Skip navigation
Skip navigation

In Pursuit of Morality: Moral Agency and Everyday Ethics of Plong Karen Buddhists in Southeastern Myanmar

Chambers, Justine Alexandra

Description

This thesis explores how Buddhist Plong Karen people in Hpa-an, the capital of Karen State, Myanmar pursue morality in what is a time of momentous social, political and cultural change. As one of the rare ethnographic studies to be conducted among Plong Karen people in Myanmar in recent decades, my research problematises existing literature and assumptions about ‘the Karen’. Informed by eighteen months of participant observation in Hpa-an, I examine the...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorChambers, Justine Alexandra
dc.date.accessioned2019-06-26T06:25:40Z
dc.identifier.otherb59285837
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/164237
dc.description.abstractThis thesis explores how Buddhist Plong Karen people in Hpa-an, the capital of Karen State, Myanmar pursue morality in what is a time of momentous social, political and cultural change. As one of the rare ethnographic studies to be conducted among Plong Karen people in Myanmar in recent decades, my research problematises existing literature and assumptions about ‘the Karen’. Informed by eighteen months of participant observation in Hpa-an, I examine the multiple ways that Plong Karen Buddhists broker, cultivate, enact, traverse and bound morality. Through an analysis of local social relations and the merit-power nexus, I show that brokering morality is enmeshed in both the complexities of the Buddhist “moral universe” (Walton 2016) and other Karen ethical frameworks that define and make personhood. I examine the Buddhist concept of thila (P. sīla), moral discipline, and how the everyday cultivation of moral “technologies of the self” (Foucault 1997), engenders a form of moral agency and power for elderly Plong Karen men and women of the Hpu Takit sect. Taking the formation of gendered subjectivities during the transitional youth period as a process of “moral becoming” (Mattingly 2014), I demonstrate the ways young women employ moral agency as they test and experiment with multiple modes of everyday ethics and selfhood. The experiential tensions between the traditional habitus of morality as filial obligation and utopian aspirations for the future are then examined through the prism of youth education programmes which encourage learning as a means of individual self-actualisation. Finally, I consider how the moral ideals of Buddhist Plong Karen have contingently converged in recent years with Buddhist chauvinist ideology which excludes non-Buddhists and especially Muslims from popular notions of belonging. The thesis contributes to literature on how minority people in Myanmar see themselves beyond the ethno-nationalist narratives and movements that have defined them for decades (Sadan 2013; Thawnghmung 2012). It also advances the anthropological study of morality by arguing that ethics are best understood not according to any neutral external measure or set of binary ethical positions, but as a set of frequently contradictory and ambiguous ideals which individuals seek to cultivate and enact in the course of everyday life. Rather than searching for morality in moments of ‘moral breakdown’ or conflict, I argue that moral agency is a highly interactive process that is differentiated across people’s lifetime according to one’s circumstances, age and gender. Critiquing the notion that moral coherence is necessary for ethical selfhood, the thesis shows that contradiction and ambivalence is inherent to the pursuit of morality among Plong Karen people. While moral ideals may encapsulate diverse values, meanings and expectations, their individualised and ongoing pursuit can form the basis of a symbolically powerful collective identity.
dc.language.isoen_AU
dc.subjectMyanmar
dc.subjectKaren
dc.subjectMorality
dc.subjectBuddhism
dc.titleIn Pursuit of Morality: Moral Agency and Everyday Ethics of Plong Karen Buddhists in Southeastern Myanmar
dc.typeThesis (PhD)
local.contributor.supervisorFarrelly, Nicholas
local.contributor.supervisorcontactnicholas.farrelly@anu.edu.au
dcterms.valid2019
local.description.notesthe author deposited 26/06/2019
local.type.degreeDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
dc.date.issued2019
local.contributor.affiliationDepartment of Anthropology, School of Culture, History, and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University
local.request.emailrepository.admin@anu.edu.au
local.request.nameDigital Theses
local.identifier.doi10.25911/5d134a4ed0499
local.mintdoimint
CollectionsOpen Access Theses

Download

File Description SizeFormat Image
Chambers Thesis 2019.pdf4.19 MBAdobe PDFThumbnail


Items in Open Research are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.

Updated:  19 May 2020/ Responsible Officer:  University Librarian/ Page Contact:  Library Systems & Web Coordinator