Burma/Myanmar's postcolonial elites have established a military-state with hybrid-imperial structures, characterized by high despotic but low infrastructural modes of power, and fueled by rent-extraction. Given the resulting evisceration of opposition political groups, citizens understand explicit politics as dangerous. That said, cleavages between state and the polity afford vast space for “civil society” groups (CS) to form and operate. CS stabilize the political economy by managing citizen needs; conversely, CS stand as a wedge between state and masses, (potentially) constructing spaces to coordinate and magnify potential demands. Yet CS currently err toward managing needs. Opposition must politicize Burmese masses and CS through idioms that interface with CS's material tasks—a “politics of the daily”—encouraging them to make, collectively, a multiplicity of non-adversarial demands. This may compel the state to pivot and seek new bargains, at which point elite advocacy-oriented CS can provide progressive policy reforms. The paper will examine recent inchoate social-political movements in Burma for models of this politics.
Elliott Prasse-Freeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Founding Research Fellow at the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights and an Advisory Board Member with the Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights Program at Harvard University.