Prof. Lynette Chua

Interview by Matthew Poh and Khine Khine Zin

It’s not everyday that you get to see a very cool Professor, let alone one with very eye-catching body art. It just makes you wonder about what kind of person she is beneath that cool and confident exterior. Meet Prof Lynette Chua, and find out more about her interesting research on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) collective mobilisation in Singapore and beyond.

 Prof Lynette

About Prof. Lynette

Prof.  Lynette was initially trained in Journalism at the University of Ohio, but later studied Law at NUS. She then completed both her Master’s and Ph.D. at UC Berkeley.  She currently holds a Humanities and Social Sciences Research Grant and an Academic Research Fund Tier 1 grant, and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Centre for Asian Legal Studies. In November 2012, Lynette delivered a lecture titled “Singapore’s Gay Rights Movement: Past, Present and Future” at the Yale College. Recently, she has won the Honourable Mention award at the 2013 Law and Society Association Awards for her article in the Singapore Law and Society Review titled “Pragmatic Resistance, Law and Social Movement in Authoritarian States: The Case of Gay Collective Action in Singapore”.

Let us start by talking about your joint appointment at USP.

This is my second year of joint appointment at USP. I teach the module called Understanding Law and Social Change. Basically, the course takes the students through 3 case studies to analyse the relationship between law and bringing about social changes. We try to decipher whether the law shapes the way people think, and thus, bring about social change or if the law limits the amount of social change that can materialise.

What would be different in terms of teaching at the Law Faculty and at USP?

In Law, we would teach more about the doctrinal law, meaning the substantive law that would help in practice. However, in USP, we like to look more at the social science aspect of the law.

Could you perhaps also talk more about your research projects? I am sure many people will be interested to know more about this unconventional area of research.

I have just wrapped up a research paper about gay right movements in Singapore. The book has already been sent for publication, so it will be released soon. The way that research works is that I don’t just look at the cases and statutory law that would affect the homosexual persons. Instead, I look at how gay activists engage their opponents and the legal institutions to achieve their goals of justice and equality. Currently, I am conducting research together with my co-author on the emergence of sexual and gender minority issues in Myanmar. Although there is a relationship between my study in Singapore and that in Myanmar in terms of the topic, the substance and theoretical framework of each work would be quite different. On top of these, there are still a few more projects under way.

Prof Lynette giving a narrative account of gay rights in Singapore at Yale-Nus. Photo courtesy of Yale Daily News
Prof Lynette giving a narrative account of gay rights in Singapore at Yale-NUS.
Photo courtesy of Yale Daily News

How did you substantiate your research, in terms of the evidence?

The scholarly literature that I draw upon for my research on Singapore includes sociology of law and sociology of social movement.  My method of carrying out the research was through qualitative empirical work. That included in-depth semi-structured interviews with activists, observations of activist activities and content analysis of the documents by both the government and the activists. This similar sort of qualitative evidence would have to be used for the research in Myanmar, especially since people don’t know much about these issues or the possibility of a collective action in Myanmar.

What are some difficulties you faced in carrying out research on this unconventional topic area?

Language barrier is definitely going to be there. So, for my research in Myanmar, I used a few interpreters to tap on their individual strengths in different areas especially since this is a sensitive topic for the interviewees to talk about. Along with it came the cultural differences. Of course, if you have the luxury of time, you could spend time in that particular community and get to know the people better so that they feel more comfortable talking about such sensitive issues to you. Nevertheless, these are just the usual challenges you will encounter as you go about doing research work that you have to overcome them along the way. Another possible challenge lies in access to information.

However, I have been fortunate so far because the people that I have approached for my research have been very willing and generous with their time to help me out. People tend to get emotional and even break down during the interviews. It is really a privilege to hear them share something so sensitive and close to their hearts.

How did you decide on this research topic and what advice would you give to a person deciding on a research topic?

To cut the long story short, I was inspired to focus on this issue since it has to do with equality and justice. From there, my interest grew so I branched out my research to other areas beyond Singapore. Since many of these projects run for long-term, it must be something that can interest you enough so that you can live with it for many years. I started my book on the Singapore gay rights movement in 2006 and the book is only going to be released this year. It’s almost like a long-term relationship. If you are not passionate about it, then it is going to be quite difficult.

Now that we’ve heard about Lynette the academic, how is Lynette the ordinary person different from her?

I do have a life outside of academia. That’s one of the reasons why I never wanted to go into practice but preferred academia. Instead of catering my time to the clients, I get to plan my own time so that I can enjoy my life outside academia each day. I swim 6 days a week and I also practise Chinese calligraphy. I try to ensure that I get to enjoy my interests as part of my everyday schedule.

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