The Radical Potential of Neoliberal Development? Implications of the Shifting Aid Agenda for Social Transformation in Myanmar

Ms Bethia Burgess1

1University Of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

After decades of aid restrictions, the normalisation of relations between Myanmar and ‘the West’ has resulted in rapid changes in the nature and scope of international development assistance policy and practice. Where once aid was channelled predominantly through unofficial organisations working on and across the borders, recent political and economic reforms have persuaded many donors to redirect their funds through more official channels ‘inside’ Myanmar. At the same time, local community-based organisations (CBOs) are grappling with a new aid landscape that threatens to depoliticise their goals, finding an increasing need to justify their existence within a paradigm of development that often fails to speak to their lived experiences. CBOs and their donor counterparts negotiate the realities of the global neoliberal development agenda in varied ways, in many instances seeking to effect social transformations that sit at odds with the very neoliberal and capitalist systems that they engage with. This paper engages directly with this tension between the global neoliberal development paradigm – itself in a state of uncertainty – and local desires for radical social transformation, taking a critical feminist and postcolonial lens, and engaging with voices and experiences of local CBO members in Myanmar’s eastern ethnic states and the Thai border.


Bethia Burgess is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her research focusses on the microdynamics of development and justice processes in Myanmar, with a particular emphasis on gender and ethnic identities.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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