Richard Charles Lee Insights through Asia Challenge

Richard Charles Lee Insights through Asia Challenge promotional banner. Banner background is deep purple with white lettering that reads “Richard Charles Lee Insights through Asia Challenge.” A subtitle in magenta text reads “Digital Methods, Transformative Research.” Beneath this, smaller white text reads “A funded student research traineeship.” To the right in larger light-blue font, a text reads: “2021 Call for Applications!” The Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto logo in white sits under the text at the bottom right of the image. Splotches of semi-transparent magenta, orange, blue and yellow are layered in the bottom right corner. Colourful semi-transparent outlines of plant and wavy grids overlay the colour splotches.

2021 Call for student applications

Digital Methods, Transformative Research

A Funded Student Research Traineeship

Applications Due: February 1, 2021, 11:59PM EST

The Richard Charles Lee Insights through Asia Challenge (ITAC) is a funded interdisciplinary student research traineeship at the Asian Institute that supports students to conduct impactful original research. We invite students to propose compelling research projects anchored in digital research methods. Project proposals should connect with the Asian Institute’s broader mission of convening cross-regional, interdisciplinary research that offers insights into critical issues at stake in Asia.

The traineeship is open to students (individuals or small teams) at any level of study across all three University of Toronto campuses. Students currently enrolled at the Asian Institute will be prioritized.

Through the course of the traineeship (February 2021 to August 2021), awarded individuals/teams will participate in workshops convened by the Asian Institute on research methods and ethics. Participants will also contribute to a wider interdisciplinary peer network through monthly feedback sessions on in-progress work. Student projects will be self-guided with the support of fellow ITAC peers as well as faculty and advisors at the Asian Institute.

The traineeship will culminate with a public showcase of awardees’ research contributions in September 2021.


More Details


The ideal candidate(s): a current U of T student/team of students with a pressing, original research idea well-suited to online/remote research methodologies. Applicants should demonstrate a desire to learn from and contribute to a motivated, supportive peer community of researchers.

We welcome applications from current undergraduate or graduate students (individuals or small teams) at any of the three University of Toronto campuses. Priority will be given to applicants who are currently enrolled as students at the Asian Institute.

Learn more about the exceptional research projects undertaken by clicking through the “Recipients” tabs above.


Program Dates

Applications are due February 1, 2021, 11:59PM EST.

Award decisions will be announced by February 26, 2021.

Awarded individuals/teams will participate in key workshops between February and April. Fellows will then obtain research approval from the ITAC academic mentor before conducting their research (using exclusively remote/digital research methods) between May-August. ITAC research trainees will meet (online) with peers during monthly group sessions from May to August.

In August, awardees complete final written reports in preparation for a culminating public showcase of research presentations in September 2021.


2021 Timeline

Call for applications posted January 11, 2021
Applications due February 1, 2021
Awardees Announced February 26, 2021
Research Methods and Ethics Workshop March, 2021
Research Approval Deadline April 29, 2021
Research May-July
Research Awardees Group Sessions May-July (monthly)
Written Report Deadline August 27, 2021
Public Presentation September, 2021


How to Apply

Tell us about your research project proposal, and why you/your team would make excellent ITAC research trainee(s) by filling out this online application form and emailing all team member CVs by 11:59PM EST, February 1, 2021. Please email CVs of all team members as a single PDF to Shannon Garden-Smith (Please use the email subject line “Last Name(s)_ITAC Application 2021” and name your file “Last Name(s)_ITAC 2021 CVs”)



$2,500 will be awarded to each research trainee. Recipients will be issued a T4A slip.

Students will also receive Co-Curricular Record recognition upon completion of the traineeship.


