BLOG: "Different Treatment on Knowledge Co-production: Comparing Transdisciplinary and Community-based Research"

By Chol Bunnag

The terms multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary have been known to me more than a decade now. However, it was at the KNOTS summer school that I gained better understanding of the differences between these approaches and of the transdisciplinary research. I think the key difference of transdisciplinary research is the “knowledge co-production” not only between disciplines but also different forms of knowledge in order to solve complex societal and environmental problems. This implies that the transdisciplinary approach does not only recognize and accept scientific knowledge but also other forms of knowledge, such as experience-based knowledge, local and traditional wisdom, as important elements in knowledge production. Such recognition also leads to more equal relationships between actors in the research process, since other actors are not only subjects in the research but co-producers of research questions, input, analysis, outputs and outcomes of the research. 

The fact that this approach became the main theme of this international cooperation between universities reflects that this approach is recognized by the scholars of these institutions. The approach is taken seriously by scholars from several disciplines. Discussion papers, book chapters, research articles, even academic conferences were written and organized about this approach. The transdisciplinary approach has become not only an approach but another school of thought as it has its own core assumptions, community platforms (conferences, journals, etc.), and transdisciplinary scholars recognizing themselves to be doing this. 

In Thailand, we do have similar research approach to the transdisciplinary research. Originally it is called “Thaibaan research”. I believed that later on it was adopted by the previously Thailand Research Fund (TRF) to be one of its programs, called “Community-Based Research” or CBR. This is a research approach where a researcher(s) is working with the locals as a coach or facilitator. The locals are the ones who propose a set of questions for research. The researcher helps the locals by discussing with them to shape the questions to be research questions that lead to practical and sustainable solutions for local problems. Then the researcher also guides the locals on the design of the research methodology and let the locals execute their methods. The researcher is only an advisor in this process and may also links the locals with experts related to the research questions. The analysis and research output and outcome are done by the locals with the researcher facilitating the process and giving some reflections and inputs to the analysis. After 2 decades, there are locals who did or have been doing research with CBR program all over Thailand.

Although CBR is well received by the locals as it is very powerful in bringing people together to learn and collectively solve local problem, it is not recognized as another epistemological approach but only a way to make research useful for the local. I believe that this is because the CBR has never been philosophically deliberated by Thai scholars regarding its epistemological contribution, since the philosophical and epistemological discussions and debates in Thai academic communities have never been very limited, if not non-existent. As a result, when the TRF was (and has been) reformed into a new organization, the CBR was not even recognized as an element of the new national research facilities. It is important to note that not every CBR projects were producing sustainable solutions as well as academic contributions. Some of them even failed in the process. But I think that is problem of implementation. However, with proper implementation, CBR is a very powerful approach to produce knowledge and solutions to tackle the complex problems.

All in all, different treatments given to Transdisciplinary research and Community-based research, which are very similar in their approach, are leading them to different directions. Transdisciplinary research became a new epistemological approach for complex sustainability issues. Thaibaan and CBR are now forgotten by Thai research policies.

BLOG: "KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip Report"

By Salai Vanni Bawi


I was selected to join KNOTS program from July 17 to July 31,2018 in Chiang Mai University, Thailand. It was very excellent program for the students those who are keen to learn and apply new knowledge regarding trans-disciplinary research methodology in field work. The program has been compromised both a dynamic learning environments such as panel discussion, group discussions and presentations, experience exchange between European students and ASEAN students, and field study exercise related to individual scope of the students’ interest. To me, it was very productive activities and well-prepared for learning and doing in both academic learning and field study as well. I have much benefit from those experiences to review my limited knowledge, concepts and ideology by trans-disciplinary experience. In this workshop, social science and its aspects to review and analyze current hot issues in global challenges such as inequality, migration, investment, climate changes and ecotourism development. In this connectivity, Social Science theories have explained the transformation of what the community can be benefit from trans-disciplinary study. It also reflects the sustainable approach to define a better representation of community and it works by using trans-disciplinary approach.

One of good lessons learned from the panel discussion, the development patterns and the structures of Greater Mekong Sub-region. Greater Mekong Sub-region, so-called golden triangle opium region border sharing among Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Due to economic and political crisis of Mekong region, and Thailand becomes a major key player of economic zone for migrates both legal or non-legal from her neighboring countries such as Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Furthermore, in the development of Thailand’s economic structures, labor and workforce contribution of migrants should not be forgotten. Nevertheless, Thailand is also struggling to deal migration issue, internal labor conflict, inequality and climate changes pressures. In fact, Thailand becomes one of the most key areas to learn migration, internal labor conflict, inequality and the impact of the climate changes in Mekong sub-region. Meanwhile, I belief that the chosen to Chiang Mai University is the best spot to learn diversity of cultures, ethnicities and community’s issues in one stop learning point. In the group discussion, we have learned that social inclusion was key actor to achieve sustainable development in Mekong sub-region. In addition, the policy makers and civil societies always need to check and review the investment for development program by checking distribution justice, procedure justice, justice and recognition, and the benefit and fairness for local community.

Learning TDR from lectures in the Classroom

I have learned new research methodology, so-called Trans-Disciplinary Research (TDR) method in my life. It was very new concept in my research experience and eager to understand that what is the main idea of trans-disciplinary research methodology. Tran-disciplinary is a kind of research methodology which is focusing on research which is working with people and the purpose for further sustainable development in society. The method is using for encountering social problems to get positive result by using the contribution of different people from various disciplinary background such as academic disciplinary, multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary. It means that every body in the fieldwork, including researcher is also one of key actors in TDR methodology because they also have specific academic background, and able to provide his or her perspective in problem solving of community. Meanwhile, TDR elaborates non-academic learning which is also very important instead of interviewing under disciplinary research methodology that could be pros vs cons for the human society. In this circumstance, TDR is trying to integrate the knowledge of local community, economy and political economy into the development. In addition, there are many different types of research methodology such as applied research, team research, collaborative research, action research, participatory research and citizen research. Among of these methodologies, it has their own advantage and disadvantage. Among of them, why TDR is important and how this works in development, due to, it can cooperate knowledge and skills of non-educated people, use local practice and value local input in research writing. Analyzing applied research, the methodology is trying to lead into problem solving type and focusing adaptive theory in this work. The slogan of this method is “Problem + Solving”. In this point, trans-disciplinary is very modernized methodology aspect on knowledge sharing and transfer knowledge to local community nowadays.


Learning TDR in the Field Work

KNOTS was not only focused in the lectures, but also created an open opportunity for me to study in field exercise regarding TDR. In this care, I selected transition from Agroforestry to Ecotourism Study in Mae Kampong Eco-village, due to I want to continue my further study on political ecology and environmental sustainability.  Mae Kampong is located in Huay Kaew sub-district, Mae On district, Chiang Mai province. It lies at an average height of 1,300 meters above the sea level. Presently, there are 140 households and 380 people in total. Ethnic background of villagers in Mae Kampong is Khon Muang or lowlanders of Northern Thai. Regarding historical development of the village, Mae Kamong was set up by villagers who search for land to cultivate Mieng, a kind of tea plant, about 100 years ago. Previously, villagers in Mae Kampong are mainly worked on Mieng plantation and products. “Mieng” is fermented young leaves of tea plant.  However, after Mieng is no longer popular among today’s younger generation, so the village has been gradually changed to be tourism site since 2000. Community-based tourism (CBT) is the form taken by villagers, focusing on eco-tourism. Tourism businesses include homestay, guesthouse, tea-leaves pillow making, trekking, massage, etc. Due to limited land and natural resources, villagers set up rules for not allowing outsiders to purchase land and operate tourism businesses in the village. However, some outside investors have settled and run businesses in this village. Interesting issues in this village include community-based tourism, Mieng and tea industry, coffee industry, self-governance, Hydro-power electric generating, natural resources management, influences of outsiders’ investment on tourism businesses, and village funds.


In this field work, I have a chance to learn both cultural conservation process of the village and ecotourism management of the village as well. In this context, we always have reviewed TDR in each visits to village headman, individual those who are the villagers, owners of home-stay program and guesthouse business. Regarding cultural conservation, I have learned that multi-disciplinary involved in the development of cultural museum. For instance, I have met with one of the Professor from Chiang Mai university who is helping to establish village museum under National Researcher Council Thailand. The museum is established by the cooperation between CMU and Villagers in order to promote preservation the ways of people living in Mea Kampong, the display of local livelihood patterns, ecotourism and environmental sustainability. Moreover, the village becomes one of successful ecotourism destinations in Thailand and aiming to extend their knowledge and skills to other villages in Thailand as well. For instance, many villages from other province also come and learn from their experience – ecotourism, community based hospitality and home-stay program in this museum as well. In this way, the village have organized their intended mission through involving multi-disciplinary in one purpose to achieve. By aspect of TDR, I have learned that many disciplines from academic, research and local already involved in cultural preservation. Indeed, I also came from one discipline to understand cultural preservation and can provide some suggestions based on my experiences in Myanmar. In this way, I am a quite confident to apply TDR to conduct my future researches where every one can involve based on their different experience to carry a better outcome of the research.


In addition, our team have met with the former village head person, who is a pioneer of ecotourism development in the village. He plays very big role to design, develop and manage in home-stay program. Furthermore, I have visited and interviewed to the owners of home-stay program and guest house. Regarding home-stay program, the system is still managing by former village headman. Before they started home-stay, the villagers are very hard work in agro-farm. However, formal village headman inspired home-stay program and organized the structure to organize home stay procedure. For instance, the home-stay program also has a certain regulation to become a home-stay owner for the guest. The following regulation need to be followed by the owner - the toilet should be in western style, blankets, pillows should be enough for maximum seven persons and at least three dishes of Thai foods could be provided to the guest. The home-stay charges 520 Baht for one tourist that included accommodation and three meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner per day. Amount from 520, 180 Baht is contributing back to village fund. In this way, the villagers are equally benefit from home-stay program. In the system, If the guest prefers to stay in home-stay, he or she has to inform to former village headman. And then, the former headman will allocate the guests to different home-stay. It means that routine system is practice in home stay program under management of former village headman.


Besides home-stay program in the village, we also studied about guest house business in the village. The guest house is individual owned by the villagers and managed independently in the community. It charges 500 Baht per person including breakfast and dinner only. Unlike the home-stay system, the guest house owner has to contribute back only 50 Baht per person to village fund. Regarding official recognition of tourism department, they have to follow the regulations of district Thailand tourism. Moreover, the advertisement is mainly depended on their network through social media, person to person and guest referral among guest house owners.


