Kai Ostwald

Associate Professor

Relevant Degree Programs



I am an assistant professor in the School of Public Policy & Global Affairs and the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. I am also the Director of UBC's Centre for Southeast Asia Research and the Associate Editor (Southeast Asia) for Pacific Affairs.

I conduct research on political and economic development, primarily in the Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Myanmar. My work has appeared in numerous outlets and has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the International Development Research Centre, the Pacific Rim Research Program, and others.

Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
Sex work and HIV/AIDS in Vietnam: addressing mental and emotional needs of trafficking victims (2017)

Poor mental health is a critical factor that can significantly impede reintegration success for many trafficked returnees. Sex trafficking is a highly traumatizing experience, and many victims of the sex trade describe feeling physically, psychologically and emotionally unwell at some stage of their post trafficking lives. These issues often develop during the period of exploitation, and intensify as they struggle to recover and reintegrate back into the society, mainly due to the stigma attached to their record as sex workers. In addition, their mental health worsens if they carry a sexually-transmitted disease, especially HIV/AIDS, which further heightens their distress and prevents successful reintegration efforts. Nonetheless, ensuring psychological support and counselling is not the norm in Vietnam due to the lack of trained professionals, and also cultural prejudice towards people with mental illnesses. Thus, in the absence of formal mechanisms of assistance and counselling, alternative instruments to help victims cope with psychological stress, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation should be promoted and supported. This study seeks to explore religion and spirituality as an alternative instrument to address psychological and emotional needs of HIV-positive victims of sex trafficking in Vietnam.

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Not Apathetic Just Being Appropriate: Singapore's Political Communication under the Scrutiny of Social Media (2016)

Many have proclaimed that social media has changed Singapore’s political arena by empowering a range of new voices in the assumed apathetic nation. This thesis addresses two correlated questions: Are Singaporeans apathetic to “politics” in Singapore? How effective is the Singapore government’s social media strategies towards engaging with the citizens in the aftermath of the 2011 Singapore General Election? This thesis examines a few cases where Singaporeans contributed to a wide range of political expressions such as activism work and alternative news sites through social media which changed the power structure that Singapore has. Additionally, the Singapore government’s social media strategies to promote policy and party’s image has shown certain effectiveness in gaining traction. This thesis also observes the Singapore government’s attempt to increase their social media presence and engagement to reach out to its people even in the midst of curbing expression and extending their patriarchal control. Conclusively, this thesis analyses the Facebook interactions amongst the political candidates in the 2015 Singapore General Election to establish the connection that social media interaction between the candidates and the citizens is imperative and in due course affects the vote count and the traction they get with the citizens.

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