Introducing Dr Jayde Lin Roberts, SEAC Visiting Fellow and a senior lecturer in the School of Built Environment at UNSW Sydney.
1.What will you be working on during your time as SEAC Visiting Fellow?
I’ll be analysing “public space” in the two largest cities in Myanmar: Yangon and Mandalay. This work will consider not only the most recent protests after the coup d’état instigated by General Min Aung Hlaing on 1 February 2021, but also examine how urban spaces have been defined, regulated, and contested historically. Through a mixture of textual analysis of municipal documents and grey literature along with prior ethnographic research focusing on streets, parks, and property development, I will investigate what constitutes “the public” and “public space” in two cities that have not followed the path of urbanisation documented in the global North.
2.What led you to your field of study/what inspired your interest in these topics?
This specific concern arose for me in 2014 when I was hired to undertake a month-long research project for the municipal government of Yangon and the Yangon Heritage Trust. That project focusing on urban heritage and livelihood was a sub-section of a multi-year capacity building program funded by the EU. In the EU program and all subsequent internationally funded urban development projects, the terms “public” and “public space” were used in English without clarification. Furthermore, these English terms were often inserted into Burmese-language news, social media, and conversations without translation, as if they were well-established loan words that require no Burmese explanation. This taken-for-granted quality is concerning because authoritarian rule since 1962 has significantly constrained public life and the spaces most often assumed to be public such as streets, parks and city halls have been policed and fenced off, limiting access and the potential formation of “a public”.
3. How do you like to relax and unwind?
I am always in search of a good dance class. I enjoy the fluidity and release of Limon style classes and the strong baseline in hip hop. Under lockdown, I make-do with some online Afrobeats workouts and going for walks in Sydney’s beautiful outdoors.
Note: Please contact me directly at: J.Roberts11@lse.ac.uk if you are interested in discussing “the public” or “public space” in Southeast Asia. It should prove rewarding to think through various lines of investigation from the feminist critique of the false binary between private and public to analyses of public culture and complex interplays between state and society under authoritarian regimes.