Gerard McCarthy

Nov 1, 2023

Outsourcing the Polity

Non-State Welfare, Inequality, and Resistance in Myanmar

Cornell University Press 2023

In late 2015 Daw Aung San Suu Kyi led Myanmar’s National League for Democracy to a smashing general election victory. In one of her first public appearances since the win, Suu Kyi went to a roadside to be photographed by journalists picking up garbage. Why? What was she doing there? The obvious answer to that question is: launching a nationwide trash clearance campaign. The less obvious but more interesting one is: outsourcing the polity. 

That’s the title of a new book by Gerard McCarthy, Outsourcing the Polity: Non-State Welfare, Inequality and Resistance in Myanmar (Cornell University Press, 2023), which is the subject of this episode of New Books in Southeast Asian Studies. In it McCarthy explains how the NLD government’s failure to break with the political economy of military dictatorship was not due to structural constraints alone, but was ideologically motivated. Drawing on years of ethnographic and survey research in Myanmar, he shows how welfare capitalism can slip between regime types, and insidiously undermine programs for social justice through redistribution of wealth.

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Nick Cheesman is Associate Professor, Department of Political & Social Change, Australian National University. He hosts the New Books in Interpretive Political & Social Science series on the New Books Network.

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