Torn-up bodies/torn-up lives: Towards a phenomenology of the modes in which Karen refugees experience, cope, and imaginatively engage in alternate futures in lifeworlds contaminated by landmines

Start date: 26 February, 2013 End date: 5 June, 2013 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A21988 Countries: Thailand Institutions: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Grant recipient: Tomas Cole Total grant: 9,000 DKK



This thesis is based on 4 ½ months fieldwork in a refugee camp in Thailand among Karens injured my landmines. In the camp I learnt that the situation here engendered a deep seated sense of dependency and lingering sense of death, that clung most tightly to those disabled by mines. I grasped this as double disability and dependence, where the disabling effects of residing in the camp was compounded by physical injuries that foreclosed many avenues in life and accentuating this sense of living death.

 As my time here progressed I found that this was further compounded by the discomfort many experienced in asking for and receiving help, locally grasped as ānade, literally ”strength hurt”. Many of the injured women and men I met avoided asking for help out of a responsibility to others to not hurt their strength in burdening them. And avoided receiving help in order to forgo hurting one’s own strength in becoming disproportionately obligated to others, lest their lives fall entirely into the hands’ of others. The issues of double disability and dependence came to play again here in how those profoundly injured by mines, such as the men living in a care home, “Deh Taw”. With few relatives to support them were not in a position to refuse help, and thus, caught in a form of a moral paradox, a bind, where they were almost constantly shadowed by a sense of anade and shame. Placed in this bind I found that that many of the men at Deh Taw felt deeply obligated to other and, as such, experienced great difficulties in refusing the requests of those caring for them, often doing things even if they did not want to. This in not so say that the women and men I met did not to attempt to avoid this sense of disproportionate obligation and responsibility to others, but these “everyday resistances”, were enacted moment-to-moment, in direct reaction to a certain situations rather than any form of prolonged attempt to loosen the bind of ānade.

In the last chapter I explore how the injured women and men I met in the camp addressed the moral paradox, the bind of ānade. Here I found that, rather than engaging in long term attempts to shake off the hands of others, in many occasions the men at Deh Taw submitted themselves to God, regularly repeating, “my life is in the hands of God”. In following this notion I came to grasp how this notion of reposing in the hands of a deity could be understood as the repositioning of oneself such that dependency and obligation was first and foremost to God. In this move charity and gifts received from others were understood as coming not from other people but from God who moved people to help through the Holy Spirit, such that these became ‘free’ gifts, free of the obligation to return them.  However, following Derrida I demonstrate the possible-impossibility of gifts that can never be truly free. Lastly through exploring millenarian imaginaries I posit that in reposing in God’s hands hope can be found hovering on the horizon of the Second Coming.