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Felix Girke—A Perpetually Closing Window: Temporalising Yangon in Coffee-Table Books

Over the last few years, several expensive, glossy, and professionally produced coffee-table books have been published that present the city of Yangon alongside interpretations of its urban dynamics. In these coffee-table books, Yangon is presented as a crumbling city, not a modernizing one; it is ‘timeless’, not future-oriented; it is a ‘a city to rescue’ in a perpetually closing window, not a beacon of modernity in Myanmar. The authors and photographers are Europeans, Americans, and Australians, and all seek to temporalize the former capital of Myanmar in a similar and very specific way: they document aspects of ‘pastness’ still present in contemporary Yangon, and emphasize the need and desirability to protect certain elements of the cityscape – be they ways of life or particular buildings – for the future. This presentation addresses the rhetorical means by which the present and past of Yangon are actively conflated in these publications – metaphors, analogies, hyperbole, and other tropes and figures. It also inquires into the motivations and interests of the creators by linking these publications to larger questions of nostalgia, neo-colonial imagination, and the Western gaze. Ongoing research indicates that their production and consumption constitute a mode of coping with what is usually called the (rapid) “opening” or “transition” of Myanmar from the expatriate-accessible fringes of Myanmar society.

Dr. Felix Girke, Fachbereich Geschichte und Soziologie/DFG-Projekt „Ringen ums Erbe. Heritage-Regimes und Rhetorik in Myanmar“. Universität Konstanz, Germany.

Michael Lubina—From Feminization to Masculinization: the Changing International Discourse on Aung San Suu Kyi

Before 2012 in the eyes of most of the Western world Aung San Suu Kyi was “Burma’s Jean of Arc”, the “new Gandhi”, “female bodhisattva”, or even the “World’s conscience”. It changed dramatically after that date – since then Suu Kyi has been called “Burma’s Mugabe”, a “prisoner of conscience that turned into a politician”; more – a Lady Macbeth-style shrewd politician. The mainstream Western discourse made a spectacular U-turn: deification gave place to desacralization; what is permanent, however, is the continued gender bias. Pre-2012, Suu Kyi’s image feminized her, presented her as a stereotypical endangered woman. Post-2012, her image masculinized, making her a “shrewd” politician worthy of men’s power-style politics. This continued gender bias is in striking comparison to Myanmar, where Suu Kyi was able to escape the double bind and became the first woman leader of this country.

Michal Lubina, Phd, political scientist, assistant professor (adjunct) at the Institute of Middle and Far East, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland.
His works include pioneer books on Myanmar in Polish (e.g. the first history of Myanmar in Poland and the only biography of Aung San Suu Kyi). Currently he has been preparing the English version of his political biography of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Johanna Neumann—Zat Pwe: Performing the Change of Times

The Myanmar performance art zat pwe is a medium of entertainment, of marking community events as special, and of conveying cultural identity. In my research I use zat pwe as a tool to get access to topics that are important to society itself and thus get a better understanding of dynamics in Myanmar society. Analysing zat performances reveals a diverse engagement of society with a perceived change of times. This change of times is perceived as confronting the nation with a dilemma, since it offers welcomed innovations and desirable novelties on the one hand, and poses a serious threat to national identity on the other hand. My presentation will deal with the analysis of my second field research which focused on the audience’s reception of zat pwe. The analysis suggests that the way of dealing with this dilemma is a task sharing between genders: women are assigned the role of identity keepers and guardians of tradition while men are allowed to try out new and foreign concepts.


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