Fellowship Mentors

Academic Director

  • Professor Rachel Silvey, Richard Charles Lee Director, Asian Institute; Professor, Department of Geography & Planning


Academic Mentor

  • Dr. Joseph McQuade, Richard Charles Lee Postdoctoral Fellow, Asian Institute



Please don’t hesitate to reach out to

Shannon Garden-Smith
Research Coordinator, Asian Institute
Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy
1 Devonshire Place
Toronto, ON M5S 3K7



Record Unavailable: Unsettling Approaches to South Asian Archives in the Age of COVID-19

  • Henria Aton (PhD student, Faculty of Information and Centre for South Asian Studies)

The COVID-19 pandemic has swiftly and deeply changed the way scholars of South Asia can approach their research, particularly through limitations of access to archival sources. This ITAC project explores the current response of scholars of South Asia to the pandemic and its effects on the ways we carry out research, arguing that new interdisciplinary conversations must occur between scholars of South Asia and their colleagues in archival studies. Such collaborations, I argue, will bolster our understanding of archives, how they are constructed, and what materials and histories remain at the limits of our definitions of “archives” and the funding that enables digitization projects in the global south. Through intensive research across disciplines and platforms, and drawing from my own research with unconventional archives in South Asia, this project responds to the current moment and seeks to centre open collaboration between two fields that have rarely overlapped but that can provide critical new insights on archives and the digital world in South Asia. The outcomes of this research are twofold: first, I produced a “literature review” (an evolving document that will be frequently updated) that provides an overview, designed for graduate students, of how scholars of South Asia have responded to our current research crisis. Second, I am writing a longer, scholarly article that uses this research to demonstrate that scholarship drawing from both archival studies and South Asia studies can provide new, innovative avenues for research on archives in the region during COVID.

Searching for Belonging: Sense of belonging as a protective factor against Depression, PTSD, and Distress amongst Uyghur refugees

  • Hala Bucheeri (Psychology and Neuroscience)
  • Shahd Fulath Khan (Psychology and Neuroscience)

More Uyghurs are fleeing their homes in Xinjiang due to oppression by the Chinese government, resulting in large numbers of refugees and diaspora communities around the world. While Uyghurs may face several challenges in their host countries, having a sense of belonging to their new home can be a protective factor against mental illness and distress. In this study, we hypothesized that a higher sense of belonging would be associated with lower incidences of distress. We used a mixed-method study consisting of interviews and questionnaires to investigate the research question. The questionnaire consisted of demographic questions, as well as the General Belongingness Scale (GBS), the Centre of Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), PTSD Symptoms Scale (PSS), and Kessler’s Psychological Distress Scale (K10). Interviews were semi-structured and questions were centered around belongingness and wellbeing. We found that higher belongingness was associated with low scores on the depression, PTSD, and distress scales, demonstrating a moderate negative relationship. We also found that Uyghurs are facing a variety of challenges that deplete sense of belonging, such as absence of political support, lack of cultural programs, uncertainty about the status of loved ones, language barriers, and frequent cyber attacks by the Chinese government while they are abroad. These findings offer several suggestions for policymakers and social workers to implement in order to promote wellbeing among Uyghur communities in their host countries. Future studies should investigate identity issues and their relationship with belonging, especially among Uyghur youth.


“​Threads of a Past Life”: Kimono in the Lives of Japanese-Canadian Women

  • Bailey Irene Midori Hoy (History Specialist)
  • Wing Yan Sarina Wong (Peace, Conflict & Justice)

This research explores kitsuke (kimono and the art of wearing kimono) as a source of cultural knowledge, identity, and power amongst Japanese-Canadian/Nikkei women today. Focusing on women with ties in the Greater Toronto Area, we attempt to defetishize the idea that kimono and the people who wear them are “traditional” and “never-changing.” In examining the collective narratives that shape the history of many Nikkei women, we found that the highly visual and symbolic nature of the garment made the kimono a sort of “universal heirloom,” in which memories and culture are stored amongst our participants as an item that could be used to “perform” their cultural identities.

We conducted semi-structured interviews over the phone and Zoom video conferencing software with Japanese-Canadian women above the age of 18. Books, newspapers, digital museum archives and their curators, etc. helped consolidate the history of kimono and contextualize the interviews.

