Julian CH Lee completed his PhD in Anthropology in 2007 during which he conducted research with a number of civil society activists in Kuala Lumpur. The work that informed his PhD thesis was later published in 2010 as Islamization and Activism in Malaysia. This book examines how some activists had sought to engage in their advocacy work using an array of methods including legal activism and political engagement. In the course of his research, Julian has observed at close quarters the conduct of Malaysian elections, as well as the work of a number of civil society movements in Malaysia.
Julian’s later research focused on women’s rights activists, including those involved in the Women’s Candidacy Initiative, which sought to improve the representation of non-partisan women in Malaysia’s parliament. He has also described the work of activists seeking to raise awareness of issues facing Malaysians who face discrimination or criminalisation on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Among other publications, this research resulted in his second book, Policing Sexuality: Sex, Society and the State (2011), which was completed during his time at the University of Kent as an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow.
In 2013, Julian won a grant from the Sumitomo Foundation to examine civil society responses in Indonesia and Malaysia to the 2011 earthquakes in Japan. In response to the destruction caused by the earthquakes, there was a wide array of activities undertaken in Indonesia and Malaysia to support Japan. Julian’s research resulted in publications and the short documentary, For Japan, Our Sister. This research was followed by a subsequent grant from the Sumitomo Foundation in 2015 to investigate Japanese culture appreciation societies in three Southeast Asian countries – Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, which led to the short film Be a Superhero.
In 2015 Julian and Paul Battersby also won a grant from the Toyota Foundation to examine how the value of ‘filial piety’ is transforming in the face of disruptions to family structures as a result of globalisation and migration. By focusing on how families in Malaysia, Australia and Indonesia attempt to continue practising filial piety, the project explored developments in the way it is exercised, and resulted in the short documentary Caring at a Distance.
Among the areas of interest in Julian’s research and publications are civil society; social activism; elections and democracy; human rights; gender; sexuality; ethnicity and identity; religion; multiculturalism and inter-faith. The countries in which Julian has conducted research and published are Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
In 2017 he was appointed to the Academic Advisory Board for the open-access academic publisher Kismet Press, and to the Editorial Board of the journal Anthropological Forum. In 2014, he received the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies ‘Research Excellence Award’.