PhD: Autumn 2011

This autumn, a few things are in the works for the PhD:

  • A new set of articles on geographies of religion and Asian Canadian studies, both theoretical and empirical: more information as these are submitted!
  • Transcribing the interviews that with Cantonese Christians in Metro Vancouver and the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Focus groups with lay Chinese Christians in Metro Vancouver and the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Preparing for the American Academy of Religion conference in San Francisco from November 19-22.
If you’d like to be part of a focus group of Chinese Christians on social and political issues in either Vancouver or San Francisco, do contact me at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca.  I will be back in San Francisco in late November and early December 2011.

PhD Field Work: San Francisco Bay Area

I have been in the San Francisco Bay Area since 4 June 2011 and will be here until 19 July 2011.  I am continuing to conduct field work for my PhD project on Cantonese-speaking evangelicals, their conceptions of civil society, and their engagement in society and politics.

I am interested in the following things (although this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Chinese Christian engagement in local neighborhood politics and social services, including advocacy for the marginalized, entrepreneurial work, and inter-Christian cooperation
  • Engagement with the perceived secularism of San Francisco
  • The issue of same-sex marriage and other family values politics (including anti-gambling activism)
  • Demographic shifts within Chinese Christian communities
  • Interactions between Chinese mainline Protestant groups and Chinese evangelical groups, including the similarities and differences of their engagement with society and politics
  • Chinatown Christian political and social activism
  • Activism around the 1989 Tiananmen incident
  • Comparisons among the City, the East Bay, and the South Bay
  • Engagement with American politics, especially self-identifications with Democrat and Republican
  • Engagement with the People’s Republic of China
If you’d like to be interviewed for this project or know of any leads related to these issues, please contact me at tse.justo@gmail.com or jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca.

PhD Field Work: Metro Vancouver

Since mid-April, I have been conducting research on Cantonese evangelicals, their conceptions of civil society, and their social and political engagement in Metro Vancouver.  I hope to wrap up this first round of research by 2 June.  I plan to be flying to San Francisco on 3 June and returning mid-July.

A few things that are especially on my mind as I conduct this Vancouver field work over the next few weeks:

  • The upcoming Canadian federal election (2 May)
  • The recent Edgewater Casino hearings
  • Print and video media reports on Chinese Christians
  • Chinese Christian youth/young adult ministries and revival networks
  • Relationships between Christian parachurch organizations/networks and churches
  • Anything else about Cantonese evangelicals in Vancouver being socially and politically engaged (or not–and why not?)
As I’ve said previously, much of this project depends on semi-structured interviews, focus groups, ethnographic field work, and texutal/media analysis.  Feel free to contact me at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca for more information!

Human Ethics Clearance

GREAT NEWS: my application to UBC’s Office of Research Services ethics committee has been approved!

This is one of the interesting things about doing research in North America.  Because of a long history of research with questionable ethics (largely within psychology), many North American universities have decided to screen any research involving human subjects.  This ranges from anything including simple interviews and surveys to more complicated things like deception to get information (which I do NOT engage in).  There’s a science version too for lab subjects and animal safety (which I also don’t do).  All of this gets put under an umbrella at UBC called the Behavioural Research Ethics Board.  I applied for clearance in human subjects.

My application was actually very simple because there weren’t too many ethical risks in my project to begin with.  My project is very simply talking to people in interviews and focus groups, observing people at churches and organizations, and stuff like that.  The key thing about this kind of research is that everything has to be up front, i.e. I have to let people know when I’m taping what they’re saying, I have to let them know that I’m a PhD Candidate doing research, and all the rest of that.  As a very simple formality and also a common courtesy, people that I tape also have to sign consent forms that say that they give “free, informed, and voluntary consent” and that they know what the project is about.  For the record, I use a digital voice recorder that records in mp3s made in Korea that I got from this tech shop in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong that just plugs into the USB port with a wire on my laptop.  I use the recordings as another note-taking device so that I don’t have to scribble down verbatim what everybody says, and I transcribe the interviews and make sure nobody besides me and the person being interviewed hears the interviews or looks at the transcriptions (confidentiality MATTERS!).  I always leave the recorder on the table out in the open, and I never tape secretly.  It’s really just about being forthright that I am an academic researcher interested in Cantonese evangelicals.  That’s not very hard to do, especially because I like the project so much!

