Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-ssw5r Total loading time: 0.489 Render date: 2022-08-18T04:55:35.590Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Modern Burma Studies: A Survey of the Field

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 October 2008

Research Fellow, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, Nathan Campus, 170 Kessells Road, Brisbane, Queensland 4111, Australia E-mail:


Burma has never been a popular subject for academic research but, since a massive pro-democracy uprising drew worldwide attention to the country in 1988, the number of scholars and students engaged in the field has grown considerably. However, they still face a number of major challenges. Along with other kinds of area studies, Burma studies have been accused by academics from the more ‘scientific’ disciplines of being too narrowly focused and lacking theoretical rigour. Also, it has been difficult to conduct research in Burma's closed society. While the latest military government has relaxed some controls, field work is still constrained and reliable sources are hard to find. Often, the knowledge gap has been filled by myths and misconceptions. Adding to these problems, since 1988 the Burma studies community has become highly polarised, with political and moral factors often featuring more prominently in the public debate than considered arguments based on objective analysis. All these factors have adversely affected modern Burma studies and restricted understanding of this deeply troubled country by both scholars and the wider community.

Review Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Enriquez, C. M., A Burmese Enchantment (Thacker, Spink and Co., Calcutta, 1916), p. viGoogle Scholar.

2 In 1989, Burma's new military government changed the country's name to Myanmar. At the same time, a number of other place names were changed to conform more closely to their original Burmese pronunciation. For example, Rangoon became Yangon. In this article the older forms are used, for ease of recognition. Citations, however, are given as they were originally published.

3 Area studies are sometimes described as a form of cultural studies, and in some catalogues of academic disciplines are listed under the humanities and the arts, rather than the social sciences. While such divisions are essentially arbitrary, modern Asian (and other area) studies invariably encompass much more than ‘the meaning and practices of everday life among Asian peoples’, by ‘combining aspects of sociology and cultural anthropology’. See <>

4 Hall, D. G. E., ‘Preface to the First [1955] Edition’, A History of South-East Asia (Macmillan, London, 1970), p. xxGoogle Scholar.

5 V. B. Lieberman, ‘Reinterpreting Burmese History’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 29, No. 1 (January 1987), pp. 162–94. The UK annexed the coastal areas of Arakan and Tenasserim in the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–26, took Lower Burma by force of arms in 1852 and overthrew the Burmese king in Mandalay after a third military campaign in 1885.

6 See, for example, Michael Aung-Thwin, ‘Spirals in Early Southeast Asian and Burmese History’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Spring 1991), pp. 575–602.

7 Ohn, Tin, ‘Modern Historical Writing in Burmese, 1724–1942’, in Hall, D. G. E. (ed.), Historians of South-East Asia (Oxford University Press, London, 1961), pp. 8593Google Scholar.

8 See, for example, Symes, Michael, Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava sent by the Governor-General of India in the year 1795 (Bulmer and Co., London, 1800)Google Scholar and Father [Vincentius] Sangermano, A Description of the Burmese Empire, Compiled chiefly from Burmese documents, fifth edition (Susil Gupta, London, 1966). Father Sangermano's book was first published in Rome in 1833. Also important is Henry Yule's 1856 report, later published as Narrative of the Mission to the Court of Ava in 1855, Together with the Journal of Arthur Phayre (Oxford University Press, London, 1968).

9 Scott, J. G. (‘Shway Yoe’), The Burman: His Life and Notions (Macmillan and Co., London, 1882)Google Scholar. See also Trager, H. G., Burma Through Alien Eyes: Missionary Views of the Burmese in the Nineteenth Century (Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1966)Google Scholar.

10 Judson's Burmese–English Dictionary, revised and enlarged by R. C. Stevenson and F. H. Eveleth (Baptist Board of Publications, Rangoon, 1986).

11 Phayre, Arthur P., History of Burma, including Burma Proper, Pegu, Taungu, Tenasserim and Arakan, from the Earliest Time to the End of the first War with British India, third edition (Augustus Kelley, New York, 1969)Google Scholar.

12 Harvey, G. E., History of Burma: From the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824, The Beginning of the English Conquest, second edition (Frank Cass and Co., London, 1967)Google Scholar. See also Alyssa Phillips, ‘Romance and Tragedy in Burmese History: A Reading of G. E. Harvey's The History of Burma’, SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring 2005).

13 Furnivall, J. S., An Introduction to the Political Economy of Burma (Burma Book Club, Rangoon, 1938)Google Scholar. See also Furnivall, J. S., ‘The Fashioning of Leviathan: The Beginnings of British Rule in Burma’, The Journal of the Burma Research Society, Vol. 29, No. 1 (April 1939), pp. 3137Google Scholar.

14 Luce, G. H. and Tin, Pe Maung, Inscriptions of Burma, 2 vols. (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1933–39)Google Scholar. See also Luce, G. H., Old Burma: Early Pagan (New York University, New York, 1969–70)Google Scholar and Luce, G. H., Phases of Pre-Pagan Burma: Languages and History, 2 vols. (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985)Google Scholar.

