Narrative and the meaning of democracy: the example of the Burmese democracy movement

Event details

PSC Seminar

Date & time

Thursday 14 December 2017


PSC Reading Room 4.27, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU


Tamas Wells, University of Melbourne


Helen McMartin

Abstract The question of how the word ‘democracy’ is given meaning, by citizens and political actors in emerging democracies, has received increasing scholarly attention. If democracy does not have a taken-for-granted meaning amongst citizens or political actors, these differences might help to make sense of policy decision-making and political contests. In this seminar, I argue that narrative can provide a valuable conceptual framework in examining meanings of democracy, drawing on the case of the Burmese democracy movement and the country’s recent political transitions. Scholars have applied narrative theory in a range of academic disciplines and some disciplines have even taken a so-called ‘narrative turn’ . It is surprising then that narrative has been used so little in the study of meanings of democracy.

About the Speaker
Tamas Wells is a Research Fellow in the The Policy Lab in the School of Social and Political Sciences. His research focuses on meanings of democracy, governance and accountability in Southeast Asia and the role of international aid agencies and “civil society”. His doctoral dissertation examined the Burmese opposition movement in the lead up to the historic 2015 elections in Myanmar and diverging narratives of democracy within the movement, and amongst its international supporters. Before beginning his doctoral studies in 2012, he worked as an aid and development adviser and consultant with various NGOs including Save the Children and Oxfam, including seven years living and working in Myanmar. He has been active in developing stronger connections between academics and practitioners and policymakers in the field of aid and development and is the editor of the PK Forum, an online discussion forum on aid and development in Myanmar.

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