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Bringing Southeast Asia Home core team

Christian Lentz, Associate Professor of Geography (PI)
Dr. Lentz’s scholarship explores Southeast Asian history, dynamics of decolonization, and agrarian studies. Lentz began in Indonesia studying with Benedict Anderson but, as Anderson advised and as he himself modeled, turned to another context, in Lentz’s case Vietnam. Lentz’s research explores themes of territory and territoriality, state-making, development, and society-environment relations. His first book, Contested Territory: Dien Bien Phu and the Making of Northwest Vietnam, analyzes the production of Vietnamese territory and national subjects through the 1954 battle that toppled France’s Indochinese empire. Likewise based on ethnographic fieldwork and archival research, his article-length work explores revolution and social mobilization, everyday state-making, borderlands environments, and agrarian economies, including opium politics. Lentz’s ongoing research investigates how postcolonial territory and subjects in Vietnam and Indonesia was forged between a hammer of decolonization and an anvil of the Cold War.

Angel Hsu, Assistant Professor of Public Policy & the Environment, Ecology and Energy Program
Dr. Hsu is the Founder and Director of the Data-Driven EnviroLab, an interdisciplinary research group that applies quantitative approaches to pressing environmental issues, primarily at the intersection of climate and energy policy and urbanization. She is a contributing author to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and was the lead author of the 2018 UNEP Emissions Gap Report. She has provided expert Congressional testimony on China’s climate change policy and is a member of the National Committee on US-China Relations. She has also co-chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Fourth Industrial Revolution and Global Public Goods, and was a speaker at TED 2018 Age of Amazement and the 2020 TED Climate Countdown. She holds a PhD in Environmental Policy from Yale University.

Noah Kittner, Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, City and Regional Planning, & the Environment, Ecology and Energy Program
Dr. Kittner studies energy systems at multiple scales, from regional and international power grids to community-owned micro-grids and household energy dynamics. His current work examines the relationship between energy systems, low-carbon development, and human health. Ongoing projects include energy system planning in Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, the emissions and health effects of coal-fired power plants in Kosovo, and battery assessment for electric vehicle and energy storage applications. Kittner holds a PhD in Energy and Resources from UC Berkeley where he studied energy systems engineering, science, and policy. His research appears in leading journals ranging from Nature Energy to Environmental Science and Technology and Ecological Economics. Previously, he was a Fulbright Fellow at the Joint Graduate School of Energy and Environment in Bangkok, Thailand and has worked extensively on the Thai Solar PV Roadmap funded by the British Embassy Bangkok with colleagues at Chulalongkorn University. He received his BS in Environmental Science with a dual minor in Mathematics and Urban Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Becky Butler, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Linguistics & Assistant Director for Southeast Asia Initiatives at the Carolina Asia Center
Within the field of linguistics, Dr. Butler’s research focuses on issues of phonetics and phonology—particularly syllable shapes and register systems—of lesser spoken languages in mainland Southeast Asia, with an emphasis on Bunong (Mon-Khmer). She has conducted linguistic fieldwork in Vietnam, Cambodia, and in Southeast Asian diasporic communities in North Carolina. Her more recent work, which has been funded by the Humanities for the Public Good initiative and the Association for Asian Studies, has focused on documenting the lived experiences of Southeast Asian North Carolinians. Her other research interests include maintenance and documentation of endangered languages, notions of indigeneity among Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian American communities, and issues of language justice and access.


Linda Adair, Professor of Nutrition
Dr. Adair is a biological anthropologist with a research focus on global nutrition problems, particularly in low and middle income countries. Most of her work relates to the first “1000 Days”—the time period from conception through the first 2 years of a child’s life. She explores factors related to healthy pregnancy and birth outcomes and early child growth. In the context of the developmental origins of adult health and disease (DOHaD), she investigates how early life factors relate to health and well-being in adulthood. Adair has led the Cebu (Philippines) Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey since 1990. This birth cohort study is also part of an international collaboration (COHORTS) that has yielded a number of important insights about the early origins of obesity and cardiometabolic diseases in low and middle income countries.

Larry Chavis, Clinical Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship
Dr. Chavis is an economist with roots in the field of anthropology with particular attention to ethnicity and class. His research on how (lack of) government regulation affects small firm’s access to financing extends to over 100 countries, with a special emphasis on small businesses in Indonesia. Chavis’ recent work focuses on the effect of competition between villages in Indonesia for block grants aimed at infrastructure and microcredit. In addition, his work with economist Phillip Leslie on boycotts has been widely cited in a range of news outlets, and his research focuses on institutions in developing countries and has appeared in numerous journals.

