SEAC Seminar Series: Roundtable on Postcolonial Urbanism and History of Southeast Asia

Hosted by the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

Online Event


Dr Kah Seng Loh

Dr Kah Seng Loh

Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia

Dr Su Lin Lewis

Dr Su Lin Lewis

Senior Lecturer in Modern Global History at the University of Bristol

Dr Do Young Oh

Dr Do Young Oh

LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre


Prof Hyun Bang Shin

Prof Hyun Bang Shin

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

SEAC is hosting a roundtable discussion, chaired by SEAC Director Prof. Hyun Bang Shin on 25th November 2020. This roundtable discussion aims to promote a better understanding of postcolonial urban histories in Southeast Asia while seeking an opportunity to locate them in different disciplines including urban history and urban studies.

While there have been ongoing attempts to understand contemporary cities in connection with their (post-)colonial legacies, studies on Southeast Asian cities have been relatively rare to contribute such efforts (Bishop et al., 2003). In this regard, this roundtable will focus on the following two issues based on panels' current research agendas: 1) How postcolonial urban histories of Southeast Asia are related to complex and often conflicting historical and contemporary conditions derived from both global and local processes, and 2) How these findings can contribute to a more plural understanding of Southeast Asian cities and can challenge Western-centric urban theories and practices.


Talk abstracts

Singapore as Chimera: Some Thoughts on Tracing an Urban Social History (Dr Kah Seng Loh)

In studying the social history of an open and diverse city-state like Singapore, how do we bring together and reconcile hybrid elements and fields, such as housing in urban history, international expertise in transnational history, industrial employment in economic history, public health programmes and technology in medical history, and memory in oral history? What sources are available and how do we interpret them? How much of the history is Singaporean, British or universal? This talk considers some experiences in the historical research on the postcolonial Lion City.

Cities Beyond Nations: Globalising the History of Southeast Asia (Dr Su Lin Lewis)

Histories of Southeast Asia are often confined within national borders. How might we adopt a more plural understanding of the region through a focus on its cities and their connections with each other and the wider world? Even before the colonial era, the region’s port-cities were cosmopolitan sites of migration and cultural exchange. Colonialism brought increased waves of migration while integrating hinterlands – with their vast natural resources – into networks of capital. Meanwhile, the acceleration of transport and communication networks allowed women and anti-colonial nationalists to connect across colonial territories. This paper argues that the city, rather than the nation, provides a mode of studying the region attuned to current realities of globalisation and its problems.

University spaces in postcolonial cities in Southeast Asia: Towards a plural understanding of the urban process (Dr Do Young Oh)

Urbanisation processes in East and Southeast Asia are often considered as a homogeneous process, dominated by the state. On the other hand, informal or ‘messy’ aspects of contemporary urbanisation processes in Asia are often overemphasised. To tackle such a dichotomic understanding of Southeast Asian cities, this talk focuses on the university-urban nexus in Southeast Asia as a heterogeneous process based on a particular historical and geographical context and investigates both colonial legacies and contemporary development processes of the university-urban relationships. By doing so, this talk shows a more plural and situated aspect of the urbanisation process while constructing active dialogues with other parts of the world.



A video of this seminar is available to watch at Facebook.


Speakers and chair biographies

  • Dr Kah Seng Loh is a historian of Singapore and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. He is interested in all things that happened in the history of a city. He is the author of Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore (2013) and Tuberculosis – The Singapore Experience, 1867-2018: Disease, Society and the State (with Hsu Li Yang, 2020).
  • Dr Su Lin Lewis is Senior Lecturer in Modern Global History at the University of Bristol. Her book, Cities in Motion: Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism, was published in 2016. She currently runs an AHRC research project on Afro-Asian Networks in the Early Cold War Era.
  • Dr Do Young Oh is a Research Officer, based jointly at the LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre and the LSE Middle East Centre. Dr Oh holds a PhD in Regional and Urban Planning from the LSE and MSc in International Planning from UCL. His research interests focus on comparative urbanism and postcolonialism in East Asia. His doctoral thesis investigated the evolving university-city relationship through a comparative analysis of East Asian urbanisation processes. It was short-listed for the biennial ICAS Book Prize in 2019 (Dissertation in the Social Sciences). Prior to joining LSE, Dr Oh worked in the fields of architecture and urban planning in South Korea and the US.
  • Prof Hyun Bang Shin 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. His 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].


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