Imagining Political Futures in Kachinland: the Struggle for Self-Determination Through Legal Activism and Indigenous Media
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This dissertation draws on ethnographic fieldwork and filmmaking in Kachinland, an unrecognized state in the borderlands of Myanmar, India, China, and Thailand. Against a backdrop of war, extraction of coveted resources, and the neocolonial interventions of development “experts,” this research traces political practices—in the domains of indigenous law and media—through which Kachin activists, musicians, media-makers, and farmers imagine a different future. Each chapter of the dissertation draws on the political aesthetics I refer to as “above and below the ground.” This lens reflects activist critiques of the Myanmar state’s constitutional claim to ultimate ownership of land and natural resources “above and below the ground,” as well as their desire to reclaim it. The verticality of “above and below” resonates with Kachin “customary” ideas in which land (lamu ga) is seen as a dyad of earth and corresponding sky. It also relates to Kachin women’s land ownership, whereby women who receive land as part of their dowry, receive it as a temporary “gift” in which they can cultivate the land but not “dig” below it. Finally, it also brings into view shifts in the political landscape, in which the very political practices once restricted to “underground” and cross-border activism have surfaced “above ground,” fundamentally shaping expressions of political imagination during the post-reform period of war in Kachinland. Ultimately, I argue that Kachin law and media constitute domains of political imagination where activists and their allies reimagine possibilities for rights and autonomy, against the backdrop of race and gender-based domination. This research offers a countervailing perspective to scholarship that has focused on the ways in which law or media has often served as a tool of state domination. Finally, by moving beyond (re-)modeling political change in the abstract, this research seeks to understand political change by the very agents who work to bring it about—activists and their allies. In doing so, it counters a popular imaginary to which anthropologists have often contributed, one that denies indigenous peoples a place in the political present.
Hodzic, Saida; Sniadecki, J.P.; Maran, La Raw
Ph. D., Anthropology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis