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Challenges of Agrarian Transition in Southeast Asia (ChATSEA)

Clearing paddySupported by:  Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) - Major Collaborative Research Initiatives (MCRI)

University of Montreal, York University, University of Laval, McGill University, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Trent University and the University of British Columbia

Principal Investigator:  Rodolphe de Koninck (University of Montreal)

Co-Investigator: Peter Vandergeest (York University)

Project Timeline: 2005 to 2010

A network of Canadian researchers is working with researchers abroad on a large-scale research project to investigate and explain current process of social and environmental change in Southeast Asia. The recent tsunami disaster in December 2004 in Asia underscores the importance for Canada to have a vibrant academic community producing and disseminating knowledge about Asia. The MCRI is a five-year grant that creates a network of 20 scholars from Canada, the UK, Australia and Southeast Asia to study agrarian transition in Asia. The funds will also go toward supporting graduate student research in Southeast Asia.

Project funding has also supported several York students' research in Southeast Asia including: Keith Barney (Doctoral Candidate, Geography); Nga Dao (Doctoral Candidate, Geography), Vanessa Lamb (Doctoral Candidate, Geography); and Mary Young (Doctoral Candidate, Political Science).

Project News >


Several members of the research team presented at the workshop on Migration and Rural Change in Southeast Asia at the University of Toronto in late April 2009 and at the biennial conference of the Canadian Council for Southeast Asian Studies (CCSEAS), held at the University of British Columbia in October 2009. The final project conference, 'Revisiting Agrarian Transformations in Southeast Asia:  Empirical, Theoretical and Applied Perspectives,' will be held in May 2010 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Peter Vandergeest is a member of the organizing committee for the latter conference.

Peter Vandergeest was involved in two projects under the ChATSEA umbrella over the past year. The first is the restudy project, with Jonathan Rigg (Durham University), which involves about 15 researchers who have conducted restudies in sites where they did research earlier, with the time spans ranging from about 40 years to 10 years. Singapore University Press will publish a book comprised of short restudy papers, plus several chapters providing background and analysis written by Professor Vandergeest and Professor Rigg. They are currently reviewing chapter submissions by participants. 

As part of this sub-project, Professor Vandergeest co-organized a session on 'Restudying Agrarian Transformations', which will be held at the final project conference. A restudy workshop was also held at the University of British Columbia in October 2009.  

His work under the second project includes continued writing on a book (coauthored with Mary Young and Stephanie Scott) on New Green Revolutions in Southeast Asia, a study of the emergence, paths and futures of alternative agriculture. The three scholars also co-authored a chapter in Corporate Power and Global Agrifood Governance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009).

Professor Vandergeest presented his ChATSEA research, 'Is the Alternative Agriculture Movement Having Any Wider Impact? Observations in Southern Thailand' as part of a panel on “Trends in Organic and Alternative Agri-food Networks in Southeast Asia' that he co-organized for the October 2009 CCSEAS conference. He is organizing a second panel for the final project conference on 'Alternative Futures in Alternative Agriculture', which will bring together practitioners and academics to respond to the research and analysis of the team, and provide comments on the future of alternative agriculture.

In June 2009, Professor Vandergeest was invited to lecture on 'New Green Revolutions:  Alternative Agriculture and Organic Food in a Global South Context' at the University of Wageningen, The Netherlands. 

Professor Vandergeest's other ChATSEA related activities in the past year included organizing a panel on 'Economic Crisis and Rural People in Southeast Asia' at the CCSEAS conference and the publication of a book, Politics of Decentralization: Natural Resource Management in Asia, co-edited with fellow ChATSEA researcher Chusak Wittayapak.

Several graduate researchers also participated in the ChATSEA dissertation workshop in B.C. in October 2009. Vanessa Lamb presented her summer 2009 research on 'Reconceptualizing the River: Salween as Site of Development, Conservation, Livelihood, Ethnicity and International Border' at this workshop and in a YCAR Graduate Student BrownBag research seminar at York University. Keith Barney presented 'State Control, Elite Consolidation, and Global Commodity Flows: Transboundary Formations and Forest Governance Failures in Southeast Asia.'

Mr. Barney hared his research on Laos at the University of Guelph and at a conference on 'Prosperity and Security: The Challenges of Uncertain Economic Times' organized by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, Public Safety Canada, and Export Development Canada, under the Global Futures Forum in November 2009 in Ottawa.  He is also a member of the editorial board for the ChATSEA's working paper series. 
Next year, Ms. Lamb will be based in Thailand conducting fieldwork on knowledge making and environmental governance along the Nu-Salween River.

