After almost a year, I am finally starting to scan, georeference, and analyze my participant-mapping survey that I designed and implemented during my fieldwork in Mizoram from February through April 2017.
Method and Process
While my research was primarily interview-based, interested as I am in the narratives used to support claims for territorial autonomy, I also decided that I needed a more comprehensive way to deal with the spatial aspect of the project. While many of the political organizations making these claims have created their own maps, I wanted to get at the popular imagining and understanding of territory and how it related to issues of nomenclature, ethnonyms, and the inclusion/exclusion dynamics that I have written about here. To that end, I printed off 260 maps, and with my team of very talented local research assistants, asked participants to outline the areas where Mizo, Lai, Mara, Chakma, Kuki, Zo, and a number of other ethnonyms, natively inhabited. The maps varied slightly because of technical limitations at the fieldsites, but here is one for Lawngtlai.
Although I also conducted fieldwork in Manipur and various areas of Myanmar, I only used this survey in Mizoram. I did not feel like it would be appropriate for use in Manipur, because of the very active insurgent presence in the state. While I trusted my hosts in Manipur to keep me out of harms way, I did not trust that I could get neutral research assistants, nor could I guarantee that “wrong” answers would not be harmful to participants. There is no insurgent presence in Mizoram, and there is no reason to suspect that such a survey would cause any tension on the ground. In Myanmar, I felt that conducting a survey would draw too much attention from the local authorities, who likely found my activities somewhat suspicious even as they were. There is also enough uncertainty about cooperating with foreign researchers in Myanmar, let alone those asking one to draw lines on a map.
Most participant-mapping exercises are organized slightly differently. Often, groups of individuals are given a blank surface and drawing tool, and the participants complete the map as a group. I would call this the focus group approach. It is very good for creating one or several final products as well as listening to how participants negotiate with each other over contentious areas. However, I chose to use a survey approach for this participant-mapping exercise, for several reasons: 1) My interview data and informal focus groups revealed a lot of the major debates already; 2) I wanted a slightly more quantitative component to my dissertation research, despite finding statistics to often be tacky; 3) I wanted to get at what individual people thought, not what a couple of strong men forced on the group. My research experience in Mizoram, suggests that this is exactly what would most likely happen if I had gone for a focus group approach.
We did this at 5 different sites throughout Mizoram:
Siaha, Mara Autonomous District, Mizoram: 50 participants
Lawngtlai, Lai Autonomous District, Mizoram: 50 participants
Lunglei, Mizoram: 50 participants
Kamalanagar/Chawgte, Chakma Autonomous District, Mizoram: 50 participants
Aizawl, Mizoram: 60 participants
Here is a general view of the QGIS Map I have created thus far without the survey data.
While I think I deserve a gold medal for just keeping all these surveys safe and sound over my travels, there comes a time when every PhD Candidate has to actually look at their data. This week, I scanned all the map surveys from Lawngtlai as TIFF files, which are particularly well suited to GIS software. I then georeferenced each map individually, adding coordinate points for Dhaka, Mandalay, and Chittagong, so that my GIS software (loyal QGIS user here) could plot the scans as raster data. As I told my students during our one-week GIS module this semester, raster data is, by itself, a lot less useful than you might think. So, I painstakingly created vector data for all the outlined areas. This whole process took four days, just for the 20% of the data…ugh!
Below is an image of the base map I have created thus far, followed by the same base map with several survey responses uploaded to it.
Regardless of the limited scope, the initial results are fascinating and go a long way towards revealing the unique dynamics of territorial claims by transnational populations and borderland inhabitants.
Here are some of the results I’m seeing so far:
1. Most participants seemed to understand the territories of their group and kin in terms of specific localities. Many participants circled specific cities/towns, even though we asked them specifically to only use those cities on the map as a reference point.
2. There is widespread confusion about who exactly the various ethnic/tribal names refer to.
3. Umbrella terms meant to refer to the whole KCMZ population are not widely understood or used. ‘Zo,’ for example, was used as an umbrella term by only 2 people, and a handful of others said that the term only refered to a specific area of Manipur, perhaps reflecting the connection between the Kuki National Organization and the Zo Reunification Organization Northern Front, both of which are Manipur-based.
4. A surprising number of participants did outline the Chakma Autonomous District (CADC) as a “Chakma area.” While many others put the Chakma in various areas of Bangladesh and Myanmar, a good number seemed fine outlining Chakma territory within Mizoram. Considering that many in Mizoram consider the CADC illegitimate (a view I emphatically do NOT endorse), it was surprising that a number of people placed them in the state. This confirms my general feeling that Lai and Mara peoples are less concerns about the Chakma’s status in Mizoram than Mizos living in the north of the state.
5. Very few participants considered Lai or Mara to be part of the Mizo-fold. In Aizawl, most people I talked to considered Lai and Mara peoples to be ‘Mizo,’ but this is clearly not a view shared by Lai themselves. (The results in Siaha among Mara were similar).
6. No one, repeat, not a single participant, outlined the borders of the territory under the administration of the LADC or MADC as equivalent to Lai or Mara areas. No one! This is HUGE!
7. International and domestic borders are seen as both artificial/imposed and (increasingly) natural and internalized. Many participants recognized that they had ethnic kin across the border in Myanmar, but they were not exactly sure where, and were unsure whether Chin and Mizo where equivalent, or whether all Chin were Lai, and so on.
These are, of course, just some initial impressions. Still, they are fascinating and point to some very interesting theoretical and policy conclusions. But, like a good academic, I shall save that for another day!
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.