Organized Panel Session
South Asianists have long accepted the utility of “hierarchy” as a construct to understand social, political, and economic phenomena in the region, even if some bewail its inegalitarian nature.
Generations of scholars of Java, Bali, and Cambodia have pointed out the salience of hierarchy in the workings of lowland Southeast Asian societies. Yet many scholars working on Burma have ignored the idea, paying more attention to “inequality.” Many hold hierarchy in disdain as forever fixing Southeast Asians into agentless, static subjects. These same scholars and practitioners often assume that egalitarian norms are “universal,” something “we” all strive for, especially in Burma now undergoing its transition. The danger in failing to recognize hierarchy in Burma is that we will ignore a principle behind social relations and political choices, not to mention thornier questions of many people may participate in their own subjugation.
This panel brings together the work of three Burma scholars and one South Asianist working in anthropology, sociology, linguistics, and history, to bring hierarchy into conversation with Burma. Although disparate in topic, each of the three presenters reminds us of the continued relevance of hierarchy in understanding Burma, whether in interpersonal relations (which in turn extend out to wider society), or the question of establishing citizenship. The contributor from South Asia offers a perspective which may be useful for rethinking questions of justice in Burma. Our discussant plans to bring a wider perspective to the question of hierarchy, discussing its relevance both to Burma Studies and to other disciplines.