Real Farmers, Dream Cities: Agrarian Change, Demonstration, and the Politics of Visibility in Myanmars

Real Farmers, Dream Cities: Agrarian Change, Demonstration, and the Politics of Visibility in Myanmars

Courtney T. Wittekind, Postdoctoral Associate, Program in Agrarian Studies 

This presentation examines a series of demonstrations held in the southwestern outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, the site of a 20,000-acre proposal to transform the region’s farmland into a built-from-scratch “new city.” Slogans and speeches—both in support of and in opposition to the new city—fixed demonstrators’ demands in the status of the region’s “real farmer” (လယ်သမားစစ်စစ် or lay-thama sit-sit), a figure both hyper-visible and simultaneously obscured in the popular protest movements of Myanmar and Southeast Asian history. Tracing contested claims about Southwest Yangon’s farmers circulating in the popular press and in state propaganda, this presentation explores the political and pragmatic tactics of future-making amid authoritarian resurgence, rapid urbanization, and the pressures of a changing climate. At stake is a broader politics of visibility, wherein the boundary between the seen and unseen becomes a site through which what is “real” in contemporary Myanmar is questioned.

Courtney T. Wittekind completed her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology at Harvard University in 2022 and is now based at Yale Universityas a Postdoctoral Associate in the Program in Agrarian Studies and an affiliate of the Council on Southeast Asia Studies. Her current research agenda is based on long-term in-situ and digital ethnography in Myanmar and addresses the overlapping effects of infrastructure development, speculative real estate investment, and agrarian change. Her book project, “ ‘Time to Change:’ Speculating on ‘Transition’ in Yangon’s New City,” describes the unequal burdens facing residents of Southwest Yangon, an agricultural region set to be redeveloped into a 20,000-acre urban expansion. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2023
12:00 Noon
Room 203, Luce Hall
34 Hillhouse Avenue 

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