Peter Coclanis, Albert Ray Newsome Distinguished Professor of History & Director of the Global Research Institute
Dr. Coclanis is an economic historian who works on questions relating broadly to economic development in various parts of the world from the seventeenth century CE to the present. He has published widely in U.S. economic history, Southeast Asian economic history, and global economic history. He also writes frequently for newspapers and magazines on contemporary issues ranging from political economy to culture to sports. In his 2006 book Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Globalization in Southeast Asia Over La Longue Durée, Coclanis traces the trajectory of globalization, arguing that globalization has ebbed and flowed in the region over the centuries, that globalization is best viewed as a process rather than a permanent condition, and that its effects have differed considerably across space and over time. He has also written extensively on export agriculture in Southeast Asia, particularly on the rice -export trade of colonial Burma.

Kevin Fogg, Associate Director of the Carolina Asia Center & Instructor of History
Trained as a historian of Southeast Asia at Yale, Dr. Fogg taught at Oxford for seven years before taking up his current post at the Carolina Asia Center. Fogg’s research centers on the history of Islam in Indonesia. His first book, Indonesia’s Islamic Revolution (Cambridge UP, 2020), looked at the place of religion in Indonesia’s war of independence. His current project is on mass Islamic organizations in Indonesia and how they are structurally distinct from Islamic associational life in other parts of the Muslim world. Other research interests include the history of socialism in Southeast Asia, prosopography of Indonesian elites, and the intersection of history and linguistics in nationalism.

Elizabeth Frankenberg, Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Sociology & Director of the Carolina Population Center
Dr. Frankenberg’s research focuses on individual and family response to change across the life course and the role of community, broadly construed, in individual behaviors and outcomes. She has invested heavily in developing and implementing innovative and ambitious designs for data collection to support her own research and that of the scientific and policy communities more broadly. These investments center on three projects: the Study of the Tsunami Aftermath and Recovery (STAR), the Indonesia Family Life Survey (IFLS), and the Worker Iron Status Evaluation (WISE). The STAR project, which assesses the social, economic, demographic, and health impacts of the December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, has been hailed as the strongest large-scale study ever done to measure population-level response to a disaster over a long period of time.

Vivian Go, Professor of Health Behavior
Dr. Go leads UNC Project–Vietnam, an HIV research studies initiative with a Hanoi-based team of 20 highly skilled and dedicated staff in close collaboration with multiple partners in Vietnam. Her team’s research has focused on socio-behavioral and investigational drug interventions to prevent HIV infection and improve HIV treatment outcomes among these key populations. Their interventions have effectively and safely decreased HIV acquisition among vulnerable populations, increased engagement in antiretroviral therapy and decreased mortality among PWID with HIV, and improved HIV and alcohol outcomes among people with HIV who have hazardous alcohol use. The project’s current and future research endeavors aim to ensure effective interventions are scaled-up sustainably and seek to better understand and address comorbidities among people with HIV, such as mental health conditions, hepatitis, and TB. They are also committed to helping train the next generation of public health researchers in Vietnam.

Scott Kirsch, Professor of Geography
Dr. Kirsch’s research, focusing on U.S. colonial rule in the Philippines in the early twentieth century, explores Southeast Asia through a distinctively American lens. Kirsch current book, American Colonial Spaces in the Philippines: Insular Empire, tells the story of a colonial regime that attempted in the first decades of the twentieth century to build an enduring American empire in the Philippines through the production of space. From concrete interventions in infrastructure, urban planning, and built environments to more abstract projects of mapping and territorialization, the book traces the efforts of U.S. Insular Government agents to transform the Philippine landscape, alternately brutal and aestheticized, imperialistic and democratic, practical, fanciful, and draconian. Although the American bureaucrats who sought to fashion these spaces were by no means acting alone—consider the everyday labor required to build and maintain roads, bridges, and culverts, or the efforts of elite Filipino families, on whose support the Americans relied, to co-opt U.S. policies as a means of entrenching their own local and national power—their stories of geographical empire building shed light on both the precariousness and the persistence of American power in the Philippines, relocating the “American century” around Southeast Asian origins.

Holning Lau, Willie Person Mangum Distinguished Professor of Law
Dr. Lau studies the legal regulation of sexual orientation and gender identity in Asia, including in Southeast Asia. From 2018 to 2019, he served as an independent consultant to the International Commission of Jurists and Danish Institute for Human Rights Joint Venture in Myanmar. He spearheaded research for their report titled “In the Shadows: Systemic Injustice Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression in Myanmar” (2019). He has written chapters that discuss LGBTQ rights in Southeast Asia for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics (2020), Oxford Handbook of Constitutional Law in Asia (forthcoming), and Oxford Handbook of International and Comparative LGBTI Law (forthcoming). Lau is also co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Constitutional Law in Asia, which includes nine country-specific chapters about Southeast Asia and dozens of thematic chapters that also cover Southeast Asian jurisdictions.

