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Opposing the Rule of Law
How Myanmar's Courts Make Law and Order

$107.00 (C)

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Law and Society

  • Date Published: March 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107083189

$ 107.00 (C)

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About the Authors
  • The rule of law is a political ideal today endorsed and promoted worldwide. Or is it? In a significant contribution to the field, Nick Cheesman argues that Myanmar is a country in which the rule of law is 'lexically present but semantically absent'. Charting ideas and practices from British colonial rule through military dictatorship to the present day, Cheesman calls upon political and legal theory to explain how and why institutions animated by a concern for law and order oppose the rule of law. Empirically grounded in both Burmese and English sources, including criminal trial records and wide ranging official documents, Opposing the Rule of Law offers the first significant study of courts in contemporary Myanmar. It sheds new light on the politics of courts during dark times and sharply illuminates the tension between the demand for law and the imperatives of order.

    • Offers the first major study of the contemporary court system in Myanmar
    • Draws from legal and political theory to explain how and why institutions animated by a concern for law and order oppose the rule of law
    • Charts ideas and practices from British colonial rule to military dictatorship and beyond
    Read more


    • Winner, 2017 Distinguished Book Award, Asian Law & Society Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "This is a book of 'firsts' in many respects, not least because it is the first major study of courts in Myanmar … [It] will appeal to scholars from a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences, but legal scholars and practitioners working in the global 'industry' of the rule of law need to read this book in particular … Cheesman's [volume] is an invaluable and lasting contribution to scholarship on the rule of law, and an exemplary reminder of how the study of Southeast Asia can illuminate our understanding of the key political ideals of our time."
    Melissa Crouch, Contemporary Southeast Asia

    "The book is very well researched with records pertaining to 393 criminal cases in 86 courts at all levels from across Myanmar and is a 'must-read'… It successfully holds the attention of the reader through its easy language and flowing rendition of an otherwise difficult and complex subject of law and justice."
    Reshmi Banerjee, Tea Circle (

    'Nick Cheesman … provides an excellent study of a complex issue of particular interest to students of Myanmar’s modern history and its prospects for the future. Reflecting years of research and multiple visits, his work includes a review of a vast documentation in both Burmese and English of law reports from colonial times to the present.' Bruce Matthews, Pacific Affairs

    'The book is remarkable in several respects. The author skillfully crafts his narrative to convey the analysis of a rather dry subject in a compelling prose. By tracing the concepts of rule of law and law and order in Burma/Myanmar’s political and legal history since colonial time, the book sheds light on a completely understudied subject. Based on vast, empirical data, it also provides a first, in-depth study of the political and legal practices of courts in military ruled Myanmar and thus contributes to a better understanding of the inner work-ings of military rule … The book is a must-read for all interested in Burma and contemporary Myanmar.' Susanne Prager–Nyein, Journal of Contemporary Asia

    'Opposing the Rule of Law makes a significant twofold contribution to scholarship. This book 'constitutes the first serious attempt for half a century to situate Myanmar’s courts in its politics' … Opposing Rule of Law is beautifully written. The aesthetic sensitivity of the writing becomes a worthy platform for the acute and compelling analysis, the rigorous engagements with critical theory, and the thorough appreciation of context and relational dynamics grounded in ethnography. This important monograph will be invaluable to scholars in a range of fields, including law, authoritarianism, postcoloniality, military regimes, Southeast Asia, and ethnographies on rule of law.' Jothie Rajah, Law and Society Review

    'For me, the book’s main contribution is the original, conceptually and empirically rich discussion of criminal justice in Myanmar. Despite focusing on one country, the book should be of great interest to anyone who studies legal culture and practice in authoritarian settings … In my interpretation, Cheesman offers a complementary answer to the question of why authoritarian leaders would bother to provide rights on paper if they do not intend to respect them in practice.' Maria Popova, Comparative Politics

    'Charting ideas and practices from British colonial rule through military dictatorship to the present day, [Cheesman] draws on political and legal theory to explain how and why institutions animated by a concern for law and order oppose the rule of law.' Law and Social Enquiry

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2015
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107083189
    • length: 338 pages
    • dimensions: 231 x 160 x 28 mm
    • weight: 0.62kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. How law and order opposes the rule of law
    2. Ordering law in the colony
    3. Reordering law in the postcolony
    4. Subsuming law to order
    5. Embodying the law and order ideal
    6. Performing order, making money
    7. Through disorder, law and order
    8. Speaking up for the rule of law
    9. Against quietude

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    Opposing the Rule of Law

    Nick Cheesman

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  • Author

    Nick Cheesman, Australian National University, Canberra
    Nick Cheesman is a Research Fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change at the Australian National University, Canberra, where he studied for a PhD. In 2013 his dissertation, on the politics of law and order in Myanmar, won the university medal, the J. G. Crawford Prize; and, the President's Prize of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. Before joining the Australian National University he worked in Hong Kong with the Asian Legal Resource Centre, a regional research and advocacy organisation. Earlier he convened a people's tribunal on militarisation in Myanmar, for a Thailand-based non-profit group. He also lived and worked in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar for a number of years. He teaches courses in politics and security, and co-convenes the Myanmar/Burma Update conferences at the Australian National University. His work has appeared in a variety of peer-reviewed journals, and edited books. This is his first monograph.


    • Winner, 2017 Distinguished Book Award, Asian Law & Society Association

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