15 Founded in 1784 as the Asiatic Society of Bengal, it became the Calcutta Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society after the latter was founded in London in 1829.

16 Before closing in 1977, the Society published 59 volumes, consisting of 136 journals and more than 1300 articles. Herbert, P. M., Burma (Clio Press, Oxford, 1988), p. 255Google Scholar.

17 See, for example, Bird, G. W., Wanderings in Burma (Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co., London, 1897)Google Scholar; O'Connor, V. C. S., The Silken East: A record of life and travel in Burma (Hutchinson, London, 1904)Google Scholar and Collis, Maurice, Trials in Burma (Faber, London, 1938)Google Scholar. See also S. L. Keck, ‘Picturesque Burma: British Travel Writing 1890–1914’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 35, No. 3 (October 2004), pp. 387–414.

18 A. J. Allott, ‘Burma’, in Alastair Dingwall (ed.), Traveller's Literary Companion to South-east Asia (In Print, Brighton, 1994), p. 17.

19 Vice Admiral the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, South-East Asia 1943–1945: Report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff by the Supreme Allied Commander, second impression (English Book Store, New Delhi, 1960). Also useful is Allen, Louis, Burma: The Longest War, 1941–1945 (Dent and Sons, London, 1984)Google Scholar and Thompson, Julian, The Imperial War Museum Book of the War in Burma, 1942–1945: A Vital Contribution to Victory in the Far East (Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 2002)Google Scholar.

20 W. B. G. Balchin, ‘United Kingdom Geographers in the Second World War: A Report’, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 153, No. 2 (July 1987), pp. 159–180 and K. H. Stone, ‘Geography's Wartime Service’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 69, No. 1 (March 1979), pp. 89–96.

21 See, for example, Burma During the Japanese Occupation, 2 vols. (Intelligence Bureau, Government of Burma, Simla, 1943–44).

22 See, for example, Deignan, H. G., Burma—Gateway to China, Smithsonian Institution War Background Studies No. 17 (Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1943)Google Scholar and Gorer, Geoffrey, The Burmese Personality (mimeograph, Institute for Inter-Cultural Relations, New York, 1943)Google Scholar. Also of interest is Christian, J. L., Modern Burma: A Survey of Political and Economic Development (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1942)Google Scholar, re-released as Burma and the Japanese Invader (Thacker and Co., Bombay, 1945).

23 In 1940 and 1941, the US Army commissioned practical handbooks, teaching grammars and vocabularies on several ‘strategic languages’. Cornyn, W. S. produced Spoken Burmese for the US War Department (later published by Henry Holt, New York, 1945)Google Scholar. The British could draw on Burmese language texts produced for colonial officers before the war, but they also printed new guides for the armed forces, such as Short Glossary of Burmese (Geographical Section General Staff, War Office, n. p., 1945).

24 Robert Hall, Area Studies: With Special Reference to Their Implications for Research in the Social Sciences (Committee on World Area Research Program, Social Science Research Council, 1948).

25 Louis Morton, ‘National Security and Area Studies: The Intellectual Response to the Cold War’, The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 34, No. 3, March 1963, pp. 142–7.

26 ‘1952 Policy Statement by US on Goals in Southeast Asia’, Key Document No.2, The Pentagon Papers, (Bantam Books, Toronto, 1971), p. 28. The eight SEATO members were the US, UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan.

27 Taylor, R. H., Foreign and Domestic Consequences of the KMT Intervention in Burma (Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, 1973)Google Scholar.

28 Tinker, Hugh, The Union of Burma: A Study of The First Years of Independence (Oxford University Press, London, 1957)Google Scholar; Cady, John, A History of Modern Burma (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1958)Google Scholar; Woodman, Dorothy, The Making of Burma (The Cresset Press, London, 1962)Google Scholar and Trager, F.N., Burma: From Kingdom to Republic: A Historical and Political Analysis (Pall Mall, London, 1966)Google Scholar.

29 Nash, Manning, The Golden Road to Modernity: Village Life in Contemporary Burma (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1965)Google Scholar and Spiro, M. E., Burmese Supernaturalism (Institute for the Study of Human Issues, Philadelphia, 1967)Google Scholar.

30 Pye, Maung Maung, Burma in the Crucible (Khittaya Publishing House, Rangoon, 1951)Google Scholar; Dr Maung Maung, Burma in the Family of Nations (Djambatan, Amsterdam, 1957) and U, Ba, My Burma: The Autobiography of a President (Taplinger, New York, 1959)Google Scholar.

31 See, for example, John Badgley, ‘Intellectuals and the National Vision: The Burmese Case’, Asian Survey, Vol. 9, No. 8 (August 1969), pp. 598–613 and Richard Butwell, U Nu of Burma (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1963). Also of interest is John Badgley, Politics Among Burmans: A Study of Intermediary Leaders (Centre for International Studies, Ohio University, Athens, 1970).

