2022. “Democratic backsliding disrupted: The role of digitalized resistance in Myanmar.” Asian Journal of Comparative Politics. (with Megan Ryan)
Accepted version available here
More than one year since its coup, the Myanmar military has neither established effective control of the territory nor crushed online dissent. What factors have enabled the resistance forces to deny the consolidation of military rule? We address this question by building a novel theoretical framework that incorporates the role of long-standing digitalized pro-democracy activism and conducting a mixed-method analysis that includes an original, largely representative sample of public Facebook posts in post-coup Myanmar. We find that the development of online and hybrid pro-democracy activism against digital abuse and other illiberal policies under previous quasi-civilian governments enabled anti-coup resistance forces to thwart the military’s attempt of authoritarian revival in 2021. Our research findings deepen understanding of Myanmar’s post-coup contestation dynamics as well as other cases of unpopular autocratization in the current-day digital era.
Accepted. “Provoking Civilian Disruption Against Popular Protests: The Role of Counter-Mobilisation Strategies by the Myanmar Military.” Journal of Contemporary Asia.
While mass contentious movements face a wide range of state-led counter-mobilisation strategies, existing studies have mainly focused on repression by the security forces and violence contractors. Much less is understood about the impact of governments’ more deceptive strategies to provoke anti-protester hostility among the public, including labelling protesters as criminals and engineering widespread violent crimes. This article examines the effectiveness of these two types of strategy by juxtaposing two similar cases of popular protests under military-ruled Myanmar: the 1988 Four-eight Uprising and 2007 Saffron Revolution. My analysis leverages a novel qualitative dataset consisting of content from state media, authoritative secondary sources, as well as original interviews and written accounts by more than 100 civilians who witnessed or participated in the protest events. I find that while anti-protester narratives are ineffective, orchestration of criminal activities targeting civilians on a large scale is likely to fuel civilian distrust toward strangers, leading adult men to disrupt protest events by unfamiliar activists. This finding underscores both the crucial role of nurturing inter-group trust in order to grow a broad-based contentious front as well as the challenging conditions for doing so when a regime is steadfastly committed to crushing dissent.
Accepted. “Enabling Activist Resilience: Bystander Protection during Protest Crackdowns in Myanmar.” Asian Politics & Policy.
What accounts for the survival and long-term participation of activists in contentious movements under repression? I argue for the role of an important yet oft-neglected factor: protective support by civilian bystanders. I propose that, mainly motivated by victim-oriented sympathy, bystanders engage in high-risk protection that helps activists to escape crackdowns and bolsters their dedication to the movement. To test my theoretical claims, I examine hard cases for activist survival at the height of state violence during military rule in Myanmar between 1988-2010, with an original qualitative dataset consisting of oral history interviews and written accounts by more than 100 protest observers and former pro-democracy activists. The dataset presents an unprecedented number of voices from the average, non-contentious general public, which are mostly missing in existing research on social movements. This approach generates a fresh perspective to better understand opportunities and constraints around movement entrepreneurs in hostile environments.
