Graduate Student Fieldwork Reports 2018

Anne Gabrielle Ducharme, MA Political Science

Punishing journalists under authoritarian regimes, an arbitrary game? The case of Singapore

Since Singapore’s city-state’s independence in 1965, journalists’ mandate is to contribute to the country’s nation-building. Media coverage of local political affairs focuses on explaining policies and governmental decisions. The government has developed an apparatus of varied coercive means to make sure news content is coherent with its interests. Coercion can take the form of a phone call or a lawsuit and Government’s reactions can be quite irregular. No study yet questioned whether patterns existed between governmental repressive interventions and the type of coverage it reacted to. This gap in the literature leads to confusion regarding what the government considers a threat to political stability.

After two months of fieldwork in Singapore and meeting with 20 journalists, one academic working on freedom of speech issues and two NGO representatives, Anne Gabrielle obtained examples of repressive governmental actions conducted towards journalists that haven’t been disclosed in secondary sources or media. The analysis of this primary data will allow a better understanding of what type of media coverage triggers the use of coercion by the authorities, and potentially, to draw patterns between the use of specific means of coercion and specific types of media coverage.

Ammal Adenwala, MA Geography

Alternative realities: Negotiating urban space production in Cao Bang, Vietnam

Ammal Adenwala spent three months in Vietnam investigating how the interactions between everyday activities of citizens and state urban planning co-create what constitutes public and private space. Ammal started his fieldwork by meeting his host at Hanoi University of Natural Resources and Environment. Then he spent six weeks in Cao Bang, a small city in the northern highlands of Vietnam, where, with the help of an interpreter, he conducted interviews with citizens and government officials involved in urban planning. Hi M.A. project explored historical and contemporary design decisions, and geographic features currently embodied in the physical space. It also interrogated the official visions regarding architecture and urban design, and investigated how different resident groups use, navigate and appropriate urban spaces in their everyday lives to create public and private spaces.

The results of Ammal’s fieldwork will be disseminated in three chapters of his Master’s thesis. The first chapter concerns the current spatial arrangement of Cao Bang, a description of contemporary architecture and urban design in the city, and an outline of how historical processes such as two major military battles and an emergent market economy have changed the city. The second chapter discusses the state’s vision of public space use and the development of the city at large which follows discourses of modernity, economic development and environmental preservation. Finally, the third chapter explores the struggle for inclusion in urban spaces by marginalized populations, revealing themes of environmental degradation, a re-imagination of Vietnam’s national imaginary, and anxiety over the increasingly blurred lines between what constitutes ‘public’ and ‘private’ space.

Madeleine Henderson, PhD Sociology

Sociocultural determinants of sexual behavior amongst religious adolescents in Ghana

Early sexual initiation has been consistently linked to poor development outcomes for youth in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly as they relate to HIV/STI epidemics and teenage pregnancy rates. Understanding socio-cultural predictors of adolescent sexual behaviors is therefore a high priority for policy regarding gender equality, population growth, population health, and economic development. The goal of Madeleine’s research is to explore particular sociocultural determinants of sexual behavior among religious adolescents in a peri-urban community in Ghana. She conducted qualitative fieldwork during the summer of 2017 in a town called Asesewa, located in the Upper Manya Krobo region of Eastern Ghana, a region known for its unusually high HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy rates. With the help of three local hired field staff, she conducted interviews with adolescents, religious leaders, local leaders, ministry workers, and parents to understand why some adolescents abstain from sex and others do not.

Preliminary results suggest that sexual culture is shaped by a complex series of motivations and constraints that create a difficult terrain for adolescents to navigate. Adolescents adhere to modern notions of romantic love and expressions of intimacy through sex, but they also desire to live within religious proscriptions of abstinence. Such tensions are further complicated by poverty and gender inequality. Sexual decision-making is particularly difficult for adolescent females, who are caught in the crosshairs of a debate over traditional dipo sexual initiation rites. Preliminary findings point to the complexities around competing ideologies and structural constraints, reminding us that one-dimensional intervention strategies will largely ignore the multiple pressures adolescents are facing as they transition into adulthood.

Nhu Truong, PhD Political Science

Law and Responsiveness under Authoritarianism: Rural Unrest and Land Expropriation in Vietnam and China

Why are some authoritarian regimes more responsive while others are more repressive? To obtain data for her PhD dissertation, Nhu Trung conducted fieldwork in Vietnam and China, to gain a deeper understanding of repressive-responsive politics and lawmaking institutions of authoritarian regimes. Vietnamese and Chinese authorities alike adopt mixed responses through targeted payoffs, short-term concessions, and forceful interventions to effectively put out social unrest. Although there is a general recognition that “responsiveness” exists under authoritarianism, the literature does not trace the causal mechanisms that account for the variation observed between these regimes.

Her fieldwork followed two methodological underpinnings: process-tracing and historical institutional analysis. There are two objectives: (a) assess and collect evidence of institutional responsiveness or lack thereof by the Vietnamese and Chinese states; and (b) to identify the particular forms and channels of engagement, and trace the pathways of their causal influence on law and policy outcomes adopted by the Legislature and state institutions.

Through interviews with experts and key actors, she gained grounded understanding of the context, process and procedures of expropriation, and the perceptions from various stakeholders. In Vietnam, she identified key state and civil society actors involved in the law-making process of the most recent Land Law (2013); participated in engagement processes between state and society; and conducted site visits and interviews with authorities and citizens to examine the effect of large-scale land requisitions for “socio-economic development” projects such as industrial zones, national highways, and eco-cities. In China, she interviewed with scholars, former government policy researchers, and think-tanks. She expects to return to China in the summer of 2018 to conduct follow-up interviews with key state and civil society actors involved in the law-making process of the Land Management Law in China, which is currently under review.

Luci Lu, PhD Geography

Credit Access and Its Influence on Herders’ Investment Choices and Resource Management Strategies in Inner Mongolia, China

Managing rangeland resources sustainability and improving pastoral livelihoods are the two major challenges faced by policy makers and pastoralists today. During her summer field research in Inner Mongolia, a major pastoral province in China, Luci witnessed that credit access has improved but there is a lack of research attention on how credit influences pastoral livelihoods, herders’ investment choices and resource management strategies in this region.

Credit has allowed herders to better meet consumption demands, especially paying for education and marriage expenses, and alleviate household cash shortage when the market price for lambs drops. Some of them even made investments seeking to raise productivity. Nevertheless, the use of credit to participate in a breed improvement programme, which potentially leads to more efficient grassland management, is still inaccessible for the poorer households due to the high input requirement. One considerable drawback is the fact that loans need to be repaid on an annual basis when herders need to wait for at least two years for ewe lambs to grow and reproduce. Moreover, when there are recurring weather shocks or low lambs price happening for consecutive years, herders need to borrow from informal moneylenders with a much higher interest rate.

The result of this field research shows future credit policies should consider the full length of a pastoral production cycle and the fluctuating household production and demand in a high-risk environment. In order to draw a more comprehensive picture of herders’ credit access and their resource management strategies, Luci will integrate the qualitative results from her summer field work with an econometric analysis of a 2015 panel data focusing on the debt situation of over 800 households on the Mongolian Plateau.

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