School of Social and Political Science

Aerin Lai

Job Title

PhD student

Aerin Lai's photo

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PhD research

My research focuses on the production of masculinity in Singapore through an intersectional and postcolonial perspective. It aims to answer the following questions:

  1. How does the state frame and shape Singaporean masculinity?
    1. How do Singaporean men understand and construct masculinity in relation to race, class and sexuality?
    2. How does postcolonialism in Singapore inform the discursive production of Singaporean masculinity?
  2. How can we expand on intersectional frameworks to understand the interrelationship between ‘local’ masculinities and historical and geopolitical transnational processes?

For my Masters, I explored the embodiment of Japanese masculinity by conducting interviews and body-mapping with Japanese men. Building on my Masters thesis, I aim to study masculinity in Singapore for my PhD project, delving deeper into how Singaporean men talk about how they become men in relation to significant life-events (for e.g. marriage, family, military service etc).


Prof. Mary Holmes and Dr. Radhika Govinda

Honours and awards

Tweedie Research Fellowship, March to August 2021

Award for conducting fieldwork in Singapore for PhD project.

Mizuho International Foundation Scholarship, October 2017 to March 2019

Monthly stipend provided for duration of master’s program at Ochanomizu University. Selected as 1 out of 14 awardees in Japan.

Ochanomizu University Tuition Waiver, April 2017 to March 2019

Merit-based tuition waiver renewed every semester depending on academic achievements and recommendations from academic supervisor.

Shibuzawa Ethnology Promotion Fund Travel Grant, July 2017

Presented paper titled, “Clan Associations in Singapore and Hindrances to Revitalization” at Inter-Asia Cultural Studies conference, Seoul, South Korea.


Lai, Aerin. 2020. Review of Decolonizing Universalism: A Transnational Feminist Ethic by Serene J. Khader. LSE Review of Books. Retrieved April 24, 2020.

Lai, Aerin. 2020. "The Hypervisibility of Chinese Bodies in Times of Covid-19 And What It Says About Being British.Discover Society, April 12.

My article discusses the hypervisibility of Chinese bodies in the UK during the global spread of Covid-19. The conflation of Chinese bodies with Covid-19 and the resulting racial violence that is directed at the Chinese community reveals what it means to be and to look British. It illustrates how 'British Chinese' as an indentity is unimaginable in the British polity.

Lai, Aerin. “Docile BL Bodies – Boys Love under State and Societal Censorship in Singapore” in James Welker, ed. Queer Transfigurations: Boys Love Media in Asia. HI: University of Hawai’i Press (forthcoming).

Keywords: embodiment; sexuality; censorship; state-society relations; Singapore; Japanese subculture

My paper highlights the negotiations between fan-artists producing male homoerotic fan-art (Boys Love) and socio-political censorship surrounding LGBTQ in Singapore. Alluding to Michel Foucault and Slavoj Žižek’s critique, I argue that the contestations between state; societal censorship; and fan-artists are inscribed upon the kind of Boys Love fan-art produced by the latter, which I term, “BL bodies”. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with 10 Singaporean fan-artists between 2017 and 2018.

Lai, Aerin. “A Study of the Fudanshi Identity in Singapore” in Kaori Fushiki

and Ryoko Sakurada, eds. Anthropology Through the Experience of the Physical Body. India: Manohar Publishers and Distributors. (Forthcoming)

Keywords: embodiment; sexuality; identity; Japanese subculture; Singapore

Drawing attention to the fluidity of sexual identities in Singapore, this paper focuses on male fans of Japanese male homoerotica in comics and animation (a genre known as Boys Love) in Singapore and how they understand their own sexuality while consuming Boys Love media. Commonly known as “fudanshi” within Japanese subculture, these men are seen as outliers in a community dominated by women fans. Based on findings from interviews, I argue that through strategies such as “straightening BL”, my fudanshi participants are able to un-queer Boys Love media and produce a stable sexual identity aligned with their straight-ness.

Articles/blog posts

Lai, Aerin. 2020. "The Phenomenology of a Global Pandemic." Edinburgh Decameron: Lockdown Sociology at Work.

A short reflection on the embodied experiences of time and space during lockdown in Covid-19 and the importance of understanding 'felt' time and space in the construction of identity and the process of making sense of our social realities.

Conference presentations

"Masculine body-making in Japan: the production of embodied masculine identities through dieting and exercise among young Japanese men," British Sociological Association Annual Conference, "Reimagining Social Bodies: Self, Institutions and Societies". Birmingham, United Kingdom. April 2020. (CANCELLED DUE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC)

Keywords: masculinity; embodiment; japanese studies; identities

I present on the construction of embodied masculinity through bodily practices such as dieting and exercise among Japanese undergraduate men. It analyses how men experience and identity with/against their changing bodies. Using body-mapping techniques and qualitative interviews, findings illustrate that through a continuous process of story-telling, men make sense of bodily changes while constructing a coherent masculine self-identity. This construction necessarily depends on the establishment of others – un-masculine (feminized and fat); feminine; non-Japanese and Western bodies – to delineate boundaries that define what masculine bodies and masculine men are. My research reveals a need for a re-evaluation of contemporary Japanese masculinity and calls for greater focus given to how younger Japanese men understand and produce masculinity through their bodies.

“Clan Associations in Singapore and Hindrances to Revitalization”, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies International Conference, “Worlding: Asia Beyond / After Globalization”. Seoul, South Korea. July 2017.

Keywords: heritage; Chineseness; Singapore

Presenting on data collected as a Singapore Heritage Society intern, I illustrated revitalization problems Chinese clan associations in Singapore face despite a recent surge in interests towards heritage conservation. Having the role of “cultural ballast” against Western values thrusted upon them by the state, Chinese clan associations find themselves in a double-bind where they are seen as gatekeepers of Chinese tradition in a society where Chinese-ness needs to be reiterated in the face of multiculturalism and neoliberal globalization.

“Bodily Myths and Rottenness of Fudanshi”, Cultural Typhoon Europe. Vienna, Austria. September 2016.

Keywords: embodiment; sexuality; Singapore; Boys Love; Japanese subculture

I presented on how Japanese male homoerotica (Boys Love) comics perpetuated heteronormativity despite featuring narratives of love between men, while proposing how male readers of Boys Love (fudanshi), engaged with such media in ways that ironically reaffirmed their straight-ness. Data was based on analysis of such comics, on top of interviewing male readers of Boys Love from Singapore.

Teaching experience

  • Sept-Dec, 2020. Designing and Doing Social Research, Sociology, University of Edinburgh.
  • Social Anthropology 1A: The Life Course, Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh.

Research interests

Research interests

Feminism, Decolonisation, Embodiment, Sociology of Gender, Gender and Sexuality, Masculinities

Works within