Reflection from our research studies, we have noticed that the village plays a role model for other villages in different district regarding on ecotourism, home stay and tourism hospitality. Former village headman plays a crucial role to lead and provide his lecture to researchers, tourists, villagers from other villages. Analyzing this short research, we also seen some inequality in leadership and the contribution to village fund between home-stay and guest house. For instance, home-stay contribute 180 Bahts for village fund, but the guest house owner contributed only 50 Bahts. In this case, we can see that inequality in contribution and seem discrimination for home-stay because they have to serve one additional meal and 130 Baht more than guest house. In this case, we can learn income inequality in two different ownerships – homestay and guesthouse. In addition, the former village headman plays major key roles than current village headman regarding to give lecture to visitors and home-stay program management. It could be a challenge to manage and leadership



Related to TDR, I have a chance to reflect my learning regarding TDR in these two areas such as culture museum and ecotourism development in the village. I have found that many disciplines with different people involved in the process of ecotourism development in the village. In addition, field participants have different background and different interests in the constructive study, some are from anthropology, southeast Asia study, political science and ethnic study from Thailand and European universities. I can felt that all participant equally contributed to analyze the condition and the learning points from different aspect in this study and exchange idea and knowledge from different disciplines.  This is what I could absorb a new research methodology, TDR for future my career and study with high motivation. I am very much appreciated to KNOTS program, Chula KNOTS program, individual organizers those who highly contributed in this summer school and gave me a chance to explore a new research methodology in my academic career.  I strongly believed and confident that I will able to apply in my new career in academic and research work to create a better condition for my field of works in Myanmar as well.

BLOG: "Urbanization, Industrialization, and Social Inequality in Ho Chi Minh City: The Plights of the Mekong River Delta Internal Migrant Workers in Binh Tan District"

By Anthony Ukam Unor

knots anthony photo.jpg

According to experts, from Tibet in China to Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam where the Mekong River delta empties into the ocean, the Mekong River sustained at least 60 million whose source of livelihood depends on it. As a resource-rich downstream country, Vietnam enjoys the reputation of being one of the most lucrative and productive agricultural areas globally with an agriculture output of  about 20% of the country’s GDP in 2012, and 24% in 2000 (Le, T. & Chinvanno, S. 2011, p.1). In recent years, however, food safety has become a concern (World Bank, 2016, p.13) because the proportion of those engaged in agriculture has dwindled due to rapid urbanization and industrialization in Vietnam. It is expected to hit some 50 percent by 2025 (World Bank, 2016, p. 14), leaving only about 77 percent of the workforce in Laos, 54 percent in Vietnam, and 30 percent in Thailand to cultivate the land (Ingalls, M.L. et al. 2018). Nonetheless, the low altitude and the flat topography of the Mekong delta subjects its inhabitants to serious various multilevel natural, economic, political and social impacts from harsh weather that causes seasonal droughts, flooding, and saline intrusion etc., thereby pushing more young people from the Mekong delta to migrate to Ho Chi Minh City to take advantage of the urbanization and industrialization (Summer School and Field Trip Guidebook, 2019, P.15).

Binh Tan District is a modern industrial hub in Ho Chi Minh City. It was calved from Binh Chanh. Due to urbanization and industrialization, its population exploded from 254,364 in 2003 to 629,368 in 2012. 51.1% of the entire population are internal migrant workers. And 70% are from Mekong Delta. Because of this the infrastructure are over stress and other social problems loomed (Summer School and Field Trip, 2019, P.12). According to Oxfam Briefing (2015), for example, Vietnamese ethnic minorities are not having a fair share of Vietnam's development, while the affluence gained more from its continued economic growth.

With regards to the above, from March 23rd to March 27th, 2019, myself (as an African) and a team of researchers from reputable European and Southeast Asian Universities and experts from different walks of life stormed Binh Tan district in Vietnam to explore how the ongoing process of urbanization, and industrialization constitute a development problem that triggers social inequality in the region. The objective was to explore which specific social inequality issues help to paint a relatively general picture of the dimensions and the plight of the Mekong Delta migrant workers in various districts of Ho Chi Minh City of Vietnam for recommendations. And as a TDR project, the researchers were opportune to interact and co-work with non-academic stakeholders and actors (although under serious state security scrutiny) in trans-disciplinary perspectives in the numerous field sites.

This paper is not intended to give a comprehensive account of social inequality in Binh Tan district in general, but focus on the dimensions identified by the workers, the academic researchers and the nonacademic researchers themselves based on the finding and insights gained from the fieldwork and field trip applicability in the study. 


TDR Applicability and Challenges

Using knowledge co-production technique from the framing phase, to the implementation, and to the data interpretation stage of the study, my team collaborated with non-academic stakeholders, migrant workers and community leaders with relevant local knowledge to examine any existing social inequality dimensions created by the rapid urbanization and industrialization within the research area (Binh Tan district), Ho Chi Minh city.

As a transdisciplinary research study (TDR), throughout the framing, implementation and data interpretation stages of the research, knowledge co-production technique was used in collaboration with academic researchers, non-academic stakeholders, migrant workers and community leaders with relevant local knowledge about the issue studied. For an in-depth understanding of the issue, the study combines transdisciplinarity and intersectionality research methods and argues that accommodation, access to education and health care, wage and gender discrimination, social cohesion remain some of the key social inequality dimensions plights of the peri urban (sub-urban) Mekong delta migrant workers Binh Tan district. These social inequality dimensions intersect each other, which makes it even complicated.

In fact, Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus and milieus aggregate states of capital approach to the concept of capital, that defines inequality as the probability of an individual to access various social, economic, cultural, and symbolic sorts of capital was introduce to the issues alongside” human security perspectives. The aims was to provide a firmed conceptual framework to guide the framing, implementation and interpretation phases of the study as strategy for producing socially relevant knowledge. According to Alkire, (2003), the 1994 Human Development Report defines human security as “people-centered and concerned with how people live and breathe in a society, how freely they exercise their many choices, how much access they have to market and social opportunities – and whether they live in conflict or in peace.” (Alkire, 2003, p.13). Therefore, to operationalize the meaning of social inequality within this context, I will once again define social inequality as social construct that attempts to institutionalized disparity among people within a culture (Binh Tan district in this context) in accessing available political, economic and social resource cum opportunities, etc. Perhaps, a further paragraphed or sub definition of the 1994 Human Development Report as put forward by Alkire will also help to drive it all home as “a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, a job that was not cut, an ethnic tension that did not explode in violence, a dissident who was not silenced. It is not a concern with weapons – it is a concern with human life and dignity.” (Alkire, 2003, p.13). This conceptual grid also serves as a lens that influences the researchers’ reflections, investigation, empirical analysis, and data interpretation of the data collected in Binh Tan district during three days fieldwork.                                                                                                              

Unfortunately, because of the socialist orientation, neither did  the above definition nor the knowledge gained from training sessions served a quick fix to bridge the knowledge gap about ‘social inequality’ by our Vietnamese partners. Therefore, one of the difficulties the research team confronted in the study was how to craft an acceptable thematic definition of what constitute social inequality through the lenses of the Vietnamese without either running into problems with the authorities and the non-academic stakeholders or breaking completely away from expected contributions academic pedagogies and expertise brings into the research field. This was very important because to understand any society, organization, or communities, networks, and gatherings of social interactions etc., TDR necessitates a local grasp of the patterns of the existing variables studied within the society. This is partly because the uniqueness of the social inequality dimensions, for example, varies from societies to societies depending on existing power relation structure, hierarchy, economic and political system, including development factors.

For example, the Vietnamese non-academic stakeholders argue that natural disasters issues, conflicts, and globalization can easily trigger emigration, immigration, health, and accommodation problems that mediate different structures in the Mekong delta. And working in the peri urban areas provided them with better alternatives that should not necessarily be seen as social inequality problem within their context.

In fact, after over three hours of debate and meaning negotiation, one could comfortably define social inequality as socially constructed phenomenon triggered by power-relation-structure that consciously or unconsciously endorsed uneven access to various social resources within a society. It ranges from unequal access to natural resources, to education, shelter, jobs, income, social cohesion, credit, health care, and, movement, and social opportunities, otherwise known as social capital. This meaning captures the basic attributes of the social fabrics of the Mekong delta workers communities in Binh Tan district.


The Push and Pull Factors  

To understand the migrant workers motivation to move to Bin Tanh district, the researchers connect abstract scientific and case specific knowledge and integration of experience based knowledge by first examining what push factors (natural disaster and migration issues) and pull factors (the quest for greener pasture) influence their choice to migrate to Binh Tan District and fund a hybrid of environmental, economic and social factors. And it was also discovered that the quest for greener pasture arose from the impact of natural disaster on the Mekong delta region. Socially, some migrated because city life elevates their status within their local communities. Other posit that it brings them closer and reunite them with relatives and friend who flee home to the cities for better jobs. Some maintain that, economically, the jobs in the cities pay better than the hardship they endure in their local communities due to the loss of their livelihood from environmental impact.Besides, in a reflection on findings from other field trips groups during lunch break at Tham Quan Resort where all the researchers gathered, other groups attested that the local blamed the effects of countless upstream dams in China and Laos, previous poorly regulated sand mining that changed the flow for landslides that destroyed their livelihood. Others reported that the exploitation of the aquaculture resulted to water pollution and internal conflict. There was also a unanimous observation that the environmental impact of climate change exposed a serious challenge to the locals who depended on the stream and exposes them to untold sufferings from saline intrusion and soil erosion.Consequently, the huge impact on the unsustainability of the lives of the habitants in the Mekong led to outward internal migration problems in this area and its surrounding districts. Thus, considering the scale of development progress made in Vietnam in the last 25 to 30 years, most of the vulnerable Mekong delta residents have to migrate to the newly urbanized and industrialized districts such as Bin Tan district, Ho Chi Minh City, and Binh Duong for greener pasture (Nguyen, L.D., Raabe, K., & Grote, U. 2016.)

Accommodation and Social Cohesion

Vietnam is a country with obvious unfriendly house registration regulations and laws. It is therefore important that examining how such the status quo impact on the Mekong Delta Identity of the migrant workers in their daily struggle to cope with the existing (and any future) social inequality dimensions in their destination districts with specific interest in Binh Tan district from a human security perspective.

Using human security approach, the study found out that accommodation accessibility does not necessarily constitute actual social inequality problem, but the uniqueness of the physical structure, the size, the living condition, and the location of the accommodation are the actual factors that reinforce social inequality between the workers and the locals within the communities.      For example, the workers accommodations are often uniquely designed to be different from the locals’ accommodations around them, which psychologically consistently legitimized discrimination and reinforces a sense of stereotype of poverty that devalued the workers’ identity who live in these accommodations. In most cases, police regulations are pasted on the walls of their accommodations right in the communities as if they inhabitant are foreign migrants with little or no knowledge of such domestic laws or regulations, whereas they local accommodations are not.

In addition, the size of the accommodation is so small that, naturally, it restricts the workers from enjoying modern convenience that consume space at home and limit their choices to raise a larger family in there, even when they can afford it. It also forced those who have kids to send them back home where they receive little or no education. This thereby reproduces the cycle of social inequality among the Mekong Delta migrant workers whose kids lacks the potentials to break the poverty circle in the future due to deprivation caused by the size of their accommodations.

Also, though the workers are often happy that they have a place to live in as accommodation, however, the living condition of the accommodation is often not livable or good enough in comparison with the locals around them. For instance, the kitchen is located right next to the toilet and bathroom within the 20 square meters unit with little or no source of ventilation for air to circulate around the rooms, despite the Vietnamese construction law stipulating 15 – 16 square meters per individual (Pham Manh Hungin, a Vietnamese architect, in a private conversation, 2019,  March 28).  Because of these difficulties, most of them cannot stand staying inside their rooms in the afternoon. In fact, few of them were compelled to buy air conditioners irrespective of their little earnings.

