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Modern welfare and traditions of reciprocity : Parahita organizations and emergent ecologies of redistribution in rural Myanmar

Griffiths, Michael Paul


Michael Paul Griffiths


Suzanne Clisby


Recent discourse on citizenship and identity in Myanmar has been dominated by practices of othering and exclusion, often amplifying historically constructed notions of ethnicity and belonging. Notions of citizenship, both in terms of the right to belong, and the performative role of citizens, remain contested. Despite a recent emphasis on poverty reduction in rural areas, climate change, inequitable market chains and an absence of effective welfare have contributed to a rural context in Myanmar best described as precarious. From within this context, there has been a (re) emergence of localized, self-organized community welfare associations. Although drawing on traditions of reciprocity which have long existed in rural Myanmar, these organizations represent an increasingly sophisticated iteration of self-help, frequently self-identifying with the concept of parahita-loosely defined as altruism. By occupying an operational space located between formal religious institutions, village administration and traditions of reciprocity, these organizations have in essence created a new, albeit contested space for interdependency, largely built around identity of place. Although modest in the scale of financial resource redistribution, these organizations nonetheless embody a peculiar emergent politics, generating new forms of citizenship, linked to performative action, in the form of participation in visible social works. The performative expectations are, however, in most cases linked strongly to Burmese/Buddhist identity, which raises a wider question as to whether these emergent social welfare movements are likely to lead to more inclusive forms of belonging, or be potential vehicles for more exclusionary, nationalist movements. This research, based on in-depth interviews with 12 community welfare organizations in central Myanmar, as well as data from large scale longitudinal studies of rural poverty, explores the nature of parahita claims, the limits and boundaries of localized welfare arrangements, and the possibilities for articulation of citizenship which reside outside established boundaries of locality, ethnicity and religion.


Griffiths, M. P. (2018). Modern welfare and traditions of reciprocity : Parahita organizations and emergent ecologies of redistribution in rural Myanmar. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Apr 10, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Sociology
Public URL
Additional Information School of Education and Social Sciences, The University of Hull
Award Date Dec 1, 2018


Thesis (2.3 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2018 Griffiths, Michael Paul. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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