White elephants and sacred rivers: Locating populism in contemporary Myanmar.

Dr Michael Griffiths6, Dr Lei Shwe Sin  Myint1, Daw Sanda Aung1, Daw Daw Nan War War  Hto1, Daw Zin Mar  Phyo1, Dr Kyi Mar3, Dr Win Win Soe1, Dr Pearl Khin2, Daw N Khum Ja  Ra4, Dr Htet Htet Khaing5

1Department of Anthropology, Mandalay University, Myanmar, 2Department of Geography, Mandalay University, Myanmar, 3Department of International Relations, Mandalay University, Myanmar, 4Department of Economics, Mandalay University, Myanmar, 5Department of History, Mandalay University, Myanmar, 6Faculty of Criminology and Sociology, University of Hull, United Kingdom

Chair: Michael Griffiths


Whilst the democratic transition in Myanmar has been both rapid and relatively smooth, the co-emergence of multiple populist discourses, including those around the protection of race and religion, are viewed by some as a threat to nascent democracy. However, such discourses are neither new nor homogenous, and are located in contextually differentiated settings.  This panel explores four locations of populist discourses in Myanmar. Firstly, in civil society, using the example of a well-known welfare organization in Mandalay. Secondly, environmental activism, by analyzing border areas of Kachin State, where complex political geography results in land governance ambiguities freighted by populist discourses of the ‘invading other’. Thirdly, in the everyday narratives of human security, considering how such narratives are gendered in their construction; and finally, in popular media, where a comparative analysis of political cartoons from mainstream media in the early 20th and 21st centuries locates populism in the imaging of xenophobia and scapegoating, particularly in discourses around poverty and inequalities. These disparately located forms illustrate the heterogeneity, and the fluidity of populist discourses, challenging the notion that populism can be easily classified as either a threat, or an agency of democracy.



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