Belonging in Bollywood’s Contemporary Nation Making Culture

  • Yazmeen Kanji (Equity Studies, Peace Conflict & Justice Studies, and Cinema Studies)
  • Mayadevi Murthy (Religion Studies and Equity Studies)

Our research project examines the Indian Hindi film industry (Bollywood)’s shift towards the Hindu nationalist right by interviewing industry “newcomers” in order to explore the interplay between content production and the broader political landscape in which the industry exists today. We found these newcomers would either a) pursue the creation of content that would be lucrative regardless of how they contributed to perpetuating narrow perceptions of belonging within the nation-state, or b) consciously attempt to expose the viewing public to more progressive outlooks. In latter cases, progressive participants acknowledged a need to strategize around the threats of state censorship, violent public mobilization, and disinterested investors. These threats and other dimensions in today’s industry environment produce a cycle in which the audience primarily internalizes Hindu nationalist content. This reifies an ever-narrowing definition of “Indian” identity and, in turn increases demands and funding for such cinema. This ultimately drives the further proliferation and influence of films that propagate Hindu nationalist conceptions of “belonging.”

Untangling the Causative Web behind Farmer Suicides in India

  • Deep Leekha (International Relations, Contemporary Asian Studies, and History)

Between 1995 and 2015 more than 300,000 farmers committed suicide in India. The consensus among most agrarian scholars and government officials is that the ​prima facie​ reason for this ongoing epidemic is farmer indebtedness. However, as scholars like Nagaraj have argued monocausal explanations of suicide like the one being proffered in the Indian instance “reduce suicide to blaming the victim while ignoring larger socio-economic conditions.” Indeed, there is a web of socio-economic conditions and environmental circumstances which engender indebtedness. I produced my research as an article which seeks to dissect the monocausal explanation and better understand the web of factors which contribute to indebtedness, and consequently, to suicides. My research shows that indebtedness needs to be understood not purely as an economic condition but also a social one. Accounts of suicides and indebtedness throughout India shed light on a ‘causative web’. This web explains how cultural phenomena such as losing face in society and dowry payments along with arability changes due to the vicissitudes of global warming put added pressure on individual farmers. This work also draws upon the frameworks of critical theorists like Althusser, Gramsci, and Beck, among others, to examine and underscore the socio-political forces at work which essentially sever extant ties between farming communities, thereby further individualizing and isolating farmers. It concludes by arguing for a reimagining of rural spaces and once again integrating farmers into agrarian communities and, consequently, into support systems.

Caught Between and Left Behind: Analyzing Chinese Taxi Driver’s Moral Idioms in the time of Platform Capitalism

  • Yang Liu (PhD student, Anthropology)

This project explores the echoes of old moral economic discourses in taxi drivers’ struggles against the rise of the platform economy. By analyzing the posts and comments from a WeChat account dedicated to taxi drivers and taxi related news, I studied traditional taxi drivers’ reliance on moral economic sensibilities. I show how these taxi drivers maintain a sense of belonging in an increasingly precarious working condition. When traditional taxi drivers’ sense of belonging is replaced with and swept away by new developments in technology and the economy, they fall back to the discourse of moral values and virtues, seeking a sense of belonging in an already lost world. As such, this project not only demonstrates the frustration traditional taxi drivers are experiencing but also highlights their strategic and moral responses to the threat of disruptive technologies.

PUNK! In the Nation, Redux: Complicating Punk Identities of Political Resistance and Community Resilience in the “Frictions” of the Indonesian Nation-State

  • Rushay Naik (MSc Candidate in Health Services Research; BSc, Hons. Human Biology-Global Health and Peace, Conflict & Justice)
  • Mariah Stewart (B.A., Hons. Political Science, Contemporary Asian Studies and Mathematics)

Media interpretations have been the source of most perspectives on Indonesian punk music as a subcultural force of uniform resistance in Indonesia. Though some scholars and commentators have challenged these boundaries, perceptions of Indonesian punk scenes often adopt fixed, hybrid identities that oversimplify the relationships between punk and global and local historical events. We argue that the role of punk in Indonesia as a cultural phenomenon is “frictional,” existing as a complex and interactive force within the contexts of unbounded, diffuse aspects of political, economic, and social factors. These instances of “friction” take on forms of community and belonging, as well as resistance at multiple levels of social and governance structures. We find that, through the prism of reaching punk narratives “where they are” with the use of virtual research interviews and media analysis, we are able to situate their constituent philosophies of DIYism –“what they do”– and materiality –“what they have”– in broader socioeconomic forces, political violence, and cultural transitions in Indonesian history. Thus, this paper abandons more traditional dialectics of understanding Indonesian punk, such as the ‘global/local’ or ‘commercial/underground,’ and instead bridges these different narratives to understand “friction” within Indonesian punk more holistically. We utilize anthropologist Anna Tsing’s definition of “friction” in concert with the above research methodology to frame Indonesian punk for ‘what it is,’ a process based in awkward and creative interconnectivity.

