Activist becomings in South Africa and Myanmar. Studying infrastructure and politics through activists’ life-worlds"

(Principal investigators: Judith Beyer & Thomas G. Kirsch)

Comprising four case studies, this anthropological project uses ethnographic research methods to explore the sociocultural dynamics by which activists in South Africa and Myanmar learn to shape (inter-)subjectivities, socialities, imaginaries and political fields when addressing the issue of material infrastructures. It uses the concept 'activist becomings' to highlight our interest in both the individual processes through which activism is incorporated into people’s daily lives, as well as activists’ collective aspirations and endeavours in bringing to bear their influence on the political configurations of their social environment. By analysing and comparing two countries that are currently undergoing momentous socio-political transformations after decades of repression, the project will provide important answers to interrelated questions concerning (a) the emergence of novel forms of political engagement, (b) the co-production of activist biographical self-shaping, political imaginaries and emergent socialities, (c) the interrelatedness of the material and the political, and (d) the role of meso- and macrostructural cultural and socio-political environments in these dynamics.

The two sub-projects will shed light on how and to what extent the space for political engagement and activism has expanded in these two countries, and along which axes. In the final phase of the project, this will allow a comparative assessment of the relationship between rapidly changing political cultures on the one hand, and the emergence of activist groups and aspirations on the other. The project group plans to analyze these comparative empirical insights in the form of a condensed conceptual framework that lends itself to application to other regions of the world.

The case studies in Myanmar are supervised by Judith Beyer and investigated by her PhD candidates Carolin Hirsch and Benedict Mette-Starke.