Engaging with environmental research in early modern Southeast Asia

Engaging with environmental research in early modern Southeast Asia

A webinar series invites scholars to share collaborative approaches to studying ecological change in the region and how community-engaged research can reshape disciplinary boundaries.

By Kitty Hu (UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies)

Introducing PEMSEA & PSU

The Program for Early Modern Southeast Asia (PEMSEA) in collaboration with Partido State University (PSU) launched a 8-panel webinar series in summer 2021 highlighting the cultural and environmental histories of Partido district and situating it in global discussions on environmental change during 14th to 19th centuries in Southeast Asia.

The Partido district in Camarines Sur, a province of the Philippines, includes a variety of towns across marine, riverine and upland ecologies, yet very little is known about the climatic transformations of the region and the research that does exist often attributes European expansion as the catalyst for environmental change. The PEMSEA-PSU 2021 webinar series "Historicizing Disaster Risk Management: The Ecology of Mt. Isarog and its Environs" brings in scholars working on Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Period to discuss research collaborations, strategize on building capacity beyond instruction and redefine disciplinary boundaries.

The webinar series was organized by PEMSEA director Stephen Acabado (UCLA) with Mariam Stark (University of Hawai'i at Mānoa) and Peter Lape (University of Washington). The planning committee also included Da Arlo Benedict Alegre (UCLA), Earl John Cedo Hernandez, (PSU), Zoe Pamonag (UCLA), Vanessa Mae Romero (PSU), Noel Jay Roxas (PSU), Nguyet Tong (UCLA CSEAS) and Madeleine Yakal (UCLA CSEAS).

In Panel 1: Research, Training, and Partnerships: Breaking Disciplinary Boundaries on August 2, 2021, researchers and archeologists from a range of disciplines gathered to discuss practices and philosophies in research, training and partnerships that make these scholarly collaborations possible.

This series is sponsored by the Program for Early Modern Southeast Asia under the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and Partido State University though a grant from the Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED). Cosponsors include the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, National Chengchi University Center for Taiwan-Philippines Indigenous Knowledge, Local Knowledge, and Sustainable Studies, UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and UCLA Anthropology.

Commissioner Aldrin A. Darilag of the Philippine CHED gave remarks to inaugurate this collaboration between PEMSEA and PSU and shared other academic initiatives developed by the Commission in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why collaboration is crucial

"Collaboration is important especially for someone based in the United States with more resources and colleagues who work in the Philippines," began Stephen Acabado, associate professor of anthropology at UCLA and director of UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Initially as a means to give back to his country of origin, collaboration with scholars in the Philippines soon became crucial to Acabado's archeological research process, especially more recently during the time of remote work when he has to rely on colleagues on the ground to continue their joint research projects.

Da-wei Kuan, associate professor of ethnography at National Chengchi University, shared how these collaborations form an international network to exchange experiences and mutual support, allowing for opportunities such as cross-cultural learning from Ifugao communities in the Philippines with mountain Indigenous groups in Taiwan.

As an American researcher working in Southeast Asia, Miriam Stark, professor of anthropology at University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, added that foreign researchers are lucky and it is rare to be able to work in these communities with academics who are from the area. "I appreciate that at any given point when we do research, we depend on and are grateful to the people that let us into their lives," she said. "I also learned that good research that is sustainable involves consultation."

Drawing lessons from the Slow Food Movement in the United States where there was pressure to fulfill metrics and overproduce, Stark advocated instead for "slow research" where sustainably engaging with communities would require slowing down and building those relationships over time. One caveat Stark noted is to not assume that all those in the community will have the same opinion on what needs to be done and how, but that all of those perspectives should be respected and intentionally considered.

The sustainability of cross-cultural research

"In terms of sustainability, this is one of the more challenging aspects of collaboration because we start out our research initially with funding, but when the funding runs out, how do we move on and work with our collaborators?" asked Acabado.

"Make the outcome part of community life," recommended Kuan. Raul Sebastian, Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Development at Polytechnic University of the Philippines, added that collaboration can be sustainable if there is a clear direction of action for what happens after the research is complete and a understanding among community members, faculty and other stakeholders from the beginning.

Clement Camposano, Chancellor of the University of the Philippines-Visayas, summarized, "I suppose the key to sustainability is relevance. If there is a real need for the kind of knowledge you produce, then the next collaborator is just around the corner. This goes back to the whole idea of engagement as something that must always be at the core of research practice."

Stark added that there is also a need for researchers and academics to commit their careers to places and people, regardless of the type of project being conducted at the time, especially for those coming in from outside the community. "When you become that person who has a career-long commitment, there is also the idea of being available to mentor or coach younger researchers who can work with generations of scholars, government people and students."

To make sustainability institutional, Raul Bradecina, President of Partido State University, described how PSU established a structure to develop capacities for organizational management through partnerships with and management consulting from locals, involved multi-stakeholder participation in their strategic vision and implemented policies that institutionalizes these practices through municipal ordinances and sustained advocacy.

Ultimately, sustainable participatory research requires a toolkit of resources, institutions and tools, as well as humility from the researchers involved, Stark explained. "I can't tell you answers to every question you ask me using my tools, and there are a lot of tools that we need to put together so that we can understand this."

Watch the full panel: 





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Published: Tuesday, August 10, 2021

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