32 See, for example, Myint, Ni Ni, Burma's Struggle Against Imperialism, 1885–1895 (The Universities Press, Rangoon, 1983)Google Scholar. Also relevant is Aung, Maung Htin, A History of Burma (Columbia University Press, New York, 1967)Google Scholar and Than Tun, ‘An Estimation of Articles on Burmese History Published in the JBRS, 1910–1970’, Journal of the Burma Research Society, Vol. 52, No. 1 (1970), pp. 53–66.

33 One notable work produced during this period was Pamela Gutman, ‘Ancient Arakan: with special reference to its cultural history between the 5th and 11th centuries’, Unpublished PhD thesis, Australian National University, 1977.

34 Steinberg, D. I., Burma's Road Toward Development: Growth and Ideology Under Military Rule (Westview, Boulder, 1981), p. 1Google Scholar.

35 See, for example, Silverstein, Josef, Burma: Military Rule and the Politics of Stagnation (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1977)Google Scholar; Silverstein, Josef, Burmese Politics: The Dilemma of National Unity (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1980)Google Scholar and Taylor, R. H., Marxism and Resistance in Burma, 1942–1945: Thein Pe Myint's ‘Wartime Traveller’ (Ohio University Press, Athens, 1984)Google Scholar.

36 Tinker, Hugh (ed.), Burma: The Struggle for Independence, 1944–1948, 2 vols. (HMSO, London, 1983)Google Scholar.

37 Maw, Ba, Breakthrough in Burma: Memoirs of a Revolution, 1939–1946 (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1968)Google Scholar; Nu, U Nu: Saturday's Son (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1975) and Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, The Shan of Burma: Memoirs of a Shan Exile (ISEAS, Singapore, 1987).

38 Schwartz, Benjamin J., ‘Presidential Address: Area Studies as a Critical Discipline’, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 40, No. 1 (November 1980), p. 15CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 A major study by Frank Trager was published by the Human Relations Area Files in 1956. Revised and updated versions were published in 1968 and 1971. The latest was Bunge, F. M. (ed.), Burma: a country study (American University, Washington DC, 1983)Google Scholar. Work was begun on a new edition in the early 1990s, but the project was abandoned due to a lack of funds.

40 Between 1898 and 1985, there were 285 dissertations written with Burma as the main focus, 96 in the US, 67 in the Soviet Union, 40 in the UK, 26 in Germany, 14 in India and 12 in France. Shulman, F. J., Burma: An Annotated Bibliographical Guide to International Doctoral Dissertation Research, 1898–1985 (University Press of America, Lanham, 1986)Google Scholar.

41 ‘Introduction’ in Morse, R. A. and Loerke, H. L. (eds.), Burma: A Study Guide (The Wilson Centre Press, Washington DC, 1988)Google Scholar.

42 R. H. Taylor, ‘Review of Josef Silverstein (ed.), Independent Burma at Forty Years: Six Assessments (Ithaca, 1989)’, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 49, No. 3 (August 1990), p. 708.

43 A recent survey revealed that more than 25 students in these countries were writing doctoral theses (in English) on Burma-related issues. Interview, Professor D. I. Steinberg, Washington DC, October 2006.

44 The regime did, however, allow one of Aung San Suu Kyi's biographers to conduct research in Burma, in the hope that she would write a book that was favourable to the military government. See Barbara Victor, The Lady: Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Laureate and Burma's Prisoner (Faber and Faber, Boston, 1998). A more recent biography is Wintle, Justin, Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi (Hutchinson, London, 2007)Google Scholar. Aung San Suu Kyi's own writings and thoughts have been published in several books, notably Aris, Michael (ed.), Freedom From Fear and other writings (Viking, London, 1991)Google Scholar and (with Alan Clements), The Voice of Hope (Seven Stories, New York, 1997).

45 See, for example, Thawnghmung, Ardeth Maung, Behind The Teak Curtain: Authoritarianism, Agricultural Policies and Political Legitimacy in Rural Burma/Myanmar (Kegan Paul, London, 2004)Google Scholar.

46 Censorship extends to literary works and even cartoons. See Allott, Anna, Inked Over, Ripped Out: Burmese Storytellers and the Censors (PEN American Centre, New York, 1993)Google Scholar.

47 See, for example, The 1947 Constitution and The Nationalities, 2 vols. (Universities Historical Research Centre and Innwa Publishing House, Yangon, 1999).

48 For example, Traditions in Current Perspective: Proceedings of the Conference on Myanmar and Southeast Asian Studies, 15–17 November 1995, Yangon (Universities Historical Research Centre, Yangon, 1996).

49 See, for example, Thwin, Matrii Aung, ‘Genealogy of a Rebellion Narrative: Law, Ethnology and Culture in Colonial Burma’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 34 (2003), pp. 393419Google Scholar.

