Remembering Lisa Drummond

Lisa Drummond, a long-time YCAR Faculty Associate, Associate Professor in the Urban Studies Program in the Department of Social Science and a member of the Graduate Program in Geography, passed away on 19 January 2021 after a long illness  

Lisa did a BA in International Relations and an MA in Geography at the University of British Columbia, and then completed her PhD (2000) in Geographical Sciences at the Australian National University on Vietnamese urban geography. She was an expert in modern and postcolonial cities and suburbs, with particular interests in Southeast Asian cities (especially Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), urban social life, public/private space, gender and sexuality. Lisa conducted research in Vietnam for almost 30 years, and from 1992 to 1997, she worked as a consultant to CIDA, UNDP, the World Bank and other agencies, institutions and NGOs on various development projects and programmes. 

She published in both English and Vietnamese, and co-edited five collections of writings on cities including The Reinvention of Distinction: Modernity and the Modern Class in Urban Vietnam with Van Nguyen-Marshall and Danièle Bélanger as well as Consuming Urban Culture in Contemporary Vietnam, with Mandy Thomas, and Gender Practices in Contemporary Vietnam, with Helle Rydstrøm. 

She had a strong interest in art, and used it in her research as a means of insight into how people envisioned the future of cities. She also helped arrange for Vietnamese artists to find opportunities to exhibit their work in Canada. She was recognized by the Union of Scientific and Technological Associations of Vietnam in 2006 for her work on the geography of Vietnam. Lisa arranged for and selected the painting that now hangs at the entrance to YCAR. 

Photograph by Douglas Young

We asked our colleagues to share their memories of Lisa:

*We would welcome your memories of her to include in this space. If you would like to contribute please send your messages to Alicia at ycar@yorku.ca.

Lisa’s death in January 2021 saddened many friends in Australia and former student compatriots dispersed around the Asian-Pacific region. I had known Lisa since 1994 when she came to the Australian National University on a Canadian Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  She had first-class bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia, a string of university prizes and top-class recommendations from such luminaries in the geographical firmament as Professors Derek Gregory, Terry McGee and Alexander Woodside. 

Originally, Lisa had applied to the Australian National University to do a PhD in Southeast Asian Studies on gender and colonialism following on from her master’s thesis on women and the household economy in Vietnam.  Later a link with geography was suggested and she was eventually enrolled in the then Department of Human Geography in the Research School of Asian and Pacific Studies.  After her topic was switched to Vietnamese households in Hanoi, I was added to her list of possible supervisors. When the topic changed again, I became her principal supervisor with Professors Ben Kerkvliet and David Marr acting as advisers. 

Lisa undertook research of the highest quality on Vietnam. She was well equipped for the task.  Not only did she have previous experience in the country as a consultant to international lending agencies, but also commanded French and both northern and southern Vietnamese dialects.  She was well versed in the country’s history and culture.  At the time it was not sufficient to be an excellent researcher in Vietnam.  You had to have the necessary energy, tenacity and resourcefulness to first survive and then succeed — Lisa proved that she had these essential qualities.  She ranked as an excellent fieldworker, and I learned much from her in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.  Indeed, as reflected in her PhD thesis on ‘Mapping Modernity: Perspectives on Everyday Life in Vietnam’s Urbanizing Society’, she was certainly streetwise.  Her PhD degree was awarded in April 2000. Her time at the Australian University ended with her playing a pivotal role in the University’s annual update on Vietnam.

Since she left the Australian National University, I have kept in touch with Lisa in both Singapore and Toronto.  It is evident from her publications that Lisa fulfilled her undoubted potential as a scholar. It has been pleasing to see an array of publications on the urban geography of Vietnam emerging from her thesis, postdoctoral work in Singapore and as a member of staff at York University.

Lisa’s forte was on providing penetrating perspectives on everyday life in Vietnam. She has produced a series of insightful and penetrating studies based on household surveys and distillations from the social media drawn from television serials and women’s magazines. These have demonstrated her distinct feel for the way in which Vietnamese citizens make use of shared public space and have developed an urban lifestyle.  She had an excellent theoretical background and was conscious of her contributions to the literature.  Her longitudinal study of public and private space in Hanoi from the perception of users was of exceptional merit.

On reflection, Lisa will be ranked among the pantheon of excellent scholars on gender practices, place and popular culture in Vietnam.  Already, this has been widely recognized within geography and cognate disciplines.  Her presentations on public space in Vietnamese cities and women’s roles in the country’s society have captivated audiences. She has also displayed academic leadership and has been in a pivotal position to enthuse a new generation of post-graduate scholars in urban studies within Vietnam.  These activities have been pursued to great effect for two decades at York University.

Personally, I will have to forego discussing our mutual interest in soccer (including Lisa’s recollections of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC) and cherish the wonderful dinner my wife and I had with her and son, Chester, during our last visit to Toronto. We will miss Lisa and wish Chester well.

