At the margins of a ‘development darling’: intersections between sovereignty, 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 from the international development regime, Myanmar is now the world's seventh largest recipient of development assistance, with $1.83 billion in commitments over the last year. Shona's research asks how this influx of aid is reshaping the relationship between state, civil society, and other non-state actors. Her focus is on Karen State, an area that emerged from six decades of civil war with a ceasefire signed in 2012, after which Myanmar's central government and a variety of international actors have been eager to initiate development projects in the area.

In Karen State, social service delivery has long been provided by civil society groups, some of whom operated illicitly from across the Thai border with links to the Karen rebellion. One can therefore ask how the international development regime intersects with these already-existing and highly politicised forms of assistance. Furthermore, subnational governance reforms initiated by international actors are changing modes of Union-level, state-level and local governance. The question here is how these reforms accommodate — or obstruct — existing civil society organisations. Shona's research will be based on fieldwork in Yangon, Karen State, and on the Thai-Myanmar border between August 2018 and May 2019.

Shona would like to get in touch with anyone who is interested in development, state-making, and borderlands in Southeast Asia.

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