Public defence: Civil Resistance in the Shadow of War: Explaining popular mobilization against dams in Myanmar

  • Date:
  • Location: Online via Zoom
  • Doctoral student: Kim, Kyungmee
  • Organiser: Department of Peace and Conflict Research
  • Contact person: Chris Chau
  • Disputation

Kyungmee Kim defends her thesis "Civil Resistance in the Shadow of War: Explaining popular mobilization against dams in Myanmar". Faculty opponent is Professor Dan Banik, Center for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo.

A live streaming of the defence will be available on Zoom. Zoom link: https://uu-se.zoom.us/j/61938654036.

Abstract

Why do some conflict-affected communities collectively resist dam-building while others do not? State-backed development projects such as hydropower dams have been the subject of societal resistance in countries around the world. In armed conflict areas, local populations who organize nonviolent resistance through collective action against these high-impact projects face additional challenges, such as being targeted for violence and coercion by the authorities. Some of these communities succeed in mobilizing widespread, long-term resistance, but others do not. This dissertation investigates this puzzle by focusing on Kachin, Karen, and Ta’ang minority communities in Myanmar affected, respectively, by the planned Myitsone, Hatgyi, and Shweli dams. Empirical material collected during 13 months of fieldwork in Myanmar reveals that the social-psychological legacies of armed conflict between the central government and minority groups have shaped the dam-opposition campaigns’ collective responses. The variation in community reactions to planned dam projects can be explained by the varying salience and boundaries of collective identities, derived largely from the population’s conflict experiences. Identity formation in conflict-affected societies was influenced by the population’s conflict experiences, collective memories, and trauma passed on between generations. Collective victimhood, in particular, was found to be embedded in identity, which was instrumental for forming a cognitive-affective repertoire for the local population who recognized the dam as collective harm that must be faced through community solidarity. Conflict dynamics and a community’s organizational capacity further affected the patterns of social mobilization and spread of resistance. The research findings contribute to a better understanding of civil resistance in armed conflict areas by broadening the scope of threats that civilian populations face in conflict settings. It conceptualizes negative social and environmental impacts of dams and other state interventions as a cause of civil resistance. This research also highlights the linkage between armed conflict and social mobilization through the shared experiences of local communities. The findings have policy implications as they suggest the importance of a cautionary approach when promoting development in post-conflict environments. The results also imply that community-level peacebuilding should seriously engage with local communities in efforts to better understand the legacies of war and shared identity.

Link to thesis