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Everyday trepidation: State affects and mental absconding in a marginal neighborhood in Myanmar

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This chapter takes as its ethnographic setting a marginal neighbourhood of Mawlamyine, the largest town in southeast Myanmar. Roughly, 5,500 impoverished people were relocated to here from the centre of the city due to a construction project in 2003. The neighbourhood generally lacks state infrastructure, official justice provision and state protection, which lends a sense of remoteness and abandonment to it. However, despite the lack of state care, there is a distinct state presence, both in a material sense through surveillance and control via the administration and in a more elusive, affective sense. This paper analyses these Myanmar state affects: the material and immaterial ways in which the state affects people’s lives even in its relative absence. It argues that despite the ongoing democratic transition in Myanmar, the state that is associated with 50 years of military rule still is present in affective ways. This is the case even when people seek to avoid bureaucracy and state agents. Tracing the way everyday life, social relations and local conflict resolution are in fact already state affects, I show how state effects on sociality and subjectivity exist not only through state involvement but also through non-involvement, that is, when people deliberately withdraw from the state.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEveryday Justice in Myanmar : Informal Resolutions and State Evasion in a Time of Contested Transition
Place of publicationKøbenhavn
PublisherNIAS Press
Publication year2020
Pages255-281
Chapter8
ISBN (print)978-87-7694-281-6
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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