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The State and the City: 1988 and the Transformation of Rangoon

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This article discusses the ways in which the military regime in Burma has used its "vertical power" to constrain the "horizontal power" of the population of Rangoon, the country's capital and largest city. In March 1988, a small incident between university students and local residents led to student protests, which were violently suppressed by the authorities. The cycle of protest and state violence escalated, resulting in demonstrations that by summer 1988 involved hundreds of thousands of Rangoon residents and crossed class and occupational lines. On 18 September 1988, a new military junta seized power and "pacified" the city.

The post-1988 regime transformed the city, imposing a "strategic redesign" of its public and private spaces to prevent a recurrence of "Democracy Summer." This included the forced relocation of residents from the city centre to remote satellite towns and the closing down of sites associated with "revolutionary nationalism," such as the main campus of Rangoon University. At the same time, a post-socialist, commercialized Rangoon emerged, funded by new sources of capital such as foreign investment and laundered "narco-dollars." In an effort to win legitimacy for itself, the junta also sponsored ambitious Buddhist projects, such as renovation of the revered Shwe Dagon Pagoda. This article calls into question the salience of ethnic politics in Burma, since in Rangoon as in minority areas, the state's relationship with society is defined by its determination to maintain a power monopoly.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 June 2005

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