The Art of Pretending to Govern: The Administrative Origins of Myanmar’s Current State Crisis

The Art of Pretending to Govern: The Administrative Origins of Myanmar's Current State Crisis

Frances O’Morchoe, Postdoctoral Associate in Myanmar Studies, Yale University

The Wa hills between Burma and China, where borders have remained porous and colonial and post-colonial states have failed to ‘climb the hills’, seem like a typical place where highland dwellers successfully resisted state domination. Yet the literature on Zomian escapism fails to capture the state’s intentions on the frontier. The colonial state which banned officials from entering the Wa hills wasn’t interested in administering or ‘seeing’ upland peoples. Instead, I ask how coercive bureaucracies dealt with their own powerlessness on the frontier, bringing together literature on ‘standoffish’ or ‘non-literate’ states with literature on colonial frontiers as ‘spaces of exception’, where officials deliberately looked the other way. I use both colonial archives and post-colonial Burmese sources to trace how the art of pretending to govern developed in the colonial period and how it has been echoed by post-colonial Burmese politicians.

Frances O’Morchoe completed her DPhil in History at the University of Oxford in 2019. Her work focuses on the history of the Burma-China borderlands. She is now based at Yale University’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies as a Postdoctoral Associate in Myanmar Studies.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023
12:00 Noon

Room 203, Luce Hall
34 Hillhouse Avenue

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