The Search for Belonging: Digital Protest of North Korean “Defector-Creators”

  • Hyunji (Hillary) Song (International Relations, Contemporary Asian Studies, and History)

The exponential increase in the User-Generated Content (UGC) creation within the North Korean defector YouTubers, termed defector-creators, is a clear indicator of the development of soft power by these individuals who have newly acquired the freedom of expression. This project aims to investigate the impact of the production of digital content on the North Korean defectors’ ability to manufacture a sense of belonging and civic engagement in the South Korean society. Through a case study of five videos produced by the defector-creators, this project analyzed the content of the videos and their implications. My research draws the conclusion that the creation of digital content enables the defector-creators to manufacture a sense of community through a dynamic contestation and discussion of the South Korean society, through providing a platform for them to claim self-determination, autonomy, and ownership over their productions. Furthermore, my research examines the impact of the production of UGC on the levels of civic engagement of the North Korean defectors and concludes that the defector-creators experience a psychological empowerment and a rehabilitation of their political agency by transitioning from a muted group to an active voice of protest against discrimination and human rights violations. These developments call for new theoretical frameworks that can account for the processes of soft power construction of the marginalized refugee groups who emerge from precarity.

Smart, Green, or in Between: Smart City and Eco-Town Programs in Singapore and Toronto

  • Elizabeth Shaw (Contemporary Asian Studies, Peace, Conflict & Justice Studies, and Political Science)
  • Michelle Zhang (Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies, Urban Studies, and Geography)

In recent years, innovation based movements like smart cities and eco towns have become trademarks of the way forward in urban planning. This paper uses Sidewalk Toronto’s now-abandoned Quayside project and Singapore’s Treelodge@Punggol to examine the role of innovation in our urban futures. Through a series of in-depth interviews with academics, scholars, and practitioners from both cities, we examine how local-global, private-public, and digital attitudes shape the reception and practical outcomes of these futuristic development projects. Singapore findings include: state-led rhetoric surrounding the ideologies of national progress and success; techno solutionism as a means to achieve these goals; and sustainability as a performative but unconstructive act. In Toronto, we find deeply rooted public distrust and suspicion toward corporate high-tech and outsiders that found an outlet in Sidewalk Labs’ smart city, but far less hostility directed towards the broader aspiration of a digitally innovative city.

Urban village under China’s rapid urbanization: the challenge of rural migrant workers in Guangzhou and Shenzhen

  • Yang (Tiffany) Zhou (Contemporary Asian Studies and Political Science)

Urbanization is driving economic development and creating problems of environmental sustainability in China. The space of a city is not only shared by the government, real estate developers, urban residents, but also residents in urban villages, who constitute a remarkable social feature of the city landscape. When villagers in urban villages continue to transform into urban residents, they change from working on labor-cultivated farms to another spatial production unit: rural migrant workers in a self-built urban village in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, thus changing existing urban spatial relations. This paper attempts to compare the living conditions and state policy towards rural migrant workers in Guangzhou and Shenzhen in terms of redevelopment plans, land-use rights, and government subsidies. Rural migrants were major tenants of Chengzhongcun. They were economically and politically powerless, but these tenants inhabit geographically shifting disordered spaces. In general, my project aims to contextualize rural migrant workers’ living conditions and the changes they have been undergoing since the 1980s, focusing on how their living conditions in Guangzhou and Shenzhen have changed in the year, 2020—the year in which Shenzhen marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the special Economic Zone. For this project, I conducted interviews with urban villagers, real estate agency managers, and organizations with migration-related projects in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.


