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SEA Studies Seminar Michaelmas Term 2013

Alternate Wednesdays, 2-3.30 pm
Deakin Room, Founder’s Building
St. Antony’s College


Week 1 | 16 October 2013

‘The emerging agro-industrial complex in Burma: The politics of land reform, land grabs and resistances, and the Chinese presence’

Kevin Woods (Environmental Studies, Policy and Management Department, University of California-Berkeley)


Kevin Woods has been engaged in research and activism on land politics in Burma for over a decade. His initial research focused on the Burma-China timber trade, but since then has expanded to include research on the country’s emerging agribusiness sector as the frontline of land grabs and conflict. Most of his work has focused on examining Chinese agribusiness in northern Burma as part of China’s opium substitution programme, and its entanglements with drug militias, counterinsurgency and land grabs. Most recently Kevin has conducted participatory action research on farmers’ resistances to land grabs during the current reform period under the new military-backed government. Kevin’s land reform research at the national scale, supported by specific cases studies in contested ethnic resource-rich territories, allows him to go beyond the veneer of ‘the new Myanmar’ to understand how Burma’s infamous military institution and crony capitalism begin to merge with neoliberal development, this time backed by western development aid and finance institutions.

About the Speaker

Kevin is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California-Berkeley in the Environmental Studies, Policy and Management Department (ESPM) in the Society and Environment Division as a political ecologist and geographer. He also serves as a research analyst for both the Transnational Institute (TNI) based in Amsterdam and for Forest Trends based in Washington, DC. Kevin’s academic research, theoretical toolkit, and NGO affiliations are oriented such that his collaborative work with local community activist networks attempts to overcome the problems uncovered by research.


Week 2 | 30 October 2013

‘Conflict and Development in Northern Myanmar: The roles of armed groups, NGOs, and the Chinese government’

Nbyen Dan Hkung Awng (Charles Wallace Trust Visiting Research Fellow, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford)

Seminar has been rescheduled to Wednesday, 30 October 2013, 6.30 pm, at the Nissan Lecture Theatre, St. Antony’s College:

‘Ethnicity and Experiences of Conflict in Burma’

An Informal Roundtable Discussion hosted by the Oxford Burma Alliance and the Asian Studies Centre, St. Antony’s College


Matthew J Walton, Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Research Fellow in Modern Burmese Studies, St. Antony’s College
Nbyen Dan Hkung Awng, Charles Wallace Trust Visiting Research Fellow, Department of Politics and International Relations
Paing Soe Hlaing, President, Oxford Burma Alliance
Karen Hargrave, Vice President, Oxford Burma Alliance


The dominant narrative of the current political transition in Burma appears to be gradually becoming more positive, as formerly critical Western countries deepen their engagement with the country through encouraging investment and even initiating limited military-military relations. However, civil conflict continues in many border areas of the country, inhabited mostly by members of ethnic minority groups. And despite national and international pressure for a nation-wide ceasefire, most resistance groups remain deeply skeptical of the new Burmese government’s capacity and sincerity with regard to instituting political reforms that would address the grievances of marginalized ethnic communities.

The participants in this roundtable will address the question of how ethnic identity affects people’s experiences of conflict in Burma. Matt Walton will discuss ethnicity and differential experiences of suffering more broadly as well as the ways in which geography plays a role in mediating the effects of government/military repression. Dan Hkung will consider the Kachin struggle, a case of particular importance at present as the intensification of conflict in Kachin state has occurred alongside the widely praised “democratic” reforms of the new Burmese government. Paing Soe Hlaing and Karen Hargrave will discuss Mon perspectives on ethnic identity, conflict and political transition. Paing will relate his own experiences of the challenges of negotiating mixed Mon-Burman heritage, whilst Karen will share the perspectives of Mon friends and colleagues working to advance human rights for this ethnic population.


Week 5 | 13 November 2013

‘Viral Economies: Farming Bird Flu in Vietnam’

Natalie Porter (Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford)


Recent outbreaks of swine flu, SARS and avian influenza are provoking innovative global health efforts to control diseases transmitted between species. In Southeast Asia, much of this effort centers on poultry economies, where new forms of production, circulation, and exchange are cohering around viruses and their management. Drawing on ethnographic research in Vietnam, this presentation explores how individuals navigate avian flu interventions in policymaking arenas and poultry producing communities. It reveals that pandemic flu strategies confront heterogeneous moral codes, in which animals play a dynamic role in Vietnamese knowledge hierarchies, village economies, and estimations of individual worth. This research suggests that avian flu both circumscribes and expands possibilities for regulating and valuing life in communities of humans coexisting with animals.

About the Speaker

Natalie Porter is research fellow in the BioProperty Program at the Institute for Science, Innovation & Society – University of Oxford. She is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the anthropology of science, technology, and medicine. Her regional foci include Southeast Asia and parts of the United States and Europe, where she explores intersections of biomedicine and multispecies relationships. She is developing a book-length ethnography that explores how multinational bird flu control programs affect state-making strategies and poultry production practices in Vietnam. Natalie holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and in 2014 will take up an assistant professor position in anthropology at the University of New Hampshire.


Week 7 | 27 November 2013

‘God’s Mercy is Not Limited to Arabic Speakers: Issues of authority and legitimacy in the translation of Islam into local languages’

Saiful Umam (Imam Bukhari Visiting Research Fellow, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies)

All are welcome.

Convenor & Chair:      Dr Matthew J Walton

Enquiries:            or 01865 274559