Illegibility as State Strategy: Legal Exclusion via the (Re-)Production of Undocumented Status. Evidence from Myanmar

Amanda Cheong

Tuesday, March 8th 2016
8:30-10:30 Panel 4: Citizenship, Inequality and Mobility


To account for the existence of undocumented peoples in the contemporary nation-state system, this paper develops the theory of illegibility as a deliberate strategy pursued by states. In spaces with permeable borders and volatile migration flows, states may choose to contract their reach, keeping undesirable populations—such as refugees, migrants, or minorities—in a state of legal invisibility in an effort to undermine their claims to rights and belonging. This can be achieved through the systematic deprivation of identity documentation and other forms of evidence, or the maintenance of conditions under which it becomes difficult for these groups to access registering bodies. The underlying logic is that in order to prevent unwanted peoples from interfacing with and gaining rights and recognition from mainstream institutions, states must deprive them of a much more fundamental capacity: their ability to establish their very personhood before the state. Evidence from Myanmar collected through secondary data analysis and fieldwork is provided.

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