COVID-19 and Southeast Asia

Call for Contributions

COVID-19 has claimed many lives, but human loss is not its sole consequence. The pandemic is affecting society in multiple negative ways, with highly uneven geographical and socioeconomic patterns (Chung et al., 2020). Although the impacts of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia have received relatively limited attention in the academic social sciences thus far, they cannot be underestimated. Sensitive regional economic and geopolitical ties are exacerbating the difficulties of achieving a coordinated intergovernmental response (Grundy-Warr and Lin, 2020; Zhang and Savage, 2020). Low-wage workers such as those in the textile industry are profoundly affected by disrupted production networks and the global economic slowdown (Brydges and Hanlon, 2020; Lawreniuk, 2020). Informal settlement residents are having more difficulties in accessing essential services (Wilkinson, 2020). Despite such ongoing tensions in the region, its voices have been underrepresented in many academic forums, with the exception of regionally specific initiatives such as Corona Chronicles, an online platform produced by the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University.

In this regard, and in keeping with our key research themes – Connectivity, Governance, and Urbanisation – the research team at LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre is  pleased to invite contributions to ‘COVID-19 and Southeast Asia’, a project intended to encourage reflection upon what the COVID-19 crisis means for Southeast Asia.

1. Community-based initiatives in response to COVID-19

Firstly, community-led, bottom-up approaches in response to various problems resulting from COVID-19 in Southeast Asia need to be identified. Much of the literature focusing on Southeast Asia's response to COVID-19 concentrates on state-led initiatives as well as the authoritarian nature of Southeast Asian regimes. While these are important issues and need to be addressed, such approaches tend to neglect other equally important movements and mischaracterise the region as homogeneous and wholly dominated by authoritarian controls. As Padawangi (forthcoming), Wan et al. (2020), and others show, there have been various bottom-up initiatives in the region to support communities and slow the spread of COVID-19. Such cases allow us to imagine an alternative system driven by empowered communities. And it is also of considerable importance that analyses of everyday strategies of collective care and resistance adopt an intersectional sensitivity to how the uneven impacts of the outbreak, as well as unequal opportunities to access mutual support, have been conditioned by existing structures of oppression (Browne et al., 2020; Eaves and Al-Hindi, 2020; Leonard, 2020; Manzo and Minello, 2020; Moreno-Tabarez, 2020). 

2. Movements of different groups of people in and out of Southeast Asia

Secondly, movements of people in and out of the region need to be addressed. Although the significant impacts of the outbreak on international tourism can be readily observed (Foo et al., 2020), the relationships between COVID-19 and international students (Haugen and Lehmann, 2020), tourists (Iaquinto, 2020), and other privileged forms of mobility in and through Southeast Asia are not yet sufficiently known. Analysis should account for the expansion of infrastructure and transportation networks, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, that exemplify the patterns of extended urbanisation for which Southeast Asia has long been known (Connolly et al., 2020). Keil (forthcoming) argues that COVID-19 has transformed from a 'disease of luxury' for the most mobile and most privileged to a 'disease of misery' targeting the most vulnerable groups of society. We see that South Asian migrant worker dormitories have become a COVID-19 hotbed in Singapore, followed by 'othering' by the state. Migrant workers from Southeast Asia have also been severely affected by COVID-19 including ones from Myanmar working in China and Filipino domestic workers in the Middle East and North America, but to what extent and how they are affected by the pandemic have not been discussed much.  

3. Digital and technological infrastructures and visualisations

Thirdly, in many regions, emerging analyses and commentaries in the social sciences have swiftly responded to the lessons many governments’ COVID-19 responses hold for the societal implications of digital and technological infrastructures and forms of visualisation. For instance, the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition software (Datta, 2020), rapid geographical modelling (Brunsdon, 2020), ‘smart city’ data capture (James et al., 2020; Sonn and Lee, 2020), urban robotic infrastructures (Chen et al., 2020), and web mapping platforms (Cinnamon, 2020) have influenced policy outcomes and bear significance for data privacy, surveillance, and the future delivery of education, healthcare, policing, and other social services. Additionally, digitally mediated representations of the outbreak, including mappings of transmission and mortality (Brice, 2020) and online ‘dashboards’ (Everts, 2020), have shaped individual and collective actions, emotional responses, and imaginings of COVID-19’s spatial and temporal attributes. Despite the initial success of Singapore’s data-driven approach, the influence of which has reached well beyond the region (Kouřil et al., 2020), much remains to be said about how such digital and technological approaches have taken hold within Southeast Asia and what possible futures this might foretell.


