Date & time
After decades of ethno-national conflict, military rule and economic stagnation, Karen people in south-eastern Myanmar are experiencing momentous social, political and cultural change. My thesis contends with questions of morality and goodness at the forefront of this experience. Drawing on sixteen months of participant observation in Hpa-an and its surrounding towns and villages, my thesis offers an insight into the complex and modernising worlds of Plong Karen people and the multiple ways they understand and pursue good or moral lives. In this seminar I discuss the meanings, myths, and embodied performance of Buddhist Plong Karen morality and the ways these shape personhood and subjectivity in contemporary Hpa-an, the capital of Karen State, Myanmar. My research adds to the growing anthropological literature on ethics and morality, especially the relationship between what what Durkheim calls “moral facts” and the human capacity for creativity, freedom or moral agency (Keane 2015; Laidlaw 2002, 2014; Lambek 2015, 2010). I focus particularly on contradictions and disjuncture in moral frameworks in order to expose the creative and often paradoxical ways that people navigate everyday life. As I highlight, the increasingly ambiguous and fragmented socio-moral worlds within which Karen people now find themselves are producing new cultural movements, moral subjectivitities and imaginings of a moral future.
Justine Chambers is a a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the School of Culture, History and Language, Australian National University. She is also the Associate Director of ANU's Myanmar Research Centre. For more details of her work see here.