The whole process only took about two weeks.  I was put under the category of minimal risk and assigned for expedited review.  This means that really, the project doesn’t have too many ethical risks.  The key thing is just to be honest that I’m doing research.  I think that’s what any decent person would do.

But yes, this means I’m cleared by UBC to do research.  Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, here we come!

Proposal Approval

On 31 March 2011, my PhD proposal was approved.

What does this mean?
It means that I’m finally approved to do research as a full PhD candidate.  The human subjects ethics forms are currently being approved, pending provisos for a few clarifications on my application (but nothing substantial), but I expect those to be taken care of in the next few days.

What’s the proposal about?
The proposal concerns my upcoming doctoral dissertation research, which is due to be completed in Summer 2013.  The working title is Religious Politics in Pacific Space: The Political Interventions of Cantonese Christians in Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Vancouver.  It’s basically about how Cantonese-speaking evangelicals see themselves as involved in society in these three metropolitan areas.  The basic methodology for this project is a global ethnography, a term coined by Berkeley sociology Michael Burawoy (2001) that refers to when social scientists contextualize their field work in larger global processes in time and space, and will mostly depend on semi-structured interviews with Cantonese Christian organization leaders and pastors as well as focus groups with Cantonese Christian lay persons.  These interviews and focus groups will be contextualized by basic field observation, quantitative data from organizations and the censuses, and textual and media analysis of both Chinese Christian media sources and secular news sources.  It’s going to take about a year, with at least three months in each site.

Can you help?
If you identify as a Cantonese Christian–or even just a Chinese Christian (even if you’re Mandarin-speaking, or if your parents are Cantonese-speaking)–or if you’ve done work with Cantonese Christians, I’d love to get in contact with you. In fact, even if you don’t identify as Cantonese Christian, period, but you wanted to get some of your friends involved in the project, please do contact me!

But I don’t like politics! It’s such a touchy topic!
THAT’S OK!!! I’m using “politics” in an fancy academic way–and I have to, because I’m an academic–to refer to when people get involved in their civil society.  In that sense, a lot of things count as “politics” for academics.  The way that I’m using “politics” is more in terms of social involvement; in other words, I’m interested in the constant conversation between Cantonese evangelicals and the societies they find themselves in.  Yes, it could refer to electoral politics when you try to vote someone into that society, but it may be as simple as feeling like you want your voice heard in the broader society, or joining in a march or a protest, or making your organization or church more engaged in social issues.  Or maybe you’re not interested in doing any of that–I’d really be interested in: why not?  Basically, although the title of my research concerns politics, I’m just interested in how Christians who speak Cantonese think about and get involved in society in Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.

What will happen to information that is gathered?
I will use the data I gather to write my PhD doctoral dissertation.  These things are usually 300ish pages long.  I’ll turn that into an academic book that will be able to speak to scholars in human geography, religious studies, ethnic studies, migration studies, political studies, and urban studies.  I’ll also write some academic articles based on it.  While these things sound so academic, they also form the basis for community involvement as well, including using my studies to help Cantonese evangelicals reflect on issues of faith and society and providing a fair and balanced representation of Chinese Christian churches and organizations to the media.  I am very interested in contributing my academic skills in partnership with community leaders, organization heads, and pastors, and I hope that this project will be of use in both academic and non-academic settings.

If you want to get in touch with me because you’re interested, feel free to send me an email at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca or call me at +1-604-728-0024.  I’d be happy to hear from you!

