Forging solutions to society’s challenges

Social science and humanities research by the NUS community received a boost when they were awarded funding from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC).

NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences historian Assistant Professor Jack Chia was chosen as a recipient of the 2020 Social Science and Humanities Research Fellowship (SSHRF). In addition, two NUS projects have been awarded funding during the 2020 Social Science Research Thematic Grant (SSRTG) call. They were among four projects that the Ministry of Education (MOE) selected from 39 proposals for the grant call in 2019. For the 2019 SSRTG call, four NUS projects were awarded funding and were among six projects that MOE picked from 54 proposals for the grant call.

Key initiatives of the SSRC, the SSHRF aims to support the development of promising Singaporean social science and humanities researchers in the early stages of their academic careers, as part of efforts to strengthen the social sciences and humanities research ecosystem in Singapore. Meanwhile, the SSRTG is dedicated to supporting high-quality and impactful interdisciplinary research focused on Singapore and Asia. Tackling a multitude of social issues – from ageing, dimensions of home-based work in the new normal, to understanding rapid biodiversity changes in our environment – these NUS projects form an important contribution to the growing trove of social sciences and humanities research in the country. A summary of the selected projects is shown below.

2020 SSHRF awardee

Diplomatic Dharma: Buddhist Diplomacy in Modern Asia, 1950s – Present
Awardee: Asst Prof Jack Chia, NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

With this fellowship, historian Asst Prof Jack Chia aims to examine the role of Buddhism in fostering cultural diplomacy and exchanges in five Asian countries – China, India, Japan, Myanmar and Singapore – from the second half of the 20th century to the present. Building on his previous research on the role of Buddhism in Singapore-China relations, the project focuses on the collaboration and networks between Buddhists, non-Buddhists, and state actors in the making of Buddhist diplomacy.

2020 SSRTG-awarded projects

Foundations for Home-Based Work: A Singapore Study
Principal Investigator: Assoc Prof Lilian Chee, NUS School of Design and Environment

Assoc Prof Chee will lead an interdisciplinary team, comprising researchers from the NUS Department of Architecture, NUS Department of Communications and New Media and the Yale-NUS College to examine the spatial, social and technological dimensions of home-based work in Singapore both before and after the onset of COVID-19. The team seeks to recommend design and policy principles about hybrid modes of working and living, in the new normal.

Linking the Digital Humanities to Biodiversity History in Singapore and Southeast Asia
Principal Investigator: Asst Prof Anthony D. Medrano, Yale-NUS College

Southeast Asia is home to the Coral Triangle and among the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. Yet one of the most consequential drivers of rapid biodiversity change has been the historical introduction of alien species and their naturalisation and establishment (i.e., naturalised species). Through the lens of naturalised species and their historical vectors, this project will explore how and why this growing environmental problem of rapid biodiversity change impacts health security, food security and economic security in Singapore and Southeast Asia. These vectors include, for example, climate change, monsoon cycles and land-use change. The research team will leverage digital humanities methods and new historical source materials to answer these interrelated questions.

2019 SSRTG-awarded projects

Future-Proofing Singapore: An Economic Approach
Principal Investigator: Low Tuck Kwong Distinguished Professor Sumit Agarwal, NUS Business School

The project will adopt an economic approach to evaluate the impact of up-to-date policies on welfare, mobility and consumption. It will examine the effectiveness of the Silver Support Scheme, the impact of housing policy on intergenerational mobility, the effect of fiscal policy on private consumption, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on small and medium-sized enterprises and the general population. It proposes a new longitudinal survey to collect data on residents’ consumption and money management behaviours. 

Linguistic Markers of Dementia
Principal Investigator: Prof Bao Zhiming, NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Cognition and language are intimately connected. How dementia is manifested in language is a matter of intense research around the world. The project takes a structural approach to study the language of early cognitive impairment. Using natural speech data collected from volunteers who participated in the Community Health Intergenerational (CHI) study at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, the project will search for linguistic markers of dementia.

The Anatomy of Choice: Southeast Asia between the Superpowers
Principal Investigator: Prof Khong Yuen Foong, Li Ka Shing Professor of Political Science and Vice-Dean (Research and Development), Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS

This project seeks to trace and explain the strategic alignments − past, present and future − of the ten ASEAN countries − in the wake of US-China geopolitical rivalry. As the rivalry intensifies, the uncommitted ASEAN countries will find it increasingly difficult to maintain their position of not choosing between the two superpowers. The project will seek to answer four key questions related to this strategic dilemma: What does it mean to choose (between the US and China)?; How can we track the shifts in alignments of the countries of Southeast Asia over time?; What explains their alignment choices?; and What are the implications for Singapore, the superpowers, and the region?

Ageing and Social Networks: Mapping the Life-worlds of Older Singaporeans
Principal Investigator: Assoc Prof Elaine Ho Lynn-Ee, NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; and Senior Research Fellow, Asia Research Institute at NUS

This project seeks to examine the social and geographical characteristics of older adults’ social networks. It will combine social network analysis with qualitative research and Geographic Information Science (GIS) – thus blending large scale numerical survey data with deep, targeted qualitative research that is then mapped to real spaces. The team will compare two neighbourhoods in Singapore, looking at how older adults’ networks of social care are shaped by their surroundings, as well as extends beyond.