Sites of (Un)belonging: Spaces/Faces of Honjok Youth in Seoul, South Korea

  • Yujuan (Emmy) Fu (Ethics, Society & Law; Literature & Critical Theory)
  • Jennifer Han (Peace, Conflict & Justice and Political Science)

The purpose of our three-weeks of fieldwork in Seoul was to uncover the nuanced identity narratives of honjok (혼족, roughly translated as “alone-tribe”) youth, focusing on their mobilities in public space and the sociocultural forces driving Seoul’s rising solo-consumer economy. After undertaking an extensive literature review in Toronto, we conducted interviews in Seoul with 19 subjects, classified into one of three categories: honjok youth, academics of youth-related studies, and organizers of youth-oriented community spaces. Through these interviews we learned of wide variances in honjok lifestyle, which point to the tightening embrace of a neoliberal ethos among youth in Seoul. Unexpectedly, our research also led us to discover a growing number of communal spaces created to specifically combat the isolation of youth in Seoul. Our final photo-essay aims to facilitate the exploration of the honjok phenomenon beyond its prototypical news-media romanticization (as in treatments by Vogue, Vice, and CNN). We analyze the changes brought about by honjok mobilities and the value-shifts accompanying a solo-consumer economy. Finally, we believe our research lends itself to fruitful cross-cultural analyses with the hikikomori population in Japan from sociopolitical, psychological, and economic stances.

Yujuan (Emmy) Fu and Jennifer Han conducting interviews in South Korea

Shades of Brown Girl: The Many Colours of Transnational South Asian Femininity

  • Amrita Kumar-Ratta (MGA, PhD Student, Department of Geography and Planning)

This project involved the development and execution of nine creative storytelling workshops that engaged approximately 90 South Asian women in the Greater Toronto Area, the Metro Vancouver Area, and Chandigarh and Bangalore, India around themes of race, gender, and identity through performance and narrative storytelling. The workshops explored the theme of colour in depth, seeking to unpack the symbols and stories that various shades of brown can elicit vis-à-vis South Asian femininity. Some initial conclusions can be drawn from this pilot project; for instance, many participants expressed that they often do not feel seen, heard, or represented (e.g., in the media, in public spaces, among colleagues, family and/or friends) and they find it immensely valuable to be part of a collaborative and creative space, often describing it as “safe” and “therapeutic.” Additionally, as many conversations and personal stories revealed throughout the process, South Asian femininity is indeed complex and intersectional and cannot be reduced to simplistic narratives that exoticize women on the one hand and strip them of their agency on the other. Finally, the creative research methods employed throughout the project were seen—by both the participants and the researcher/artist/facilitator—as deeply transformative elements of qualitative research with important implications for future ethnographic and/or participatory studies that seek to center the stories of marginalized women across geographies. Throughout these workshops, I recorded some preliminary photography and videography and collected a number of personal stories. I evaluated each workshop using consistent criteria and regularly documented through field notes. Currently I am curating a photo-journal in collaboration with a number of workshop participants.

Amrita Kumar-Ratta conducting a workshop with participants

Moving in and moving out: understanding the effects of social exclusion on the mental health of rural-urban migrants in Shenzhen

  • Katie Kwang (Psychology; Economics)
  • Benita Leong (History; Political Science, UTM)
  • Hui Wen Zheng (Contemporary Asian Studies; Peace, Conflict, and Justice)

Since the 1970s, a widespread and rapid process of rural-urban migration has helped drive growth in China, raising concerns about the mental health of migrants who face a litany of social, economic and broadly, structural, challenges. Existing literature on the topic overwhelmingly relies on qualitative psychometric tools, leaving questions as to what the specific risk factors are and how they interact with each other to affect an individual’s mental state. Using the framework of social exclusion, this project explores how psychosocial factors including housing, gender, labour issues, migration policy, development and competition, and social expectations affect mental health. We collected data through interviews with service providers and subject experts, migrants, and through ethnographic fieldwork in Shenzhen’s rural-urban villages and worksites. Ultimately, we found that the experience of social exclusion is profoundly mediated by factors such as living conditions, industry, gender, class, and age—leading to a diversity of outcomes. We posit that the widening gap between expectation and reality for migrants is a unique contributing factor to mental health concerns.

