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

Hosted by the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

Online Event


Dr Rita Padawangi

Dr Rita Padawangi

Senior Lecturer at Singapore University of Social Sciences


Prof Hyun Bang Shin

Prof Hyun Bang Shin

Professor of Geography and Urban Studies and Director of Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, LSE

On 13th November 2020, Dr Rita Padawangi (Senior Lecturer at Singapore University of Social Sciences) will follow up her talk on 11th November by undertaking a research masterclass for PhD students and early career researchers. The masterclass will focus 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.


Learning Outcomes:

Through this masterclass, students will be able to:

  • 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.


  • Dr Rita Padawangi is Senior Lecturer at Singapore University of Social Sciences. She received her PhD in sociology from Loyola University Chicago, a Master of Arts in Urban Design from the National University of Singapore, and a Bachelor of Architecture from Parahyangan Catholic University. Her research interests include the sociology of architecture, social movements and participatory urban development. She co-coordinates the Southeast Asia Neighbourhoods Network (SEANNET), an initiative for urban studies research and teaching, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation through the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS). She is the editor of the Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia (2019).
  • Prof Hyun Bang Shin is is Professor of Geography and Urban Studies in the Department of Geography and Environment and Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research centres on the critical analysis of the political economic dynamics of speculative urbanisation, the politics of redevelopment and displacement, gentrification, housing, the right to the city, and mega-events as urban spectacles, with particular attention to cities in Asian countries such as South Korea, China, Vietnam and Singapore. My recent projects on ‘circulating urbanism and (Asian) capital’ have also brought him to work on Quito, Manila, Iskandar Malaysia, Kuwait City and London. Prof Shin has published widely in major international journals and contributed to numerous books on the above themes. He has coauthored Planetary Gentrification (Polity,2016), edited Anti-Gentrification: What Is to Be Done (Dongnyok, 2017),and co- edited Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement (Bristol University Press, 2015) and Neoliberal Urbanism, Contested Cities and Housing in Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is a board member (trustee) of the Urban Studies Foundation, and sits on the international advisory board of the journal Antipode as well as on the editorial board of the journals International Journal of Urban and Regional Research; Urban Geography; CITY; City, Culture and Society; Space and Environment [in Korea]; China City Planning Review [in China].