Can Encounters with the State Improve Minority-State Relations? Evidence from Myanmar

Jangai Jap, George Washington University


Identity and Inequality in Southeast Asia


Why and how do members of politically non-dominant ethnic groups develop an attachment to the state? Using qualitative and quantitative data (election data, an original survey conducted in 2019, and a survey experiment conducted in spring 2021) from Myanmar, this paper examines the effect of ethnic minorities’ everyday encounters with the state (i.e., interpersonal interactions between citizens and agents of the state in local government offices) on their attachment to the state. It also tests whether everyday encounters with the state have an ameliorating effect in a conflict prone setting as well as the effect of power-sharing on improving minority-state relations. Attachment to the state is defined in my research as an emotional bond an individual feels toward their country of citizenship. Existing explanations for minority-state relations focus on macro-level factors such as power-sharing, nation-building policies, and public goods provision. In contrast, I propose a novel theory that highlights the role of interpersonal interactions. I argue that ordinary citizens’ attachment to the state is informed by their most tangible experiences of the state, which tend to occur in local government offices. Ordinary citizens in much of the developing world visit local government offices for routine matters. There at the office, citizens encounter street-level bureaucrats who provide privileged contacts with the state. Ethnic minorities who had positive encounters with the state develop stronger attachment to the state.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |