Transforming the outskirts: planning, property and people in urban Myanmar

Chiu, Francesca (2023) Transforming the outskirts: planning, property and people in urban Myanmar. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis is an urban anthropology of how residents conceptualise and claim citizenship in transitional Myanmar. Based on 11 months of fieldwork in a working-class neighbourhood on Mandalay’s outskirts in 2018-2019, this thesis explores the official history of urban planning, as well as residents’ practices and struggles in acquiring, maintaining, and building on land far from the city centre. It argues that to comprehend the politics of urban citizenship and urban transformations in the context of Myanmar’s transition, we must look beyond central urban areas and instead concentrate on the practices of planning, property, and state-people interaction on the outskirts.

I make three main arguments. First, the outskirts are politically and socially constructed. Even though successive governments in Myanmar have used the outskirts as a solution to urban problems, the outskirts are not merely a product of the state, as the residents of such areas use a variety of tactics to engage with the municipal government in their attempts to gain access to municipal services. This means that urban planning as a form of control is often incomplete, and in practice the state must frequently contend with the populations living on the outskirts.

Second, urban citizenship in Myanmar is an urban land question. Land ownership is seen not as a legal matter but as a practical issue of control. Through my case studies on informal land sales and land subdivision in the abovementioned neighbourhood, I demonstrate that residents view housing as a personal duty, not an obligation of the state. Moreover, looking at urban citizenship through the lens land issues reveals that urban citizenship in Mandalay is highly differentiated into a hierarchy based largely on residents’ wealth.

Third, urban transformations are compounded by Myanmar’s transition. The political and economic transition has produced new inequalities while maintaining old ones, resulting in displacement, differentiation, and dissatisfaction among residents of Mandalay’s outskirts.

By using land as an analytical lens to explore residents’ struggles to secure their urban residency and citizenship, this thesis suggests that the core issue facing Myanmar’s urban citizenry lies not in rights or entitlements but rather in one’s ability to secure a legitimate urban residence. In doing so, this thesis builds on the existing literature concerning property and urban citizenship in order to explore how the two are related in transitional Myanmar. It also touches on issues such as land speculation, spatial segregation, civility, working class aspirations, and belonging in urban Myanmar.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Global Development (formerly School of International Development)
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2023 09:20
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2023 09:20

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