In 1949, civil war broke out in the newly independent country then known as Burma, and now known as Myanmar. The war, which continues to this day, pits the central government (made up mostly of Burmans) against dozens of ethnic minority insurgent groups. One of the largest and most militarily successful of these ethnic insurgent groups is the Karen National Liberation Army, which contests the state army in southeastern Burma/Myanmar in areas of Karen State abutting the border with Thailand. The conflict has created tremendous hardship for civilians in the area, who speak mutually unintelligible Karennic languages and who variously adhere to animism, Buddhism and Christianity. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people from these different Karen groups have crossed the Moei River (which constitutes the natural border between Burma and Thailand) and become refugees in Thailand. The establishment of large refugee camps within kilometers of the international dividing line has attracted numerous non-governmental organizations, who along with the KNLA and affiliated Karen NGOs have established offices in the Thai town of Mae Sot. Since the late 1980s, Mae Sot, the nearby refugee camps, the military checkpoints on various access roads, and the no-man’s-land on either side of the Moei River have been identified in the international press and in some scholarly works as a conceptual space most often called “the Thai-Burma border.” Rachel Sharples’ dissertation offers a detailed history of the development of this area (pp. 70-86), which she calls “the borderlands.” Most importantly, Sharples makes two related claims about the borderlands: first, that the borderlands space is created by the social interchanges which occur there, and second, that the space in turn gives rise to particular types of social interchanges which form the basis for a specific form of Karen identity.
Copyright © 2014 Dissertation Reviews
Burma, Damian Grenfell, Paul James, RMIT University, Thailand
MacLachlan, Heather, "A Review of 'Spaces of Solidarity: Karen Identity in the Thai-Burma Borderlands' by Rachel Sharples" (2014). Music Faculty Publications. 26.