PhD Candidacy

I have some great news: on Friday, 28 January 2011, at 1 PM, I passed my PhD comprehensive exams.  This means that I advance to become what the department calls a PhD Candidate.  Many thanks to everyone who has kept me in their thoughts and prayers!

What does it all mean?

Well, first of all, what it doesn’t mean is that I already have a PhD.  So no, I am not Dr. Justin Tse yet, although the people who work at academic journals seem to like to address me that way (which is flattering, but terribly misleading!).  I’m projecting to finish in 2013, after which (hopefully) I’ll really have a PhD.

What it does mean is that I am now provisionally qualified to do research at the PhD level.  The provision is that in about a month, I need to submit a PhD dissertation proposal (a prospectus, as they’d put it in the States).  A dissertation is basically the integrated book that I need to write by the end of my PhD.  A dissertation proposal details the topic that I will write my PhD dissertation on, the fields that I will engage, and the approaches and methods I will use.  So that is forthcoming in March, and it will have something to do with Christians from Hong Kong in the Pacific region.  Details are being thought out as we speak!

Over the next month, my plan is to work on a few things.  First, there are several conference presentations that I want to squeeze out of a combination of these comprehensives and some work that I’ve been doing in collaboration with Dr. David Ley and Dr. Claire Dwyer on No. 5 Road in Richmond.  Second, there are some articles on religion, Asian Americans, and Hongkonger Christians that I want to see if I can draft this month.  Third, there is the dissertation proposal itself, but I’ve gotten used to thinking about this because of all the grant proposals I had to write from August to October 2010.

So it’s going to be a busy month, but what I can say is that the comprehensives have given me a bit of a boost in terms of knowing literatures on geographies of religion and secularism, Pacific geographies of migration and ethnicity, and urban geographies in the Asia-Pacific a lot better.  Now the task is to see if we can put legs on the literature.

Many thanks to everyone who has supported me thus far!  There’s still about two more years to go, and I’m excited for the real work that is to come!

Comprehensive Exams, 17-21 January 2011

Since 20 October 2010, I have been reading for comprehensive exams.

The PhD in Human Geography at the University of British Columbia requires three exams to be written in the second year of the PhD.  These three exams address three broad fields that will be addressed in the dissertation and that can serve as broad teaching areas for a future career in academia.

My exams are set for 17-21 January 2011.  I sit one exam for each of 17, 19, and 21 January.  These are written, take-home exams where I have to answer two questions about a broad field in human geography; the normal length of each answer is a 7-10 page literature review.  On the following week, I also sit a three-hour oral exam with my doctoral comprehensive exam committee.  Currently, my doctoral committee consists of: David Ley (UBC Geography), David Edgington (UBC Geography), Henry Yu (UBC History), and Claire Dwyer (University College London, Geography).

The rumour has gone around UBC that the Geography exams are among the most difficult in the Faculty of Graduate Studies.  I cannot confirm the truth of this rumour, but what I can say is that it is simultaneously difficult and rewarding.  The aim of these exams is to give a broad understanding of the field and to invite interdisciplinary approaches to the subject matter (which only goes to show how interdisciplinary Geography is as a discipline!).

The three fields I will sit are as follows:

COMPREHENSIVE EXAM #1:
GEOGRAPHIES OF RELIGION, SECULARISM AND SOCIAL THEORY

  • “Old” and “New” Cultural Geographies of Religion (the “old” refers to the Berkeley school of cultural geography led by Carl Sauer, the “new” to Jim Duncan’s turn toward process in the politics of placemaking)
  • Theories of religion
  • Anthropological and sociological approaches to religion
  • Political constructions of secularity
  • Islam and the West: liberal, feminist, and ethnographic approaches
  • Religion and transnational migration
  • Congregational studies (i.e. R. Stephen Warner’s “new paradigm”)

Major thinkers I address in this list include a diverse range: Wilbur Zelinsky, David E. Sopher, Lily Kong, Reinhard Henkel, Peter E. Hopkins, David Ley, Claire Dwyer, Kevin Dunn, Banu Gokariksel, Philip Kelly, Paul Bramadat, R. Stephen Warner, Helen Rose Ebaugh, Janet Chafetz, Peggy Levitt, Steven Vertovec, Peter Berger, Harvey Cox, Emile Durkheim, Mircea Eliade, Clifford Geertz, William James, Rudolf Otto, Karl Marx, Rodney Stark, Max Weber, Talal Asad, Jose Casanova, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank, and Charles Taylor.

