The 2nd Session of IIAS Southeast Asian Studies Lectures | Uncharted Territory: Fieldwork Methods and Ethics in Myanmar

On the afternoon of May 17th, 2021, the second session of IIAS Southeast Asian Studies Lectures was held at Conference Room 205 of the Central Main Building, with the theme of “Uncharted Territory: Fieldwork Methods and Ethics in Myanmar”. The offline lecture was presented by Dr. Van Mai Tran, PhD in Politics from Cornell University, to doctorate candidates and researchers at Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU).

In the first part of the lecture, Dr. Van Mai Tran elaborated the evolution process of her doctoral thesis, as well as the research methodology used and ethical issues encountered during her fieldwork in Myanmar. Her initial topic focused on the mandatory ability of Myanmar’s military government against the opposition. However, due to the difficulty in data access, she changed the topic and turned to the public engagement of the opposition resistance movement during the ruling of the military government. However, when she entered the field, she found that there were many existing publications on this topic, and she could not contribute new insights, so she changed the topic of her thesis again, and finally decided to study Myanmar public’s awareness and reaction to the resistance movement. She told the audience with her own experience that the topic selection of a doctoral thesis is a recurring process of repeated revisions. Before entering the field, it is important to make sufficient preparations and keep close communication with your supervisor and other research peers to ensure that the selected topic is of value.

Later, Dr. Van Mai Tran shared her experience and tips in the process of fieldwork, including planning fieldwork well in advance, properly dealing with data collection and risk management, assessing whether the direction of research is correct, minimizing the research risks to participants, partners and researchers themselves, consulting local partners in advance on potential risks, and giving back to the organizations, communities and individuals who have contributed to their research.

Dr. Van Mai Tran stressed that a risk management plan is final, which calls for regular review and timely updates by researchers in order to minimize research risks. Since the political or social dynamics of the target country may change at any time, it requires researchers to keep close contact with local communities and organizations at all times to ensure the timeliness and comprehensiveness of data collection.

In the second part of the lecture, Dr. Van Mai Tran outlined the main findings of her doctoral thesis, reviewed the history and major events of Myanmar’s democratic movement, and reviewed the latest updates and possible trend in Myanmar in 2021 based on her findings. After the lecture, Dr. Van Mai Tran had heated and friendly discussions with the audience on a series of potential problems in fieldwork. Through a large number of vivid, real-world and interesting cases, she guided the audience to gain deeper knowledge and inspiration on the fieldwork methodology and ethics of Myanmar studies.

Van Mai Tran received her PhD in Political Science from Cornell University. Her research interest lies in the dynamics of political conflicts in Southeast Asia, with emphasis on Myanmar. Her doctoral thesis studies the resilience of the public resistance movement during Burma’s military rule. She also cooperated with policy research institutions and scientific and technological organizations in Myanmar to put forward opinions and policy advices on various issues related to local governance, digital literacy and social cohesion.

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Yao Ying