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Conscription by capture in the Wa State of Myanmar: acquaintances, anonymity, patronage, and the rejection of mutuality

Steinmüller, Hans ORCID: 0000-0002-5921-421X (2019) Conscription by capture in the Wa State of Myanmar: acquaintances, anonymity, patronage, and the rejection of mutuality. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 61 (3). 508 - 534. ISSN 0010-4175

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0010417519000197


Capturing people, sometimes by taking relatives hostage, is a common practice for purposes of conscription and law enforcement in the Wa State of Myanmar. Given the unreliability of the local census, as well as the relative weakness of civil government, and registration in a de facto state governed by an insurgent army, the personal politics of capture provides a functional equivalent to state legibility. This personal politics operates based on the reorganization of personal networks between representatives of the military state and ordinary people: first, circles of acquaintances within the military state that provide access to local knowledge, and second, relationships of patronage formed on the basis of those new acquaintanceships, as well as connections of kinship and co-residence. Conscription by capture, however, also requires anonymity; that is, the passive non-recognition of mutuality with strangers and the active refusal of mutuality with acquaintances. This article describes the historical emergence of networks of acquaintances and relationships of patronage as a combination of Maoist state-building and local institutions of war capture and adoption. It demonstrates how conscription by capture relies on relationships of acquaintances and nonrecognition, as well as on patronage and the refusal of mutuality. The politics of conscription by capture are contrasted with conscription in imperial states and contemporary nation-states.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2019 Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2018 15:16
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2024 03:42

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