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Welcome to the digital village: social media as social reproduction in rural Myanmar

Authors: Hilary Faxon*, Cornell University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Cyberinfrastructure, Social Theory
Keywords: feminist, political ecology, digital geography, Myanmar
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Since the reform government broke the military telecom monopoly in 2014, Myanmar has seen an explosion in internet connectivity. Facebook has become a dominant platform for state announcements, human rights advocacy, local news, and personal communication, even as the UN and others have condemned the company for fostering violent hate speech. This paper complicates narratives of Facebook either as vehicle for Western, urban, modernization or for ethno-religious violence, and extends existing approaches within both agrarian studies and digital geography through feminist attention to creative rural Facebook use that enables social reproduction, community development and differentiation, and political mobilization. Drawing on data from village focus groups, Facebook elicitation interviews, and in-person and online participant observation, I first describe what I term the digital village, a simultaneously virtual and material sphere in which both the specificity of soil and seasons, and the pervasiveness of Facebook use, structure social life and political possibilities. Next, I demonstrate how online and offline practices within the digital village strengthen ties to particular places, families and ethnic communities while facilitating flows of material aid. Building on insights in feminist digital geography, I show how social media has become a critical part of rural social reproduction, and expanded traditions of community kothukotha, or do-it-yourself development, in ways that further differentiate ethnic minority and majority villages. Finally, I show how Facebook use is remaking the terrain of land politics at a moment marked by a public commitment to land reform as a central aspect of democratic transition.

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