Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Located in southern Burma (Myanmar), the Dawei special economic zone (SEZ) is among the largest infrastructure projects in the world. A $56-billion petrochemical estate with road and pipeline links to Thailand, the project was suspended in 2013 following protests and investment shortfalls. It may resume in 2020 if government authorities accept a disputed public-private financing package. Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Dawei, this paper examines this finely poised conjuncture by situating the Dawei SEZ within regional attempts to deepen capitalist exchange through transport and logistics operations. I show how, on one hand, public-private financial mechanisms have become prevalent in infrastructure financing in Burma and beyond, rearticulating state and capital according to novel structural conditions. In Dawei, such mechanisms, including but exceeding public-private partnerships (PPPs), stand to enable expanded forms of value extraction. On the other hand, I track political struggles in the Dawei area, including tactics maintaining the project’s suspension through blockades and protests targeting its power source (a powerplant), water source (a dam), and accessibility (the road link). Reconsidering scholarship on the relations between finance, extraction, and politics, I suggest that theorizing on the basis of flows and networks risks flattening the differential and contradictory aspects of advanced capitalist valorization. By contrast, I argue that political struggles in Dawei constitute a kind of counter-operations that, in identifying and impeding logistical chokepoints, clarifies both possibilities and limits for collective politics in the present. Such a counter-operations also indexes antagonisms fundamental to the making of financial frontiers today.