Furthermore, the accommodations are often located in the outskirts of the city in a secluded area of the neighborhood, with most of them located in the slumps where the landlord take advantage of them by either inflating the utility bills or the rent. The choice of the location naturally keeps them away from accessing key infrastructures such as hospitals, schools, and malls. According to one migrant worker who works in Mr. Namh’s recycling company, her thirteen years son has not been going to school because she has never been informed of any school around where he could go to school. She also testified that her family has only accessed the hospital once when her husband came down with a lung infection problem in the entire nine years she has spent in that area. These couples live in a small unit directed attached to the walls of the recycling factory where the entire smell from the chemicals from the recycled plastics is the only refreshing air in the room.

Besides, even PouYuen Industrial complex also acknowledges the distance as a problem. Thus, the company provides its workers with transportation to and from work daily. However, when the workers leave for work and there is no school around for their kids, they are left with no options than to send them back to their grandparents thereby limiting their children potentials to receive good education and interact with their peers in the cities. Consequently, their identity is devalued and are often stereotype as people who are lazy, despite that fact that they do most of the odd and hard jobs in some of the most hash conditions in the district. They are also seen as people who cannot save money, even though most of them earn higher wages that the locals but spent their earnings to support their grandparents and children in their villages who cannot fit into their accommodation due the small size, distance to school, and the poor living conditions that are not good enough to leave a child behind for work. All of these resulted to a social cohesion problem whereby they are often not allowed to join women unions, makes friends with the locals or celebrate any key festivals together with the locals.

Wage Discrimination

Commenting on the issue of wage, Mr. Namh (a company recycling manager and a non-academic stakeholder in the study) affirmed that the majority of the migration workers earned low wages (about 23,000 VDN hourly) with most of them working without official labor contracts and health insurance due to the bureaucratic bottleneck involved in the process. Besides, gender is a determinant factor in wage payment as men are often paid higher than their female counterparts, which the respondents also attested.

According to (2018), data from the Report on national wage in 2017, shows Vietnamese Work from 1.1.2017 to 31.12.2017: Monthly minimum wage of a labor in Ho Chi Minh city: 10,370,000 VND ($456) nearly 124,440,000 VND/year, 38% higher than average of the country, meanwhile, monthly maximum wage of a labor in Ho Chi Minh city is $791 ( & Ta 2016). Moreover, the General Statistical Office of Vietnam, caps the average wage of a Vietnamese worker in 2017 at 6,500,000 VND/person/month. In 2018, for example, the Vietnamese General Confederation of Labor announced survey report of labor, salary, income, expense and life of workers and the region-specific base pay of enterprises in 2018 adjustment. The survey showed that the average salary of Workers in Free-trade and industrial zones stood at 4,78 million VND; average income: 6,2 Million VND.  Ms. Babeth Ngoc Han Lefur, Director of Oxfam in Vietnam also declared that more than 50% of the non-official workers do not have a stable job, especially the vendors. She maintained that their average base pay could not afford their basic needs ( & Oxfam, 2015).


Social Opportunity

According to the respondents (community leaders and Pou Yuen manager), the majority of workers working in industrial parks and export processing zones are migrant workers. Therefore, migrant workers and their children face difficulties in accessing basic social security services. To be precise, up to 71% of these migrant workers lacked access to public health services at their destination where they work. And 21.2% of children between the ages of 6 and 14 years migrate alongside their parents to their destinations but are often left behind without access to school. The report stated that only 7.7% of migrant children attend public kindergartens, while 12% attend public preschools (, 2018). Contrary to the official figures, most of the migrant confirmed they have to send their kids back home to stay with their parents because the schools are either expensive or the house registration process deprive the kids access to kindergartens or primary school in their destinations. We spoke with a woman whose thirteen years old boy only stays at home daily without going to school. When asked how she feels about the future of her son, she broke into tears and said “it is very sad”. She confessed that she has never been told there could be such opportunity for her son around in the last nine years she moved in to work in that company (Oxfam Vietnam, 2015).

Gender Discrimination

The report "World Employment and Social Prospects - Women's Trends" 2018 published by the International Labor Organization (ILO), showed that Vietnam belongs to a group of countries with a representative proportion of women participating in the labor force. However, income disparity between female and male workers remains a setback in employment (ILO, 2018). The report shows that Vietnamese women rate is 72%, higher than the world average (49%), the Asian average and the middle-income group. low. Female workers in Vietnam account for 48.4% of the total labor force. However, the proportion of women in Vietnam is 9% lower than that of men. There are currently 7.8 million female workers working in the informal sector with unsecured working conditions. The proportion of female workers in the informal sector that are often subjected to vulnerable work is up to 59.6%, while men is 31.8%. The report also indicates that female workers are in a lower position than men in the employment strata. Women account for 26.1% of leadership positions only, but contribute to 52.1% of unskilled work force and 66.6% of family workers nationally. This indicate that women access to career growth opportunities are limited when compared to men. In addition, in the area of foreign enterprises, male workers have a tendency of signing an indefinite labor contract of up to 73.91% while for female workers enjoy only 67.67%. (ILO, 2018).        

In a nutshell, while the accommodation plights remain unrecognized as social inequality and development problem due to language difference and knowledge gap among the migrant workers, their employers and landlords in the beginning of the study, the gaps were bridged by creating a thematic definition of the concept via knowledge co-production while interpreting the available research data. Finally, it was acknowledged that social inequality existed between the migrant workers and the locals in the district (Oxfam, 2017). Also, accommodation unavailability does not constitute the causes social inequality among the workers per se in Bin Tanh district, rather social inequality is reinforced by inequality of voice and opportunity, with the migrant workers excluded in favor of the rich and the locals around them. These workers (migrants and informal workers, and women) are more likely to remain poor, excluded from services and political decision making, and shall continue to face discrimination if nothing is done to help them.

As a recommendation, Ho Chi Minh Municipal Government should work with central government in Hanoi to urgently implement progressive policies on good governance, simplify the house registration, introduce efficient taxation, simplify employment contracts, increase public spending and public services to enhance universal health care, respect and protect labor rights, and increase advocacy for civic engagement in Bin Tanh district etc., to enable the poor benefit from the wealth from the industrialization and urbanization.



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World Bank (2016). Transforming Vietnamese Agriculture: Gaining More from Less.

Vietnam Development Report. Washington, D.C. World Bank.

BLOG: "Transdisciplinary: Not interdisciplinary; not multidisciplinary; not disciplinary?"

By Sara K. Phillips


I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

Plato, The Republic

In 2015, Jay Hillel Bernstein described transdisciplinarity as “a change in thinking about research and education challenging the division of academic labor into traditional disciplines such as English, sociology, or geology” (p. 1). In essence, transdisciplinary research questions conventional pathways of knowledge creation and, despite its name, aspires to a space of non-disciplinarity. Participants are encouraged to work outside the confines of specific discipline-oriented academic training and embrace a “socially robust” (Nowotny, 2001, p. 4) epistemological approach, where research methodologies are combined and questions bloom from what Nowotny refers to as contextualization, or “bringing people into knowledge production” (p. 3). Transdisciplinarity is an inclusive approach to the pursuit of knowledge; however, for the trained researcher, the process may feel enigmatic, like walking into the abyss, armed with little more than one’s positionality in the world. This unconventional approach to research can seem like a messy and chaotic symphony of methodological approaches; yet, within this forest, you find the trees, and the approach reveals itself to be adaptive and responsive, albeit time intensive and somewhat mystifying.

Before continuing further, it should be noted that my own experience with transdisciplinary research is limited. Limited to two weeks, in fact. The first week spent in training and the second, in the field. I liken myself to an experimental case study: pluck the discipline-oriented academic from behind the desk, drop her into the deep end of the pool, and see how long she can tread water. However, as a trained legal professional and social science researcher, the transdisciplinary approach was not a large intellectual leap for me. Within the field of jurisprudence, legal pluralism and the study of society-law relationships reveals the complex dynamics within which the law operates. It is not simply a group of principles born from the four walls of a courtroom or the hallowed halls of the legislature (though that is part of it), but rather layered and socially constructed concepts that emerge over time and space. Like the transdisciplinary approach to research, the law is anchored to people, and the production of knowledge occurs in a pluralistic, multileveled fashion.

I am not here advocating that law is somehow created or conceptualized in the way that a project rooted in the transdisciplinary approach would be, only that characteristically, there are similarities between the two. Nevertheless, the law also exists as a unique and separate discipline. This discipline includes rigorous training in the analysis and reading of the law, the writing and construction of arguments, and a complex and purposeful space for philosophical contemplation of the field. Hence, the law has specific research methodologies and ethical considerations when a trained jurist chooses to undertake fieldwork and conduct research which directly interacts with, or impacts upon, people. It is thus as much a specific discipline as anthropology or engineering, among others, and includes its own version of knowledge production, research methods, ontologies, and epistemological approaches.

What I have described above could apply to any number of specific disciplinary fields. Each discipline may have overlapping characteristics that can be drawn upon to more readily embrace the transdisciplinary approach to research. Similarly, every field of study will entail a certain ontological structure and likely, a definitive means by which knowledge is generated. It is perhaps these two contrasting aspects of disciplinarity that provide space for the transdisciplinary project to grow. If we are cognizant of our own positionality as researchers, then perhaps we can find areas where our training will help, not hinder, our efforts in breaching barriers, confronting bias, and embracing inclusivity as a research method.

The process of incorporating (and accepting) knowledge generated from outside academic and scientific communities has long been in the making. In Canada, the incorporation of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) into environmental impact assessments is a specific, delineated legal requirement. Despite this, TEK is often not recognized as an equally authoritative form of knowledge as compared with other science-based inputs. TEK may be information that is gathered over generations – able to provide pertinent historical details of the natural ebb and flow of a particular ecosystem; whereas, for example, scientific measurements may be limited to a specific point on the long and rich timeline of a given biome.


In Southeast Asia, the Thai Baan approach is perhaps the most well-known example of transdisciplinary research in practice. The approach creates citizen researchers, where community members document their own social, ecological, and economic conditions, ultimately creating an informational narrative that is produced by the individuals themselves. As the Living River Siam Association explains:

Thai Baan research … has recently emerged as a counter-hegemonic approach, aiming to reveal local knowledge about the environment and how villagers interact with it. It reveals their practical understanding of the complexity and dynamics of natural resources, the way resources have been used, and the moral economy of those who depend on them for their livelihoods (Thai Baan Research, n.d.).

The Thai Baan approach does not negate the role of the formal researcher, but rather, elevates the function of the community participants. This has several benefits for all research contributors. The body of knowledge generated is more robust, with an increased likelihood to generate practical uses and informed outcomes. The process also works to defy entrenched power dynamics, creating new pathways for empowerment and solution-making.

It is at this juncture that it is perhaps most prudent to consider the potential challenges to utilizing a transdisciplinary approach in research. I have thus far painted a picture of the method through a somewhat rose-coloured lens. In truth, it is difficult to argue with the approach when applied to research that seeks a greater understanding of the human condition. Who, after all, is better equipped to tell one’s story than the community and individuals themselves? What better way to decipher the narrative of an issue than to ordain multiple authors? If only it were so simple.

