The Disciplining Discourse of Unity in Burmese Politics
A concern with unity has been a consistent theme in modern Burmese politics. This article examines a particularly problematic conception of unity that I argue draws strength from its resonance with Buddhist moral notions of the self and overcoming self-centeredness. As a moral concept, this narrative of unity is idealized in devotion to a common purpose and loyalty to a group or community; it requires subsuming one’s own interests for the benefit of the whole, something that encapsulates the Buddhist practice of rejecting atta (ego). Disunity, then, is the result of a group of individuals committed only to their own benefit; it is evidence of moral failure. This discourse of unity has been an effectively anti-democratic disciplining tool (deployed by both governments and opposition groups) for suppressing internal dissent. Despite General Aung San's oft-quoted slogan of “unity in diversity,” political movements in Myanmar have been more commonly characterized by hegemonic attempts at imposing a top-down unity that labels deviation from or criticism of dominant positions as disloyalty. This article examines the perpetuation of a rigid, unitary understanding of unity and argues that developing a more flexible and accommodating notion of unity will be a necessary step in the process of national reconciliation.
"Languages in Contact: The Case of English and Burmese" pp.61-99
This article deals with the nature and the effects of the long period of linguistic contact between Burmese and English. Part 1 deals with general issues of contact and borrowing; part 2 provides examples of English loanwords in Burmese, and considers the processes of phonological and semantic accommodation that they reflect.
Myanmar. Through the lens of people.
Crucial questions for every researcher using qualitative methods are about access to the field and about asking the right questions in the field. I was lucky to be able to use the Photo-Interviewing method, which allowed me to get insight into my informants’ points of view. In addition, this method enabled me to ask the right questions – or at least the ones that were of great importance to my informants. With this photo-essay, I want to illustrate from a methodological point of view how I got to this method and how it works. I introduce my own experiences with the Photo-Interviewing method first, followed by short presentation of similar methods in use. In the third part, I want to highlight the value of this method by discussing ten photos, which emerged while applying the method.
The Social Dynamics of Pagoda Repair in Upper Myanmar
Pagoda repair in Myanmar is not just a building upgrade but a significant mechanism connecting religious and lay communities. During the course of a renovation, the wider public is engaged, from urban elite to artisans, builders, shopkeepers and farmers in replenishing the dedicated space of the pagoda compound and the teachings it embod-ies. The case studies from Sagaing, Mandalay, Kyaukse and Bagan discussed here highlight how coordination of pagoda repair is often by word of mouth, familiar networks and more recently, social media. Informality is also pertinent in relation to archaeologi-cal calls for greater documentation of pagoda repair. Imposing daily recording could easily change malleable social contacts into disinterested form-fillers, rather than engaging local communities in the shared caretaking of their landscape. While information on archaeological and heritage management “best practice” is abundant, the processes of pagoda repair remains little known apart from the participants of each undertaking. Thus what a decade ago was a locally understood difference between repair and conservation, today is an urgent issue threatening both the vitality of the living Buddhist practice and its intangible heritage. Without a shared mechanism to oversee restorations of aged pagodas, the hard evidence from which to interpret the ancient cultural landscape will be irrevocably lost and its intangible sustenance gone. The issue needs to be openly debated and acted upon to ensure the compatible integration of international conservation and heritage practice with the existing social and religious dynamics of pagoda repair.
Buddha’s life in Konbaung period bronzes from Yazagyo
This article presents a collection of small bronzes retrieved from a cluster of ruined Buddhist structures at Yazagyo, in the Kabaw Valley, a remote area of Northwestern Burma. The items can be clearly dated to the early 1880s, near the end of the Konbaung dynasty, thus providing type specimens for chronological comparison. The bronzes recapitulate crucial chapters in Prince Siddhartha's and then the Buddha Gotama's life, and they are examined by the article's three authors. The article details the relics’ enshrinement, their dating, historical context, and the stories of the Buddha that they animate. The article includes 22 photographs.
Road Plans and Planned Roads: Entangled Geographies, Spatiotemporal Frames, and Territorial Claims-making in Myanmar’s Southern Shan State
In this article, I investigate conflicting claims to land made in the peri-urban areas of Taunggyi, in Myanmar's Shan state, where decades of ethnic insurgency, the negotiation of ceasefire agreements, and resultant military-state development strategies have figured land as a primary site and object of struggle. Yet, as I argue in this paper, it is not only land that is at stake in ongoing conflicts, but also the incongruous conceptions of space and time that motivate such claims. By exploring case studies linked to proposed road construction in Pa-O majority regions, I develop an approach to "land grabs"- and the counter claims-making they impel- that foregrounds the spatiotemporal, showing how distinct senses of time are activated, embodied, and re-animated through encounters with particular spaces. In this, I specifically argue that the linear, historical timeline embraced by state authorities-a timeline tied to sequential notions of advancement, modernization, and democratization - cannot be taken as fact; instead, it must be considered alongside alternate conceptualizations, through which the notion of a single narrative of "progress" might be opened up to contain alternative notions of past and present, and with them, new political possibilities.
Rethinking Land and Property in a “Transitioning” Myanmar: Representations of Isolation, Neglect, and Natural Decline
In this article, we assess ideas of “progress” in the evolution of Burma/Myanmar studies, asking whether shifting conditions might offer openings to reconsider narratives about the country. We question two recurring tropes consistent across the work of journalists, policy analysts and scholars: an alleged history of undifferentiated “isolation,” and the ensuing state of Burma/Myanmar following a seemingly “natural” decline. Such language reflects assumptions that otherwise go unspoken in accounts of Myanmar’s current transition.
We consider descriptions of Yangon’s colonial architecture, asking what depictions of the city as having languished following the colonial era might tell us about assumptions in Burma/Myanmar studies. Such depictions are emblematic of a common trope in the literature, whereby historical narratives of isolation replace more dynamic accounts of interaction, particularly in regard to land and property. Drawing on work in Yangon and Shan State, we question common descriptive impulses related to the difficulty of accounting for history— including dependency on a conventional timeline broken into unquestioned periods, and recurring references to “isolation,” “nationalization” or “customary tenure” as glosses for the relations present in such periods. We ask how those analyzing Myanmar might progress beyond such impulses, cognizant that increased access to the country offers opportunities to trouble simplistic narratives, highlighting their political and intellectual perils.
"Germans in Burma, 1837–1945" pp.29-69
This article gives an account of the Germans who lived in Burma or who visited the country between the beginnings of British rule in 1826 and the end of World War II. After surveying German-Burmese relations from 1826 until today, the manifold German engagement in Burma before World War I is detailed. This engagement was followed by a sharp decline in the number of Germans living in the country other than for short periods between the two great wars. After World War II, on the German side, there was almost no memory of German activities in Burma left. By contrast the Burmese kept and keep this memory very much alive.