Explore Katie, Benita, and Hui Wen’s multi-media, interactive photo essay here. The essay follows the narrative format of a ‘typical workday,’ featuring aggregated data the team collected during 6 different visits to industrial areas and urban villages in Shenzhen at different points in the day. 

cityscape of Shenzhen, China

Rural Land Marketization, the Displacement of the Urban Poor and the Neoliberalizing Developmental State in Beijing

  • Zixian Liu, PhD Candidate, Department of History

In 2017, a series of state-initiated demolition and evacuation campaigns in Beijing, targeting “urban villages” (legally categorized rural land within cities) and migrant workers, elicited a widespread public outcry. Known as the “Beijing Purge Campaign,” these actions aimed at “purging low-end populations.” While most criticisms focus on the violence of the campaigns, my research argues that the Purge was driven by a new wave of marketization of rural land within cities as part of the exacerbation of the neoliberalization of urban planning in China. Based on “developmental state” theory, I trace how the marketization of rural land comes hand in hand with the qualitative turn in the discourse of development in China, and the neoliberalizing of the Chinese developmental state. My research suggests it is important to examine how the global rise of neoliberalism works in the specific Chinese context. In the Chinese case, a strong development state is the driving force creating a freer market and eliminating undesirable obstacles, even if these barriers constitute some of the most important and symbolic heritage of the revolution—the collective and egalitarian ownership of rural land.

evacuated "urban village" in Beijing, China

Asian Modest Fashion in the Museum Space

  • Habiba Maher
  • Aliza Rahman

Our project explores the representation of the Modest Fashion industry, specifically examining the Contemporary Muslim Fashions’ exhibition presented in its first European venue at the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany. Through this research, we consider how the museum space reveals the ways in which hijab is imbued with new meanings in Southeast Asia, evolved from its religious roots representing piety and modesty. Through the lens of the exhibition, the meaning of hijab was shown to now include an emphasis on choice, identity, and diversity among Muslim women choosing to wear hijab. We observed these new meanings of hijab in the ways tour guides spoke about the exhibition; the designers’ work included in the exhibit, and the museological didactics describing individual pieces. More so, the exhibit revealed how the hijab has become increasingly commodified in Southeast Asia, acting as a gateway for national development in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. The exhibition examined the increased support for the textiles industry in these countries as the Modest Fashion industry has grown quickly. We use Voloder’s (2015) work on Muslim consumerism to unpack how mass consumption of modest fashion and the hijab in Southeast Asia has become a means to communicate identity, as suggested by the exhibition. Lastly, we found that this exhibition on Southeast Asian Muslim Modest Fashion occurring in Frankfurt—a city experiencing rising Islamophobic sentiments—challenged the common misconception that Muslim women are oppressed by the hijab. However, not everyone accepted or understood this message, and instances occurred in which the exhibit was threatened with violence.

"Contemporary Muslim Fashions' Exhibition" in Frankfurt, Germany


Unwanted Children

  • Minh Anh (Mia) Nguyen (Contemporary Asian Studies; Political Science)

This project explores Israel’s immigration regime and its socio-legal relationship with migrant workers, mainly through the lens of Filipino caregivers. When migrant caregivers get pregnant or give birth in Israel, their work visas are revoked, and their children do not receive residency status unless at least one of the parents is of Jewish-descent. The state’s ethno-nationalist identity continues to justify its exclusive migration policy framework, one that restricts the right to give birth and the right to belong to non-Jewish migrant workers in Israel. As Filipina caregivers bear children in the host land of Israel, they are confronted by two choices. They either have to leave Israel with their newborns or send their children back to their homeland to maintain legal work status. The project further approaches the theme of “mobilities” from a legal mobilisation perspective, examining strategies that activists have used to mobilise for Filipina caregivers’ rights. This aspect of the research questions the extent to which activists succeed and/or fall short in challenging the ethno-nationalist conception of citizenship to obtain reproductive rights for Filipino caregivers. Findings show that Israel’s current citizenship and residency regulations continue to prevent Filipino caregivers and other non-Jewish migrant workers from establishing permanent settlements in the country. However, the state’s increasing demand for migrant caregivers and their inconsistent implementation of residency laws create consequent repercussions for both migrant caregivers and their Israeli-born children. Where would Israel repatriate these children to, when Israel is the state in which they were born?photo from field research in Israel

The Invisible Hand of South-South Globalization: A Study of Chinese Migrants in Tehran

  • Man (Angela) Xu (Sociology Department)

