Category Archives: activism

We-formation. Reflections on methodology, the military coup attempt and how to engage with Myanmar today. Lecture in Paris, 16 May 2023

In this invited lecture, I will discuss my concept of “we-formation” in regard to three different topics: First, as anthropological theory and methodology; Second, as a way to make sense of the resistance against the attempted military coup and third in regard to the possibility of a public anthropology of cooperation in these trying times.

First, I will explore the concept in regard to its theoretical and methodological innovativeness, taking an example from my Yangon ethnography as illustration. We-formation, I argue in my book Rethinking community in Myanmar. Practices of we-formation among Muslims and Hindus in urban Yangon, “springs from an individual’s pre-reflexive self-consciousness whereby the self is not (yet) taken as an intentional object” (8). The concept encompasses individual and intersubjective routines that can easily be overlooked” (20), as welll as more spectacular forms of intercorporeal co-existence and tacit cooperation.

By focusing on individuals and their bodily practices and experiences, as well as on discourses that do not explicitly invoke community but still centre around a we, we-formation sensitizes us to how a sense of we can emerge (Beyer 2023: 20).

Second, I will put my theoretical and methodological analysis of we-formation to work and offer an interpretation of why exactly the attempted military coup of 1 February 2021 is likely to fail (given that the so-called ‘international community’ does not continue making the situation worse). In the conclusion of my book I argue that the “generals’ illegal power grab has not only ended two decades of quasi-democratic rule, it has also united the population in novel ways. As an unintended consequence, it has opened up possibilities of we-formation and enabled new debates about the meaning of community beyond ethno-religious identity” (250).

Third, I will discuss how (not) to cooperate with Myanmar today. Focusing on what is already happening within the country and amongst Burmese activists in exile, but also what researchers of Myanmar from the Global North can do within their own countries of origin to make sure the resistance does not lose momentum. In this third aspect, I take we-formation out of its intercorporeal and pre-reflexive context in which I came to develop the concept during my fieldwork in Yangon and employ it to stress a type of informed anthropological action that, however, does not rely on having a common enemy or on gathering in a new form of ‘community’ that has become reflexive of itself. Rather, it aims at encouraging everyone to think of one’s own indidivual strengths, capabilities and possibilities and put them to work to support those fighting for a free Myanmar.

You can purchase my book on the publisher’s website: NIAS Press.

Here’s the full programme of the Groupe Recherche Birmanie for the spring term 2023:

New blog post: Statelessness, expert activists and the ‘practitioner-scholar dilemma’ for the Critical Statelessness Studies (CSS) Blog Series

I published a new blog post for the Critical Statelessness Studies (CSS) Blog Series of the University of Melbourne.

I describe and analyse a central characteristic of many ‘expert activists’ working in the field of statelessness: they struggle with what I call a ‘practitioner-scholar dilemma’. Despite the fact that they often do cross disciplinary boundaries and fields of practice in combining scholarly and activist work, they position themselves on one side of an imagined divide. Drawing on Gramsci, I argue that the ‘practitioner-scholar dilemma’ originates in the way the state system structures the very possibilities of engagement with the issue of statelessness. I credit one newly emerging group of expert activists with the possibility to overcome this dilemma…

The article is accessible online on the CSS Blog serie’s website.

New publication: The common sense of expert activists

I published a new research article in Dialectical Anthropology as part of a (still forthcoming) special issue on Antonio Gramsci’s concept of “common sense”, co-edited by Jelena Tošić and Andreas Streinzer. The special issue will also feature an afterword by anthropologist Prof. Kate Crehan, an established Gramsci scholar and an important guiding voice during the virtual workshop that Jelena and Andreas organized and afterwards when we circulated our draft papers.

In the article, I follow a group of professionals in their efforts to address the problem of statelessness in Europe. My interlocutors divide the members of their group into “practitioners,” on the one hand, and “scholars” on the other. Relating this emic dichotomization to Antonio Gramsci’s dialectical take on common sense, I argue against a theoretical reductionism that regards expertise and activism as two essentially different and mostly separate endeavors, and put forward the concept of the “expert activist.” Unpacking what I call the “practitioner–scholar dilemma,” I show that in their effort to end statelessness, “practitioners” take a reformist route that aims at realizing citizenship for the stateless, while “scholars” are open to a more revolutionary path that contemplates the denaturalization and even the eradication of the state. By drawing on Gramsci, I suggest that the impasse the group encounters in their work might relate more to the structural constraints imposed by the state within or against which they operate than to the problem of statelessness they are trying to solve.

My article contributes to a body of emergent work in anthropology that explores the intersection of scholarly expertise and activism. It is also the first article that I am writing on the topic of statelessness, drawing on my new fieldwork data that includes written observations, photographs, the recording and subsequent transcription of free-flowing conversations, oral presentations and speeches, journal entries, and textual documents, all obtained from participating in workshops, conferences, and policy briefings in various European settings such as universities in the UK, museums, and event spaces in The Hague and at the European Youth Centre and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

My ethnographic research is ongoing and involves in-person and online attendance at thematic webinars on the topic of statelessness, in annual stakeholder meetings, and the launching of new reports and other publications.

