Prisons and detention practices play a fundamental role in modern states in general, and authoritarian and post-authoritarian states, in particular. This project explores the historical and contemporary role of detention in Myanmar and its significance for the reconfiguration of state and society. It will generate field-based knowledge about the history and consequences of detention practices (including structures, policies, institutional arrangements and everyday life) in Myanmar and explore how the contemporary penal system responds to the current political thaw. Using the notion of the legacy to capture the idea of practices of the past having powerful and productive effects through time the project explores how practices of detention persist yet mutate and have consequences for individuals, institutions, state and society. The project will illuminate people’s experiences of detention and the ways in which detention practices contribute to or detract from the establishment and maintenance of democracy and peace. Richly textured descriptions of changing practices of detention will illustrate how state and peace-building processes do not follow a linear, transparent trajectory but are multi-layered and unpredictable. Careful analysis of the experiences, technologies and politics of detention will enable us to explain the ambiguous and contested nature of detention practices and efforts to reform them and offer insights to policy-makers committed to supporting nascent moves toward rule of law and the realization of democracy and human rights. The project features joint research with the Department of Law, Yangon University and the organisation Justice for All as well as organisational, academic and methodological capacity-building. It will promote the application of empirical research and field-based methodologies reinvigorating research-led policy debates and providing important theoretical insights on the relationship between state formation and detention.
First-year report 2017:
The team’s knowledge of Myanmar has grown through fieldwork and interaction with local stakeholders. The relationship with local partner Justice for All (JFA) has been formalised and a local research team established. The Denmark-based PhD student conducted two periods of fieldwork focused on the experiences of imprisonment. Access to prisons was granted. This access is a massive (desired but never assumed) achievement for the project, vindicating the patient, incremental ‘appreciative’ approach. The post doc and principal investigator both conducted fieldwork pursuing lines of enquiry related to the technologies and politics dimensions of the project. A case study on Prisoners’ Contact with the Outside World has been implemented. A new case study on women, gender and imprisonment is beginning. Myanmar Prisons Department visited DIGNITY in Denmark as did JFA. The Institute for Human Rights and Peace at Mahidol University has been identified as a new project partner.