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The Thai-based 'Burma movement' : understanding underlying divisions

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posted on 09.10.2014, 10:58 by Pamela Catherine Green
This thesis explores the underlying dynamics of the Thai-based 'Burma Movement', before and after the game-changing 2010 election. In particular, it investigates the role of visible organisational divisions related to gender, ethnicity, and leadership disagreements, alongside differences in work styles and expectations related to international engagement. The Thai-based 'Burma Movement' posed a puzzle insofar as the organisational fragmentation of rights-based groups did not necessarily align with the goals, forms of activism/operation, and strategies of what was internationally understood as the movement for change in Burma. Subsequently, analysis of the underlying tensions of ethnic-minority rights-based organisations, in their specific forms of engagement with influential international actors, was required to aid understanding of the particular dynamics, successes and failures of the movement. The research builds on Bourdieu's tools of field, capital, habitus, and his reflexive methodological orientation, particularly in how these have been elaborated through Fligstein and McAdam’s concepts of strategic action fields (SAFs), resources and social skills. Fieldwork was conducted through semi-structured interviews with activists from two ethnicities (Arakan and Pa-Oh) on the Thai-Burma border. Analysing their perspectives revealed two concurrent SAFs: one with a United Burma orientation, and another based on Grassroots Nationalities . Furthermore, these SAFs drew on two different orientations related to resource perspectives, the Internationally-Influenced versus Community/Traditional-Influenced. Ethnicity and gender were acknowledged as culturally-entwined influences on status and access to opportunities, but ultimately both served as components within an individual's outlook rather than as separate SAFs. Authority, leadership and social skills were also identified as key factors in the success or failure of initiatives, in alignment with the same SAFs and resource perspectives. The research concludes that, while leadership and issue/ethnic/gender-related insularity were indeed important considerations, the identification of underlying, but divergent, perspectives related to SAFs, resources and applications of social skills ultimately offered greater explanatory insight.



Hammer, Nikolaus

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Centre for Labour Market Studies

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University of Leicester

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