Sophie Lemiere

Photo credit: Roy Searcey

Sophie Lemiere is a Political Anthropologist and an associate fellow at The History Workshop, at The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a former non-residential fellow for the Democracy in Hard Places Initiative at the Ash Center for Democracy, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, US (May 2018-May 2020).

In 2014, she received her PhD from Sciences-Po, France. Her thesis was the first study on the political role of gangs through umbrella NGOs in Malaysia. In 2007, her Masters research on the apostasy controversies and Islamic civil society was awarded the second prize for International Young Scholar from the ISIM, Leiden. She has held research positions at RSIS-NTU in 2011 then at ARI in 2012 and has been visiting fellow at the University of Sydney, Cornell, UC Berkeley and Columbia. She was awarded the postdoctoral Fellowship at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA) in 2017-2018 and subsequently the NUS-Stanford Lee Kong Chian Distinguished Fellowship in Contemporary Southeast Asia in 2018-2019 and a Visiting senior fellowship at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University.

In February 2020, Sophie was one of the International Visiting Scholar at the Humanities Center at Stanford University. She currently among fellows of the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship at the International Forum for Democratic Studies (National Endowment for Democracy-NED), in Washington, D.C (till July 2020).

Current Project

Sophie’s current work explore on the intangible elements of politics including: the conjunction of political imaginary and legitimacy, charisma and personality politics, the evolution of political imaginary, the constructions of political and national narratives, the role of emotions in politics, etc.

During the 2018 General Elections campaign she was given access to the inner circles of Mahathir campaign for 6 months, from nomination day to victory for her forthcoming monograph (2020). Beyond the rigorous documentation of the campaign and its intricacies from the unique perspective of the close circles of Mahathir, this book is an in-depth analysis of the re-invention of the Mahathir persona and the concept of "Legitimacy" in Malaysia and beyond.

This work explores questions rarely touched on in the field of Malaysian studies and contributes to larger debates in social sciences (sociology, political sciences and anthropology, philosophy etc.).

Research Philosophy

Sophie believes it is essential for academics to disseminate their research to a wide audience, and primarily in the countries they study. With this idea in mind, she has oriented her efforts towards the publication of original scholarship addressing both a general and academic audience within and outside of Malaysia. She is the editor of a series “Malaysian Politics and People”: the first volume Misplaced Democracy was released in 2014, the second volume Illusions of democracy was published in 2017 and re-published in 2018 by Amsterdam University Press. The third volume of the series Minorities Matter released on 4th May 2019, see here for more information.

Sophie has made considerable efforts to give visibility to Malaysian Studies by publishing in both international academic and non-academic outlets, she contributes to publications such as New Mandala, Le Monde, Libération, Mediapart...etc.

Sophie has also started to develop several documentary projects with French production companies, including a series on the Arts and Politics. Her first film 9/43 featured the Malaysian cartoonist Zunar and was selected among the 25 best movies of the French short-film festival ‘Infracourt’ in 2016.


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