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Title: The political economy of the opium/heroin trade in Shan State, Myanmar, 1988-2012
Author: Meehan, Patrick
ISNI:       0000 0004 5989 9591
Awarding Body: SOAS University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis examines the relationship between processes of state consolidation and the illicit opium/heroin economy in Shan State since 1988. Over the past twenty-five years, the government of Myanmar (Burma) has established greater authority over large parts of Shan State, neutralizing much of the threat posed by armed groups and strengthening its hold over revenue extraction. During this period Myanmar has retained its position as the world's second largest producer of illicit opium/heroin, the majority of which is produced in Shan State. This thesis seeks to answer the overarching research question: What role has the opium/heroin economy played in fortifying and/or fragmenting processes of state consolidation in Shan State, Myanmar, in the period since 1988? In addressing this question, my study tests the hypothesis that rather than necessarily being a cause of disorder and state breakdown, illegal drug economies can play an important role in processes of state consolidation. In order to test this hypothesis I break down my overarching research question into four sub-questions: First, why have the Shan borderlands with China and Thailand become central to the government's statebuilding aspirations? Second, what strategies has the government deployed in order to extend its power and authority in borderland regions? Third, how have these strategies been imposed, resisted and brokered within the Shan borderlands? Fourth, what is the relationship between contested processes of state consolidation and the drug economy in Shan State in the period since 1988? In addressing these questions I argue that it is increasingly anachronistic to view the drug economy narrowly as part of the insurgent war economy. Alongside the continued role it plays in financing armed opposition to the government, the drug trade has also become deeply embedded within processes of illiberal state consolidation and capitalist development. Through an analysis of the specific spatial dynamics of power relations, material interests and institutional arrangements, this study renders visible the messy and fragmented multiplicity of motivations and actors (including insurgents, ceasefire groups, the military, government-sanctioned militias, national and transnational investors, and local populations) which have shaped changing configurations of power across Shan State. In doing so, it provides new ways to account for the uneven political topography of the Myanmar state, the repertoires of violence enacted across Shan State and the different kinds of 'institutions of extraction' that have emerged around borderland resources.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral