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State-Society relations - Burma/Myanmar and the region

Individual Documents

Title: ‘Stilled to silence at 500 metres’: making sense of historical change in Southeast Asia
Date of publication: November 2008
Description/subject: "The dialectical relationship between the nation state and zones of relative autonomy isn’t unique to mainland Southeast Asia, but it is of particular salience there, demarcating the social cleavage that shapes much of the region’s history: that between hill peoples and valley peoples. It led to a process of state formation in valleys and peopling of hills, and left the latter largely absent from the historical record...‘Non-state spaces’ are where the state has difficulty establishing its authority: mountains, swamps, mangrove coasts, deserts, river deltas. Such places have often served as havens of refuge for peoples resisting or fleeing the state. Only the modern state possesses the resources to bring non-state spaces and people to heel; in Southeast Asia it represents the last great effort to integrate people, land and resources of the periphery and make them contributors to the gross national product. The state might dub it ‘development’, ‘economic progress’, ‘literacy’, ‘social integration’, but the real objective is to make the economic activity of peripheral societies taxable and assessable – to make it serve the state – by, for example, obliging nomads or swidden cultivators to settle in permanent villages, concentrating manpower and foodstuffs. Thus the padi-state was an ‘enclosure’ of previously stateless peoples: irrigated rice agriculture on permanent fields helped create the state’s strategic and military advantage. In fact, the permanent association of the state and sedentary agriculture is at the centre of this story (a story by no means confined to Southeast Asia, which this article targets). The vast ‘barbarian’ periphery became a vital resource: human captives formed a successful state’s working capital. Avoiding the state used to be a real option. Today it is quickly vanishing..."
Author/creator: James C. Scott
Language: English
Source/publisher: International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) (Newsletter 49)
Format/size: pdf (225K)
Date of entry/update: 07 March 2009


Title: Beyond hills and plains: rethinking trade, state and society in the upper Mekong borderlands
Date of publication: October 2006
Description/subject: Borderlands are often described as ‘frontier zones’ characterised by ‘rebelliousness, lawlessness and/or an absence of laws’ (Kristof 1959: 281). Anecdotes resonate with popular images of a remote underworld (or perhaps ‘outerworld’) where state authority is weak and lawlessness prevails. In the upper Mekong borderlands of Thailand, Laos and Burma, the imagery of borderland illegality persists both as spectre and lure, but the substance of what happens there reveals a state and society in league.
Author/creator: Andrew Walker
Language: English
Source/publisher: International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) (Newsletter 42)
Format/size: pdf (216K)
Date of entry/update: 07 March 2009


Title: Conflict and illegality as a way of life -- the paradox of Burma
Date of publication: October 2006
Description/subject: Located at a strategic Asian crossroads, Burma (Myanmar)1 is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries. Surrounded by Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand, it is also one of the most strife-torn and lawless along its 3,650-mile border. Its post-colonial experience exemplifies how illicit economies, insurgent or military-based politics and cross-border human movement can flourish in the wake of failed attempts to create a modern nation-state...Since Burma’s independence from Great Britain in 1948, an array of state, quasi-state and insurgent groups have used armed violence to pursue their goals across all three political eras: parliamentary democracy (1948-62), General Ne Win’s ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’ (1962-88), and the military State Peace and Development Council (post-1988). In the 21st century, Burma’s socio-political landscape continues to reflect conditions of conflict. Particularly in the conflict zones, the line between ‘legality’ and ‘illegality’ is frequently blurred....
Author/creator: Martin Smith
Language: English
Source/publisher: International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) (Newsletter 42)
Format/size: pdf (731K)
Date of entry/update: 07 March 2009


Title: Regionalism in Myanmar’s Foreign Policy: Past, Present and Future
Date of publication: September 2006
Description/subject: "This paper examines regionalism in Myanmar foreign policy mostly in the context of ASEAN-Myanmar relations and it argues that Myanmar's decision to embrace regionalism was primarily motivated by her desire to enhance state security, which also meant regime security; the threat to which was more internal than external in nature. Her subscription to regionalism was facilitated by the end of the Cold War divide, particularly in Asia. Myanmar's regional cooperation was predicated upon notions that the regional organization should be free from great power manipulation and should not be an organization for collective defense. Member states also needed to subscribe to the principle of non-interference in each others’ affairs. Myanmar was particularly attracted to the grouping’s modus operandi known as the ASEAN way. The ASEAN way of informal and incremental approach to co-operation based on consultation and dialogue, which constitutes the ASEAN diplomatic norm, was by and large in line with the comfort level of the military regime in Myanmar. While, initially after joining, Myanmar was strongly against the deviation from the established principle of “constructive engagement”, it eventually managed to accept ASEAN’s “enhanced interaction” as a new modus operandi. It appears that, as far as the Myanmar government is concerned, issues that do not threaten national sovereignty and the nation-building process can be discussed among the member states in the spirit of ASEAN unity. Moreover, after several years of experience with cooperative security arrangements, Myanmar is now a signatory to the ASEAN Security Community; for the first time in its post-colonial history agreeing to be a member of the regional security architecture."...Keywords: Myanmar; Burma; Myanmar foreign policy; ASEAN; BIMSTEC; State Peace and Development Council; regionalism
Author/creator: Maung Aung Myoe
Language: English
Source/publisher: Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore Working Paper 73
Format/size: pdf (213K)
Date of entry/update: 12 March 2010