Past Event


The Bio-politics of Ethno-nationalism: Drugs, Vigilantes and Communal Conflict in Myanmar

13 November 2017 13:00–14:30

Institute of Development Studies, Library Road, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9RE

Myanmar’s protracted ethnic conflict is commonly understood as the contestation between an ethnocratic state and ethnic minorities. This misses one of the most worrying trends: mounting communal violence between and within ethnic minority communities. Based on long-term field research in Kachin State, this seminar uses the case of a Kachin vigilante militia to explore this kaleidoscope of fragmented ethnic conflict.

Member of the Pat Ja San anti-narcotics militia in Kachin State, Myanmar

The Pat Ja San movement initially formed with the aim to address the local narcotics crisis by targeting drug users and producers, in light of an inadequate state response. The militias’ intimate relations with Kachin politico-religious authorities has, however, embedded their war on drugs within a wider ethnonational project.

Their direct biopolitical interventions into the everyday lives of local communities has indeed turned the movement into a vehicle to homogenise the multifaceted Kachin nationbody. This has also exacerbated long-standing tensions within the Kachin community as well as with other communities, some of which have started to mobilise vigilantes of their own. Exploring this case provides rare insights into the ways in which ethnonational ideologies are built in practice and raises fundamental questions about the viability of Myanmar’s peace process.

About the Speaker:

Dr David Brenner is Lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Politics, University of Surrey. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics (LSE), where he remains affiliated as an Associate Fellow at the Global South Unit. David has researched in Myanmar for more than five years. Based on ethnographic field work on the Kachin Independence Organisation and the Karen National Union, his doctoral thesis analysed how rebel leaders capture and lose authority within their own movements and the ways in which these internal contestations drive wider processes of conflict and peace.

His current research interests include the social dynamics of insurgency and political violence, ethno-nationalism and communal conflict, (non-)state formation in contested borderlands and revolutionary art forms.


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