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Abstract

Communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims has recurred in Myanmar since at least the British Colonial period in the late 19th and early 20th century. That violence has recurred under a distant colonial regime, a democratic one, a socialist one, a military junta, and has recurred in the newly elected democratic government of the past few years. This dissertation is about that recurrence. It asks why, given the vastly different historical, economic, and political contexts, this anti-Muslim violence continues to plague Myanmar. In investigating this case, the dissertation also seeks to answer a broader question about communal conflict globally: why do the same countries continue to face communal violence, while others, in similar demographic, economic, and political conditions, seem immune? The dissertation addresses this puzzle by drawing on historical data, one year of ethnographic evidence, as well as 93 interviews with government officials, religious leaders, reporters, teachers, business-people, students and others who are involved in instigating and responding to communal violence in two cities in central Myanmar. It finds that these communities are knowingly living in a context of violence and have developed robust institutions for responding to threats of escalating tension. People in Mandalay and Yangon are not surprised when violence seems imminent, but instead rely on their experience with conflict to see the patterns of escalation and respond accordingly. Violence recurs in these communities because it is institutionalized in the way their group boundaries are defined, the organizations that they have built, and the repertoires they rely on to act when violence seems imminent. By taking recurrence seriously, the dissertation shows that the pattern of observed violence is not due to some inherent incompatibly between the groups or an unseen mastermind manipulating the masses. Violence is built, so peace can be built in its stead.

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