Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The conflict in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine State led many Rohingyas to seek refuge in Malaysia. Their presence in Malaysia, a non-signatory to the UN Refugee Conventions, turns them into precarious bodies inhabiting ambiguous positions – of both being and not being a refugee. Their forced displacement and subsequent conflation with undocumented migrants in Malaysia fuel the fear that the Rohingya community may face decimation, adding to their woes of being invisible. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper illustrates how Rohingyas undertake “action” (Arendt 1998) to write themselves into being through digital platforms. This paper addresses the use of social media as a site where precarity and promise intersect. Social media, as a potential public sphere, allow Rohingyas to articulate their desire to be legible and recognised persons by the international community. While social media eliminates physical borders, new constructions of borders are also erected within the digital sphere through Rohingyas’ media participation. Through their active engagement on platforms such as Facebook, Rohingyas create, “share” and “like” posts to claim their belonging to Myanmar. Social media affordances allow them to (re)produce the political imaginary of Rohingyas as Myanmarese citizens. Digital citizenship, as an emerging form of political participation, hence provides an avenue for rethinking the notion of legibility through the usage of social media especially amongst diasporic communities, whose interventions reinvent and reimagine politics, borders and citizenship. Through close attention to their new subjectivities, how they perform political participation and legibility, the paper gestures beyond traditional frameworks of citizenship studies.