50 The BRP continued for another 20 years, with funding mainly from the RAND Corporation and private foundations.

51 A useful catalogue of these centres can be found in J. D. Legge, ‘The Writing of Southeast Asian History’, in Tarling, Nicholas (ed.), The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992), vol. 1, p. 16Google Scholar.

52 See, for example, Wilson, Trevor (ed.), Myanmar's Long Road to National Reconciliation (Asia Pacific Press, Canberra, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

54 See, for example, Andrew Selth, ‘Australian Contacts with Colonial Myanmar, 1886–1947’, Myanmar Historical Research Journal, No. 6 (December 2000), pp. 44–55.

55 Lintner, Bertil, Outrage: Burma's Struggle for Democracy (Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong, 1989)Google Scholar; Lintner, Bertil, The Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) (Cornell University, Ithaca, 1990)Google Scholar; Lintner, Bertil, Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948 (Silkworm, Chieng Mai, 1999)Google Scholar and Smith, Martin, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Insurgency (Zed, London, 1999)Google Scholar.

56 While they have their own agendas, independent NGOs such as the Karen Human Rights Group, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Global Witness have all published useful works on recent developments in Burma, particularly in the areas dominated by the country's ethnic minorities.

57 A selection might include Lewis, Norman, Golden Earth: Travels in Burma (Jonathan Cape, London, 1952)Google Scholar; Marshall, Andrew, The Trouser People: A Story of Burma—In the Shadow of the Empire (Counterpoint, Washington DC, 2002)Google Scholar and Larkin, Emma, Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop (John Murray, London, 2004)Google Scholar.

58 See, for example, Lintner, Bertil, Land of Jade: A Journey from India through Northern Burma to China (White Orchid, Bangkok, 1996)Google Scholar; Tucker, Shelby, Among Insurgents: Walking Through Burma (Radcliffe Press, London, 2000)Google Scholar and Mirante, Edith, Down The Rat Hole: Adventures Underground on Burma's Frontiers (Orchid Press, Bangkok, 2005)Google Scholar.

59 Notable works in this category include Lieberman, V. B., Burmese Administrative Cycles: Anarchy and Conquest, 1580–1760 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1984)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Thwin, Michael Aung, Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma (University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1985)Google Scholar and Charney, M. W., Powerful Learning: Buddhist Literati and the Throne in Burma's Last Dynasty, 1752–1885 (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

60 Obvious examples include Slim, William, Defeat Into Victory (Cassell, London, 1956)Google Scholar; and Fraser, G. M., Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma (Harvill, London, 1992)Google Scholar.

61 These works include Myint-U, Thant, The Making of Modern Burma (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Thwin, Michael Aung, The Mists of Ramanna: The Legend That Was Lower Burma (University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Myint, Ni Ni, ‘Myanmar Historiography Since 1945’, in Ahmad, Abu Talib and Ee, Tan Liok (eds.), New Terrains in Southeast Asian History (Singapore University Press, Singapore, 2003), pp. 123140Google Scholar.

62 See, for example, Sarkisyanz, E., Buddhist Backgrounds of the Burmese Revolution (Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1965)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Smith, D. E., Religion and Politics in Burma (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1965)Google Scholar.

63 For a useful survey of this period see Taylor, R. H., ‘An Undeveloped State: The Study of Modern Burma's Politics’, in Taylor, J. G. and Turton, Andrew (eds.), Sociology of ‘Developing Societies’: Southeast Asia (Monthly Review Press, New York, 1988), pp. 3347Google Scholar.

64 See, for example, Pye, Lucien, Politics, Personality and Nation Building: Burma's Search for Identity (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1962)Google Scholar and Gyi, Maung Maung, Burmese Political Values: The Socio-Political Roots of Authoritarianism (Praeger, New York, 1983)Google Scholar.

65 Three books by David Steinberg illustrate this trend: Steinberg, D. I., Burma; A Socialist Nation of Southeast Asia (Westview Press, Boulder, 1987)Google Scholar, Steinberg, D. I., Burma: The State of Myanmar (Georgetown University Press, Washington DC, 2001)Google Scholar and Steinberg, D. I., Turmoil in Burma: Contested Legitimacies in Myanmar (EastBridge, Norwalk, 2006)Google Scholar. See also Than, Tin Maung Maung, State Dominance in Myanmar: The Political Economy of Industrialization (ISEAS, Singapore, 2007)Google Scholar.

66 Johnstone, W. C., Burma's Foreign Policy: A Study in Neutralism (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1963)Google Scholar; Liang, Chi-shad, Burma's Foreign Relations: Neutralism in Theory and Practice (Praeger, New York, 1990)Google Scholar and Haacke, Jurgen, Myanmar's Foreign Policy: Domestic influences and international implications, (International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, 2006)Google Scholar.

67 See, however, Han, Than, Common Vision: Burma's Regional Outlook, Occasional Paper (Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University, Washington DC, 1988)Google Scholar.