Despite the above-described successes and inclusive nature of the approach, transdisciplinary research can still result in muddled power dynamics, questionable data, and unclear expectations. Moreover, transdisciplinary research will necessitate time, lots of time. The approach emphasizes the notion that the research question will emanate from research participants themselves. Thus, while an awareness of the issues facing a target community is undoubtedly required, identifying what the community needs, or what challenges are a priority to them, will emerge from the individuals with whom a researcher is engaged. It is a recipe that requires equal parts patience, time, funding, and trust (which is usually the result of time).

As stated above, power dynamics, positionality, and expectations are also potential obstacles to achieving reliable research results when undertaking transdisciplinary fieldwork. It may often be the case that a researcher is unable to escape the positionality of one’s place in the world, creating dynamics that complicate interactions amongst participants. Further, research participants may be unable to embrace the transdisciplinary process due to social, cultural, or political factors that negate the ability to candidly discuss issues related to a given topic. This may mean that identifying research objectives is an impossibility due to barriers to free expression or other forms of formal and informal censorship. There may also be cultural and social practices that prevent certain persons from engaging in research activities, and it may be difficult to determine and interpret the nuances of interpersonal interactions.

Despite the potential hindrances, there is much to be gained from undertaking a research project utilizing transdisciplinary methods. In the brief time I spent in the field attempting to implement such a project, I was readily made aware of its potential. As an approach to research, transdisciplinarity provides the ultimate flexibility to improvise techniques that meet the needs or desires of research participants. Perhaps it can best be described as creative in that it is, in essence, a creation of the circumstances and persons with whom the approach interacts.


In the Field

As we drove our van deeper into the Mekong River Delta region, I wondered what awaited us. Armed with my preparatory knowledge of the issues we would investigate, I still felt I knew relatively little about what lay ahead. The topics of research were salinity intrusion and climate change adaptation, but as the study progressed, it became clear that the issues were actually: salinity intrusion and climate change; and land ownership; and agrochemicals; and migration; and livelihoods; and gender; and ethnicity; and structural; and cultural; and more. The question then became, what can we accomplish in the short time that we have? To undertake a substantive examination of the area would take months. We were given days. It would thus seem beneficial to let nature take its course, so to speak, and see where the research led us.


The uniqueness of the transdisciplinary approach was that we were no longer confined to the strictures of a predetermined course of research. We were gumshoe investigators of a sort, led by the people with whom we interacted. These interactions introduced us to the complexities that are inbuilt to the climate change challenge. Through interviews with various stakeholders, including government, community leaders, farmers, laborers, and small business owners, a narrative of the area began to emerge – one built on multileveled knowledge input that was guided by the process rather than a specific research question.


The flexibility that is inherent to the transdisciplinary approach provided the opportunity to delve into related issues that may otherwise have been omitted or neglected. For example, during an interview of a land-owning farmer, a female farmhand sat beside me and quietly told me her story. Her story was not one specifically related to salinity intrusion, but rather a narrative of the ways in which changes to the climate and ecological environment had impacted her life. The stability of her livelihood became altered, necessitating migration and separation from her family, which she unhesitatingly linked to the changing climate conditions. Thus, our transdisciplinary research project assumed various subtopics, shaped by the context of our interactions with people.


Final Thoughts

I close this blog posting with a final thought. The inclusive character of transdisciplinary research is arguably of paramount importance when addressing expansive and broad reaching issues, such as climate change. Transdisciplinary research should not be seen as a challenge to existing forms of research and knowledge generation, but rather as complementary and evolutionary. There is a strong argument to be made for research that is firmly situated within a certain discipline and that follows the rigors of that discipline; however, it cannot therefore be understood that only knowledge generated through a specific pathway has value. This is, at its very core, a logical fallacy. What transdisciplinarity offers us is innovation. Like the universe itself, perhaps approaches to research, whether mono, inter, multi, pluri, or trans, should always be growing.


Works Cited

Bernstein, J.H. (2015). Transdisciplinarity: A review of its origins, development, and current issues. Journal of Research Practice, 11(1), Article R1. Retrieved from

Living River Siam Association (n.d.). Thai Baan Research. Retrieved from

Nowotny, H. (2001). The Potential of Transdisciplinarity. Retrieved from

BLOG: "KNOTS Summer School: Mae Chaem/ Baan Mae Sa"

Written by Thu Thu Swe


Five students, three professors, two interpreters and one field trip leader went to Mae Chaem/ Ban Mae Sa as field trip for trans-disciplinary research under KNOTS project from 22 – 26 July 2018.  This paper is a detailed report of the field trip and experiences gained.

Thu Thu 1.jpg

Background Information about Mae Chaem/ Ban Mae Sa

Mae Chaem district is about 115 kilometers west of Chiang Mai City. Its elevation ranges from 400 to 2,565 meters above the mean sea level. Over 70 percent of the district area is mountainous with relatively small arable land. There are five major ethnic groups living in this area: Lua, Karen, Hmong, Lisu, Northern Thai. The main field trip area, Mae Chaem village, has a population of around 850 persons in 214 households. Among the 850 persons, 400 are women. The majority of people are Karen Christians. Their main sources of income are corn plantation, weaving, planting passion fruit and beans, and raising livestock.

Actually, the main income for Mae Chaem/ Ban Mae Sa is planting corn but has caused a severe amount of forest degradation. Soil is damaged further due to the heavy use of fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. So the villagers want to change livelihood of corn plantation to other alternative livelihoods. Additionally, villagers have attempted to emphasize weaving, but there is no market for the product. Therefore villagers continue to plant corn even though they are aware of the environmental impact, particularly the haze issue when the cornfields are burned after cultivation. CP Company purchases corn from the village, creating a demand but making it difficult for the village to transition to any other alternative livelihood.

Fieldtrip Location

Our research team was accommodated in two guesthouses close to each other. The location allowed for a very relaxed atmosphere, which was very useful for the first day in order to exchange information, get to know each other, and informally discuss what will be expected of us. In the village the roads are not good due to the mountainous terrain and there is no electricity. Moreover, although there are many cell service providers in Thailand, in this village, only True Mobile service is available. Thus, it is observed that villagers in mountainous areas do not have choices like people in the urban areas.

Research Question

Our research team did not have much time to learn about all of the issues in the field trip area, so we had just one research question: What are the main challenges in Mae Chaem/ Ban Mae Sa?

Research Methodology

Our research team applied various kinds of research methodology with current and former village heads, leaders of women’s groups, leaders of the youth group, representatives for social enterprises, and representatives from the Forest Conservation Community.

The research methods utilized include:

1.      Observation

2.      Participatory Observation

3.      In-depth interview

4.      Focused group discussion

5.      Social mapping


Our research team applied observation methodology in weaving and wood walking along the village. The research team found out by using the observation method that researchers can learn sensitive information simply by observing it themselves. On the other hand, information gathered by observation can be weak and misleading. For example, one of the members of our research team observed by herself in her homestay family that her homestay father and mother do not speak Karen Language, thus, she observes villagers do not maintain their culture. In reality, the homestay father is not Karen, thus, they cannot communicate with each other with Karen language. Therefore, the research team found out that when researchers use observation method, they need to double check the information they gain from observation by comparing with other research methodologies, for example in-depth interviews.

Participatory Observation

The research team applied participatory observation in rice farming and discovered that through this method, researchers can get truth from villagers as they are more likely to speak openly about their situations and problems. However, the research team faced some difficulty when trying to take notes and photos.

In-depth Interview

The research team utilized in-depth interviews with current and former village heads, leaders of women’s groups, leaders of the youth group, representatives for social enterprises, and representatives from the Forest Conservation Community. In-depth interviews allowed the researchers to get specific information and facilitated the double-checking of information gathered during observation.

Focus Group Discussion

The research team also applied focus group discussion with the village head, leaders of women’s groups and leaders of the youth group. The topic for the focus group discussion was livelihood security in Mae Chaem / Ban Mae Sa. By doing focus group discussion, the researchers can get various perspectives on one issue. On the other hand the discussion can be hard to control, therefore the research team decided that a facilitator is necessary for such method.

Thu Thu 15.jpg

Social Mapping

Through utilization of social mapping methodology, the research team received logical information and history of the village in detail. On the other hand, when researchers use social mapping it is important to note that often villagers cannot recall all memories and history.

Thu Thu 16.jpg


The research found out the main challenges for Mae Chaem / Ban Mae Sa are ecological challenges, social/cultural changes, and economic challenges. These three issues are related with each other as villagers are trying to change their livelihoods from crop planting to other alternative livelihoods for their income, namely weaving, coffee plantation, family rice and livestock. But, at present, there is no market for weaving, thus, villagers use online marketing, a kind of modernization, to sell their weaving products and when visitors come to village, weaving products are sold. By using the internet, the villagers learned about modern clothes and they began to understand that young people do not really want to wear Karen traditional clothes even though their products are traditional. Moreover, the newer generations cannot speak Karen language very well. These are social/cultural challenge for villagers in Mae Chaem/ Ban Mae Sa village due to modernization.

Because of crop plantation, deforestation is increasing which further catalyzes ecological change. Therefore, villagers want to maintain their ecological system, but they do not know how. Thus, many outside groups, namely government, banks and NGOs, come to the village. For government, staff from government comes to village to solve ecological problems they are not really effective. For bank, banks know CP Company comes to the village to buy corn, so, banks give loan for villagers to buy car and other facilities, and to build houses. When they receive money from corn plantation, they give back to bank to pay off the loan. Therefore, when the research team arrived in Mae Chaem/ Ban Mae Sa village, one main problem is the cycle of loans & repayment. We found out that almost every household has loans.

Since all villagers know that planting corn has a negative impact on the environment, they are trying to plant more coffee and bamboo, but not only is there not a market for them like there is for corn, but also the soil is not good for planting coffee and bamboo. Therefore, the research team found this to be an economic challenge for the villagers.

Finally, the research team surprisingly found out that villagers do not have a sense of inequality because when we asked who is the richest and poorest in this village, they do not know the meaning of “rich and poor”, they replied all people are the same.


All villagers requested the research team to spread awareness about their lifestyle, livelihoods, their challenges and difficulties. They mentioned there are many CSOs and researchers that come to village to observe, but then just disappear. So the villagers told the research team that they need support from various sectors who can send people to live in the village for a longer term and observe their situations. At present though, there are many outsiders that come to the village and observe but they do not help the village with anything. Therefore, the villagers want to meet with outsiders who can stay in the village for long time and provide support for them.

BLOG: "KNOTS Summer School: The Benefits of Using Transdisciplinary Research for Impacting Policy Change

KNOTS Summer School: The Benefits of Using Transdisciplinary Research for Impacting Policy Change

Written by Robert Irven

Project Manager, Center for Social Development Studies, Chulalongkorn University


TAM DAO, VIETNAM (Credit: R. Irven)

TAM DAO, VIETNAM (Credit: R. Irven)

The 2017 KNOTS Summer School program kicked off in mid-September with students from an array of Southeast Asian universities converging in Tam Dao, Vietnam to join professors and experts from both European and Asian universities to learn both the theory and practice behind transdisciplinary methods. After a week of formal workshops and seminars in the misty mountains of north Vietnam, the group traveled to Duong Lam UNESCO World Heritage Village to put into practice what they learned and engage further with the community there for another week.

