Agribusiness from the Ashes: Land Governance Reform and Racialized Armed Territories in Burma

Lecture | February 7 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Kevin Woods, Ph.D. candidate, Environmental Science, Policy & Management, UC Berkeley

 Joshua Muldavin, Professor of Human Geography, Sarah Lawrence College

 Center for Southeast Asia Studies

The presentation demonstrates how contemporary land governance reform in Burma, despite excitement on the opportunity for a “fresh start,” is borne out of legacies of war, racialized subjects, and state territorial politics. The seemingly technocratic land governance interventions currently underway with its associated market-based logics and backed by supportive liberal legal frameworks are in fact reifying historical state land categories, authority and control. Two central claims are argued based on evidence from dissertation field data collected in ethnic upland territories in northern Burma since 2010, supplemented by organizing and participating in national / regional land rights workshops. First, agribusiness concessions awarded to ethnic armed “strongmen” have produced more legible state (or state-like) territories that in effect do the work of the state in post-war state building. Second, and related to the first, “turning land into capital” has reanimated Burma’s splintered war-torn racialized geographies. Although land formalization processes have reinforced racialized processes of differential dispossession, new avenues have simultaneously opened up for Burma’s pluralistic society to meaningfully engage with each other and the state over contestations on the politics of belonging.

Kevin Woods is a doctoral candidate in the Society and Environment Division in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM) at UC Berkeley. His dissertation work seeks to historically ground contemporary land and resource liberal reforms and the conjoined workings of state-backed political violence in the making of a post-war modern nation-state. Woods has spent over a decade working and living in northern Burma’s ethnic minority territories, working primarily as a researcher in close cooperation with community leaders, activists and ethnic armed organizations. These groups have been aiming to understand, and respond to, the ways in which the Burmese military-state fills out into the country’s armed indigenous upland territories in connection with Chinese capital.

Joshua Muldavin (Ph.D., UC Berkeley) is Professor of Geography and Asian Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and a Visiting Researcher and Professor this year in UC Berkeley's Department of Geography. His research and teaching encompass the global political ecology and political economy of development and the environment, food and agriculture, with a regional focus on Asia, particularly China, Japan, and the Himalayan Hindu Kush. His current book project is provisionally entitled ‘China’s Rise and Global Integration: The Environmental and Social Impacts’. He has just concluded a ten-year collaborative research effort with Prof. Piers Blaikie on environmental policy in the Himalayas, with fieldwork in China, India, and Nepal., 510-642-3609