SINGAPORE – A professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) who specializes in migration issues has become the first Singaporean to receive an award that is widely regarded as the Nobel Prize in Geography.
In a statement on Tuesday (October 12), the NUS announced that Professor Brenda Yeoh, Raffles Professor of Social Sciences and Head of Humanities and Social Sciences Research at the NUS Office of the Vice President (Research and Technology), has been awarded the 2021 International Vautrin Lud Prize .
The award is given to geographers for outstanding achievements in the field. It is named after Vautrin Lud, a 16th-century French scientist who is credited with naming the New World “America” after Amerigo Vespucci.
Since 1991, the prestigious award has been presented annually to a single laureate by a five-year international jury at the International Geography Festival in Saint-Die-des-Vosges, France.
Prof Yeoh was awarded at the 32nd edition of the festival, which was held from October 1 to October 3. She joins other geographic fixtures that have received the award, such as Marxist economist David Harvey and British social scientist and geographer Doreen Massey, who is known for her work on space, place and power.
At the festival, Prof Yeoh gave a presentation on the aggravating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the precariousness of temporary migrant workers and how it has revealed the unsustainable nature of temporary migration for nation states such as Singapore.
She also suggested that the pandemic has offered an opportunity to reconfigure temporary migration to be more sustainable and equitable, for example by offering longer-term visas and contracts and incorporating migrant workers into national health and safety networks.
She said the award was a great honor and “a total surprise”.
“I am deeply grateful to have been worthy of this famous award,” she said.
“It is a sign of NUS Geography’s international reach and important recognition that significant insights into geographical science within the framework of Asia (my field location) can have an impact on the global stage.
“I thank the university for providing me with support, encouragement and the opportunity to work on the most important issues related to transnational migration that affect our society, and I look forward to promoting research in this area.”
She noted that the pandemic has made border crossings even more difficult and dangerous.
“Crossing borders is also about intercultural encounters, about meeting each other in all our distinctive features and differences … Migration research helps us to think through these tricky issues so that we can learn to do things differently to make the world a better place. “, he said Prof Yeoh.
Currently the leader of the Asian Migration Cluster at the Asia Research Institute in NUS, she has published in 35 books and written more than 230 newspaper articles.
She has been teaching and researching at the NUS Department of Geography for more than 30 years since she started as a senior teacher in 1987.
Among other meetings, she is currently chair of the National Heritage Board’s Heritage Advisory Panel.
On July 26, she was the only researcher from Singapore to be elected to the Fellowship of the British Academy – the UK’s National Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission is required for reproduction.