While religion is the major focus of the list, such a diversity of sources also enables a broader address of the following in future research and teaching:

  • social and cultural geography
  • intellectual histories of the social sciences
  • multiculturalism and migration studies

COMPREHENSIVE EXAM #2:
PACIFIC WORLDS IN MOTION: ASIAN MIGRATIONS AND GEOGRAPHIES OF MIGRATION AND ETHNICITY

  • Theories of international migration
  • The “mobilities” paradigm (John Urry)
  • Multicultural theory and policy
  • Labour migrations
  • Transnational migration studies
  • Second-generation issues
  • Asian American studies
  • Race theory and race studies
  • Asian Canadian studies
  • Pacific Rim studies

Major thinkers I address include: Stephen Castles, Mark J. Miller, Catherine Bretell, James Frank Hollifield, Nancy Foner, John Urry, Ghassan Hage, Robert Putnam, Brenda Yeoh, Katie Willis, Christian Joppke, David Ley, Nina Glick Schiller, Linda Basch, Christina Szanton Blanc, Elaine Ho, Peggy Levitt, Mary C. Waters, Aihwa Ong, Ien Ang, Laurence Ma, Carolyn Cartier, Ronald Takaki, Glenn Omatsu, Sucheng Chan, Lisa Lowe, Jack Tchen, Robert G. Lee, Henry Yu, Helen Zia, Kay Anderson, Dorothy Fujita-Rony, Madeline Hsu, Alexander Saxton, Judy Yung, Peter Ward, Patricia Roy, Charles A. Price, Eiichiro Azuma, Carlos Bulosan, Yen Le Espiritu, Vijay Prashad, Chris Lee, and Peter Li.

While Pacific migrations and ethnicities are the major foci of the list, this list also enables me to address the following in future research and teaching:

  • Globalization theory
  • Citizenship in theory and practice
  • Global economics and geopolitics
  • Theories of social and cultural capital
  • Race and ethnic politics

COMPREHENSIVE EXAM #3
CITIES IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC: HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES

  • Asian cities in global and regional contexts
  • Colonial and post-colonial cities
  • Global cities/world cities
  • Pacific Rim studies
  • Cities and the welfare state in post-colonial Asia
  • Cities and the neoliberal state in post-colonial Asia
  • Convergence/divergence theory (e.g. Terry McGee’s desakota model)
  • Garden cities and urban utopias
  • Sustainable cities
  • Rural-urban relations and migrations
  • Labour in Asian cities
  • Urban development in Asia

Major thinkers I address are: Terry McGee, David Edgington, W.B. Kim, Anthony King, Fucheng Lo, Peter Marcotullio, Karen Y.P. Lai, Saskia Sassen, Brenda Yeoh, Fulong Wu, S.O. Park, Ryan Bishop, Abidin Kusno, Laurence Ma, Kris Olds, Manuel Castells, H.W. Dick, P.J. Rimmer, Michael Douglass, G.L. Ooi, John Gugler, Jonathan Rigg, Andrew Sorenson, and Dean Forbes.

Though the list focuses on Asian cities in particular, broader areas for future writing and teaching include:

  • Comparative Asian, North American, and European cities
  • Migrant labour
  • Pacific and Pacific Rim studies
  • Urban sustainability
  • Theories of “orientalism”
  • Colonial and post-colonial studies
  • State politics: welfare and neoliberal models

So now…it’s back to reading!  The labour is rewarding, the knowledge both intellectually stimulating and relevant to the contemporary situation.