Landscapes of Dispossession: The Production of Space in Northern Tanintharyi, Myanmar
Abstract: Since 2007, rural areas, particularly across the global south, have been ravaged by what has been dubbed a “global resource rush”. On the heels of this rush, a new wave of dispossession studies across the fields of agrarian political economy, human geography and political ecology is emerging. A decade into this wave, a series of conceptual challenges in the literature are identifiable, namely 1) the need to develop a deep historical and processual analysis that understands grabbing as enmeshed within broader struggles over the shape and structure of the political economy; 2) the need to bring together dynamics from across sectors covering multiple resources in a given landscape; 3) the importance of examining how multiple actors across time and space are implicated; and 4) understanding how these dynamics across scales cumulatively intersect and interact in specific places.The aim of this dissertation is to contribute to these debates conceptually, empirically and politically. Conceptually, the dissertation advances a framework to address resource grabs by bringing together Lefebvre’s idea of production of space with a multiscalar class analysis. The ensuing analysis thereby embeds particular instances of dispossession by enclosure (“grabs”) within a much broader analysis of the underlying political economic processes that constitute such phenomena. In this view, the momentarily striking occurrences of dispossession by enclosure have to be grasped in relation to the more mundane, but no less crucial, processes of dispossession by differentiation that characterise capitalist development in the countryside.Empirically, the dissertation contributes a grounded analysis of resource grabbing processes as they play out in three villages in Yephyu township in the Northern part of Myanmar’s Tanintharyi division. Following from the conceptual framework, explaining grabs in these villages requires an analysis of the production of the Northern Tanintharyi landscape – what is here called a landscape of dispossession. Empirical accounts of the production of such landscapes in rural areas of mixed ethnicities, such as Northern Tanintharyi, remain limited. With 65% of the population categorized as “rural” and many of them living in minority-ethnic areas, gaining a clearer understanding of their realities is crucial.The analysis has political implications for struggles against resource grabs in that it points to the common underlying dynamics and drivers of what may otherwise appear as separate and distinct phenomena. Uncovering the cumulative and interactive nature of various interventions into the same landscape and how particular landscapes within Myanmar, across the region and globally, are tied to each other through capitalist development, highlights the necessity of strategies that go beyond the “local” scale and can mobilise and organise rural working peoples broadly.
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