Introducing Dr Benjamin Lawrence, SEAC Visiting Fellow and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Asian Legal Studies, National University of Singapore.
1.What will you be working on during your time as SEAC Visiting Fellow?
First and foremost, I will be finalizing the manuscript for my book, titled In the Shadow of the Constitution: the Mircopolitics of Constitutionalism in Cambodia, which is under contract for publication as part of Cambridge University Press’ Comparative Constitutional Law and Policy series. Drawing on empirical data gathered from more than two years of fieldwork in Cambodia, the monograph explores the role of the constitution in everyday social, cultural and political contestations. In the process, it aims to provide the first in-depth account of constitutional politics in post-conflict Cambodia, and the same time as challenging the court-centricity that has become a convention of comparative constitutional studies scholarship.
Time permitting, I also hope to start exploratory research for my next project, which will look at (Asian examples of) constitution-making by governments-in-exile. In particular, I am interested in the recent processes initiated by the National Unity Government of Myanmar and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, which I think raise interesting questions about the range of purposes that constitutions can play in contemporary politics, both in Southeast Asia and more broadly.
2.What led you to your field of study/what inspired your interest in these topics?
I first became interested in Southeast Asia thanks to my secondary school history teachers, particularly Shimon Levison, who taught a course on the U.S. war in Vietnam at a time when the invasion of Iraq was in the headlines. My connection to Cambodia became personal when I met my wife, Amara, who was born in California to parents who had fled Cambodia as refugees. However, it was only while looking for a dissertation topic as part of my M.A. degree in International and Comparative Law at SOAS that, with the help of Alexander Fischer and Gina Heathcote, I started studying Cambodia as an example of internationally-supervised post-conflict constitution-building. I was later inspired and encouraged to dive more deeply into the world of constitutional micropolitics in Cambodia by the experience of working with Amnesty International and the E.U. Delegation to Cambodia, as well as by my doctoral supervisors at the University of Victoria, Victor V. Ramraj and Simon Springer.
3. How do you like to relax and unwind?
I am an avid player and watcher of football. Having grown up a short walk from Brentford Football Club, one of the hardest things about living in Asia in recent years has been having to watch my local team reach new and previously unimaginable heights, so I go to games there whenever I can. Otherwise, I try to do a lot of yoga, though I lean more towards the gentle and meditative practices rather than the dynamic and spectacular looking ones. Whenever I am in London, I love a long walk along the Thames (weather permitting). I am also constantly on the lookout for the chance to see good live music, and I am increasingly finding myself at the theatre thanks to my wife’s love of all thing’s stage-and-screen.