Myanmars Hidden-in-plain-sight social infrastructure : Nalehmu through multiple ruptures
Summary, in English
This article examines nalehmu, a set of informal relational practices for negotiating power across scales which have facilitated access and enforced accountability through mutually recognized norms and social sanctions in Myanmar. Like Asef Bayat’s “quiet encroachment” in the Middle East, nalehmu is Myanmar’s discreet and prolonged practice of agency that has enabled ordinary people to survive and better their lives despite the multiple ruptures in Myanmar’s history, as seen most recently in the February 2021 coup d’état. The paper analyzes how nalehmu serves as a hidden-in-plain-sight social infrastructure across three different scales: relations of mutuality, obligation, and reciprocity between individuals; implicit connections for accessing goods, services, and recognition; and a means of interacting with the state via the nalehmu economy. This analysis seeks to do more than add a different case to studies of urban Southeast Asia, but also to help produce further theorization that takes seriously the actually existing contexts and practices in the global South.