Ei Thin Zar – Graduate Student International Summer Research or Residency Award Recipient

Nation-building along Thailand-Burma border

Graduate student Ei Thin Zar giving a presentation.Nation-building projects produce and reproduce the kind of citizens that the nation desires in a double gesture of hope and fear: with the hope to hold the responsibility and obligation to make government possible and with the fear of difference and dangerous populations that would prevent its ability to govern. While nation-building projects of the state create a certain ‘kind of people’ that the state requires, activism opens up spaces of resistance to create conditions for social change and make social action possible. Activism is a space of action, where social movements can be formed, in which judgements are made, types of objects are recognized, and conclusions are drawn in the present as an effect of an anticipated future. Thus, it creates a curriculum in action along the path of forming new subjectivities.

From June to August 2023, I visited the Thailand-Burma border for a preliminary research on the impacts of activism and youth-led social movement in forming a collective knowledge and a curriculum in action. During my trip, I was able to conduct focus group discussions and workshops with young people who ran away from arbitrary arrests and airstrikes in Burma and who fled to Thailand’s border town, Mae Sot. I worked with young people between the ages of 16 to 27 who are volunteering at People’s Radio Myanmar (PRM), a multi-ethnic, non-violent media platform. We discussed topics around Covid, Coup, Education, Gender and Sexuality, Federalism, Social Cohesion, Disabilities, and mainly the rights to life and freedom of speech. We used participatory and journalism methods together. In each workshop, we applied different journalism methods such as reporting, interviewing, photography, paintings, and documentary making.

Graduate student Ei Thin Zar walking down a path.Being involved in the PRM project has given me hope that the future of Burma can be an inclusive one. Working along with these young people, I have witnessed social cohesion among a diverse collective of groups and identities. As an activist and a scholar, I am curious to learn more about how resistance and revolution open spaces both for the exploration of individual agencies by broadening the possibilities for the collective actions aimed at widening democratic practices (1) and establishing a more pluralistic field for social actions.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Global Engagement Office for funding me on this preliminary research trip. Because of this trip, I have more hopes for a better society and more plans for a new research project after my PhD.

(1) Graeber, D. (2007). There Never Was a West; or, Democracy Emerges from the Spaces in Between. Beyond Resistance: The Future of Freedom, 75-109.