being negotiated amidst the long-standing popularity of traditional coffee houses (kopitiams) and international coffee chains like Starbucks Coffee. These artisanal cafés are products of a global coffee movement (also known as the third wave coffee culture).
Based on an ethnography of coffee house practices in George Town, this thesis argues that foodways and food spaces in George Town are instrumental in the crossing of boundaries between ‘the past and the present’ and ‘the local and the global’. In George Town, new artisanal cafés are often housed in heritage premises and highlighted in social media. This reveals a change in the social lives of the people who, in one way or another, are tied to the development of the city. The emergence of new types of coffee houses has led to a shift in tastes when it comes to dining and socializing in public spaces. This thesis examines issues of sustainability, authenticity, and ethnic differences which stem from this change.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Yeoh Seng Guan and Associate Professor Khoo Gaik Cheng
Love Teams in 1970s Philippine Cinema
My research examines film couples in 1970s Philippine cinema, which are called ‘love teams’. The era is particularly interesting because of the imposition of Martial Law in 1972, with singing teenagers and authoritarianism characterizing the early 1970s and drawing large crowds for very different reasons. I explore love teams as a nationally specific form of stardom in the Philippines that privileges a couple's collaborative partnership rather than the celebration of the individual that usually characterizes star studies in the dominant Western contexts after the end of the studio era. In the process of exploring the love team, I propose the division of the film couple into three distinct identities to fully unpack the different aspects of their joint image (the combination of two individual star images). I also investigate the genre of the teenage jukebox musical, in which the young couples mostly sing covers of popular American songs and occasionally songs written for and about the love team in plots that closely resemble biographic details of their lives. The ideological significance of these stars and films are explored in terms of ethnicity, class, religion, courtship, marriage and youth in Philippine society in the 1970s.
Data was derived from a combination of participant observation, semi-structured interviews and archival research. Based on this data, the thesis describes contemporary Chinese death spaces in the Klang Valley as a web of intersecting and overlapping processes which include: changing official representations of cemetery space from dangerous, wasteful and a hindrance to modern development, to valuable (in the sense of being monetised), modern public spaces; changing understandings of filiality vis-à-vis conceptions of modernity; and the emergence of new spatialised death practices which reconfigure relations with the deceased and work to dispel taboos and fears which previously circulated within similar spaces. In delineating each of these processes, the thesis demonstrates the important role that PBOs have played in the production of "modern" Chinese death spaces and practices.
Choong Pui Yee
Principled Pragmatism: The Political Mobilization of the Christian Community in Malaysia
This study examines the repression-mobilization nexus of the Christian community in Malaysia from 1980 to 2015. The study contends that repression facing the Christian community in Malaysia has to be analyzed by looking at the types of repression, its actual enforcement as well as the consistency of the enforcement. This study also highlights how regime type matters in the repression-mobilization nexus. Beyond refining the study of repression and mobilization by introducing the category of targeted and regulatory repression, this thesis contributes to the study of state-society confrontations in Malaysia over religious practice and identity.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Marco Buente and Dr. Joel D. Moore
Cyren Wong Zhi Hoong
Semai Ontologies, Eco-touristic Expressions, and Actor-Networks in the Bukit Kinta Rainforest
This thesis is an ethnographic study of biodiversity conservation, eco-tourism, and indigenous peoples' empowerment in the context of a Semai Orang Asli village in Peninsular Malaysia. It examines the relationships of the Semai community with outsiders and various agents of Nature to contend that the consolidation of power relations and ontological security in the region must account for all actors/actants involved on unilateral terms.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Yeoh Seng Guan and Professor Ong Puay Liu
Analyzing the Achievements of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS): The Impact of Subregional Cooperation on Security and Peace
Supervisors: Associate Professor Marco Buente and Professor Joern Dosch
Sharifah Faizah Syed Mohammed
The history and development of lagu seriosa in the context of musical nationalism in Indonesia
Lagu seriosa was the most important nationalistic song genre in Indonesia in the 1950s and 1960s, and it became the main attraction of the annual national singing competition, the Bintang Radio (Radio Star). Twenty-seven interviews were conducted among the practitioners who played the key role in the development of lagu seriosa from the 1950s. This thesis will cover the entire period from its rise to the fall of lagu seriosa as the definitive nationalist song in Indonesia. The five case studies of selected songs reflected continuity and change in musical style and over time.As a genre that promoted national Indonesian identity, it lost its popularity as the rise of popular music infiltrated Indonesia in the 1970s. The consequence is that the classical style of singing propagated by lagu seriosa accommodated the cultivation of patriotic or propaganda songs during the Guided Democracy period (1959-1965), particularly at the height of the Konfrontasi (1963-1966) period.
