Aarhus University Seal

Annika Pohl Harrisson

States-within-States: Encompassed State-Making and Everyday Life in Southeast Myanmar

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesis

The central theme of this article based dissertation are the effects of overlapping and contested processes of state-making on sociality and subjectivity in Southeast Myanmar, which for 60 years and until recently was marred by armed conflict. Through an empirical exploration of dispute resolution and security provision, I analyse the affective effects of state making in a geographic region where several states make claims to assert authority, regulate everyday life and produce forms of national belonging. In my field area, the internationally recognised Myanmar state co-exists more or less with two ethnic armed organisations the Karen National Union (KNU) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) that for six decades have been involved in an ethno-nationalist struggle and have engaged in state-making processes in opposition to the Myanmar state. These organisations continue to exert control in some areas of the region, although they today have signed ceasefires with and are engaging in political negotiations with the Myanmar state.
In my work I pose questions about the everyday life in this area. How is legitimate authority constituted in practice? How are everyday justice and local politics negotiated? How are ethnicity, nationality and belonging intertwined? How does a history of 60 years of military dictatorship affect sociality and subjectivity? And how does 60 years of insurgency and contested state-making?
I collected the ethnographic material for these topics during eleven months of ethnographic fieldwork between 2015 and 2017 in two distinct field sites: One is a poor urban neighbourhood in the city of Mawlamyine, which is located inside Mon State under Myanmar state control. The other is a rural area which is located in the neighbouring Karen state, but controlled by the NMSP, and surrounded by villages that are controlled by the KNU.
These states-within-states are, I suggest, both in opposition to each other and mimic each other by drawing on similar state-making practices, symbols and imaginaries. Thus, while I examine the two different states, NMSP and Myanmar, I also explore the relationships between them. I am comparing the encompassed with the encompassing, and not two separate and opposed states. I thus propose the concepts of ‘encompassed state-making and living’. Inspired by Louis Dumont, my conclusion is that in the material discussed in the dissertation, the encompassed part can be in opposition to the encompassing part whilst also mimicking it: encompassment and opposition at the same time. This is not merely an analytical insight, but a way of life, a circumstance, a condition: inherent when actions and sociality unfold.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages194
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • state-making, justice and security, Myanmar, Authority, sovereignty, Anthropology of the state, borderlands, rebel governance, encompassment

See relations at Aarhus University Citationformats

ID: 185676167