Repositioning the Salween Basin: Local-National-Regional-Global Connections

Dr Carl Middleton4, Alec Scott5

4Chulalongkorn University, , Thailand, 5Karen Environmental Social Action Network (KESAN), , Thailand

Along Myanmar’s Salween River, there is a complex history of conflict and multiple associated claims for territory, political authority and legitimacy. Since the transition to a quasi-civilian government in Myanmar in 2011, there have been significant political and economic shifts with implications for Salween basin governance. These include, amongst others: renewed and then stalled momentum behind the peace negotiations; deepening regional integration; a growing demand for natural resources, food, electricity and commodities; and new patterns of economic trade and investment by neighboring countries. In this paper, through the lens of socio-technical imaginaries (Jasanoff and Kim, 2015) and nature-society coproduction (Jasanoff, 2004), and with a particular focus on water, we examine how divergent socio-technical imaginaries for the Salween basin in Myanmar are being formulated and acted upon, including the networks of actors engaged, the visions and values claimed, the decision-making processes and institutions invoked, the knowledge produced, and the material outcomes on-the-ground. In the context of the fragmented sovereignties of the Salween basin in Myanmar, particular attention is paid to local, national, regional and global connections through which contested socio-technical imaginaries are produced and materialized.


Dr. Carl Middleton is an Assistant Professor and Deputy Director for Research on the Master of Arts in International Development Studies (MAIDS) Programme, and Director of the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) in the Faculty of Political Science of Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. Since 2018, the CSDS has also hosted the Center of Excellence in Resource Politics for Social Development of Chulalongkorn University. Dr. Middleton’s research interests orientate around the politics and policy of the environment in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on nature-society relations, environmental justice and social movements, transdisciplinary research, and the political ecology of water and energy.

Alec Scott is the Regional Water Governance Technical Officer for the Karen Environmental Social Action Network (KESAN). He began researching armed conflict and natural resource governance while working as a teacher along the Thai-Burma border in 2008, and focused on the links between large dams, armed conflict and forced displacement while attending the School of Oriental and African Studies in 2011. Following a period of fieldwork in the Salween, Sittaung and Upper Irrawaddy river basin areas, Alec began working with ethnic civil society organizations on issues related to large dams, land and natural resource governance, armed conflict and human rights.


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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