While initially difficult to grasp and often equally hard to plan and implement, the foundations and practice of transdisciplinary research have the important ability to create more inclusive and impactful projects, better benefitting the community and transferring knowledge to multiple parties. In a development climate where community engagement, particularly of the most marginalized populations, justice seeking and empowerment have become the goals of practitioners and increasingly, researchers, utilizing a transdisciplinary methodology and mindset can help achieve the goals of both scientists and participants, closing the gap that often exists in such settings. Throughout the training and subsequent field work, I not only found the methodology sessions but also the conversations and debates incredibly insightful for my own work, research and future goals. As someone who has taken up work in the development sector with a particular interest in giving voices to members of society long forgotten, ignored or targeted, I believe employing transdisciplinary methods is something that will more easily allow me to achieve those goals.


Summer School Reflections



During the second day of training a discussion in one of my breakouts centered around whether researchers can also serve as activists, something I found very insightful and inspiring. In my own experience, I would say that research/academia often seems quite disconnected from the subjects or calls for justice they seek and the outputs are often presented in a way that prevents the average person from understanding or connecting with the research. The split between academia and non-academia is troubling and with more access to media and information through technology and the internet, this should be leveraged whenever possible, and a transdisciplinary methodology can help fix this and transform academia into a more engaged sector. Not all researchers consider themselves activists and vice versa, but I believe their goals are often aligned and both can learn from each other and learn a lot from using transdisciplinary design and subsequent research methods.

The benefits of conducting research (or activism) using transdisciplinary methods does not come without its many challenges, often presenting themselves at the very beginning. One of the biggest issues I could perceive facing in my own projects in aligning goals (both professional and personal) of a large research team as well as incorporating/creating inclusive collaborations with the community. Setting clear lines of communication and a strong upfront work plan is one way to tackle this issue from the start, and openness and monitoring said goals needs to continue throughout the project. Particularly working with multi-national teams who contain vast yet diverse ideas and experiences is a strength to any project, but it must also be acknowledged that these characteristics also pose a threat to cohesion and understanding of a shared project.

Overall I would say a largely important underlying characteristic of a successful transdisciplinary methodology would be partnerships and communication, both throughout a research team as well as between the multitude of relevant topics and potential engagement opportunities that can present themselves during fieldwork. If one can think of research like a map, all potential routes and ways of transport should be explored if the goal is a non-biased framing and inclusive implementation. While difficult, this method will serve to boost a team’s final products/outputs and hopefully the goals of the stakeholders also involved in the project. This also allows for a mutual learning process rather than simply an informed public, which is one of the goals of transdisciplinary methods. After reflecting on just a few of the topics discussed in the two-week session, I would say that I feel much more confident and prepared to conduct meaningful and effective research in the future. Seeing this topic as an upward trend is also very inspiring to me as it shows that research is evolving with the times and this will hopefully allow for information and knowledge to continue spreading despite more recent, yet isolated instances of attempted silencing and suppression by those who do not see value or validity in scientific information. By further broadening the scope and stakeholders involved in research, more people will now not only be able to gain access to the information, but more people will see direct benefits from the actual research conducted, and this should be celebrated as a victory for researchers, activists and the community alike. 


Impacting Policy

Although not all research aims to affect/change policy, the underlying understanding of using transdisciplinary research methods is that it has the inherent ability to more effectively impact formal mechanisms and institutions, due to its inclusivity of multiple, often community-oriented stakeholders and the researchers’ desire to provide a voice to marginalized/ignored populations in society. This concept of “engaged academia” appears to be on the rise, as more people seek to not only publish, but make more tangible and significant impacts with their work, something I believe is an important shift needed now more than ever. With science and hard facts increasingly on the defense, researchers need to continue to transform along their methods to stay relevant and connect to the larger community. The act of incorporating a wide and diverse set of stakeholders into the planning and research phases creates a more comprehensive group invested in the results of the project, and this evidence-based reporting is then seen as more legitimate, thus having a greater impact on policy makers. Moreover, if government/local officials are brought into the research at the early, planning stages, they will also be more invested in the outcomes and the feeling of inclusion throughout will hold their interest which can often be a challenge when it comes to academia. This notion of engaging policy makers in the long run is important for shaping policy and if it is the goal of a researcher to do so, transdisciplinary research should be given a priority when designing a study.



BLOG: "Transdisciplinary Research at KNOTS Summer School, Tam Dao, Vietnam"

Transdisciplinary Research at KNOTS Summer School, Tam Dao, Vietnam


Written by Mukda Pratheepwatanawong

Researcher of Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University



The Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies (KNOTS) Summer School at Tam Dao, Vietnam, had identified various research issues and potential research projects to approach many development challenges in Southeast Asian countries; of which are related to climate change, social inequality, rivers, forest, and ecotourism. Transdisciplinary Studies, require a significant amount of time, funding, and necessary skills to approach, develop and conduct research in the context of researcher’s interest. Being away from the busy urban areas of Vietnam, the KNOTS summer school at Tam Dao provided intense lectures to diverse group of participants on developmental issues in Southeast Asia countries. Being co-funded by Erasmus+ Program - European Union, professors from different universities in Europe, Thailand, and Vietnam - that are doing transdisciplinary research, took this opportunity to contribute their findings, clarified various key issues on transdisciplinary research and transferred their knowledge to the next generation of researchers. This essay attempts to provide an overview of transdisciplinary research and a personal reflection on the KNOTS summer school at Tam Dao.


Overview of Transdisciplinary Research

To begin with, researchers who are interested or considered using transdisciplinary method for their research can start by thinking and planning their research with the following three questions: 1. Why do you want to do the research? 2. What do you want to know in the research?  3. What do you want to know about the research?  I left out the word “exactly” in these questions because transdisciplinary research is an exploratory approach. Often, researchers would start off by having a very broad knowledge and understanding about the topic and the context of the study. Therefore, this part of transdisciplinary research would involve more of thinking and brainstorming process, in order to diverge research ideas and questions to explore possible connection between them. (These questions were developed through group works with other Thais and Vietnamese participants in the summer school, under the supervision / facilitation of Professor Michael Kleinod)

The thinking and brainstorming process starts with the question on “Why do you want to do the research?”. This part serves as the establishment of the study and the reason for such establishment might be due to existing or previous research projects did not work out well, did not identify the core issues or did not solve the intended problems. Therefore, transdisciplinary research can be used as a comprehensive approach to explore the area that the researcher is interested in. For example, if a target location is a non-tourist place and villagers there are living at poverty level, the researcher should gather more information and data about the place and its standard of living, before suggesting the place to attract tourism. If converting into a tourism place is what the researcher aims for, then the researcher should further consider about alternative options such as ecotourism or cultural tourism for the local community.

With regards to the question on “What do you want to know in the research?”, this question goes one step deeper to identify the fundamental information regarding stakeholders, cultures, and existing problems within the context of the study. For example, come back to the case of ecotourism, the researcher might want to have discussions with different people in the local community to find out their opinions on converting the target location into ecotourism. In addition, it would be interesting to find out people’s opinion on ecotourism and their understanding about it. Besides, it is important to understand the social structure and the social relationship within in the local community.

Lastly, based on the question of “How to do the research?”, this part involves more of a Social Science research methodology; which considers different ways in which data can be collected. And this process depends on what type of information the researcher wants to know and who can the researcher gets the information from. To get information and opinion on development issues such as climate change, social inequality, rivers, forest and ecotourism from villagers, the researcher can consider adopting various data collection methods such as informal interviews and conversation, focus group interview, in-depth interview, survey, discussion group, documentation research and ethnography; depends on the context and types of people providing the information. It is important that researchers think about research ethics while collecting data.

Similar to other types of research, transdisciplinary research does not strictly follow step-by-step procedure. Therefore, the integration of each step might occur to gather information and develop the research. What is important about transdisciplinary research is to relate the information of each step to each other. And this comes with the consideration of time and money required to do the research

After being introduced and instructed on transdisciplinary research, it would be worth considering to adopt it for a PhD research, where students usually have sufficient amount of time, funding, and access to the target community. If the transdisciplinary approach and the PhD project succeed, the research will be original in contributing new knowledge to the existing literature review. However, having years to do a project can make PhD candidate become isolated and detach from their PhD process. Data collection and field work are as fundamental as contextualization and literature review of the thesis. But whether to use transdisciplinary research for a PhD project or not, one should definitely discuss with their supervisor or researchers who had used it before.


Reflection on KNOTS Summer School at Tam Dao

Although Tam Dao is far from the city center in Northern Vietnam, there were many things happening in the district. Apart from the international summer school that I was involved in, many local restaurants offer Karaoke as part of the entertainment and dinner in Tam Dao. There is a Chinese temple that my friends and I visited, which involved climbing up the mountain, and was exciting after being fed with Pho, Bun Cha and G7 coffee and other delicious Vietnamese food throughout the summer school. The summer school gave me the opportunity to appreciate and experience the local cultures of the district, the everyday life of the local community that I was in, which is an important start for someone who is interested to know more about Vietnam.

Coordinating and organizing a summer school can be possible but not every summer school can be successful. I would like to say here that the Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies Summer School at Tam Dao, was possible as well as successful as it involved efficient organization and cooperation from different universities, constantly working with one another to develop the projects, make decisions and solve problems that project face. The organizer and funder were thoughtful and sincere to let students and professors from different universities to collaborate and participate in this project. I heard that the next summer school for this project will be hosted by Chiang Mai University, and the summer school and the field trip will be somewhere in the Northern region of Thailand, which is a perfect place for summer school and field trip. The weather in Northern region of Thailand is cooler than in Bangkok and that region will allow participants to experience the local life of Thais of diverse background and ethnic groups. If the next summer school theme lies around transdisciplinary research, I will definitely recommend the summer school to postgraduate students, particularly those at the beginning of their PhD student or intend to do a PhD in the Social Science field, intending to explore into the topic that they are going to do for their research.

Although completing my PhD had enabled me to understand the standard required to contribute new research into my research field, I was still keen to learn about transdisciplinary research for my future research, which is becoming an important type of research to deal with deal in Social Science field. The summer school had provided a diverse identification of contemporary development and changes in Southeast Asian and provided me with many opportunities to share my research experience other postgraduate students and professors, enabling me to expand my research networking, which is beneficial for future research and funding purpose.

BLOG: "The Experiences Gained From Traveling and Studying Under "KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip 2017"

The Experiences Gained from Traveling and Studying Under

“KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip 2017”


Written By Pairin Makcharoen, PhD. Student (Political Science), Chulalongkorn University


"In a fast-changing world that is full of problems, difference, and transnational, the study based on transdisciplinary research is one of the best methods that can respond to such problems at present. Because we can understand things all-around without ignorance of little important things."

Photo: At present, there are renovations of important places built in the French colonial period. (1)

Photo: At present, there are renovations of important places built in the French colonial period. (1)

The project was funded by the European Commission's ERASMUS + program during 18-25 September in Vietnam. Although it was not my first trip to Vietnam, it cannot deny that this trip was very interesting and it had given me a lot of new experiences. The trip was started from the city where the school is located, Tam Dao City. Although it is not a famous city for tourists, but Tam Dao City is a very busy city for Vietnamese tourists, especially those who came from Hanoi on holidays. This is because Tam Dao is a city located on the top of mountains with cold weather throughout the years. Also, it is a city with stories and traces associated with the French colonies which are still with the cultures of native people as well. The charm of this city is the tranquility of the forest and natures on weekdays as well as the merriment on holidays.

