“Watching and Waiting:” Development, Deferral and Desire in Myanmar’s “New Yangon City”
Courtney T. Wittekind
Department of Anthropology
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Based on in-situ and digital ethnographic research in the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, this paper examines how infrastructural links to the state—bridges, roads, and, most prominently, an ambitious “new city” development—became a key terrain for political expectation during Myanmar’s “democratic decade,” and how they have endured as such following the country’s2021 military coup. Examining practices of “watching” stalled construction efforts across periods of democratic optimism and authoritarian resurgence, I argue that infrastructure projects play an increasingly salient role in shaping assessments of both personal and political possibility for residents awaiting long-promised “change.” Whereas existing scholarship on the politics of infrastructure has detailed demands for equity triggered by large-scale projects’ implementation, completion, and frequent breakdown, today, projects are habitually left stalled or suspended in the face of overlapping crises—a global pandemic, a supply chain collapse, and a resurgence of authoritarianism, among others. What forms of promise emerge in a landscape littered with proposed but incomplete infrastructure, and where people increasingly engage politically by scrutinizing projects’ shaky status?
Part of the Social Justice in Southeast Asia (SJSEA) Project faculty search in Anthropology/International Studies. This event is free and open to the public.