68 See, for example, Myoe, Maung Aung, Neither Friend Nor Foe: Myanmar's Relations With Thailand Since 1988: A View From Yangon, (Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2002)Google Scholar; Egreteau, Renaud, Wooing the Generals: India's New Burma Policy (Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi, 2003)Google Scholar; and Seekins, Donald, Burma and Japan Since 1940: From ‘Co-Prosperity’ to ‘Quiet Dialogue’ (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen, 2007)Google Scholar.

69 See, for example, the chapters by Than, Tin Maung Maung in Muthiah Alagappa (ed.), Asian Security Practice: Material and Ideational Influences (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1998)Google Scholar and Alagappa, Muthiah (ed.), Military Professionalism in Asia: Conceptual and Empirical Perspectives (East-West Centre, Honolulu, 2001)Google Scholar. Also relevant is Ball, Desmond, Burma's Military Secrets: Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) from the Second World War to Civil War and Cyber Warfare (White Lotus, Bangkok, 1998)Google Scholar.

70 Callahan, M. P., Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2003)Google Scholar.

71 Selth, Andrew, Transforming the Tatmadaw: The Burmese Armed Forces Since 1988 (Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, 1996)Google Scholar; Selth, Andrew, Burma's Armed Forces: Power Without Glory (EastBridge, Norwalk, 2002)Google Scholar; and Selth, Andrew, Burma's North Korean Gambit: A Challenge to Regional Security? (Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, 2004)Google Scholar.

72 Than, Tin Maung Maung, ‘Mapping the Contours of Human Security Challenges in Myanmar’, in Ganesan, N. and Hlaing, Kyaw Yin (eds.), Myanmar: State, Society and Ethnicity (ISEAS, Singapore, 2007), pp. 172218Google Scholar.

73 An early work was Andrus, J. R., Burmese Economic Life (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1948)Google Scholar. For a study of Burma's economic geography see Adas, Michael, The Burma Delta: Economic Development and Social Change on an Asian Rice Frontier, 1852–1941 (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1974)Google Scholar.

74 See, for example, Than, Mya and Tan, J. L. H. (eds.), Myanmar Dilemmas and Options: The Challenge of Economic Transition in the 1990s (ISEAS, Singapore, 1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Maung, Mya, The Burma Road to Poverty (Praeger, New York, 1991)Google Scholar and Thein, Myat, Economic Development of Myanmar (ISEAS, Singapore, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

75 Than, Tin Maung Maung, ‘Myanmar's Energy Sector: Banking on Natural Gas’, in Southeast Asian Affairs 2005 (ISEAS, Singapore, 2005), pp. 257289Google Scholar and Marie Lall, ‘Indo-Myanmar Relations in the Era of Pipeline Diplomacy’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 28, No. 3, (December 2006), pp. 424–446.

76 Leach, E. R., Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure (London School of Economics and Political Science, London, 1954)Google Scholar.

77 See, for example, Schober, Juliane, ‘Venerating the Buddha's Remains in Burma: From Solitary Practice to the Cultural Hegemony of Communities’, Journal of Burma Studies, Vol. 6 (2001), pp. 111–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Schober, Juliane, ‘Buddhist Just Rule and Burmese National Culture: State Patronage of the Chinese Tooth Relic in Myanmar’, History of Religions, Vol. 36, No. 3 (February 1997), pp. 218–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

78 These include Fraser-Lu, Sylvia, Burmese Crafts: Past and Present (Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1994)Google Scholar and Stadtner, Donald M., The Art of Burma: New Studies (Marg, Mumbai, 1999)Google Scholar.

79 South, Ashley, Burma: The Changing Nature of Displacement Crises (Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford, 2007)Google Scholar and Lang, H. J., Fear and Sanctuary: Burmese Refugees in Thailand (Cornell, Ithaca, 2002)Google Scholar.

80 Callahan, M. P., Political Authority in Burma's Ethnic Minority States: Devolution, occupation and coexistence (East-West Centre, Washington DC, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For another view, see Development by Decree: The politics of poverty and control in Karen State (Karen Human Rights Group, Mae Sot, 2007). ‘Burman’ is used to refer to the dominant ethno-linguistic group in Burma.

81 See, for example, South, Ashley, Mon Nationalism and Civil War in Burma: The Golden Sheldrake (Routledge Curzon, London, 2003)Google Scholar; South, Ashley, ‘Karen Nationalist Communities: The “Problem” of Diversity’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 29, No. 1 (2007), pp. 5576CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Lambrecht, Curtis, ‘Burma (Myanmar)’ in Fealy, Greg and Hooker, Virginia (eds.), Voices of Islam in Southeast Asia: A Contemporary Sourcebook (ISEAS, Singapore, 2006)Google Scholar. Two recent contributions to this field are Mikael Gravers (ed.) Exploring Ethnic Diversity in Burma (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen, 2007) and Smith, Martin, State of Strife: The Dynamics of Ethnic Conflict in Burma (East-West Centre, Washington DC, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

82 Peter J. Katzenstein and Nobuo Okawara, ‘Japan, Asia-Pacific Security, and the Case for Analytical Eclecticism’, International Security, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Winter 2001–02), p. 183.