William Sturkey, Associate Professor of History
Dr. Sturkey is an historian of the post-1865 United States who specializes in the history of race in the American South. Most of his research centers the experiences of working-class racial minorities. His first book, To Write in the Light of Freedom, is a co-edited collection of newspapers, essays, and poems produced by African American Freedom School students during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. His second book, Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White, is a biracial history of Southern Jim Crow. Dr. Sturkey is currently working on a biography of the legendary Vietnam War hero Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valorous actions in combat near Lộc Ninh, South Vietnam on May 2, 1968, while serving as a member of the Army Special Forces during the Vietnam War.

Hồng-Ân Trương, Associate Professor of Art and Art History
Professor Trương uses photography, sound, video, and performance to examine histories of war and immigrant and refugee narratives through a decolonial framework. By interrogating archival materials, she examines the production of knowledge through structures of time and memory. Her interdisciplinary projects are premised on the concept that aesthetic battles are also political and ideological battles. She has been awarded an Art Matters Foundation Grant, a Foundation for Contemporary Arts emergency grant, and was named a 2019-2020 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in Fine Art. She is currently the Capp Street Project Artist-in-Residence at the Wattis Institute at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

Lien Truong, Associate Professor of Art and Art History
Professor Truong’s art practice examines cultural and material ideologies and notions of heritage. Her work refers to western and Asian painting techniques, materials and philosophies, and military, textile and art histories; creating hybrid forms interrogating the relationship between aesthetics and doctrine. Her paintings have been presented in numerous exhibitions, and Truong has been the recipient of a 2019 Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant, fellowships from the Institute of the Arts and Humanities, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Jack and Gertrude Murphy Fine Arts Fellowships; and residencies at the Oakland Museum of California and the Marble House Project. In her work The Sky Is Not Sacred, a collaborative project with artist Hồng-Ân Trương (above), footage taken from war planes in the sky during the American military campaign in Việt Nam chronicles the perspectives of fighter pilots, and is juxtaposed with a narrative by John Constable, the 19th century British painter whose keen observations of the sky and clouds established a distinct landscape painting practice. The work suggests the tension between the aesthetic and the political, and asserts the way in which Western ideologies have violently impacted the Vietnamese landscape, and more broadly, how they have shaped our cultural and emotional relationship to landscape as an imaginary space.

Margaret Wiener, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Based in Indonesia, and particularly Bali, Dr. Wiener’s research focuses on the processes of producing shared and conflicting truths and realities at sites of inter(natural-)cultural engagement. Her work has attended to colonial situations and problems of translation—of practices of mediation. Weiner’s theoretical focus conjoins concerns with knowledge, power, and history associated with studies of colonial societies and postcolonial theory with the careful attention to materiality and the making of reality found in studies of science and technology. Her books have examined encounters between representatives of the Dutch colonial state and the paramount kingdom on the island of Bali (Indonesia) as rendered in colonial archives and in late 20th century Balinese memories and narratives and considered magic as a connecting device that colonial agents transported to places it never had previously existed to characterize Indonesian practices and practitioners.

Retired faculty and other affiliates

Lorraine Aragon, Research Affiliate of Anthropology & Retired Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology
Dr. Aragon is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in religion, regional cultural expressions, and the expansion of intellectual and cultural property laws into postcolonial nations. Her primary geographic region of specialization is Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. Aragon’s research is organized around questions about changing processes and practices of cultural expression, especially how local norms are transformed or sustained in response to the extension of categories and political institutions from power centers to the periphery. She is currently working on articles and a book drawing on Indonesian fieldwork that she began between 2005 and 2007 with an international team of legal scholars, performance artists, ethnomusicologists, and NGO community activists. The research team was tasked to investigate the possible impact of intellectual and cultural property law initiatives on Indonesian regional arts, artists, and community audiences.

Trude Bennett, Associate Professor Emerita
Dr. Bennett’s research interests are rooted in concerns for equity and social justice as influenced by social policy and expressed in health risks and outcomes, especially women’s, reproductive, and infant health among vulnerable populations. Her early work focused on measurement and classification issues and bias in monitoring of social inequalities in reproductive health based on race/ethnicity, marital status, insurance status, and other social factors. Later, she turned to the impact of globalization on women’s and reproductive health in the developing world. Bennett has worked extensively in the Asia Pacific region beginning with the planning and implementation of a regional reproductive health training project based at Mahidol University in Bangkok.

