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State, mind, and legibility without writing in the Wa State of Myanmar

Steinmüller, Hans ORCID: 0000-0002-5921-421X (2021) State, mind, and legibility without writing in the Wa State of Myanmar. Ethnos. ISSN 0014-1844

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Identification Number: 10.1080/00141844.2021.2007153


State legibility is an extended metaphor of writing, but does not have to be based on writing itself. In the Wa State of Myanmar–a de-facto state with high levels of illiteracy–state legibility is produced through a centralisation of information in military government and a grid-like re-organisation of settlement patterns. This article explores two correlations between projects of state legibility and ways of addressing others’ intentions: First, centralisation of information forces subordinates to consider the intentions of the centre. Second, living in a grid forces people to consider each other’s minds. State legibility, through the use of media that reference the results of action, enables verbalising others’ intentions as their ‘minds’, that is, as the inner source of action. In a society where public mind reading has historically been discouraged, these projects have facilitated a regime of intention management in which public mind reading is central.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The Author
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Date Deposited: 03 Nov 2021 14:30
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2022 09:42

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