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Fortune, excess and surrogate citizenship - the natural disaster in Burma, a short comment

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This paper examines the refusal by the Burmese military junta to allow western humanitarian aid to be distributed among the survivors of the natural disaster that hit the country in May 2008. By taking part in the international relief efforts the rulers had to identify those under their rule as the victims of the ravage of fortune. In doing so the junta could identify themselves as the witness of excessive force in contrast to their widely recognised role as the perpetrator of political violence against the Burmese people. The international aid, however, provided the survivors of the natural disaster with the opportunity to enter into exchange with the western aid-givers who were inspired by the role of citizen, a subject with a persistent demand for protection from the ravages of fortune. Thus, the notion of entitlement communicated between the aid-givers and takers subverted the tyrannical relationship between rulers and ruled in Burma.
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Keywords: excessive force; gift exchange; hierarchical relationship; humanitarian aid; natural disaster; ravages of fortune; right and entitlement; surrogate citizenship

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Social Anthropology, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Publication date: May 1, 2009

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