Photo: Tam Dao City

Photo: Tam Dao City

Photo: At present, there are renovations of important places built in the French colonial period. (2)

Photo: At present, there are renovations of important places built in the French colonial period. (2)

In terms of substance, I had learned about transdisciplinary research as a guideline for the study of several issues which focuses on non-academic actors as well as consideration of issues studied in every aspect and in every dimension related including a guideline that encourages the integration of science and knowledge that explains and seeks resolutions for problems. Therefore, "In a fast-changing world that is full of problems, difference, and transnational, the study based on transdisciplinary research is one of the best methods that can respond to such problems at present. Because we can understand things all-around without ignorance of little important things”. This is because transdisciplinary research tries to deal with the complex world that has many processes, facets and impacts. Transdisciplinary research connects cross theoretical approach and body of literature reviews.

Photo: For Christian churches which are bustling and full of people on weekends, these places are currently for taking pre-wedding photos of Vietnamese couples.

Photo: For Christian churches which are bustling and full of people on weekends, these places are currently for taking pre-wedding photos of Vietnamese couples.

Photo: The Mahayana Buddhist temple which is located on the top of the mountain among nature.

Photo: The Mahayana Buddhist temple which is located on the top of the mountain among nature.

I am interested in migration and transnational migrants which are ones of the key issues of this project. Having conversations and exchanging ideas with other participants of the project who are interested in similar issues was like opening myself up to new visions in both width and depth. In the width, I had learned a lot about issues and case studies of migration and transnational migrants from other participants of the project from Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Austria, and the Czech Republic. This made me understand the context of migration of each country, similarity, difference, and the study method of each person. We had learned important words, such as 'Banana Child', a self-reference for Vietnamese children living in the Czech Republic, etc. In the depth, I had learned the method of transdisciplinary research and peer session participation. This had given me an insight of the complexity of migration which is related with economic aspects (such as home remittances and economic growth of migrants), political aspects (such as power, entitlement and exclusion of migrants), and social aspects (such as acceptance, interaction and assimilation between migrants and people in the community). Moreover, I had learned that, although the issue of migration is not a new issue, it is an issue with its own dynamic. We had anticipated new challenges that may arise and involved with migration, such as migration from environmental problems. In addition to migration issues, I also learned about other important issues, such as “environmental change and social inequality" additionally.

Photo: "I Love You" in Different Languages at sky garden, Tam Dao City

Photo: "I Love You" in Different Languages at sky garden, Tam Dao City

In this final part, I would like to thank all the parties who had implemented the project, especially for the course of Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy in International Development Studies (MAIDS-GRID), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. Joining this program was very beneficial to both learning, gaining new visions, including obtaining experiences, networks, and friendships from sharing ideas and working mutually with other participants. Most of all, it also contributed to the development of researching in the future.

BLOG: "2017 KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip - Where Ideas Innovate and Live" Written by Huong Ngoc Nguyen

2017 KNOTS summer school and field trip - Where ideas innovate and live

Written by Huong Ngoc Nguyen

MAIDS Alumni - Chulalongkorn University, Thailand


Two weeks ago, I joined the first summer school and field trip of the Fostering Multi-Lateral Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies to Tackle Global Challenges (KNOTS) project[1] in Tam Dao and Duong Lam, Vietnam. I still have mixed feelings about the trip until now.

Tam Dao – where ideas innovate

Our trip began with the one-week summer course in Tam Dao hill station, a summer retreat place for nearby urban habitants due to its cool climate and beautiful landscape. Although the town kept on satisfying me with its famous dishes “su su xào tỏi” – a fried leafy green vegetable with garlic, I felt sad while observing its changes during my stay there. 

My favorite dishes “su su xào tỏi”.  Source: Internet

My favorite dishes “su su xào tỏi”. Source: Internet

Memories in the past reminded me of Tam Dao as a small town located on the hilly mountain and surrounded by the natural forests, with only a few small hotels and facilities for tourists. At night, there were a few electric lights and not much entertainment so travelers often walked around the foggy town or into the forest up to the TV tower and tasted the misty and quite atmosphere, which made the sixteen-year-old girl (me) felt like “Alice in wonderland”. Instead of being thicken by forests, at the moment the “wonderland” has been mushroomed with lots of construction sites, hotels, villas, coffee shops, central square, etc. which are dense but disordered. They seem to be built without much planning.

High dense buildings in the town

High dense buildings in the town

Surprisingly, at weekend flocks of people jam-packed the town with interweaving sounds of the motorbikes from tour groups, the music from coffee shops and local radio, the loud from conversations, and the noise from construction sites. All blend together and make the town become chaotic. In spite of acknowledging that the changes is inevitable, I felt that the town has been put too much burden on its small shoulder and I wondered why this happened and what I can do.

Questions hanged on my mind, I turned energy to classes at the summer school of KNOTS where researchers, lecturers and graduate students from eight universities across Europe, Thailand and Vietnam exchange and discuss the transdisciplinary studies in tackling global challenges, especially in Southeast Asia. To me, KNOTS in general and the first summer school in particular are the promising environments to create networks of not only ideas but also people.

Participants of the first KNOTS summer school.  Source: KNOTS Facebook

Participants of the first KNOTS summer school. Source: KNOTS Facebook

First, high-density flow of ideas and knowledge has innovated during the intensive week of the summer school. Through appealing presentations, constructive discussions and team work, I have learnt that the more integrated the world become, the more complex and interlinked global development issues are. These challenging problems including human migration, environmental degradation and social inequality are not usually defined in such clear and tangible way due to different perspectives, contexts, and cultures. Consequently, it requires the mixture of different disciplines and participation of diverse actors to co-produce knowledge, ultimately to comprehensively and appropriately understand the complexity of the problems. This is considered as one of the key theme of transdipciplinary approaches. As a student interested in environmental issues, KNOTS’s summer school gave me the chance to learn, discuss and examine the transdipciplinary approaches through political ecology lens in researching on forest governance, ecotourism and river. Political ecology is understood as the combination between the disciplines of ecology and a broadly defined political economy which could help us not only understand the co-production between nature and society but also look for a chain of causality operating between the relation[1]. More notably, I have discovered some reasons answering for the chaos of current Tam Dao which are lack of co-management in tourism planning, the weakness of enforcement of forest management regulations and unclear buffer zone planning[2]. Looking deeper, the region including the town and surrounding national parks has confronted the issue of unequal distribution of forest land access due to local power structure under decentralized administration of forest land allocation policies[3].

Second, the summer school offers me valuable networking opportunities with diversity of students and researchers. Besides the classes, we chit-chat about life stories, explore the town and gather through “collective” meals and games. Through these activities, I can understand about different backgrounds, perspectives as well as different cultures. Saying goodbye to Tam Dao, the feeling of nostalgic has not been disappeared yet, but I am pleased that I have found a part of answers and more importantly have chance to know interesting people.

One of “collective” games connects us together.  Credit to Winnie Wichitra, CMU

One of “collective” games connects us together. Credit to Winnie Wichitra, CMU

Duong Lam – where the ideas live

After the summer school, in order to make the ideas happen, KNOTS built “an experimental lab” to connect the dots between the theory and reality which allows researchers apply the transcipdiplinary approaches into practice with the four-day field trip at Duong Lam commune, Son Tay, Hanoi. We were divided into three groups with key main themes discussed at the summer school including human migration, social inequality and river. I chose the river group studying the aspects related to the Red River within the scope of the commune because I think the river would be a great example of applying transdipciplinary approaches and understanding human-nature linkages.

The remark of the field trip for me was the day we spent at Hung Thinh village – a small village with total length around 1,000m along Red River and with about 830 local inhabitants. The major livelihoods are 70% agriculture (rice farming) and 30% non-agriculture (factory workers, sand transportation, etc.). By using different research methods including meeting with the commune leaders, wandering around and discussing with locals, our group got an overview of the current situation of the river. Meanwhile, the river is under pressure of various factors from industrial waste from upstream factories, human waste from nearby villages, agriculture, sand mining, and further upstream dams.

Our river group walked with villagers to see the Red River and new-built bridge

Our river group walked with villagers to see the Red River and new-built bridge

Moreover, we have learnt about the perception of locals about their current state as well as future vision of the village through the co-mapping method. Villagers were asked to draw pictures of the village and important elements they perceived as important or effect to their lives with the support and facilitation of our group. To my surprise, not only the river is stressful, the village itself seems to be at the margin of urbanization and industrialization with significant problems, namely loss of livelihoods (loss of agricultural land and informal market beside the riverbank due to new built bridge and changed land use) and the risk of settlement (landslide of the riverbank). For future development, stable settlements and alternative livelihoods are two major wishes of the villagers when they were asked to dream about their future. The challenges of the village could be explained by the rapid urbanization within the commune since Son Tay (Ha Tay province) geographically merged to Hanoi – the capital in 2008 and the industrialization trends in the country since the economic reform (“doi moi”) in 1986. On the whole, the current situation of the river and the village reflects what I have learnt from the summer school that the co-produced and return way of causality relationship between environment and society in which human actions are continually producing the environment and environmental change “loops back” onto people and society.  

Locals draw mapping of their current and future village under the support of our group.  Source: KNOTS Facebook

Locals draw mapping of their current and future village under the support of our group. Source: KNOTS Facebook

Returning from the trip, I somehow find out the answer for the question of “what can I do?”. Firstly, I have realized the importance of being responsible and conscious in producing knowledge. As a student planning to pursue the PhD, to consider transdipciplinary approaches as a mindset helps me critically shaping thoughts since the first stages of the pathway, namely developing research proposal including research questions, objectives and methods, and thinking about different actors including both academic and non-academic actors who are related to the research issue and who should involve in the research process. Furthermore, the field trip taught me to be organized but flexible, which is useful skill for me doing future researches. Since transdipciplinary studies require adequately address complexity of problems and diversity of perceptions, it is highly recommended for the researchers to be prepared to learn the cutting-edge issues but also be open-minded to grasp new information or explore changes. Last but not least, even though the challenging problems are big and complex, I believe that I should start from small steps, for example be conscious about what I produce and consume, not only knowledge but everything in life.

[1] KNOTS project is a three-year project which was initiated in October 2016 and created by the collaboration between seven universities in Europe, Thailand and Vietnam including the University of Vienna, Austria; Charles University, Czechia; University of Bonn, Germany; Chulalongkorn University and Chiang Mai University, Thailand; and Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences, and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam. The project is funded by the European Commission’s ERASMUS+ programme. 

[1] Presentation of Ajarn Carl Middleton, KNOTS summer school and field trip, 19 – 30 September 2017

[2] Duong, V.H. (2013). Tam Dao National Park. Evidence-based conservation: lessons from the lower Mekong. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR.

[3] Cari, A.C. (2012). Local Power Structures and Their Effect on Forest Land Allocation in the Buffer Zone of Tam Dao National Park, Vietnam. The Journal of Environment & Development, 22(1), 74–103.

