Assembling drones, activists and oil palms: implications of a multi-stakeholder land platform for state formation in Myanmar

Stefan Bächtold, Joan Bastide, Lara Lundsgaard-Hansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Amid Myanmar’s political transition and despite its new government’s discourse of inclusion and dialogue, land conflicts have increased across the country’s ethnic-minority areas. We argue that land plays a central role in the complex interplay of state formation, armed conflict and international development in Myanmar’s contested borderlands and that land conflicts can provide an entry point to make sense of these dynamics. We use ethnographic data and a framework combining Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of assemblages with Foucault’s conception of power to provide a detailed analysis of a multi-stakeholder platform (MSP) addressing land disputes in Myanmar’s South-East. Analysing the platform’s discourses, practices and technologies, we argue that, despite its emphasis on inclusion, participation and dialogue, it is the operation of power that upholds this inherently conflictive assemblage. The platform opens spaces for agency for less-influential actors, but it equally produces de-politicising and exclusive effects. While scholars have typically used assemblage thinking to analyse how state authority is disassembled by the growing role of non-state actors, we aim to further post-structural reflections on state formation and international development by arguing that the central state in Myanmar actually expands its reach into the borderlands through assemblages such as the MSP. This happens at the expense of the authority of quasi-state formations of ethnic armed organisations. Thus, this process is reminiscent of how the Burmese state expanded its reach through assemblages of land and resource extraction during the ‘ceasefire capitalism’ before the transition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-378
Number of pages20
JournalThe European Journal of Development Research
Volume32
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Assemblage
  • Burma
  • Development
  • Land
  • Multi-stakeholder platform
  • Myanmar
  • State-building

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