Written by Mucahid Mustafa Bayrak 莫家俊 (Assistant Professor, Dept of Geography, National Taiwan Normal University)
My passion for geography stems from my love for travelling. I have made several trips throughout Asia and the Middle East. I am fascinated to see how people live, what they eat, what they think, how they do the things they do, how they communicate, how their society functions, what their world views are, and how they look at me: your average Dutch-Turkish guy. This resulted in me specializing in development geography at Utrecht University as I became interested to see how different societies develop. My first real experience with fieldwork was in Central Vietnam where I studied the impact of a forestland allocation programme on indigenous forest-dependent communities’ livelihoods. This was done for my master’s thesis. Upon completing my master’s, I realized that there is so much more work I could do and I decided to apply for a PhD at the Geography and Resource Management Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2011 to continue my work in Vietnam.
My research broadly concerns the impact of development interventions on human-environmental relationships. I am particularly concerned with indigenous communities, but I also focus on other (marginalized) groups. While I would like to classify myself as a political ecologist, I realize that I need more experience in doing fieldwork, even if I have been in the “field” for ten years already. What fascinates me about this field of knowledge is how different societies have created their own management systems, based on social rules, taboos, customary and traditional knowledge systems and institutions, power relations, and different perceptions of nature. I am eager to find out to what extent these systems survive in a globalized and capitalist world. I believe that we can learn a lot from indigenous communities about alternative or endogenous forms of development, especially in the way how we look at the natural environment, and the role of society therein.
After my PhD I worked at Harbin Institute of Technology (where I was also a visiting fellow at the Department of Geography, National Taiwan Normal University in 2016), and at my old department at Utrecht University (I wanted to find out where I wanted to work, in Europe or Asia?). In 2018, I finally returned to NTNU, and this time as a faculty member. Words cannot describe how happy I was being back in Taiwan. The academic environment in Taiwan is really stimulating, I have started my own little happy family now, and I receive a lot of opportunities here to broaden and develop my research, teaching and academic service. My current research will focus on climate change perceptions of indigenous communities in Taiwan, and migration and environmental change in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Besides that, I am teaching courses on political ecology, climate change, sustainable development, sustainable tourism management and urban geography. I am also organizing a field school to Yogyakarta and Central Java, Indonesia this summer. Therefore, being a full-time academic, and also a full-time dad and husband is very time demanding, but in the end, also very rewarding. My next challenge? Learn Chinese! Luckily my wife also happens to be a language teacher! I look forward to meeting Taiwan’s geography community and other scholars, and I am very grateful that I could introduce myself here. Thank you, and until we meet again!