83 Legge, ‘The Writing of Southeast Asian History’, vol. 1, p. 20. This theme is explored at greater length in J. D. Legge, ‘Southeast Asian History and the Social Sciences’, in Cowan, C. D. and Wolters, O. W., Southeast Asian History And Historiography: Essays Presented to D. G. E. Hall (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1976), pp. 388404Google Scholar.

84 Kyi May Kaung, ‘Theories, Paradigms, or Models in Burma Studies’, Asian Survey, Vol. 35, No. 11, November 1995), pp. 1030–41.

85 See, for example, Walinsky, L. J., Economic Development in Burma, 1951–1960 (Twentieth Century Fund, New York, 1962)Google Scholar.

86 See, for example, Len, Christopher and Alvin, Johan, Burma/Myanmar's Ailments: Searching for the Right Remedy (Silk Road Paper, Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, 2007)Google Scholar.

87 The reports produced by the International Crisis Group (ICG), for example, cover many different aspects of contemporary Burma and are unashamedly policy prescriptive. See, for example, Myanmar: The Politics of Humanitarian Aid, ICG Asia Report No. 32, (ICG, Brussels, 2002) and Myanmar: Sanctions, Engagement or Another Way Forward, ICG Asia Report No. 78, (ICG, Brussels, 2004).

88 ‘Editors’ Introduction’, Asian Security, Vol. 1, No. 1 (January 2005), pp. 1–2.

89 Katzenstein, P. J., ‘Area and Regional Studies in the United States’, PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 34, No. 4, December 2001, p. 789Google Scholar.

90 V. L. Rafael, ‘The Cultures of Area Studies in the United States’, Social Text, No. 41, Winter 1994, p. 91. One study accused of reifying the state is Taylor, R. H., The State in Burma (Hurst & Co, London, 1987)Google Scholar.

91 Said, E. W., Orientalism (Penguin, London, 2003), p. 326Google Scholar.

92 Sarkisyanz, Manuel, Peacocks, Pagodas and Professor Hall: A Critique of the Persisting Use of Historiography as an Apology for British Empire-Building in Burma (Centre for International Studies, Ohio University, Athens, 1972)Google Scholar. See also Thwin, Michael Aung, Myth and History in the Historiography of Early Burma: Paradigms, Primary Sources, and Prejudices (Ohio University, Athens, 1998)Google Scholar and Michael Adas, ‘Imperial Rhetoric and Modern Historiography: The Case of Lower Burma Before and After the Conquest’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 3 (1972), pp. 175–92.

93 Michael Aung-Thwin, ‘Parochial Universalism, Democracy Jihad and the Orientalist Image of Burma: The New Evangelism’, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 4 (Winter 2001–02), pp. 483–505. See also R. H. Taylor, ‘Burma's Ambiguous Breakthrough’, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Fall 1990), pp. 62–72.

94 See, for example, Brown, David, The State and Ethnic Politics in Southeast Asia (Routledge, London, 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Alagappa, Muthiah (ed.), Political Legitimacy in Southeast Asia: The Quest for Moral Authority (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1995)Google Scholar; Booth, Ken and Trood, Russell (eds.), Strategic Cultures in the Asia-Pacific Region (Macmillan, Houndmills, 1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Harris, Ian (ed.), Buddhism and Politics in Twentieth Century Asia (Continuum, London, 1999)Google Scholar.

95 Katzenstein, p. 789.

96 See, for example, Jelsma, Martin, Kramer, Tom and Vervest, Pietje (eds.), Trouble in the Triangle: Opium and Conflict in Burma (Silkworm, Chiang Mai, 2005)Google Scholar.

97 For example, Burma-related issues are managed well in Dupont, Alan, East Asia Imperilled: Transnational Challenges to Security (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001)Google Scholar. Less impressive is Abuza, Zachary, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of Terror (Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 2003)Google Scholar.

98 Adas, Michael, Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements against the European Colonial Order (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1979)Google Scholar; Selth, Andrew, ‘Race and Resistance in Burma, 1942–1945’, in Le Sueur, J. D. (ed.), The Decolonisation Reader (Routledge, London, 2003)Google Scholar and Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, revised edition (Verso, London, 1996)Google Scholar.

99 See the chapters by Steinberg, David and Wiant, Jon in Lim Joo-Jock and S. Vani, (eds.), Armed Separatism in Southeast Asia (Institute of South East Asian Studies, Singapore, 1984)Google Scholar.

