Tabitha Speelman wins IIAS National Master's Thesis Prize 2013

03 December 2013

Each year, IIAS awards a prize for the best master’s thesis in the broad field of Asian Studies in the humanities or social sciences, written at a Dutch university. The Prize consists of the honorary title ‘Best Master’s Thesis in Asian Studies' and a three month IIAS fellowship to write a PhD project proposal or a research article.

This year's prize went to Tabitha Speelman (Leiden University) for her thesis Fast and forward? High-speed rail reform in China and what it costs to whom?

2013 competition
In total 16 excellent theses competed for the 2013 award, covering a wide academic field ranging from architecture, to history, philosophy, anthropology, political science and other fields.

During the award ceremony on 3 December 2013, chairman of the IIAS Board, Professor Henk Schulte Nordholt, said that all submitted theses revealed a productive combination of disciplinary rigor and in depth regional knowledge, calling this a “happy marriage between disciplines and area studies”.

Before announcing the final winner, Schulte Nordholt gave brief descriptions of the topics of the four theses that had made it to the shortlist, and shared with his audience that that all four were very good, but that only one could be the winner, namely:

Tabitha Speelman (Leiden University) with her thesis:
Fast and forward? High-speed rail reform in China and what it costs to whom?

This thesis contrasts perspectives of the state with its top down blueprints and the lived experiences of travelers and ordinary people on the ground. In doing so, the author uncovers the weakness in an ideologically driven development model that is exclusively geared towards success. Intended to speed up national integration, the fast train creates also new inequalities by leaving behind marginalized areas and lower classes. As such the train – and the risks it involves – is a telling metaphor of China’s overheated development. –Henk Schulte Nordholt


Also on the shortlist were:

Peter Coles (Leiden University), The impossibility of revolution? An exploration of the Liquid Modern in the works of Murakami Ryu
Sanne Mersch (Leiden University), Travelling through time and space with the Kapalamocanamahatmya in the Vayupurana.
Pim Verweij (University of Amsterdam), Homestay tourism and its impact on the local villager. Critical review of pro-poor tourism programs implemented in Sapa, Vietnam.

About half of the sixteen submitted theses came from Leiden University and about half focused on East Asia, notably China and Japan.