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Tourisme, politique et appropriation de l'espace dans la Birmanie en transition: le cas de la région du Lac Inlé

Abstract : This thesis deals with the power relations that underpin the development of tourism in Inle Lake region, on the Shan plateau (Myanmar). This peripheral region is mainly populated by the Intha ethnic group, which leads an original amphibious lifestyle, and by hill-based Pa-O people. Since the 1990s, this region has been one of Myanmar’s tourism highlights. We show that in a country marked by fifty years of military dictatorship and a rocky democratic transition since 2011, and in a peripheral space structured by old rivalries between minorities, tourism is a key asset to support political and territorial claims. Within the centre/periphery dialectics, we emphasize the link between proactive tourism development in Inle Lake region and authoritarian integration of the restive margin. Such space capture is made through transportation infrastructure, migration patterns, domestic tourism, the play between state regulation of the sector and clientelist laissez-faire, or the imposition of a simplistic and depoliticized narrative about the region and its inhabitants. Moreover, local tourism development is mainly performed by cronies, powerful businessmen with cosy relations with the past and current politico-military elites. By connecting the region to national “crony capitalism” networks, by monopolizing the tourism resource through neo-colonial mechanisms, by seizing by force wide swathes of land in the name of tourism development and by imposing Burmese architecture patterns in Shan territory, they insert the periphery into the centre’s political and symbolic sphere of influence. Furthermore, the integration of Myanmar and Inle Lake region into tourism globalization has resulted in new stakeholders coming to the fore, with more financial means and competences, thus evicting the local entrepreneurs from the most lucrative markets. Meanwhile, the hasty economic opening of the country and ubiquitous money laundering strategies have triggered intense land speculation, leading to the dualization of tourism space, now dominated by outsiders. All those converging trends have contributed to the burmanisation of the Shan periphery. Within the periphery itself, tourism is a major political and territorial stake between the local ethnic minorities. In the 1990s-2000s, when Yangon regime outsourced the control of the region to the Pa-O National Organization pro-government militia, the latter used tourism zoning and hotel infrastructures to assert its authority over space. Intha did not have such military power, but a few charismatic leaders managed to tap the economic benefits of tourism to construct their local political influence, thence accommodating the political constraint from the inside. Since 2011 political transition, power games and stakes have changed: territorially weakened, the PNO now mobilizes community-based tourism to maintain its influence in the hills it used to control, while Intha use it to reinvest this vacant hegemonic space. Meanwhile, they leverage tourism representations, narratives and iconography to reformulate their collective identity: culturally very close to the majority Bamar ethnic group, they now stage their alterity, their “intha-ness” to benefit from the ethnicization of politics in post-dictatorial Myanmar and thence reassert their regional hegemony. The spatialized analysis of tourism therefore highlights the changes and tensions of contemporary Myanmar.
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Contributor : Martin Michalon <>
Submitted on : Friday, March 13, 2020 - 2:39:12 PM
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Martin Michalon. Tourisme, politique et appropriation de l'espace dans la Birmanie en transition: le cas de la région du Lac Inlé. Géographie. Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), 2020. Français. ⟨tel-02507707⟩



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