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Structure, institutions and NGOisation: a critical realist approach to normative change in Myanmar civil society

Sheader, Matthew James (2018) Structure, institutions and NGOisation: a critical realist approach to normative change in Myanmar civil society. PhD thesis, University of Essex.


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Following several decades of suppression under authoritarian military rule, Myanmar’s civil society has played an important role in shaping the process and the impact of recent political reforms. Constitutional and legislative change favourable for civil society has been accompanied by an expansion of initiatives by international development agencies to build the capabilities of civic actors and to strengthen their influence in governance and policy making. Together, these are claimed to have enhanced the freedom, security and opportunity, or the space, for civil society to build from its rich history of social and political action and better mobilise for future protection and fulfilment of political and human rights objectives. This thesis argues that normative change in civil society can only be fully assessed, explained and understood through analysis which critiques rather than repeats conceptualisations of civil society as an autonomous zone of freedom, and the state as an apparatus of coercion. Notions of an ‘expanding space’ or an ‘improved enabling environment’ conceal structural and cultural forces which affect the collective agency and normative orientation of civic actors by shaping the political terrain on which they act, enabling and constraining actors’ form and political objectives. I analyse these changes in Myanmar using critical realism and the thought of Antonio Gramsci, and show how the reorganisation of state power and contractual, legal and ethical relations between state and civil society have led to the emergence of an institution of organisation. Tendencies towards professionalisation, formalisation and depoliticisation arise as legitimate activity comes to centre around the hegemonic form of the non-governmental organisation (NGO), with significant implications for the radical transformative potential of both civil society and human rights. Case studies reveal how the impact of these institutional forces varies according to contingencies in circumstance, resistance and the qualities and histories of actors.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Civil society; NGOisation; human rights; NGO; institutions; critical realism; Myanmar; Burma.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Human Rights Centre
Depositing User: Matthew Sheader
Date Deposited: 09 May 2018 15:02
Last Modified: 27 Apr 2021 01:00

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