At the margins of a "development darling": civil society, territory, and development in Karen State, Myanmar

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Shona began her DPhil in human geography in October 2017. Her research on the politics of state-making and development in southeast Myanmar is jointly funded by the Clarendon Fund Scholarship and the Christ Church Graduate Scholarship.

Shona holds a B.Soc.Sci. with First Class Honours from the National University of Singapore, majoring in Geography and minoring in English Literature (2012-2015). She also completed her M.Soc.Sci. in Geography at the National University of Singapore (2015-2017). Her Masters dissertation was entitled 'From Battlefields to Marketplaces: Geo-economic Hope and Displacement along the Thai-Myanmar Border'. It focuses on how international responses to Myanmar's political transition are affecting the lives of undocumented and semi-documented Burmese migrants residing in a Thai border town.

Current Research

After decades of isolation, in 2015 Myanmar became the world's seventh largest recipient of development assistance. Shona's research asks how this influx of aid is reshaping the relationship between state, civil society actors, and rebel actors in Karen State, southeast Myanmar, through ethnographic fieldwork undertaken between August 2018 and May 2019.

Seven decades of civil war have fragmented Karen State into areas controlled by the Myanmar government, the Karen National Union (KNU), and a mixture of several authorities. In Myanmar government areas and mixed-control areas, Shona focuses on civil society organisations that have emerged due to the aid influx. How do newly-made civil society actors navigate their relationships with the Myanmar government and the KNU? In KNU areas, civil society actors have a longer history. Decades before the aid influx, development actors provided humanitarian relief through civil society actors working from across the border in Thailand. However, resources for cross-border work are drying up, as donors seek closer ties with the Myanmar government. Shona asks how border organisations negotiate these changes, and how these changes alter border organisations' complex relationship with the KNU. She also compares these two pathways for development assistance, asking about their implications for understandings of Karen ethnicity in Myanmar and prospects for peace.

Conceptually, Shona's thesis proposes a postcolonial approach to territory. She argues for conceiving of territory as the product of unequal encounters between state and non-state actors, which trigger new, hybrid configurations of power. As such, development can be conceived of as a central process by which territory is made in the postcolonial world. This research thus speaks to literature in political geography, development geography, Southeast Asian studies, and related cross-disciplinary fields.

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Articles for Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2):