100 Pye, L. W., ‘The Army in Burmese Politics’, in Johnson, J. J. (ed.), The Role of the Military in Underdeveloped Countries (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1962)Google Scholar and Lissak, Moshe, Military Roles in Modernization: Civil-Military Relations in Thailand and Burma (Sage, Beverly Hills, 1976)Google Scholar.

101 Smith, Martin, ‘Army Politics as a Historical Legacy: the experience of Burma’, in Koonings, Kees and Kruijt, Dirk (eds.), Political Armies: The Military and Nation Building in the Age of Democracy (Zed, London, 2002)Google Scholar.

102 Huntington, Samuel, Political Order in Changing Societies (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1968)Google Scholar.

103 Pye, L. W., Asian Power and Politics: The Cultural Dimensions of Authority (Belknap Press, Cambridge, 1985)Google Scholar; Kane, John, The Politics of Moral Capital (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and McCarthy, Stephen, The Political Theory of Tyranny in Singapore and Burma: Aristotle and the rhetoric of benevolent despotism (Routledge, London, 2006)Google Scholar.

104 For example, Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and The Last Man (Penguin, London, 1992), p. 85Google Scholar.

105 Johnson, Chalmers, ‘Political Science and East Asian Area Studies’, World Politics, Vol. 26, No. 4 (July 1974), pp. 560–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

106 Rafael, p. 95.

107 Bruce Swaffield, ‘Burma among most oppressive for journalists’, The Quill, Vol. 94, No. 3 (April 2006), p. 41. The collapse of the feared Military Intelligence Service in 2004, due to a power struggle within the armed forces, probably contributed to a slightly freer atmosphere in Burma for a period, but since then the regime has introduced a number of additional control measures. US Government Accountability Office, International Organizations: Assistance Programs Constrained in Burma, Report to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Washington DC, April 2007.

108 Skidmore, Monique, Karaoke Fascism: Burma and the Politics of Fear (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

109 See, for example, Internet Filtering in Burma in 2005: A Country Study, found at <>

110 According to Transparency International, Burma has consistently ranked among the world's most corrupt countries. ‘Burma hits new low in corruption’, BBC News, 26 September 2007.

111 Mary Callahan, ‘Burmese Research Days: Or, A Day in the Life of a Nearly Extinct Life-Form: A Foreign Researcher in Burma’, Southeast Asia Program Bulletin, Cornell University, Spring 1994, pp. 2–4.

112 See, for example, Andrew Selth, ‘Burma in a Changing World: Through a Glass Darkly’, AQ: Journal of Contemporary Analysis, Vol. 75, Issue 4 (July–August 2003), pp. 15–21; and Myanmar: The Military Regime's View of the World, ICG Asia Report No. 28 (ICG, Brussels, 2001). Also relevant is Taylor, R. H., ‘Burma: Political Leadership, Security Perceptions And Policies’, In Ayoob, Mohammed and Samudavanija, Chai-Anan (Eds.), Leadership Perceptions And National Security (Iseas, Singapore, 1989)Google Scholar.

113 Myoe, Maung Aung, The Road to Naypyitaw: Making Sense of the Myanmar Government's Decision to Move its Capital (Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 2006)Google Scholar and Clive Parker, ‘Inside Myanmar's Secret Capital’, Asia Times, 28 October 2006.

114 Houtman, Gustaaf, Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics: Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo, 1999), p. 26–7Google Scholar.

115 While the Burmese elite and Western business communities in the cities can provide foreign researchers with useful information on a wide range of issues, different perspectives can be gained from the 80% of Burmese who live in rural villages, or have fled across the country's borders.

116 The three best known expatriate news services are The Irrawaddy (based in Chiang Mai), Mizzima News (based in New Delhi) and the Democratic Voice of Burma (based in Oslo). There are also some smaller groups, like the Shan Herald Agency for News.

117 For one view of this issue, see Thornton, Phil, Restless Souls: Rebels, Refugees, Medics and Misfits on the Thai-Burma Border (Asia Books, Bangkok, 2006)Google Scholar.

118 A representative sample might include Dispossessed: Forced Relocation and Extrajudicial Killings in Shan State (Shan Human Rights Foundation, Chiang Mai, 1998); Hand in Glove: The Burma Army and the Drug Trade in Shan State (Shan Herald Agency for News, Chiang Mai, 2006); Poisoned Flowers: The impacts of spiralling drug addiction on Palaung women in Burma (Palaung Women's Association, Mae Sot, 2006); State of Terror: The ongoing rape, murder, torture and forced labour suffered by women living under the Burmese military regime in Karen State (Karen Women's Organisation, Mae Sariang, 2007); Valley of Darkness: Gold Mining and Militarization in Burma's Hugawng Valley (Kachin Development Networking Group, Chiang Mai, 2007); and Turning Treasure Into Tears: Mining, Dams, and Deforestation in Shwegyin Township, Pegu Division, Burma (EarthRights International, Chiang Mai, 2007).

119 This subject is examined in Selth, Andrew, Burma and Nuclear Proliferation: Policies and Perceptions, Regional Outlook No. 12 (Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane, 2007)Google Scholar.

