Foto på Stephen Campbell.

The February 2021 coup in Myanmar has exposed a deep divide in the country’s oppositional politics. On the one hand, ardent supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy call for a restoration of pre-coup politics. On the other hand, radical students, ethnic minority populations, and other domestic critics maintain strong opposition to the pre-coup arrangement—the so-called “transition” spanning 2011 to 2021. Given this divergence, I stress the enduring need, in the current post-coup moment, for a sober critique of the country’s pre-coup political economy. I draw, therefore, in this presentation, on ethnographic research I conducted in Myanmar from 2016 to 2019 to interrogate the political economy of the so-called transition, as experienced by rural-to-urban migrants residing at a squatter settlement on Yangon’s industrial outskirts. I argue that enduring modernist claims by international actors operating in Myanmar served to legitimate a development agenda that pushed villagers out of rural areas in the name of efficiency and economic growth but left them dependent on a fragile economic arrangement with no effective public supports. For hundreds of thousands of rural-to-urban migrants, the result has been extreme economic vulnerability, which the Covid-19 economic downturn and post-coup industrial contraction have only exacerbated.

Stephen Campbell is an assistant professor in the School of Social Science at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and a research fellow in the Frontlines of Value project, based out of the Department of Anthropology, University of Bergen, Norway. His research focuses on labour, migration, and development in Myanmar and Thailand. His first book, Border Capitalism, Disrupted: Precarity and Struggle in a Southeast Asian Industrial Zone, was published by Cornell University Press in 2018. His second book, Along the Integral Margin: Uneven Capitalism in a Myanmar Squatter Settlement, is forthcoming with Cornell University Press.

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This webinar is co-organised by the Stockholm Center for Global Asia and the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.