Elliott Prasse-Freeman, "Rights Refused: Grassroots Activism and State Violence in Myanmar" (Stanford UP, 2023)


Over three years have passed since a military coup of February 2021 in Myanmar precipitated a popular uprising that has since transformed into a revolutionary situation. While researchers and writers have cobbled together edited books trying to come to terms with all that has happened and how we might interpret it in relation to Myanmar’s recent past, Elliott Prasse Freeman’s Rights Refused: Grassroots Activism and State Violence in Myanmar (Stanford University Press, 2023) is the first authoritative monographic study of the transitional 2010s and early revolutionary 2020s. Freeman spent the decade prior to the coup living and working with activists in Myanmar, and after it he did further digital ethnographic research and interviews. He combines a trove of data generated over these years with a sharp appreciation of social scientific theory to produce an account of the state in Myanmar as bluntly biopolitical.

Mark Goodale writes in the book's foreword that Rights Refused is noteworthy for its stunning ambition, both intellectual and political; its synthesis of debates, theories and methodology from across a range of disciplines; and, its movements across multiple registers, scales and temporalities. That makes it both a demanding and rewarding book — and so too is this episode of New Books in Southeast Asian Studies!

Elliott manages the Burma Studies Group online, which features weekly updates of new publications on Burma aka Myanmar, like those forthcoming books he mentions at the end of this episode.

Looking for things to read? Elliott recommends Elsa Dorlin's Self Defense, and Neferti Tadiar's Remaindered Life.

Like this interview? You might also be interested in Gerard McCarthy’s Outsourcing the Polity; and, The Politics of Love in Myanmar by Lynette Chua.

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Nick Cheesman

Host, Interpretive Political and Social Science; sometimes contributor, Southeast Asian Studies
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