Rungsima Kullapat, Research Collaborator, Carolina Asia Center
In addition to being affiliated with UNC, Dr. Kullapat is a researcher at the National Film Archive (Public Organization), Thailand and the Center for Research on Plurality in the Mekong Region (CERP), Faculty of Humanities, Khon Khaen University. Her 2016 dissertation Living Heritage through Literature: The Development of Pachit Oraphim Cultural Routes received the Award of Excellence from the National Research Council of Thailand. Recently, she was awarded a new research project from National Film Archive to study the feasibility of the restoration and rehabilitation of Sala Chalerm Thani (the oldest wooden movie theater in Nang Loeng, the oldest district in Bangkok). She has designed the rehabilitation of the historic Sala Chalerm Thani as a living museum to provide a retrospective of the last century of the Thai movie industry. She is also a columnist in Thai magazine and newspaper. Her research and writing are focused on cultural heritage across contemporary cultures and the voices of local people.

Leedom Lefferts, Research Affiliate, Carolina Asia Center
Dr. Lefferts is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Drew University and a former Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. His research broadly focuses on social organization, Southeast Asian anthropology, with and emphasis on textiles and ceramics, as well as Buddhism. His geographical foci are Thailand and Laos.

Donald Nonini, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
Dr. Nonini’s research focuses on the various forms of power that structure yet harm the lives of people in the cities of the modern world. He is interested in Southeast and East Asia with a specific curiosity about the ways in which class exploitation and racial oppression operate within and “between” urban Chinese diasporic populations and Sinophobic states in Southeast Asia, with special reference to Malaysia and Indonesia. His current projects focus on how China’s rise to economic prominence in Southeast Asia within the frame of China’s globalizing “going out” (chuqu) and “One Belt, One Road” (yidai yilu) policies has had implications for issues of environmental care and despoliation undertaken by the bourgeoisie of the Chinese diaspora and how the processes through which the party-state is shifting away from an accommodation with “global” (i.e., Western) neoliberalism toward the institutionalization of a new mode of governance through the interpenetration of corporate and state logics of economization and violence within an emergent China corporate-state manifested both within China itself and in Southeast Asia.

James Peacock, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
Dr. Peacock is a former Kenan Professor of Anthropology at UNC and president of the American Anthropological Association from 1993 to 1995. His awards included Order of the Golden Fleece (1995); Thomas Jefferson Award (1995); Boaz award, American Anthropological Association (2002); Citizen of the World (2006); Massey Award for Service (2008); Johnson Award for Excellence in Teaching (2008). His research has focused on the USA south and Southeast Asia in relation to history, memory and global issues. He conducted fieldwork in Indonesia on eve of “the year of living dangerously” and with Muhammadiyah, a Muslim organization with 30 million members. Peacock’s publications include “Identity Matters, Ethnic and Sectarian Conflict,” “Grounded Globalism: How the US South Embraces the World,” and “The Anthropological Lens.” His most recent book was Grounded Globalism: How The U.S. South Embraces The World and his ongoing organizational work seeds that embrace.

Current graduate students

Imad Alatas, Sociology: Gender and religion in Malaysia

Baiquni, History: Transnational connections underlying Indonesian nationalism

Hayman Linn Lae Zaw, Social Work: Social inequality; child and youth welfare system in Myanmar; children, families and youths affected by armed conflict; displacement; mental health during political turmoil in Myanmar

René Iwo, Sociology: Family demography and social inequalities, particularly in Indonesia and other low- and middle-income countries and the effects of trauma from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami

Ivy Janson, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies: Chinese history and culture in Southeast Asia

Leeann Ji, Public Health: How resilient food system design, water security, and climate change impact human health

Katharina Klaunig, Sociology: Work, occupations, and labor market, migration, culture

Silvia Landa, Environmental Sciences and Engineering: understating factors influencing government decision-making in the water and sanitation sector, especially on issues related to climate resilience

Zardas Lee, History: Cooperation of Malayan anticolonialists with those from Southeast and South Asia, Africa, and Europe in transnational anticolonial movements and the construction of Malaya

Alex Sanchez, Journalism: Politics in Myanmar and effects on diaspora communities

Emily Scolaro, Anthropology: Cultural heritage preservation in Southeast Asia with a focus on the illicit antiquities trade

Bethany Stoutamire, Sociology: Fertility and remarriage patterns, particularly in men, after the tsunami in Indonesia

Ann Suk, Anthropology: Displacement, migration, and health; food security and nutrition; health equity; participatory research; displaced communities from Myanmar

Pasuth Thothaveesanuk, History: Global Cold War, with a special interest in German foreign policy and international relations in East and Southeast Asia

Austin Vo, Sociology: Political sociology; migration; race and ethnicity; colonialism in Indochina

Ying Yu, Environmental Sciences and Engineering: using applied economics for interdisciplinary research, to answer research questions on environmental and energy equity; the willingness to pay for renewable energy in Vietnam


Recent graduates

Michael Hawkins, 2022. “From Colonial Cargo to Global Containers: An Episodic Historical Geography of Manila’s Waterfront”

Trisha Remetir, 2022. “Unfamiliar Waters: Representations of Resource Extraction in Filipino Cultural Production, 1970s-Present”