Myanmar’s border areas, maritime and mountain

Ashley South is based at the Centre for Ethnic Studies and Development at Chiang Mai University.  In a new review at the JCA publisher’s website he has a new review of Su-Ann Oh’s collection, Myanmar’s mountain and maritime borderscapes: local practices, boundary-making and figured worlds (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2017.1315737). The book is published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Borders, ethnicity and ethnic politics have been heavily emphasised in numerous studies of Myanmar. In this contribution, the editor aims to establish borderland studies as an important perspective for understanding “marginal spaces at the edge of the nation,” arguing that “borders are in fact sites of social, political and cultural change that impact local and national politics” (1). Yet as South notes, Myanmar’s upland border areas have been of interest to social scientists since Edmund Leach’s pioneering study Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954).

Even so, South argues that several of the chapters are innovative and useful. Indeed, a couple offer a “sophisticated elaboration of borderland perspectives…”. The diverse chapters demonstrate editor Oh’s contention “that mountain and maritime Myanmar have more in common with each other than with the lowlands” (27). South concludes that “the book demonstrates the value of exploring Myanmar through the lens of ‘borderland studies’ – although further studies are required to definitively establish this perspective as being more than the sum of its parts.”

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