Nga Dao was funded by the project to conduct fieldwork from June 2009 to March 2010 on dams and agrarian change in Vietnam. While in Hanoi, she did an archive search on ethnic minority policies of the Vietnamese state after 1954. She also collected secondary data and interviewed officers from Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Electricity of Vietnam. The data and interviews are related to water/river basin management and resettlement policies in Vietnam in general and policies on the Son La dam project in particular.

Ms. Dao also made a number of intensive trips to Son La province, especially to Muong La district and Muong Bu commune. She spent time in the two villages Pu Nhuong and Phieng Bung 1 for surveys and interviews (both based on questionnaires and in-depth interviews) as well as in other resettlement sites in Thuan Chau and Quynh Nhai districts, which provided a broader sense of resettlement process in Son La province.  During her time in Vietnam, she coordinated with NGOs and academics working on water and resettlement issues in Vietnam and completed a ChATSEA working paper.
She is also a co-editor of the forthcoming MPOWER book on 'Rites of Access: Seeking Justice in Managing Mekong Region Water' and has submitted a draft paper for Water Alternative's special issue on dams.

Sakkarin Na Nan (Doctoral Candidate, Faculty of Social Science, Chiang Mai University and YCAR Visiting Scholar in Winter 2010) has been conducting interviews with key informants and gathering data for a preliminary research paper for the project.

Mary Young presented a paper at the CCSEAS conference, 'Revisiting the Impact of Economic Crises on Indonesian Agro-food Production,' which discussed the impact of the Global Financial Crisis and global food crisis on the Indonesian agro-food sector, and compared Indonesia’s recent experiences with those of the Asian Financial Crisis (1997-1998). This paper was also submitted to Development in Practice and is currently under review. She is also writing a working paper on the historical development of food standards in Indonesia and is co-author of a chapter in Corporate Power and Global Agrifood Governance (2010) and in the forthcoming New Green Revolutions in Southeast Asia.  

Publications by team researchers in 2009-2010 include:
Baird, I.G., K. Barney, P. Vandergeest and B. Shoemaker (2009). "Reading Too
Much into Aspirations: More Explorations of the Space between Coerced and
Voluntary Resettlement in Laos". Critical Asian Studies 41(4): 605-614.

Barney, K. (2009) "Laos and the Making of a ‘Relational’ Resource Frontier".
Geographical Journal 175 (2): 146-159.

Dwyer, M. and K. Barney (2009). "Apprentice Nationalists". Book Review of Soren
Ivarsson (2008) Creating Laos: The Making of a Lao Space Between Indochina and
Siam, 1860-1945 (Copenhagen: Nias Press). Asia-Pacific Viewpoint 50(2): 247-249.

Scott, Steffanie, Peter Vandergeest and Mary Young (2010). "Certification Standards and the Governance of Green Foods in Southeast Asia", 61-92. In J. Clapp and D. Fuchs (eds.) Corporate Power and Global Agrifood Governance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vandergeest, Peter, Steffanie Scott and Mary Young (Forthcoming). New Green Revolutions in Southeast Asia.

Vandergeest, Peter and Chusak Wittayapak (2009). Politics of Decentralization: Natural Resource Management in Asia. Chiang Mai: Mekong Press.



In 2008-2009, Peter Vandergeest continued his research and writing on alternative agriculture in Southeast Asia, presenting his research in fora in Thailand, Denmark, Berkeley and Toronto. He is also working with Jonathan Rigg to organize the writing and publication of a series of restudies conducted by ChATSEA members, as well as selected agrarian scholars invited to join this effort.  He spent two weeks in Thailand in January 2009 to do the fieldwork on the restudy, and an additional two weeks during the summer of 2008 to conduct research on alternative agriculture. Other activities included continued work on the project steering committee, and faculty advisor at a thesis workshop in the Philippines. 

Keith Barney was co-organizer for the ChATSEA Los Banos Dissertation Workshop, held in Laguna, Philippines from 30 May to 1 June 2008. He also served on the editorial board for the ChATSEA Working Paper series.

Nga Dao was funded by the project to conduct fieldwork in summer 2008 on dams and agrarian change in Vietnam.


For more information, contact Peter Vandergeest at pvander@yorku.ca or visit the main ChATSEA website.

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