Accepted Paper:

An ethnography of culture-identity switch in North Burma  


La Raw Maran (University of Illinois)

Paper short abstract:

During armed conflict with the Burman military junta a Kachin community became "Burman". Reactions to the complex developments and the impact of corrective responses and cultural politics on Kachin society are discussed.

Paper long abstract:

A Kachin community was persuaded to believe that it was Burman by psychologist-strategists of the Burman military government, and thus began a painful search to identify "Burmanness" in the Kachin cultural or lived experience. Not finding supporting evidence here the search veered toward looking for indications of "non-Kachinness" in the experience, and this continues today. This paper will discuss the cultural politics that emerged from this defection and became pervasive in the entire Kachin society.

The important elements in this ethnographical episode are why a culture-identity switch appeared possible in the Kachin context, how the military junta strategists read Kachin culture and society, how the other communities reacted, and the characteristics of the cultural politics that emerged in response, and affects the entire Kachin society today.

The key concepts relevant to the analysis are: ethnicity and ethnic categories as changeable and adaptive characteristics, cultural integration as political unity in the face of enduting conflicts, and the emergence of cultural politics intended to address the problem of defection as a generalized problem.

Panel W062
Challenges of local and regional cultural politics in Southeast Asia