“Organic Online Politics: Farmers, Facebook and Myanmar’s Military Coup” (with Dr. Hilary Faxon, Kendra Kintzi, Casper, and Swan Ye Htut)
Despite perennial hope in the democratic possibilities of the internet, the rise of digital authoritarianism threatens online and offline freedom across much of the world. This article advances the concept of “organic online politics,” a term that underscores how digital interaction is rooted in the evolving material conditions of particular, grounded sites. To understand how social media reflects and shapes social mobilization in the agrarian communities that comprise much of the Global South, we examine social media interaction in the wake of the 2021 military coup in Myanmar, an agrarian nation with recent, rapid digital connection that corresponded with a decade-long democratic turn. Employing mixed methods analysis of an original archive of over 2,000 Facebook posts collected from popular farming pages and groups, we find, first, a massive drop-off in online activity after the military coup, a trend that corresponds to authoritarian efforts to strangle the internet. Second, we analyze the shifting temporalities of digital mobilization, tracing the rise, fall, and changing themes of political content. Third, we highlight the embeddedness of online interaction within the material concerns of specific communities, examining how social media become a key forum for negotiating political crisis through existing repertoires of resistance in Myanmar’s countryside. Together, these findings call attention to less visible digital subcultures as fertile sites of investigation and point towards the need for future research on online politics that integrates the global political economies of the internet, the national trajectories of revolutionary projects, and the material concerns of rooted agrarian struggles
2022. “Pro-democracy struggle in the age of social media: Evolution of military and resistance strategies in post-coup Myanmar.” In Myanmar after the Coup: Resistance, Resilience, and Re-invention. Edited by Giuseppe Gabusi and Raimondo Neironi. Turin: Torino World Affairs Institute. (with Megan Ryan)
2022. "Digital Contention in Post-Coup Myanmar." New Mandala. (with Megan Ryan)
2021. “Myanmar’s Military Has a History of Using Deceptive Tactics against Protesters. Now It Has Social Media, Too.” The Washington Post.
2021. “To Understand Post-Coup Myanmar, Look to Its History of Popular Resistance, Not Sanctions.” The Brookings Institution.
2013. “Understanding Malaysia’s Pivotal General Election.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (with Vikram Nehru)
2012. “Building Peace in Southeast Asia’s Conflict Areas.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (with Vikram Nehru)
2012. “More Hills to Climb for Aung San Suu Kyi.” East Asia Forum. (with Vikram Nehru)
Work in Progress
Bystanders to the Rescue: Resilience of Mass Resistance against Myanmar's Military Rule. Monograph in preparation.
Burma/Myanmar, a country with a long history of brutal military dictatorships, was for decades a hostile environment for mass contention. Nonetheless, large-scale protests, as part of the Burmese urban pro-democracy movement, still emerged through the years. So what accounts for the perseverance of a non-violent movement in a repressive regime? In this dissertation, I argue for the role of an important yet oft-neglected factor: civilian bystanders and observers of opposition activism. I theorize that bystander protection toward protesters significantly impacts the durability of a protest movement. To test my theory, I conducted process tracing based on an original qualitative dataset with a large number of oral history interviews and personal accounts of more than 100 ordinary citizens and former pro-democracy activists in Myanmar. The novelty of this dataset is the unprecedented number of voices from the ordinary, non-contentious general public, which are mostly missing in existing research. Hence, the findings from my research would serve to deepen our understanding of movement resilience under repressive authoritarianism.
"Strange bedfellows or genuine comrades? Digital solidarity-building among Myanmar’s revolutionaries" (with Megan Ryan & Swan Ye Htut). Working paper.
Abstract: Might the process of struggling against a common dictator enable a broad-based development of solidarity among traditionally divided communities? Could access to the Internet and social media aid such development? The shock and anger felt by the Myanmar public as they witnessed their democratically elected government deposed in an illegal military coup in early 2021 has led to a revolutionary break in Burmese politics. The Bamar Buddhist political elites, formerly silent on the Rohingya Muslim crisis, issued public apologies and regret; the coup breathed new life and possibilities into the formation of a federal democracy; and young students and strike leaders dared to challenge the dominance of the traditional elites with more progressive political ideologies for a future Myanmar. However, little is known about whether or how widespread the support for inter-ethnic solidarity has continued to develop since the Myanmar Spring Revolution began. As many digitally-connected communities across Myanmar took to social media in order to condemn the military and mobilize resistance, studying these groups’ online interactions will provide critical insights into salient political issues among the grassroots. By analyzing conversations throughout the one-year period following the coup on three of the most popular resistance groups on Facebook from Bamar and non-Bamar communities, we find a mixed process of inter-ethnic solidarity building that comprises both instrumentalist and organic drivers. Our findings provide a novel contribution to the literature on solidarity-building among diverse anti-dictatorship forces, revolution dynamics in post-coup Myanmar, and the role of social media on forging inter-communal empathy.