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Masterclass: Research as Empowerment: Learning from the COVID-19 Pandemic in Understanding Cities of Southeast Asia

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Masterclass: Research as Empowerment: Learning from the COVID-19 Pandemic in Understanding Cities of Southeast Asia

Dec 06, 2020

Date: Friday 13 November 2020 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Hosted by the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

Chaired by: Prof Hyun Bang Shin
Professor of Geography and Urban Studies and Director of Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, LSE


One of the foci of the SEANNET Project are multiple research and pedagogical output created for use in different settings and institutions. To this effect, we are proud to announce a Research Masterclass held by our co-convenor Rita Padawangi.

Below, we repost material from LSE Southeast Asia’s Events Listing, originally posted here.


On 13th November 2020, Dr Rita Padawangi (Senior Lecturer at Singapore University of Social Sciences) held a follow-up to her talk on 11th November by undertaking a research masterclass for PhD students and early career researchers. The masterclass focused on doing research under the pandemic based on Dr Padawangi’s research experiences.

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a challenge in conducting fieldwork research on the ground. Although communication technology can be an alternative to facilitate data collection endeavours while being away, it cannot replace grounded experience and knowledge, given the importance of in-person social relationships in the making of urban spaces in Southeast Asia. How do we navigate COVID-19-pandemic-related restrictions in conducting research on cities in Southeast Asia? What does the current pandemic inform us about our approaches in understanding cities in the region? I argue that the vulnerability of urban research to restrictions during the pandemic reflect the need to rethink the ways in which research is conducted. First, it highlights the importance of collaboration with local counterparts, not just with academics but also with urban communities whose spaces are being studied. Second, while online data collection methods are available, it is pertinent that they are combined with collaborative endeavours on the ground. Based on research experiences in the Southeast Asia Neighbourhoods Network (SEANNET), these collaborations are possible through long-term commitment and mutual understanding of research objectives with local academia and communities. Attempts to build knowledge from a distance, without sufficient connections on the ground, would risk perpetuating the under-representation of everyday urban life in formal knowledge and urban policies in Southeast Asia. Overall, the pandemic is a catalyst to reframe research in and on cities in Southeast Asia as empowerment: bringing on-site academia and communities into active roles in knowledge-building.

Part of the SEAC Seminar Series, the Masterclass included the following:

Learning Outcomes:

  • Analyse needs and potentials on collaborative research in urbanising Southeast Asia
  • Develop research approaches to effect knowledge-building as empowerment in studying cities and urbanisation


  • The context of urbanisation in Southeast Asia
  • “Empowerment” in setting research objectives
  • Building collaboration and co-designing collaborative approaches

Pre-class preparation:

Prepare a 5-minute presentation on the following:

  • A case study – this can be a community, a city, or urban issues – that is of interest to you, to be discussed in class about its potential for collaborative research.
  • List the challenges in conducting research on that case study, with and without COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Propose the research methodology in light of the restrictions during COVID-19 pandemic.


Padawangi, R. (2020). Questioning Normalcy: Rethinking Urbanisation, Development and Collective Action through the COVID-19 Moment. LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre Blog, July 20, 2020. Available at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/seac/2020/07/20/questioning-normalcy-rethinking-urbanisation-development-and-collective-action-through-the-covid-19-moment/.

Padawangi, R. (2020). People at the Heart of Academia: Community-Engaged Research in Kampung Peneleh, Surabaya, Indonesia. Paradigm, July 28, 2020. Available at https://paradigm.suss.edu.sg/people-at-the-heart-of-academia-community-engaged-research-in-kampung-peneleh-surabaya-indonesia/.

Padawangi, R. (2019). Forced Evictions, Spatial (Un)Certainties and the Making of Exemplary Centres in Indonesia. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 60 (1): 65-79. Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/apv.12213.

Padawangi, R., Turpin, E., Herlily, Prescott, M.F., Lee, I. and Shepherd, A. (2016). Mapping an Alternative Community River: The case of the Ciliwung. Sustainable Cities and Society 20: 147-157. Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2210670715300275.