Democratic deservingness and self-reliance in contemporary Myanmar

Gerard McCarthy

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    How do communities prove themselves worthy to receive aid from the state in contemporary Myanmar? This article explores how ‘self-reliance’ has become a defining feature of the politics of entitlement since the transition to partial civilian rule. Drawing on sixteen months of ethnographic and survey fieldwork conducted in provincial Myanmar since 2015, it shows how parliamentarians and state officials use ostensibly voluntary contributions of labour and resources by residents to local improvement initiatives as a basis to choose which communities deserve state poverty alleviation assistance. Tracing the moral claims to authorities that village and ward leaders and residents often make before, during and after projects of ‘self-reliant’ public good provision, the article shows how ‘doing it yourself’ infuses the way citizens, politicians, civil servants and even stateless people enact and understand ‘democratic’ duties. It demonstrates that authoritarian-era notions of rights as contingent, competitive and zero-sum are being reinforced rather than undermined via local improvement initiatives despite the civilian-led government’s significant spending on poverty alleviation and development. The article exposes how increased state funding for public goods and poverty alleviation can entrench pernicious distinctions between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, highlighting how inequality and exclusion endure despite the end of direct military dictatorship.
    Original languageEnglish
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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