Research

Critical museology and heritage studies; Asian museology and heritage; Non-western and post-colonial museologies; Indigenous museology and cultural heritage; Culture and/for development; Cross-cultural exchanges and museum diplomacy

Current Projects

Reviving the Ancient Maritime Silk Road: The Politics of Heritage Instrumentalisation in Asia’s Port Cities under China's Belt and Road Initiative

Funded by University of Leicester College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (CSSAH) Grant Writing Fund (2019), UCL Critical Heritage Studies Small Grant Scheme (2017)

Supported by additional grants from Research Grants Council of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Travel Grant (2020), Asia Research Institute Conference Travel Grant (2020), National University of Singapore Conference Travel Grant (2019) and Asia Research Institute Conference Travel Grant (2018)

This research explores the political, economic, social, and cultural dynamics surrounding the process of heritage instrumentalisation, based on a multi-sited ethnographic study of a selection of Asian port cities along the historic maritime Silk Road, namely Quanzhou in China, Melaka in Malaysia as well as Palembang and Semarang in Indonesia. Drawing on the politics of heritage instrumentalisation as a conceptual framework and expanding it to incorporate other dynamics relating to brokerage, soft power and dissonance, this research examines how different stakeholders at these port cities strategically mobilise their maritime history and heritage, especially the narrative of the historic maritime Silk Road, to further their respective agendas, and the results of this instrumentalisation. Theoretically, it makes an original contribution to critical heritage studies by going beyond the notion of heritage instrumentalisation to examine the power politics of this instrumentalisation. Empirically, it seeks to inform policy-making relating to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of the world’s most ambitious multilateral development strategy in recent times.

Past Projects

Staging Indigenous Cultural Heritage in Malaysia: Instrumentalisation, Brokerage, Representation

Fully funded by the UCL Overseas Graduate Scholarship and UCL Graduate Research Scholarship (2013 - 2016)

Supported by additional grants from Asia Research Institute Conference Travel Grant (2019), UCL Institute of Archaeology Conference Grant (2016), Asia Research Institute Graduate Forum on Southeast Asia Studies Travel Grant (2015), UCL External Training Fund for Language Acquisition (2014), International Institute of Asian Studies Summer School Travel Grant (2014), and Academia Sinica Institute of Sociology Conference Travel Grant (2014)

My research examines the politics of heritage-making in Malaysia, focusing on the development of indigenous cultural villages, which have become increasingly prevalent in both West and East Malaysia. Based on ethnographic field research at four case study cultural villages the Mah Meri Cultural Village and Orang Seletar Cultural Centre in Peninsular Malaysia, and the Monsopiad Cultural Village and Linangkit Cultural Village in East Malaysia, it explores the political, economic, and social dynamics surrounding the process of heritage-making at these four indigenous cultural villages, and considers the outcomes of the instrumentalisation. Drawing on the politics of instrumentalisation as a conceptual framework and expanding it to incorporate other dynamics relating to brokerage, staging and representation, it demonstrates how these indigenous cultural villages are beset with issues of brokerage, tensions over the representation of cultural heritage, and conflicting motivations over the instrumentalisation of the cultural heritage, in which politics of brokerage and representation dominated, reproducing structural inequalities that reinforce the dependency of indigenous communities on external and internal brokers rather build capacity for self-determination and empowerment. The cynical interpretation that indigenous cultural practices have been instrumentalised to serve certain economic, political, and social agendas is then complicated through an exploration of several counter-narratives and anti-discourses, particularly how cultural practices have also been performed for ritual efficacy and for more altruistic interests of indigenous people. My research makes an original contribution to indigenous museology by challenging the simplistic conceptualisation of indigenous communities as harmonious and unified wholes, and opens up the complexities for adopting the ‘culture for development’ as a developmental strategy, such that the opportunities for self-representation and self-determination can become dominated by the politics of brokerage, which can in turn facilitate or compromise their intended outcomes. My research is published in Staging Indigenous Heritage: Instrumentalisation, Brokerage and Representation in Malaysia (Routledge 2020) [https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9780429053627].

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