I am particularly interested in receiving feedback from the people I have been working with as I continue researching the topic of expert activism and statelessness in Europe.

The article is currently accessible through open access on the journal’s website.

Staatsterror in Myanmar. Neuer Artikel für “Blätter”

Zusammen mit Felix Girke habe ich einen neuen Artikel zum Thema “Staatsterror in Myanmar” für Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik verfasst.

Darin diskutieren wir wer die zivile Widerstandsbewegung Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) trägt, was deren Ziele sind und warum sie auch angesichts des zunehmenen Terrors seitens des Militärs nicht aufgibt.

Wir setzen die aktuelle soziale Bewegung in Bezug zu früheren Protest- und Widerstandsbewegungen und gehen bis in die Kolonialzeit des Landes zurück. Neben der zentralen Bedeutung von Aung San für die Unabhängigkeitsbewegung der 1920ger und 1930ger Jahre machen wir deutlich, dass in allen Jahrzehnten die Bewegungen vor allem von Studierenden getragen wurden.

Der Verfassung von 2008 widmen wir besondere Aufmerksamkeit, denn nur über sie konnte das Militär auch in den vergangenen Jahren in einer zunehmend demokratischen und offenen Gesellschaft weiterhin die Macht auf sich zentrieren und letztendlich durch ein Uminterpretieren einer Ausnahmeklausel, wieder an sich reissen.

Wir sehen die gesetzten Ziele der CDM als Herkulesaufgabe an, die vor allem von den Menschen im Land zu stemmen sein wird, da die internationalen Organe wie die Vereinten Nationen zunehmend lethargisch reagieren, vor allem mit China und Russland als Vetomächten. Angesichts des zunehmenden Terrors, der sich nicht nur gegen Demonstrierende, sondern auch Unbeteiligte wie Frauen und Kinder richtet, werden die Rufe der Bevölkerung nach Intervention aus dem Ausland immer lauter.

Radiointerview für Saarländischer Rundfunk. SR2 Kulturradio

Rund acht Wochen nach dem Militärputsch findet der zivile Widerstand auf den Straßen von Myanmar vor allem in der Nacht statt – und auch in den sozialen Medien. Ich habe mit SR-Politikredakteurin und Moderatorin Katrin Aue über die Lage vor Ort gesprochen. Das Interview findet sich unter dem Titel “Die Menschen wollen nicht in einer Militärdiktatur leben“.

Radio Interview for rbb/inforadio

This morning I was interviewed for the German radio station rbb/inforadio on the ongoing state of exception in Myanmar. In the feature “Vom Militär verhängter Ausnahmezustand in Myanmar” I was asked to talk about how the crisis affects me personally as a scholar, but I tried to emphasize what I find most striking in the way the population deals with the emergency: I continue to be deeply impressed by their determination to remain on the streets and to fight the military regime despite the increase in violence. I have clearly stated that all military operations are most likely mounting to crimes against humanity and go against international humanitarian law.

The reporter asked about the possibility for mediation and I stated very clearly that the population of Myanmar would consider this a betrayal to their cause as none of them is willing to enter into negotiations with the military regime. Instead, it is of utmost importance for Germany, for the EU and the UN to not legitimize the military-imposed “State Administration Council” (SAC). Instead, I emphasized that Germany should grant political asylum to individuals who are in danger of persecution, that communication should be established with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), that the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) should be supported as well as local journalists who are currently risking their lives in reporting the atrocities.

You can read a short summary and listen to the interview on “Vom Militär verhängter Ausnahmezustand in Myanmar“on the radio’s website.

Myanmar — das Ende der Demokratie? Interview für ARD alpha-Demokratie

Am 02. März 2021 war Myanmar das Thema der Sendung ARD alpha-Demokratie. Ich war als Expertin zugeschaltet und habe Fragen zur aktuellen zivilen Widerstandsbewegung (CDM) beantwortet, aber auch zu ökonomischen, sozialen und (geo-)politischen Hintergründen, sowie zur Rolle der Staatsrätin Aung San Suu Kyi.

Die Sendung “Myanmar — das Ende der Demokratie?” ist online.

On atrocities committed by the Myanmar military on Feb 28. For Al Jazeera English.

I spoke to Al Jazeera again after what turned out to be the deadliest day in Myanmar since the coup d’êtat on Feb 1st, 2021. They wanted to know how activists in Myanmar coordinate with others in the region and I explained what the “Milk Tea Alliance” is.

I was also very clear about the need for action beyond statements of “grave concern” from the international community and that people in the streets in Myanmar expect more from the outside world.

For more updates on the situation in Myanmar, please follow my twitter threads.

Wer in Myanmar protestiert. Interview für Radio Eins

Wer sind die Menschen, die zur Zeit in Myanmar auf die Straße gehen, um gegen den Militärputsch vom 01. Februar 2021 zu protestieren? In einem Radiointerview mit Radio Eins rbb in deren Reihe “Die Profis” (“Die Sendung mit der Maus für Erwachsene”), bei der es vor allem um Stimmen aus der Wissenschaft geht, erkläre ich “Wer in Myanmar protestiert“, sowie weitere Hintergründe der aktuellen Situation in Myanmar und was die “internationale Gemeinschaft” tun kann, um die Menschen zu unterstützen.