We invite proposals from emerging and experienced researchers and/or practitioners for short written contributions – analyses, briefings, or commentaries – that will initiate scholarly engagement with one or more of these themes. As a research centre, we encourage the adoption of wide perspectives, paying attention not only to intra-regional or local dimensions but also to the ways in which Southeast Asia can enter into conversation with its neighbouring regions and the world.

Proposals should be of 100-250 words, titled, and accompanied by a brief biographical introduction to the contributor. When completed, full-length submissions will normally be of no more than 1,500 words. They will be published on a rolling basis on a blog managed by the project team and subsequently compiled into three thematic briefs, to be hosted on the centre’s webpage (

Contributors may also be invited to participate in a series of online seminars hosted by LSE SEAC in Michaelmas Term 2020/21. Please be in touch if you wish to discuss possible proposals or if you have relevant writings you have published elsewhere that we can call attention to on our own online platform.
Deadlines: 17 July 2020 (initial proposals); mid-August 2020 (tentative submission of full-length contributions)

To submit proposals and for all other enquiries, please contact: 
Dr Murray Mckenzie, SEAC Research Officer (

Works cited

Brice, J., 2020. Charting COVID-19 futures: Mapping, anticipation, and navigation. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934331.

Browne, K., Banerjea, N., and Bakshi, L., 2020. Survival and liveability in #COVIDtimes: Queer women’s transnational witnessing of COVID-19. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620930833.

Brunsdon, C., 2020. Modelling epidemics: Technical and critical issues in the context of COVID-19. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934328.

Brydges, T. and Hanlon, M., 2020. Garment worker rights and the fashion industry’s response to COVID-19. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620933851.

Chen, B., Marvin, S., and While, A., 2020. Containing COVID-19 in China: AI and the robotic restructuring of future cities. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934267.

Chung, C.K.L., Xu, J., and Zhang, M., 2020. Geographies of Covid-19: how space and virus shape each other. Asian Geographer, 0 (0), 1–18.

Cinnamon, J., 2020. Platform philanthropy, ‘public value’, and the COVID-19 outbreak moment. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620933860.

Connolly, C., Ali, S.H., and Keil, R., 2020. On the relationships between COVID-19 and extended urbanization. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934209.

Datta, A., 2020. Self(ie)-governance: Technologies of intimate surveillance in India under COVID19. Dialogues in Human Geography, 204382062092979.

Eaves, L. and Al-Hindi, K.F., 2020. Intersectional geographies and COVID-19. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620935247.

Everts, J., 2020. The dashboard outbreak. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620935355.

Foo, L.-P., Chin, M.-Y., Tan, K.-L., and Phuah, K.-T., 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on tourism industry in Malaysia. Current Issues in Tourism, 0 (0), 1–5.

Grundy-Warr, C. and Lin, S., 2020. COVID-19 geopolitics: silence and erasure in Cambodia and Myanmar in times of outbreak. Eurasian Geography and Economics, 0 (0), 1–18.

Haugen, H.Ø. and Lehmann, A., 2020. Adverse articulation: Third countries in China–Australia student migration during COVID-19. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934939.

Iaquinto, B.L., 2020. Tourist as vector: Viral mobilities of COVID-19. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934250.

James, P., Das, R., Jalosinska, A., and Smith, L., 2020. Smart cities and a data-driven response to COVID-19. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934211.

Kouřil, P. and Ferenčuhová, S., 2020. “Smart” quarantine and “blanket” quarantine: the Czech response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Eurasian Geography and Economics, 0 (0), 1–11.

Lawreniuk, S., 2020. Necrocapitalist networks: COVID-19 and the ‘dark side’ of economic geography. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934927.

Leonard, K., 2020. Medicine lines and COVID-19: Indigenous geographies of imagined bordering. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934941.

Manzo, L.K.C. and Minello, A., 2020. Mothers, childcare duties, and remote working under COVID-19 lockdown in Italy: Cultivating communities of care. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620934268.

Moreno-Tabarez, U., 2020. Rural outbreak: The afterlives of slavery and colonialism in Costa Chica, Mexico. Dialogues in Human Geography, 2043820620935681.

Sonn, J.W. and Lee, J.K., 2020. The smart city as time-space cartographer in COVID-19 control: the South Korean strategy and democratic control of surveillance technology. Eurasian Geography and Economics, 0 (0), 1–11.

Wan, K.-M., Ka-ki Ho, L., WM Wong, N., and Chiu, A., 2020. Fighting COVID-19 in Hong Kong: The effects of community and social mobilization. World Development, 105055.

Wilkinson, A., 2020. Local response in health emergencies: key considerations for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in informal urban settlements. Environment and Urbanization, 0956247820922843.

Zhang, J.J. and Savage, V.R., 2020. The geopolitical ramifications of COVID-19: the Taiwanese exception. Eurasian Geography and Economics, 0 (0), 1–18.