Supervisors: Professor James Chin and Professor Margaret Kartomi
Supervisors: Associate Professor Sharon A. Bong and Dr. Christopher Chong Eu Choong
The melting mosh pi/ot: Extreme Music Performance in Early 2010s Multi-ethnic Malaysia
This study examines how global extreme music is manifested in early 2010s Malaysia. I argue that in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and fast developing Southeast Asian society like Malaysia, global-local music scene dynamics and pre-existing markers of ethnic identity affect the construction and negotiation of authentic extreme music identities.
Data collected by insider ethnography and in-depth interviews with 40 multi-ethnic Malaysian extreme music scenes participants suggest two main findings. First, that extreme music performance in early 2010s Malaysia references to globally authenticated models of metal and punk. Second, that the construction of Malaysian extreme music identity is influenced by pre-existing ethnic markers that contribute to forming sedimented hybrids. These multi-layered identities are constructed by blending pre-existing socio-political, ethnic, religious, or policing aspects of Malaysias different ethnic identities with global extreme musics authenticating codes of performance.
All ethnic groups represented in this study suggest that early 2010s Malaysian extreme music provides an accessible social space where inter-ethnic solidarity and discourses are significantly promoted at the grassroots level, and not limited to Malaysias artistic and cultural elites.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Yeoh Seng Guan, Dr. Julian Lee and Mr. David Ensminger
Sandra Ng Siow San
Inner Guidance: Of Malaysian And Singaporean Chinese Buddhist Pilgrims
The thesis explores the meanings and experiences of doing pilgrimages with a focus on Buddhists living in Malaysia and Singapore. It aims firstly, to study the meanings of pilgrimage and the ways in which it is being practised, and secondly, to examine the transformations and experiences in becoming religious and/or spiritual through the process of doing pilgrimage. I conducted a total of twenty-seven in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face, audio-recorded interviews with three cohorts of interviewees: nine Malaysian-Chinese laypersons, nine Singaporean-Chinese laypersons and nine Buddhist mentors (comprising four monks and five laypersons). Transcribed interviews as data were analysed using ATLAS.ti (a Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software) which thematically structured six findings chapters (organised into two parts). Part 1 offers conventional understandings of pilgrimage that denote the going away from one’s everyday life to particular sacred places. Part 2 deconstructs and reconstructs the interpretations and practices of the pilgrimages as processual. This demonstrates the inseparability and interconnectedness of the notions of Time and Space in doing pilgrimage as a form of Buddhist cultivation. The degree of sense of time and sense of space in the processes of doing pilgrimage range from somewhat distinct, separable and ‘stoppable’ from our everyday life (hence, doing pilgrimage externally), to a more inseparable, overlapping, integrated concept of TimeSpace which enables one to become more aware and more present in one’s lived experiences (which in turn demonstrates ‘doing pilgrimage’ internally). I argue that pilgrims’ motivations—be they prescriptive, ambivalent or a matter of fidelity—are integral to fostering a better understanding of the pilgrimage phenomenon. By engaging a spatial and temporal framework in relation to pilgrimage as Buddhist praxis, this thesis contributes insights into what the pilgrimage means and how doing pilgrimages can potentially be transformative to the Buddhist’s religious and spiritual training and growth in the context of Malaysia and Singapore.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Sharon A. Bong and Professor Padmasiri De Silva
The reception of Bollywood in Malaysia (1991-2012): a contextual study
Bollywood films are increasingly drawing scholarly attention for their global appeal and reception. This thesis looks at the reception of Bollywood in Malaysia, and adopts a contextual approach where the reception of Bollywood is situated within the broader Malaysian socio-political and religious contexts. Bollywood, which reached Malaysia as early as the 1930s, has an audience that goes beyond the nation’s Indian diaspora. The thesis uses qualitative discourse analysis to look at the representations of Bollywood in the Malaysian media, and the broader context of such representations. As Malaysia has a long history of screening Bollywood movies, this thesis adopts a linear historical approach, tracing developments in Bollywood’s appeal, which then serves as a foundation for the rest of the study.
It is revealed that Bollywood is not only a part of Malaysian film culture, but that it also forms a part of Malaysian socio-politics. This shows a “mainstreaming” of Bollywood films in the Malaysian context, which, in this thesis, is termed ‘Malaysianisation’. The study shows that Bollywood in Malaysia has a dual and contradictory image – as a religious threat and as a marketing tool to help brand Malaysia overseas. This unique representation and reception reflects the contradictions existing in the larger Malaysian socio-political sphere, which also substantiates the concept of Bollywood’s ‘Malaysianisation’.