120 See, for example, Selth, Andrew, ‘Burma, China and the Myth of Military Bases’, Asian Security, Vol. 3, No. 3 (2007), pp. 279307CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

121 See, for example, the controversy over the ‘Independent Report for the European Commission’, Supporting Burma/Myanmar's National Reconciliation Process: Challenges and Responses, January 2005, found at <>

122 In a major report, Human Rights Watch was unusual in drawing attention to child soldiers in the ranks of both the Burma Army and armed ethnic groups. My Gun Was As Tall As Me: Child Soldiers in Burma (Human Rights Watch, New York, 2002), pp. 110–57.

123 See, for example, Selth, Andrew, Burma's Secret Military Partners (Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, 2000)Google Scholar.

124 Steinberg, D. I., ‘The United States and Its Allies: The Problem of Burma/Myanmar Policy’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 29, No. 2 (2007), pp. 219237CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

125 This accusation was at the core of the controversy which erupted after publication of Myanmar: New Threats to Humanitarian Aid, Asia Briefing No. 58 (ICG, Brussels, 2006). See, for example, Yeni and Edward Blair, ‘ICG Briefing Distorts and Misleads, Says OSI President’, The Irrawaddy, 23 January 2007; and Aryeh Neier, ‘Crisis Group Response to OSI Critique of Asia Briefing No. 58, Myanmar: New Threats to Humanitarian Aid’, 17 January 2007.

126 D. S. Mathieson, ‘Competing for Reality in Burma’, Global Knowledge, No. 2 (November 2006), pp. 57–61.

127 For contrasting views on the sanctions debate see John Badgley (ed.), ‘Reconciling Burma/Myanmar: Essays on US Relations with Burma’, NBR Analysis, Vol. 15, No. 1, March 2004 and The European Union and Burma: The Case for Targeted Sanctions (Burma Campaign UK, London, 2004).

128 Skidmore, Monique, ‘Scholarship, Advocacy, and the Politics of Engagement in Burma (Myanmar): A Response to Helen James’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 18, No. 1 (2007), pp. 9596CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

129 Yeni, ‘A Blacklist Goes on Sale’, The Irrawaddy, 14 June 2006 and The Conspiracy of Treasonous Minions Within the Myanmar Naing-Ngan and Traitorous Cohorts Abroad (Myanmar Ministry of Information, Yangon, 1989).

130 See, for example, Prime Minister Khin Nyunt's address to the 11th Myanmar Traditional Cultural Performing Arts Competitions, New Light of Myanmar, 4 November 2003, found at <>

131 Kanbawza Win, ‘Some Clarification on the Need for US’, Kao Wao News, No. 44, 14–29 May 2003, found at <>. See also Kanbawza Win, ‘Crisis at the International Crisis Group’, Mizzima News, December 2002.

132 ‘We Are Human Beings’, The Irrawaddy, 6 November 2006.

133 Lisa Brooten, ‘Political Violence and Journalism in a Multiethnic State: A Case Study of Burma (Myanmar)’, Journal of Communication Enquiry, Vol. 30, No. 4 (October 2006), pp. 354–73.

134 Yeni, ‘“Experts” Who Should Now East Their Words’, The Irrawaddy, 20 September 2007.

135 Skidmore, Monique, ‘Scholarship, Advocacy, and the Politics of Engagement in Burma (Myanmar)’, in Sanford, Victoria and Angel-Ajani, Asale (eds.), Engaged Observer: Anthropology, Advocacy, and Activism (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 2006), pp. 4259Google Scholar.

136 Morse and Loerke, ‘Introduction’.

137 One book of note in this regard is Christina Fink, Living Silence: Burma under Military Rule (Zed Books, London, 2001). See also Andrew Selth, ‘Bertil Lintner and the State of Burma Studies’, Asian Studies Review, Vol. 15, No. 2 (November 1991), pp. 265–71.

138 Aung-Thwin, ‘Parochial Universalism, Democracy Jihad and the Orientalist Image of Burma: The New Evangelism’, pp. 483–505.

139 See, for example, D. I. Steinberg, ‘Minimising the Miasma in Myanmar’, Foreign Policy in Focus, 18 January 2007, found at <>

140 See, however, Hlaing, Kyaw Yin, ‘Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar: A Review of the Lady's Biographies’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 29, No. 2 (2007), pp. 359–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

141 Relevant here is D.S. Mathieson, ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’, The Irrawaddy, June 2005.

142 ‘Burma Scholars and Moral Minefields’, The Irrawaddy, 1 October 2002. Also relevant to this theme is Leon T. Hadar, ‘Burma: US Foreign Policy as a Morality Play’, Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Spring 2001), pp. 411–26.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Modern Burma Studies: A Survey of the Field
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Modern Burma Studies: A Survey of the Field
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Modern Burma Studies: A Survey of the Field
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *