Macquarie University
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‘On sovereign ground’: the politics of everyday life : Kachin at the Thai-Burma border

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posted on 2022-03-28, 12:02 authored by Joseph R. Rickson
The movement of people and their social organisation across nation-state and cultural borders is a primary research focus of contemporary anthropology. My thesis which centres on this general concern focuses on how state control over territory and people is exercised in local settlement areas wherein specific ethnic groups are moving across real or imagined borders, and on how local and state relations are articulated and negotiated. With particular focus on the Kachin at the Thai-Burma border, the thesis entails an ethnography of mobility and settlement analysing cross-border movement from specific points of rupture. It aims to challenge the preconceived image of fixed landscapes of independent nations and autonomous local or peripheral cultures and settlements. This thesis offers a critical analysis of questions surrounding the production and reproduction of “sovereignty”, “exceptionalism” and “belonging”. This thesis shifts focus from a study of the effects of state policy on marginal people, which is basically a view from the state centre, to an ethnography concentrating on people at the margins, or periphery. The purpose of the thesis is to highlight and explore such ambiguity in the context of the historical movement and settlement of Kachin in northern Thailand. This thesis focusses on the certain aspects and process of the lives of individuals and regulatory institutions that constitute and refashion, so to speak, instances of exceptionalism. Border politics are thus the primary focus of my research that investigates institutions and practices defining and controlling social space, sovereignty and the historical trajectories of negotiation across different power regimes. In effect, the thesis explores the degree to which the sum of the above is crystallised in the history of – and everyday life within – the Kachin village of Jinghpaw Kahtawng at the Thai-Burma border. What this shows us is the complexity and ambiguities of belonging and non-belonging for cross-border populations as they attempt to integrate into larger state institutions as well as simultaneously reproduce a connection to a perceived homeland.


Table of Contents

Chapter One. Introduction : contours of belonging -- Chapter Two. Movement and belonging : the village as centre -- Chapter Three. Continuities and divergences within cross-border Kachin cultural and social practices -- Chapter Four. The camp -- Chapter Five. Border camp to border village -- Chapter Six. The non-assimilable subject -- Chapter Seven. Exceptions, decisions and borders -- Bibliography -- Appendices.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 177-189

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Chris Lyttleton

Additional Supervisor 1

Paul A. Cohen


Copyright Joseph R. Rickson 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




Thailand Burma


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