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Presented By: Center for Southeast Asian Studies

CSEAS Lecture Series. "Agents” of the state or society? Resistance, accommodation, violence and the role of local administrators in post-coup Myanmar

Ardeth M. Thawnghmung, professor of political science, University of Massachusetts Lowell

This talk focuses on how state governing structures have evolved in different local contexts in the post-coup period, and how local authorities in Myanmar responded to the military’s coup and. Dr. Thawnghmung focuses particularly on the role of ward/village tract administrators (WA/VTAs). Who officially serve as the first point of contact with the government. She finds that local administrators have adopted different approaches in response to the coup depending on the authorities in control, the intensity and scale of the local resistance movement, their political affiliation and preferences, and the nature of their relationship with local constituents. These strategies have in turn shaped whether they are perceived as “agents of the state,” or “agents of the revolution” by local populations and the resistance movement. Those who have been targeted for assassination by the resistance movement tend to be portrayed by the local populations as “agents of the state” who provide crucial information about the resistance movement to the military, and/or those who enthusiastically carry out the military’s orders, and/or those who abuse their power and authority. In contrast, perceived “agents of the revolution” are who remain politically neutral or are respected and trusted by both sides, or who half-heartedly implement military’s ordinances, while condoning the underground resistance movement and warning resistance groups of impending searches by security forces.

Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts. Growing up in Burma, she and her family employed many of the coping strategies she would later study. She is the author of several books, including Behind the Teak Curtain: Authoritarianism, Agricultural Policies, and Political Legitimacy in Rural Burma.

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