After the Rice Frontier: Producing State and Ethnic Territory in Northwest Myanmar

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9 Scopus citations


Scholarship on resource frontiers has often privileged moments of discovery and sites of spectacular infrastructure and extraction. Yet smallholders can alter socio-ecological landscapes in ways that structure spatial and political possibilities even after resource rushes wane. In this paper, I draw on ethnographic research to illustrate how agrarian frontier histories shape contemporary ethnic and territorial boundary-making. In Kalay Valley, activists drew on the colonial principle of ethnic separation and aligned with a national turn towards territorialisation to successfully advocate for restoring the colonial boundary. But efforts at demarcation contrasted with historical practices of cultivating ambiguity on the rice frontier, spurring new forms of border work. I argue, first, that this case demonstrates a change in how land is governed in Myanmar–from a regime of cultivated ambiguity, towards one of negotiated delineation–and, second, that it underscores the need for greater attention to the ways in which agrarian frontier practices shape racialized territorialisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-71
Number of pages25
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


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