Supervisors: Dr. Jonathan O. Driskell and Dr. Sony Jalarajan Raj
Political communication in Malaysia: A study on the use of new of new media
To gain and retain political power, politicians utilise the mass media to persuade the polity to support them, especially during elections. The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has successfully manipulated the mass media in Malaysia to maintain power for the past 57 years, making it one of the longest serving government in the world. The emergence of new media, however, has challenged this status quo. The purpose of this thesis was to investigate how new media has influenced the political process and communication strategies in Malaysia, and its subsequent impact on the Malaysian political landscape. Nineteen in-depth interviews were conducted among politicians, bloggers and media consultants from both sides of the political divide, along with direct observation of the use of the new media during elections.
The study revealed that new media, especially Web 2.0, has expanded the public sphere and enabled more Malaysians to participate in the democratic process – through information dissemination, mobilization or crowd-sourcing and fund-raising. At the same time, the cyber-warfare between the Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) caused considerable confusion and disinformation on the polity. The online public sphere was inundated with political propaganda, often resulting in information overload for Internet users, thus affecting their quality of decision-making on political issues. Nonetheless, the emergence of the new media in Malaysia has become the single biggest threat to the BN’s political hegemony on the flow of information. Malaysian voters now expect greater engagement and interactivity with politicians via social media. Malaysian politicians are increasingly forced to be more accountable, transparent and responsive. Malaysian users of social media tend to be better educated and vocal; they can set the agenda for public discussion.
This study concluded that the Internet and the use of social media have led to unprecedented complexity in the political communication process in Malaysia. The new media can function as a catalyst for media-savvy political actors working towards gaining power but this may not lead to a more democratic system as a whole. External factors such as the structure of the electoral system and political institutions play a part in determining whether ideas spread by social media can find fertile ground in the polity who can ultimately bring about political change.
Supervisors: Professor James Chin and Dr. Wong Chin Huat
Joseph N. Goh
A Queer Theorising and Theologising of Non-Heteronormative Malaysian Men
My qualitative research project examines the intersection of sexual identifyings, sexual practices and faith systems among non-heteronormative men in Malaysia in order to construct a queer sexual theorising and theologising that reflects the Malaysian context.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Sharon A. Bong and Rev. Dr. Robert Shore-Goss
Legal mobilisation of ethno-cultural minority groups: The case of the Indians in Malaysia
This research, derived from legal mobilisation studies and case studies on the Indian Dalit and Malaysian Indian ethnic minority groups, proposes to identify to what extent the law plays a role in the constitution and framing of minority group identity and grievances and in the formation of minority group strategy.
Supervisors: Professor Helen Nesadurai and Dr. Vanitha Sundra Karean
Dialectic and the Sublime in Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness
This PhD research works at building a discourse through a reading of mysticism through the themes of dialecticism and sublimity. Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness serves as a base upon which this philosophical discourse is constructed.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Andrew Ng Hock Soon and Associate Professor Gil Soo Han
Tan Meng Yoe
The Digital Church: Urban Malaysian Christian Experiences in Cyberspace
The Digital Church: Urban Malaysian Church Experiences in Cyberspace looks at how some Malaysian Christians use the Internet as an avenue of spiritual expression. How does Christianity, a two thousand-plus year old religion, relate with a three decade-old medium? This research project aims to record these changing dynamics through ethnography.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Yeoh Seng Guan and Professor Gary Donald Bouma
Nor Arlinda Mohamed Khalid
The political economy of Emergency Safeguard Measures in trade in services agreements
This study examines the conflict between developed and developing states on Emergency Safeguard Measures (ESM) in services trade negotiations. It attempts to identify the underlying economic and political economy factors that help understand the causes of ESM deadlock by unlocking the motivations, forces, interests and ideas behind countries’ stance on ESM.
Supervisors: Professor Helen Nesadurai and Professor James Chin
The monetisation of personal blogging: assembling the self and markets in Malaysia
Based on ethnographic fieldwork and extensive participant observation both online and offline, this research focuses on the changes occurring in personal blogging in Malaysia subsequent to widespread monetisation. It uses the concept of assemblage to disaggregate and assemble the interconnected self, the markets and the blogosphere.
Supervisors: Associate Professor Yeoh Seng Guan and Dr. David Holmes