BLOG: "Transdisciplinarity as a Modern Approach for Global Challenges: Experiences from 2017 Summer School and Fieldtrip, Vietnam" Written by Veng Seang Hai

Transdisciplinarity as a Modern Approach for Global Challenges: Experiences from 2017 Summer School and Fieldtrip, Vietnam

Written by Veng Seang Hai 

If you think just giving money to the poor and building a great wall are ready-made answers to issues of poverty and migration, you may knock on the wrong door. An answer should be more critical since current global challenges have arrived at a wicked and complex system whereby there is no fixed recipe or final solution. Expertise is not always applicable to all contexts since knowledge can be co-produced and reproduced by other forms of knowledge and actors such as the non-trained or non-experts.  

This paradigm shift allows seven universities in Europe and Asia to tie together and create a multilateral program called Fostering Multi-Lateral Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies to Tackle Global Challenges (KNOTS). The seven universities include the University of Vienna (Austria), Charles University, (Czech Republic), University of Bonn (Germany), Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), Chiang Mai University (Thailand), Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences (Vietnam) and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (Vietnam).


Photo: Opening remark for KNOTS summer school at Vietnam Academy of Social Science (VASS)

Global challenges change so rapidly that they require new innovations in teaching and research methodologies. Besides methodological framework, KNOTS is to build a network of transdisciplinary studies by drawing a platform which represents close collaboration between the academic and non-academic actors, particularly focusing on 1) Environmental Degradation 2) Migration and 3) Social Inequality.

From 18 September to 1 October 2017, KNOTS team organized a hybrid program comprising of summer school in Tam Dao and a field trip in Duong Lam commune, Son Tay town, Hanoi. The idea is to facilitate students from concerned universities to put conceptual information about transdisciplinarity approach into practices during the fieldtrip.

This essay covers information, experiences and reflections that I have learned from the event. What’s more is about challenges faced while applying transdiciplinarity approaches in Duong Lam commune.

Tam Dao National Park: Found by the Occident, Consumed by the Orient  

The summer school was held in picturesque Tam Dao National Park, not far from Ha Noi. The side hides itself in the ocean of green jungle covered by blanket of white cloud underneath amusing blue sky. Such the breathtaking landscape made me no doubt why the French colonists were so deep in loved in this site decades ago that they territorized the site as their legacy. Are there any Frenchmen now?

Photo 1: Tam Dao National Park, view from my hotel

Photo 1: Tam Dao National Park, view from my hotel

Thanks to the French, who tried their best discovering such the recreational heaven on earth, Tam Dao, but now it is more popular to Chinese, Korean and local Vietnamese tourists and businessmen. In context of increased number tourists, supply of accommodations and tourist services has reached the peak—peak of price and peak of mountains. New buildings have emerged getting taller than mountains somehow. It seems to me that the massive emergence of tourist infrastructure could be potential threats to authenticity of the beautiful site. This is Tam Dao in 2017, which is being replaced by modern structures and touristy landscape over its former well-known French legacy. Not all gone. We still find some remained French architects—French ancient stone church, for example.

Photo 2: French ancient stone Church, erecting in the middle of new taller buildings and surrounded by power lines

Photo 2: French ancient stone Church, erecting in the middle of new taller buildings and surrounded by power lines

Photo 2: French ancient stone Church, erecting in the middle of new taller buildings and surrounded by power lines

Photo 3: Development sees no exhaustion. It was about 7 P.M while an excavator was still preparing a new construction site.

Photo 3: Development sees no exhaustion. It was about 7 P.M while an excavator was still preparing a new construction site.

Photo 4: Mushroom of old and new buildings including tourist accommodations and residential houses

Photo 4: Mushroom of old and new buildings including tourist accommodations and residential houses

Staying in Tam Dao for one week, I not only learned about the transdisciplinarity but also realize a part of potential issue represented by rapid growth of tourism infrastructure in the National Park. Not to claim I am 100 % correct, I only raise an alert for related stakeholders to think about construction and building regulation for Tam Dao in avoiding losing its authentic beauty of magnificence and ensuring sustainability of the site.

KNOTS Summer School: The Enlightenment in 21th Century

This section focuses on content I learned from the intense summer school on transdisciplanarity as a new paradigm for researchers and teachers in development and in general. One sentence to reflect all my thoughts is “from now on it comes to the second-path of Enlightenment where experts and academics are taken down to meet non-trained and non-academic knowledge producers and where no single discipline is dominant on a platform of mutual respects.”

I make the claim after Richard Barnthaler and Petra Dannecker kicked off the ball toward history of science and research paradigms in relation to transdiciplinarity. According to Richard, the Western history during 18th and 19th century was marked by “Western Enlightenment Project” during which Western scientific revolution took its root.

In this context, boundaries amongst scientists with different disciplines were drawn, and flawed understanding of objectivity existed. There were problematic assumptions with regard to standard science. While people started to question science more and more, sharp distinction between lay (not trained) and expert knowledge arouse. Therefore, it called for a promotion on epistemology goal aimed to have social conventionality of research. What Richard Barnthaler shared fascinated me in the sense that we could not over distinguish between scientific knowledge and other forms of knowledge produced by the untrained since people in different cultural, social and political context tend to contextualize problems differently.

   Photo 5: Richard Barnthaler giving a presentation on History of Science

   Photo 5: Richard Barnthaler giving a presentation on History of Science

Photo 6: Petra Dannecker giving her presentation on Research Paradigm and Transdiciplinarity

Photo 6: Petra Dannecker giving her presentation on Research Paradigm and Transdiciplinarity

In consequence to Richard, Petra Dannecker proceeded to update the momentum of research paradigm with emphasis on pragmatism. In this sense, researches are expected to be more conventionally important and need neutral context and partnership between development researchers and practitioners.

More importantly, Petra further gives insights into three phases of conducting transdisciplinarity. They include (1) framing, (2) research process implementation, and (3) outcomes. Firstly, a planner should ask a question for what and whom his research is designed, empathizing on aims and beneficiaries. To put in other word, research issues and questions should be amendable or feasible to scientific inquiry and ideally co-designed with non-academic actors. Secondly, transdisciplinarity implies that appropriate roles of practitioners or the non-academics and researchers have to be assigned with reference to the interests, needs, wishes and fears of all actors (i.e. there might be political threat for non-academic actors to participate). Thirdly, it acknowledges different forms of knowledge produced through transdisciplinarity. In detail, “system knowledge” reflects a complex problem; “target knowledge” is important for orientation of what a certain issue should look like. What’s more is transformative knowledge which is co-produced by other knowledge. More importantly, transdisciplinarity produces knowledge which can be used by non-academic actors and contribute to policy-making discussions or actions.

Despite fascinating elements of transdisciplanarity, challenges are inevitable. One of the challenges relates to potential conflicts of epistemologies of actors in addition to contestation of values, interests and expectation. It would be a hard work to manage the difference. Another challenge is explained by symbolic participation since not all actors are guaranteed to have intrinsic motivation or inspiration to get things done. Related to this, we should go back to participant selection process whereby each participant has to be ensured of their motives and responsibilities.

Overall, notwithstanding difficulties in transdisciplinary, I still hold strong optimism since it serves as a new turning point for searchers and scientists to rethink their roles in making better deal for global challenges. That is why I call it 21th century Enlightenment.

Duong Lam Commune: Trajectories of Human Mobility       

The idea behind having a fieldtrip in Duong Lam is to translate conceptuality into practicality. At the beginning, we had a chance to meet with leaders of Duong Lam and union leaders. I was fascinated to stories related to historic heroes born in Duong Lam. For this reason, the place became a sacred place, and 9 villages in Duong Lam became cultural heritage in 2006 due to their ancient houses.

Photo 7: KNOTS team having a meeting with leaders of Duong Lam commune

Photo 7: KNOTS team having a meeting with leaders of Duong Lam commune

Photo 8: KNOTS migration group having focus-group discussion with villagers and union leaders

Photo 8: KNOTS migration group having focus-group discussion with villagers and union leaders

General issues faced by Duong Lam relate to social inequality, conservation of ancient houses and human mobility. 70 % of total populations are farmers while 30 % of people are local business owners and traders. Therefore, migration and movement of people in the village became remarkable. Since there are different issues to focus, three different groups were divided in accordance to different issues. Particularly, I am in migration group joined by other four students from Vietnam and Thailand, under helpful supervision of ajan Naruemon Thabchumpon, Alexandra Heis, Bara Jirkova.

For benefit of broader understanding of the issue, my group decided to extend the inquiry into general nature of mobility and movement of people. Three sample groups include farmers, non-farmers and entrepreneurs who were aimed to give diverse perceptions on mobility. Our case studies lie in two villages in Duong Lam: Dong Sang and Doi Giap. 2 in-depth interviews and 4 focused-group discussion were conducted, plus observation and informal talk.

Neoliberalism in Socialist Vietnam?: A Case of a Local Chicken Business

I would consider what I learned here as a success story of the summer school because I was able to reflect to the content that Petra Dannecker talked about outcomes of transdisciplinarity related to transformative knowledge and co-produced knowledge. I also leant this content from discussion and literature on political ecology from ajan Carl Middleston and ajan Chusak Wittayapak. 

Photo 9: Group photo with the chicken farmer family. I am in the middle in black. The farmer is on my left hand and his wife is on the right hand. They are showing us a small vacuum sealer used for chicken packaging.  

Photo 9: Group photo with the chicken farmer family. I am in the middle in black. The farmer is on my left hand and his wife is on the right hand. They are showing us a small vacuum sealer used for chicken packaging.  

In theory, common knowledge of neoliberalism relates to state level of analysis on such principles as Keynesian economic model, deregulation, privatization, free trade and cross-border relocation of cooperation and territorization as touched by David Harvey.

However, I seem to have learned a new thing related neoliberalism theory after meeting with Gia Mia (sugar can chicken) business owner in Dong Sang village. An implication I learned is that neoliberalism is not always the matters at state level, but it is also village level and individualistic matter.

One aspect I found related to neoliberalism is concerned with business relocation. Gia Mia (sugar can chicken) enterprise have located in the village for generations because the owner inherited the chicken raising and breeding technology from his ancestors who had lived in the village. Since Dong Sang is enlisted to cultural heritage, the business is under strict regulation and intervention by the central Vietnamese state. The owner is not allowed to expand his farm due to concern of smell and environmental pollutions to the village. Thus, expansion of the business is not possible unless it is relocated outside the protected village. 

What fascinates me is the business owner’s future plan to expand his business by relocating the farm to another village with no regulatory restriction by the Vietnamese state. It means that he can move to outside locality beside the cultural village if he wants to make the farm bigger and more profitable. To put in other word, this case represents “laissez-faire” economic system at micro-level where the chicken farmer aims to liberate his business from government intervention such as regulatory restriction based on cultural village protection. Hence, I argue that Vietnamese individuals have neoliberal nature as reflected from relocation view.

Another neoliberal aspect relates to Gia Mia association which seemed to play a different game from the central government. What I mean by a different game is that members have different specialized roles and resources used to exchange and trade with one another due to agreed terms and price. Association serves as financial resources for the chicken business since it received limited fiscal support from the Department of Agriculture. Moreover, the association has various cooperatives which sell chicken products outside the village.   