Media and academic debate on China’s emergence as a source of investment, aid, and migration in the Global South often foregrounds the geopolitical strategies of the PRC and the role and experiences of state-owned enterprises. This research contests this discourse through an investigation of the experiences of Chinese transnational migrants in Iran. My analysis shows the heterogeneity, disparity, and conflict within the Chinese community in Iran and the different relationships between Chinese overseas authorities and Chinese migrants in Iran. Furthermore, I show that the experiences of Chinese migrants reflects the intersections of privilege and precarity. On the one hand, Chinese migrants benefit from transnational connections; on the other hand, their minority and foreign status leads to certain precarity. Moreover, the extent to which migrants experience precarity varies depending on their relationship with the Chinese authority. Overall, I argue that the circulated migration between China and Iran represents new forms of marginal mobility within the Global South—the emergence of migration flows to “unlikely” places. These new forms of mobilities call for new theoretical frameworks that can account for the unique causes and processes of migration within the southern hemisphere.

The Referendum

  • Adam Zivokinovic (“Zivo”) (Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy)
  • Ji Chen (Tony) Yin (Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy)

The Referendum is a documentary about Taiwan’s 2018 referendum on marriage equality. Triggered by a constitutional court ruling that ordered the government to amend its marriage laws, the referendum saw voters reject marriage equality. This documentary explores how the referendum happened, who was involved, and what they believed. The documentary contextualizes the issue within a larger conversation on the global acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights. It consists of interviews cut with archival footage, news clips, TV clips, and b-roll footage shot in Taipei, and takes a sensitive and nuanced view of both sides of the debate.

Through our research, we found that the anti marriage equality groups have a much more nuanced approach to LGBTQ+ issues than we previously imagined. While their beliefs can be partially attributed to hostility to LGBTQ+ folks, their stance is complicated by underlying disagreements on the nature of government. We also observed that the spread of information through mass media and social media played a pivotal role in swaying the result of the referendum. Furthermore, we found that Taiwanese religious organizations played a vital role in the referendum, essentially forming the backbone of anti-LGBTQ+ groups.

Title image from "The Referendum"



  • Mashal Khan (Equity Studies, Sociology, Visual Studies)
  • Khalood Kibria (Political Science, Sociology, Human Geography)

Our research project initially intended to investigate the challenges, inequalities, and specifically gendered discrimination and violence that Pakistani women face in relation to their restricted mobility within public space in Pakistani cities—space that is often dominated by men. Our project evolved to also include non-binary and trans folks in Pakistani cities as our research would have remained incomplete without these crucial voices. Our goal was to highlight the diverse yet interconnected experiences of people whose mobility is restricted by similar social and structural barriers. We found that many of our predictions were accurate. Female, trans, and non-binary mobility is indeed restricted in Pakistani cities. However, mobility is also a very complex and layered topic which is constantly being shaped by internal dynamics in Pakistani cities, namely historical context, class, caste, religion, education level, age, the role of the state, and marital status, to name just a few. We were privileged to interview and spend time with numerous individuals, collectives, and organizations who talked to us very honestly about the barriers they face. They also exposed us to the numerous ways in which these barriers are being chipped away as people seek to reclaim their space and ultimately transform the social and spatial fabric of Pakistani cities.







  • Atif Khan (University of Toronto Graduate Student, Department of Geography and Planning with collaboration in South Asian Studies and Development Policy and Power; University of Toronto Alum: Contemporary Asian Studies)
  • Kana Shishikura (University of Toronto Alum: Peace, Conflict, Justice Studies and Contemporary Asian Studies)

This project seeks to visualize securitization moving beyond the framework of textual analysis in order to unpack the dialogue of securitization of public spaces. Our project revealed the importance of our positionality as researchers embedded within the very logics of security as well as the need to understand the urban landscape as a living archive that cannot account for the state driven narratives present in the national archives within a specific building. Through our fieldwork in London and Paris, the difficulty of capturing the living urban landscape became evident. Our initial focus on academic sites such as Oxford University, Cambridge University and the University of London (SOAS, LSE) could not account or attest to the present conditions of securitizations of a metropolis. We conclude that securitization is a living and present condition that must be historicized along transnational and critical border studies.


