Launched in January 2015, the first phase of the M.MAS project has consisted primarily of two interrelated components: First, trainings in qualitative research skills and comparative scholarship on collective violence in other times and places for activists in six cities: four cities that have experienced recent violence (Sittwe, Meikhtila, Mandalay, and Lashio) and two that have not (Pathein and Mawlamyine). Second, a series of small group discussions and ‘Listening Project’ interviews with local residents in these six cities. These two components are interrelated; many of the young activists elected to conduct their own Listening Project interviews, and the trainings and subsequent research have both contributed to the development of new ideas for actions that the groups are now undertaking.
The first Working Paper from the initial round of Listening Project interviews was published in July 2015 and is available below in both English and Myanmar versions. The team also produced several media pieces related to the Working Paper and an academic journal article that extends its analysis will be published as part of a special issue of the Journal of Contemporary Asia in 2017.
Findings from the Listening Project interviews revealed a number of cases of “failed” riots, situations where large-scale violence seemed probable yet did not occur. This led the team to further investigate these cases in its second Working Paper, published in January 2017, along with an accompanying Tea Circle blog post that summarizes its conclusions.
The M.MAS team for Phase I was led in Oxford by Dr Matthew J Walton and in Myanmar by Mr Matt Schissler and Ms Phyu Phyu Thi. We received additional support in developing case studies for Working Paper 1:2 from Ms Emily Speers Mears. Phase I of M.MAS was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and was also supported by the Programme on Modern Burmese Studies.
M.MAS Phase I Publications:
"Threat and virtuous defence: Listening to narratives of religious conflict in six Myanmar cities" M.MAS Working Paper 1:1 (July 2015) Matthew Schissler, Matthew J Walton, & Phyu Phyu Thi
Abstract Myanmar has been the site of serious conflicts between Buddhist and Muslim communities since June 2012. This working paper presents findings from a research project we convened to better understand the production of this violence, and to use this understanding to support local groups working for peace. Based on interviews with 78 local residents of six cities, we find a narrative that presents Islam as an existential threat to race and religion and Muslims in Myanmar as a potential personal threat to individuals and communities. This narrative is reinforced by three inter-related sets of arguments that make reference to international events, events within Myanmar, and personal experiences. Drawing on these findings, we present conclusions that question the current focus on ‘rumours’ and ‘hate speech’ and identify important parallels between discourse in Myanmar and rhetoric connected to the Global War on Terror. We also raise pressing questions for future consideration that deal with the construction of historical memory and the role of the state and other authorities in either challenging or reinforcing images of Muslims as a threat. We believe that a better understanding of the production of violence within Myanmar can help inform more effective responses to religious conflict.
Download the English language version here. Download the Myanmar language version here.
"Failed riots: Successful conflict prevention in four Myanmar cities" M.MAS Working Paper 1:2 (January 2017) Matthew J Walton, Matthew Schissler, & Phyu Phyu Thi
Abstract Collective violence between Buddhists and Muslims has taken place in nearly every state and region of Myanmar over the last five years. Yet, such violence has not occurred in the overwhelming majority of towns and villages across the country. Research on the production of collective violence suggests that there is much to be learned by examining times and places where the warning signs for riotous violence are present yet conflict does not escalate. This paper presents four such case studies, situations in which inter-religious riots were expected or feared but then did not occur. While we do not seek to conclusively demonstrate the counterfactual that actions by individuals in these cases prevented riots from breaking out, we believe that even partial descriptions of each case can help us to identify some shared characteristics and important insights for those working to prevent inter-religious violence and build peace in Myanmar. Based on an analysis of these cases, we offer conclusions related to: (1) the individuals and groups involved in the conflicts that made up each case; (2) the broader framing of the conflicts; (3) the kinds of competing arguments made by those attempting to prevent violence; and (4) concerns about forms of violence left unaddressed by these interventions.