Mike McGovern

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9467

Approve Date

April 25, 2017

Project Title

McGovern, Dr. Michael T., U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI - To aid research on 'Culture and Contestation: Non-violent Challenges to the State by Ethnic Minorities in Myanmar'

Preliminary abstract: The proposed research explores the strategic deployment of ‘culture as a weapon’ by Danu people in southern Shan State, Myanmar as a peaceful means of making claims on the central state. This contrasts with claims-making by most other ethnic minority groups in Myanmar, defined by armed insurgency within local economies that include drug production, smuggling, and pillaging of natural resources. Research will take place in three adjacent townships in Shan State, located 1. in a semi-autonomous self-administered zone (SAZ) of the Danu, a hybrid Shan-Burmese population, 2. in an SAZ governed by the Pa-O National Organization, a former insurgent group that fought the Burman-dominated central government (as well as the locally dominant Shan) until 1994, and 3. in an ethnic Shan township that is not part of an SAZ, but that sits between the two SAZs. Village-based participant observation, semi-structured interviews with local elites and representatives of the central state, and life histories with both villagers and local elites will allow me to understand the ways in which instrumental use of culture and alternation between armed resistance and cultural struggle do or do not lead to different forms of everyday governance, cultural practice, and political sentiment among ordinary civilian villagers and the local elites who speak on their behalf. The research will contribute to understanding the ways both states and minority groups strategically deploy cultural claims, and to understanding the mutually constitutive relations among culture-making, territorial claims and violence. Analyzing these dynamics is crucial in Myanmar and beyond in an era where the same logics used to justify federalist devolution of authority is simultaneously reversed to exclude groups deemed ‘matter out of place,’ like the Muslim Rohingya.