  • Braden Kenny (Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto; University of Toronto Alum: Global Health and Equity Studies)
  • Terra Morel (Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta; University of Toronto Alum: Global Health and Immunology)

Due to the persecution and economic deprivation of the Rohingya peoples in Mynamar, thousands have been forced to flee to nearby countries including Malaysia—a country that lacks the physical and financial infrastructure to support their physical health needs. In this study, we interviewed various actors including non-governmental organizations and clinical researchers to understand the current response to the physical health needs and recommendations to address these gaps in service delivery. Our findings illuminated the need for international bodies to take a more active role in assisting the Malaysian government with the intake of Rohingya refugees as well as introducing a centralized body to facilitate discussion and collaboration between non-governmental organizations and clinical researchers.


  • Kassandra Neranjan (International Relations, Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies)
  • Sakshi Shetty (Health & Disease, Immunology)

The 1.5 million Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar remain a nationally unrecognized ethnic group who have been systematically discriminated against, forcing many to flee and many more to be internally displaced within Myanmar. Women in this context are very susceptible to severe violence and trauma due to intersections of their statelessness and a process of dehumanisation in Burmese society. Thousands of survivors of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as refugees. This project aims to analyze how gender is mainstreamed in humanitarian aid in the Rohingya context. We conducted semi-structured interviews with key actors in the field to analyze the process of rehumanisation through implemented structures that are catering to the needs of Rohingya women. Ultimately we will produce policy recommendations to help create programs of sustainable empowerment for refugee women. We drew several conclusions including the need to advocate for policy that is inclusive of adolescent girls, addressing legal obligations per international norms, increased security through hygiene and sanitation architecture, and more.

View and download the policy report here.


  • Yujia (Jade) Shi (Political Science; Collaborative Program in East and Southeast Asian Studies)

This project looks into the intergenerational relationship between LGBTQ youth and their parents in the context of intentional relocation of young LGBTQ as migrant workers in Beijing. I examine two subjects in the research. First, I explore the theme “mobilities” through the case study of two young gay men who are from small towns in China, both of whom have relocated to Beijing. Second, I examine the intergenerational relationship between parents and their same-sex-attracted children through the experience of these two young gay men in their relationships with their family. The outcome of the research is a short documentary, a thesis, and a report. On a large scale, I have observed how the contemporary discourses on (homo) sexuality in China are influenced by both studies of sexuality and activism in Euro-North America as well as multi-faceted changes within China. On a small scale, I observe how the relocation of the young couple is both influenced by unequal urbanization and development in China and their drives for freedom and better financial conditions. In particular, the case study will provide empirical research material on the tension and intimacy between the child and their parents in post-one-child-policy families.

Access Yujia (Jade) Shi’s documentary here. *Please note this content is password protected to preserve the privacy of interviewees. To request access please reach out to


  • Ben Sprenger (Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering)
  • Jillian Sprenger (Faculty of Arts and Science, Global Health)

The purpose of this project was to gain insight into the experiences of climate migrants (including the challenges they face pre- and post-migration), in order to better understand how migration may or may not be an effective mechanism for coping with a rapidly changing climate. Following an extensive literature review, we conducted field research through interviews in Sri Lanka with subject matter experts (researchers, NGO leaders, and environmental activists) and with individuals who have migrated or who have had a family member migrate due to climatic events. The interviews, particularly those with the climate migrants and their families, revealed a complex reality with significant challenges associated with migration and with building climate resilience at the community level. Our research may have implications for determining how to prioritize investment to best support populations vulnerable to climate change. Our research findings are disseminated through the documentary film embedded below.


  • Wei Si Nicole Yiu (PhD Student in Gender Studies, University of California Los Angeles; former University of Toronto collaborative PhD student in Geography and Gender Studies)

My project is a paper analyzing queer sociality in the space of migrant women’s organizing in Hong Kong. During my three-month fieldwork in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia who is a key migrant activist in Hong Kong for migrant domestic workers’ rights. Through Cynthia, I was able to establish contact with multiple migrant workers’ organizations. I participated in over fifteen gatherings and conducted interviews with five migrant Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong. All five interviews were over an hour long and provided me with great insights about migrant women’s intimate relationships with other migrant women. Using information I have learned during my fieldwork and interviews with migrant women, I aim to engage with Black feminist literature on self-care to theorize the ways in which migrant women are caring for each other as queering ‘proper’ intimacies.

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