Dispossession and Perpetual Mobility amidst Agrarian Change in Myanmar Today


About the Seminar

The enduring trope of the eternal Myanmar village is implicitly confirmed by the fact that the country’s population remains mostly agrarian. Yet changing uses and conceptions of land are undermining agrarian viability. Factors driving dispossession include rapacious natural resource extraction, agribusiness expansion, the development of special economic zones, speculative land grabs and the enclosure of commons deriving from land’s recent legal commodification, investment in land as a means of laundering money from the drugs trade, and inadequate support for farmers and their resultant indebtedness. At the same time, forced evictions of ‘squatters’ define the history and present of Myanmar’s urban areas, and increasing living costs and rents in the cities keep people moving today. Hence, members of rural and urban households alike are left searching the country and the broader Asian region for labour opportunities. Combining rural and urban fieldwork with consideration of historical changes in the political economy, the talk focuses on displacement as a perverse state ‘development’ strategy in which labourers help transform environments. While local non-governmental groups have contested dispossession, the talk argues that structural changes to the economy wrought by Myanmar’s long-term pattern of ‘development’ and counter-insurgency have produced a condition of de-valorized labour. The talk asks how new democratic ‘rights’ can compensate for this deterritorialization, asking what happens to patronage ties as oligarchic business-military elites (‘cronies’) increasingly amass wealth. It points out the irony that the very same political-economic conditions that increase the dependence of poor Burmese on the powerful have produced a state apparatus progressively less interested in the poor and an elite consciousness that is gradually undermining a sense of responsibility for them.

About the Speaker

Elliott Prasse-Freeman is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. He received his doctorate in anthropology from Yale University. He is working on a book focusing on Burmese subaltern political thought as adduced from an extended ethnography of activism and contentious politics in the country’s semi-authoritarian setting. Dr Prasse-Freeman is also currently studying Rohingya political subjectivity amidst dislocation and mass violence.


For registration, please click here. Registration closes on 29 November 2019.


Dec 02 2019


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2