I cannot say my preliminary analysis is sorely correct due to time and knowledge constraints. By the way, I personally come up with uncertainty since seeing it as a paradox of socialism in Vietnam. On state level, it is obviously socialist system, but at individual level, it is more related to neoliberal economy system and principles. For me, the case of Vietnam has a unique definition of socialism if analyzing state and individual perspectives.

Emotional Involvement in Transdisciplinarity: “He thinks you are his father”

Going to a field study gives you not only cultural knowledge but also something beyond. That something is what I call “emotional knowledge” gained through direct engagement with local people. However, tracking back to what Richard Barnthaler mentioned, we will think of why researchers lost their trust by public because of emotional involvement in their scientific analysis.

Here I have no means to say that it is a bad idea to have emotional connection with the local people. Actually I just share my experience in Duong Lam where I had chance to be thought as a father to a kid whose parents left him to work in Malaysia since he was 6 months old.  

Photo 10: I was spoon feeding the kid with lemonade. Ladies beside me uttered that he would consider me as his father indeed. 

Photo 10: I was spoon feeding the kid with lemonade. Ladies beside me uttered that he would consider me as his father indeed. 

That kid kept looking at me and started to touch my hand. Again and again, he came closer to me before I smiled back at him. At first, I felt normal .But later on while he kept playing with my hand, I played with him and lifted him up. The chubby kid was heavier more than I expected. I took him down and continued spoon feed him with my almost-finished lemonade. He has the same age of my niece and nephew back home. I do not know how to describe my feeling. I just started to feel happy cracking open my smile unconsciously.

According to this situation, I may say that emotional connection a researcher has with local people would be an unexpected consequence which tends to overwhelm a researcher to be unintentionally or subconsciously biased when analyzing his findings. Also, the researcher would have absolute rejection or denial against other different views and interests which do not serve the local people, which is problematic to transdisciplinarity implementation. That is what I can reflect to skeptical challenges to scientific sciences and transdisciplinarity.

CALL FOR APPLICATION: "KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip 2017"

Master of Arts Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS) and Center of Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

in collaboration with and support from

The Fostering Multi-Lateral Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies to Tackle Global Challenges (KNOTS Project), co-funded by Erasmus+ Program, European Union



“KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip 2017”

18 September – 1 October 2017

Ha Noi, Tam Dao, Vinh Phuc, VIET NAM

Theme: “Migration, Environmental Change, and Social Inequality”

(The Summer School is Free-of-charge)


1.      Be a graduate student (MA and PhD) of Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

2.      Good command of spoken and written English (English proof is required for non-English native speaker)

3.      Eager to participate in the activities and absorb new experience

4.      ***The participant is required to write 1500 words essay or diary with pictures in our blog or webpage after summer school


How to apply?

            Application form, Statement of purpose, Curriculum Vitae (CV), and English proof must be submitted to

Deadline:      19 July 2017  

 Interview date:         TBC

EVENT: "KNOTS Roundtrip to Klong Yong, Nakhon Pathom; and LPN Foundation, Samut Sakhon" [19-20 June 2017]

Klong Yong Community Enterprise, Nakhon Pathom Province; and Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation, , Samut Sakhon Province

Co-Organized by The Master of Arts Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS), Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), and Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Monday 19 June, 2017

Round Trip to Klong Yong, Salaya

“Environment, Organic Farming and Water Governance

through Trandisciplinary Approach from Field Visiting”

Ban Chanote, Klong Yong-Lantakfa Community Enterprise located in Lantakfa, Nakhon Chaisri, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. The community enterprise has a main goal in producing organic rice and preserving the local paddy seeds in Nakhon Chaisri field. They also applied many technics in rice field management to increase the production. This community enterprise was established in 2010.  The president of this community enterprise is Nantha Prasarnwong. The missions of Ban Chanote, Klong Yong-Lantakfah Community Enterprise are to produce organic rice which directly connects with the consumers and lift up the income of rice farming more than chemical-used or low quality rice. The community enterprise started with organic vegetables and rice. The members of the community enterprise joined to build a small community rice-mill for consumption and enterprise.

9.00        Van leave for Klong Yong

10.00     Arrival at Ban Chanote-Klong Yong-Lantakfa Cooperative

10:30     Presentation of current situation on environment and water governance issues

12:00     Lunch   

13.00     Visit pomelo farm and discussion on the need for transdisciplinary approach

15:00     Come back to Bangkok

Tuesday 20 June, 2017

Round Trip to Samut Sakorn (Mahachai)

“Cross Border Migration, Diaspora Community’s Livelihood and

Trandisciplinary Studies from Field Visiting”

                Mahachai seaport is located in Samut Sakorn which is Thailand’s largest fish processing zone. The area is accommodated hundreds of migrant workers, mainly from Myanmar, though workers from Cambodia and Laos are also present. International attention has been given to trafficking in the fishery industry. During the roundtrip, participants will meet and discuss with the organizations working on migrant workers’ rights and counter-trafficking.

9:00        Van leave for Mahachai

10:00     Arrival at Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN)

10:30     Presentation on migration issues and the need for transdisciplinary studies 

12:00     Lunch Time

13:00     Visit migrant education center and primary school at the temple              

14:30     Discussion on the need  for transdisciplinary approach   

15:00     Free time around Burmese market

16:00     Come back to Bangkok

EVENT: "Stakeholder Conference on Transdisciplinary Approaches to Migration, Environmental Change, and Social Inequality" [21-22 June 2017]

09.00 - 17.00

Alumni Meeting Room, 12th Floor, Building 3,

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Co-Organized By: The Master of Arts Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS),

Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), and

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University


Many contemporary development challenges in Southeast Asia are complex and inter-related, including environmental degradation; migration; and social inequality. To appropriately understand these challenges and identify novel insights and innovative solutions, transdisciplinary approaches are required. Not only does this therefore require new research methodologies and new skills for researchers and practitioners, but it also requires universities to develop new curriculum, teaching/ learning materials, and programs.

The Fostering Multi-Lateral Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies to Tackle Global Challenges KNOTS project aims to contribute towards meeting this challenge. The three-year project was initiated in October 2016, and is a collaboration between seven universities in Europe, Thailand and Vietnam: the University of Vienna, Austria, which is also the project coordinator; Charles University, Czechia; University of Bonn, Germany; Chulalongkorn University and Chiang Mai University, Thailand; and Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences, and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam. The project is funded by the European Commission’s ERASMUS+ programme.


Event objectives

The objectives of the Stakeholder Workshop are as follows:

·        To deepen understanding on development challenges in Southeast Asia as viewed through a transdisciplinary lens, focusing on environmental degradation; migration; and social inequality

·        To inform KNOTS project design towards establishing innovative teaching methodologies with contribution from academics and non-academic stakeholders in Southeast Asia

·        To contribute towards establishing a “transdisciplinary knowledge network” on Southeast Asia



Wednesday 21 June, 2017

9:00 – 9:20                  Opening remarks

Assistant Professor Dr.Nunghatai Rangponsumrit, Assistant to the President for Research, Development and Innovation (Social Sciences and Humanities), Chulalongkorn University

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, Dean of Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University


9:20 – 10:00                Keynote address

“The need for transdisciplinary studies: Towards transforming a challenging world” by Emeritus Professor Surichai Wun’gaeo


10:00 – 10:30              Coffee break


10:30 – 12:15                 “Migration and transdisciplinary perspectives

Academic perspective: Emeritus Professor Dr. Supang Chantavanich

Civil society perspective: Sompong Srakaew, Labour Protection Network

Educators perspective: Dr. Laddawan Tantivitayapitak, DEAR Burma

Chair: Assistant Professor Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon, MA in International Development Studies program, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Discussant: KNOTS partner


12:15 – 13:15              Lunch


13:15 – 15:00              Social inequality and transdisciplinary perspectives

Academic perspective: Dr.Sayamol Charoenratana, CUSRI

Civil society perspective: Poonsub Suanmuang Tulaphan, Homenet  

International organization perspective: Representative from FES

Chair: Assistant Professor Dr. Sukanda Lewis, Institute of Asia Studies, Chulalongkorn University

Discussant: KNOTS partner


15:00 – 15:30              Coffee


15:30 – 17:00              Panel discussion on “Bringing transdisciplinary thinking into Higher Education”

Representative from KNOTS partners

Assistant Professor Dr. Wasana Wongsurawat, Thai Studies Program, Faculty of Arts,     Chulalongkorn University

Dr. Susan Vize, UNESCO

Chair: Assistant Professor Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon


Thursday 22 June, 2017

9:00 – 10:45                Environment and transdisciplinary perspectives                       

Academic perspective: Dr. Soimart Rungmanee, Thammasat University

Civil society perspective: Pianporn Deetes (International Rivers) 

International organization perspective: Dr. Babette Resurrecion (SEI)

Chair: Assistant Professor Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon

Discussant: KNOTS partner


10:45 – 11:15              Coffee break


11:15 – 12:30                 Linking transdisciplinary themes together…  and making it policy relevant

“Flooding and migration in Southeast Asia” Assistant Professor Dr. Carl Middleton

“Migration and development” Professor Dr. Petra Dannecker                            

“The need for transdisciplinary perspectives in ASEAN policy” Apichai Sunchindah

Chair: Emeritus Professor Dr. Supang Chantavanich


12:30 – 13:30              Lunch


13:30 – 15:00              Roundtable discussion and reflections amongst KNOTS partners

One representative from each KNOTS partner institution

Chair: Emeritus Professor Surichai Wun'gaeo                          


15:00 – 15:30                 Concluding remarks

Professor Dr. Petra Dannecker, Department of Development Studies, University of Vienna

Assistant Professor Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

EVENT: "KNOTS Project Launch" [16 June 2017]

09:00 - 12:00

Alumni Association Conference Room, 12th floor, Building 3,

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Co-Organized By: The Master of Arts Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS),

Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), and Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University


The KNOTS project will focus on contemporary development challenges in Southeast Asia, where transdisciplinary research methods could offer novel insights and innovative solutions. The particular focus is on: environmental degradation; migration; and social inequality.

The KNOTS project will prepare curriculum and teaching/ learning materials on transdisciplinary methods to be integrated into each universities’ teaching programs. Three summer schools and fieldtrips will be organized in Vietnam and Thailand over the duration of the project to pilot and refine these materials. There will also be a Stakeholders Workshop in June 2017 and a final conference in 2019, to be hosted at Chulalongkorn University.

The three-year project was initiated in October 2016, and is a collaboration between seven universities in Europe, Thailand and Vietnam: the University of Vienna, Austria, which is also the project coordinator; Charles University, Czechia; University of Bonn, Germany; Chulalongkorn University and Chiang Mai University, Thailand; and Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences, and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam.

The project is funded by the European Commission’s ERASMUS+ programme. At Chulalongkorn University, the MA in International Development Studies program is the project partner, alongside a network of academics and practitioners interested in teaching and practicing transdisciplinary research approaches.


Event objectives

This event will launch the KNOTS project at Chulalongkorn University. The objectives of the event are:

·         To formally launch the KNOTS project at Chulalongkorn University

·         To introduce the Chulalongkorn University team to the KNOTS project partners, and share about each team member’s institute/ department programs