—Peter J. Rimmer, Professor Emeritus Professor, School of Culture, History and Language, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University


Lisa and I go back a long way. We shared the same supervisor in the graduate program in Geography at UBC (and as such were lifelong members of the ‘McGlee Club’); we overlapped for a year at the National University of Singapore in the late 1990s; and then, two decades ago, we started at York a couple of years apart. Even when we disagreed, I always enjoyed her acerbic wit, her irreverent humour and her raucous laughter.  She was a valued colleague and an important scholar of Vietnam. Her long experience there, and her fluency in French and Vietnamese, meant that she had a deep knowledge of the country and its urban landscape and history. She was also a mainstay of the Southeast Asian Studies community in Canada, where she was a regular and convivial stalwart of the CCSEAS conferences. I remember one such conference, in 2009, when about one eighth of the entire program consisted of sessions that Lisa had single-handedly convened. She will be deeply missed by friends and colleagues, near and far.

—Philip F. Kelly, Former YCAR Director; Associate Dean for Research, Graduate and Global Affairs and Professor of Geography, Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change 

“I am saddened to hear of Lisa Drummond’s passing. I first met Lisa in the summer of 2000 when she was a postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Lisa was a co-organizer of a workshop on Southeast Asian Urban Futures, the first to seriously respond to the still lingering effects of the Asian financial crisis. The results of the workshop were published as a book titled Critical Reflections on Cities in Southeast Asia (2003). I believe this was Lisa’s first co-edited book. It was published soon after she left NUS for York University. Memory is a function of not only time, but also space. I didn’t meet Lisa again until 10 years later when I was a visiting scholar at YCAR under her sponsorship. We became fast friends but we were more than friends—Lisa was my “mentor” after all. She was the first to share with me what YCAR is about. Her affection for the Centre was certainly contagious. It was through Lisa that I found YCAR. She “taught” me the course that I am currently teaching for YCAR’s graduate diploma programme: The Making of Asian Studies. When I joined York in 2015, she was already struggling to keep well. Even then her support was unwavering. She played an important role in the organization of the 2017 Canadian Council for Southeast Asian Studies conference held at York.

Lisa will be remembered by students of urban Asia for her work on Vietnam. I will remember her for many more things including her fondness to learn new subjects. At one point she was seriously interested in writing about Korean television dramas. She already impressed us with the knowledge she had acquired. Above all, I will never be able to forget her loving nature. When she visited my family and I at home, she would bring the most wonderful toys that her son Chester didn’t use anymore. Some of them remain favourites of my daughter Leia. Lisa was a dedicated colleague, a great mentor, and a wonderful friend. She will be greatly missed.”

—Abidin Kusno, YCAR Director; Professor, Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change 

“Lisa belongs to that rare and small group of young Canadian scholars specializing in Vietnamese studies who bring theory and critical analysis to policy and practical problems in everyday life. I met her through her mentor at UBC, Professor Terry McGee. Her astute observation and incisive analysis of Vietnamese politics, culture, urban life and social relations always attracted me to her paper presentations at the CCSEAS. She co-edited with T Bunnell and KC Ho the anthology, Critical Reflections on Cities in Southeast Asia, where Lisa invited me to write a chapter. I am very grateful for her interventions. Sadly, I will never fully know the full extent to which Lisa has been generous with her time and talents reviewing research grant applications, journal manuscripts, and other avenues for blind review. A true interdisciplinary scholar driven by curiosity and scholarship committed to good change, I will fondly remember Lisa’s wide smiles and calm approach to life—a scholar who loves her work deeply and knows how to have fun, while wearing very comfortable clothes, scarves and shoes. CCSEAS’s bright lights are a bit dimmer now with Lisa’s passing. I will miss her dearly.”

—Leonora C. Angeles, CCSEAS President, School of Community and Regional Planning and The Social Justice Institute, University of British Columbia

“It was such shocking and unexpected news! I was so saddened to hear of Lisa Drummond’s passing. I liked Lisa a lot even though we did not run into each other very often. I remember when I first joined YCAR as a new faculty at York University in 2002, she soon became a familiar face that always greeted me warm heartedly when our paths crossed on campus. I had the opportunity to serve on the exam committee for her doctoral student in 2012. I was so impressed by the way that she guided the student, enthusiastically and passionately sharing her research interests and generously sharing her expertise. I am going to miss her a lot. My thoughts and prayers are with her family in the time of grief.”

—Wendy S. Wong, Professor of Design, York University

“I was very sad to hear the sad news about Lisa Drummond. I came to know Lisa in 2013 when I took her course “The Making of Asian Studies.” The course gave me a lasting impression, partly because it was my first time to learn about area studies and partly because of Lisa’s gentle and engaging approach to the class. Now, when I think of Edward Said, I think of Lisa. Even after completing the course, Lisa was kind enough to provide extra support to my research amid her busy schedule. She will be missed.”

—Zed (Zhipeng) Gao, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Sociology and Anthropology,Simon Fraser University

“I was really sad to hear the news about Lisa Drummond. While I only occasionally interacted with Lisa at YCAR and other research events at York, she always  struck me as a hugely positive and upbeat person. She was generous with her time and her scholarly engagement was always positive and very constructive. I was really very sad to hear of her death, and offer my deep condolences to her family, friends, colleagues and students. It is such a terrible loss.”

—Margaret Walton-Roberts, Professor, Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University

*YFile published a piece in rememberance of Lisa on 24 January 2021: https://yfile.news.yorku.ca/2021/01/24/passings-lisa-drummond/