Dó ăyèi! Dó ăyèi! Reclaiming political agency in Burma’s democracy era

Ward Keeler


People marching in the streets in Burma in 1988, infuriated by twenty-six years of military dictatorship, demanded the return of democracy. What they meant by the term reflected a hierarchical understanding of politics: elections would enable them to replace a hated and rapacious superordinate, General Ne Win, with a morally admirable one, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Rather than envision the messy business of conflict and compromise pursued in the name of a common good, democracy’s proponents, including Aung San Suu Kyi herself, spoke only of the need for Buddhist ethical clarity and indomitable unity. Thus they appeared to instantiate efforts to reclaim agency, as observers impressed by Foucault’s take on power would expect, while demonstrating a desire to subordinate themselves to a charismatic leader, ceding that very agency at the same time.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/722591