Ethnography of schooling, religion and ethnonationalism in the Kachin State, Myanmar: dreams and dilemmas of change
For much of its recent history, the Kachin State of northern Myanmar has been wrought with civil warfare that has come to define its image from the outside, as well as being a key signifier in the conceptual life worlds of many of its ethnic nationalities. While Myanmar is currently witnessing significant – if still uncertain – political and economic transitions, the Kachin State remains largely marginalized from these processes. Rather than an absence of state power, however, this marginalization had led to competing projects of statecraft vying over resources, military control and popular legitimacy in the highly fragmented territorialities. In this thesis I engage this complex landscape through the nexus of formal schooling, organized religion, and ethno nationalist politics. My primary ethnographic focus is on the emergence ‐ of several private schools led by a younger generation of Kachin educators. I am asking why these schools arose at this point in time and what has motivated their leaders to strive for institutional autonomy in settings long characterised by a scarcity of human and material resources. I argue that, in addition to their explicitly stated pedagogical aims, these initiatives are serving particular visions of social and political development, defined by Christian moralities and ethno‐nationalist ideologies. As such, their practice can be read as a form of critique towards the established systems of schooling and governance led by the central state of Myanmar, as well as that of the Kachin Independence Organization, the main contender for political self‐determination in the area. Decades of perceived marginalization of the Kachin populace of northern Myanmar are the principal motivator for the leaders of these educational projects. However, important points of tension also exist within the Kachin society itself, both in the fields of schooling and religion. A focus on the institutions of private education thus enables me to ask questions about the nature of local political authority, ethnic identification, and the influence of organized religion more generally. By employing a historical perspective to complement my ethnographic material, I am tracing the emergence of ideas, practices, and institutions of schooling that were born from the missionary encounter and decades of military conflicts. These, together with the more recent cosmopolitan ideas of modernity, lie at the heart of contemporary efforts to provide alternative paths to schooling, and to attain the dreams of social development for the Kachin society that the educators seek.