21 May 2019

Dear Burma Studies,

We write today to introduce a new leadership team heading up the Burma Studies Group (BSG) for the next three-year term, to announce some new initiatives that we are proposing, and to seek your input and involvement.

First, you may be wondering: what exactly is BSG? Totally fair question. So, BSG is our country-specific professional study group under the Association of Asian Studies; its rotating membership helps organize our annual meeting, promotes panels featured at the conference, and runs other activities to be outlined below. This term we are co-chaired by Alexandra Green (The British Museum) and Elliott Prasse-Freeman (NUS); our treasurer is Tani Sebro (Miami Ohio); our secretary is Mu Lung Hsu (ASU) and discussion forum moderator Tom Patton (CityU).

We cooked up the following ideas so as to connect and support the ever-growing Burma community during this current Burmaissance – by which we mean the present moment of Burma Studies Renaissance in which new scholars are entering the fray and the community rapidly grows beyond our ability to keep track of everyone through old-school word-of-mouth networks:

Twice-yearly (approx) newsletter: This will remind scholars of upcoming conferences, highlight new books, and organize panel submissions for AAS.

More panels at AAS: BSG is able to sponsor a number of panels for the Association of Asian Studies annual conference (it just has to rank them). Sponsorship does not mean that they will be accepted, but the idea is that we would solicit proposal ideas and find organizers for them at our annual meeting (which happens at AAS on Saturday night, is open to all, and is followed by an ever-amazing party), which will allow us to then develop strong panels for submission. See below for two that you might apply for. 

Raise more funds through a new dues structure: At the recent annual meeting, BSG passed a motion to implement an annual dues structure in which regular members pay $20, and students $10. This will generate more funds that the group can devote to activities such as sponsoring graduate students to come to have BSG not so dependent on (very limited) SEAC money for its activities.

Database: To facilitate these new connections, we have designed a simple database, that will be generated as people fill out this form. You will be asked to submit basic professional information (such that would be found on department home pages, for instance) and research interests. It will be loosely password protected (password: BSG) such that all members can see who is working on other Burma studies topics.

Website: we are going to resurrect this website; you are reading the first new page of this new effort. Newsletters and other announcements will eventually be posted there. 

Annual paper for young scholars: While graduate students can currently apply for the Bekker prize, it is only given bi-annually. We are proposing a yearly prize, given to a grad student in the years when Bekker is not, and to a Post-Doc in the years when it is. We will have to vote on this at next year’s BSG meeting. 

Thanks for reading,

Elliott Prasse-Freeman 
Alexandra Green 
Tani Sebro 
Mu Lung Hsu 
Tom Patton 

BSG is able to sponsor a number of panels for the Association of Asian Studies annual conference (it just has to rank them). Sponsorship does not mean that they will be accepted, but it may help and this process will hopefully allow us to then develop strong panels for submission. 

Find here two panels that we have designed for Calls for Abstracts. 

Contentious and Contested Identities Along Burma’s Western Border

Association of Asian Studies

March, 19-22, 2020, Boston


In trying to make sense of the most recent cycle of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya from Northern Rakhine State, international media, vernacular histories, and many scholars alike have tended to reduce the peoples of the area to two: Buddhist Rakhines and Rohingya Muslims. In so doing, they have construed definitions of these two groups as fixed, clear, and eternally so – going back into perpetuity, such that intimate relationships with territory are asserted. But there are serious problems with this narrative. First, “Rakhine” and “Rohingya” have been evolving over the years as the social terrain itself has shifted. Many current arguments about the ethnogenesis of the groups take colonial records as dispositive, or fixate on the existence of the names “Rohingya” and “Rakhine” in various archives without considering the potential for, on one hand, radical cultural differences within those respective terms across time and space, and on the other, the existence of groups of people sharing culture, dress, religion, language despite the absence of a consistent ethnic name inscribed within discursive traditions. Moreover, by foregrounding these two ethnonyms, significant nuance on the ground is often displaced: what are the stories of the Chakma, the Marma, and other peoples living in the Chittagonian Hill Tracts – how do they conceive of their ethnic identities? What about Rohingya-dialect speaking Hindu communities who do not identify as Rohingya – how do they conceive of their relationship to Myanmar and the state’s ‘taing-yin-tha’ ideology? What are the experiences of Rakhine people living in southeastern Bangladesh – how do they imagine things such as ‘home’ or ‘homeland’, and what have been their experiences with Bangladeshi populations during the last decade of tension? How do Kaman – the only Muslim taing-yin-tha – navigate their place in Rakhine and the country? This panel will interrogate such questions, hoping to challenge current conventional wisdoms and rigid assertions of eternal identities.  

Genealogies Of Violence in Burma:
Incorporating the Rohingya Genocide into Analysis of Burma’s Protracted Civil War

Association of Asian Studies

March, 19-22, 2020, Boston


Since the Myanmar state’s most recent bout of ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya minority captured international attention in September 2017, the Rohingya have emerged as a relatively new object of analysis. Emergent discourse has, however, largely cast the Rohingya genocide as separate, even deracinated, from the country’s ‘normal’ ethnic political struggles. Not only by dint of their geographical, religio-racial, and legal realities, but also by the scale of the violence, Rohingya are marked as exceptional. Some commenters have even suggested that attention directed at their plight has stolen focus from the on-going conflicts against minorities in other parts of the country. This panel takes the opposite perspective, exploring how genealogies of state-led violence shed light on the Rohingya case, even as that case clarifies and throws into relief historical and on-going bouts of violence against, inter alia, Wa, Shan, Kachin, and Karen ethnic peoples in the country. Putting these cases together allows for an exploration of violence in various forms: by comparing the evental nature of ‘mass violence’ (of expulsions of thousands, of numerous rapes) with the slow-burning and long-standing nature of violence against communities (daily exclusion, rape as a method of occupation), a more complete picture of the Burmese state’s violent practices emerges. More deeply, the protracted violence that was transposed and intensified against Rohingya has led to a significant ambivalence felt by ethnics about the Rohingya - joint declarations have rejected the Rohingya as part of the polity on one hand, even as some (minority) minority voices have identified similarities in treatment and gestured toward inter-ethnic solidarity, together demonstrating that the Rohingya violence has compelled a reconfiguration of what constitutes belonging in Burma’s multi-ethnic polity. 

Send abstract submissions for these panels or your own panel proposal (with individual paper abstracts) for consideration for BSG sponsorship to by 15 July 2019

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Center for Burma Studies
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