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  • Bottom-Up Explorations:Locating Rule of Law Intermediaries after Transition in Myanmar
  • Kristina Simion (bio)

This research note presents the qualitative and exploratory methodological approaches I applied during extended PhD field research in Yangon, Myanmar's economic capital, in my search for emerging development intermediaries in the rule of law assistance field. I present the results of my methodological strategies that helped locate and create a unique typography of intermediaries in Myanmar.


In early 2014, I arrived in Myanmar's economic capital Yangon to conduct extended qualitative field work1 as part of my PhD research that sought to identify and study the emergence of development intermediaries in the rule of law assistance2 field that had surfaced in the aftermaths of [End Page 125] political transition.3 I use the term "intermediary" to denote an individual—or group of individuals—who plays the critical functions identified in my study of Myanmar: as mediator, translator, or broker "in-between" other parties. She is not a neutral "go-between," but someone who gains from, or influences, different transactions and capital (Long 1975; Silverman 1965), while oscillating between different roles, depending on the task at hand.

Who intermediaries are, and how they work in Myanmar, varies. While some are connected to the government, others are closer to local communities and build on their work as underground activists during the decades of military rule. They may represent themselves as individual consultants or as leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in which case the NGO may take the role as intermediary, even while dominated by an individual who possesses influence over that NGO. They can be both an intermediary and a counterpart to a foreign development organization at the same time. These are not always fixed roles because intermediaries wear different hats and oscillate between assignments and institutions, which enable them to obtain multiple influences at different levels. Most are engaged in intricate networks and embody various forms of expertise. Some have actively sought out a position as intermediary; [End Page 126] others have become involved by chance or as a consequence of their social position.

My research came to show how individuals who possess language skills and education to become "intermediaries" were actively sought for, or positioned themselves for the role. Before coming to such conclusions, I had to locate the actors I had set out to study and that I only suspected, but could not know for certain when I initiated my research, were an increasingly common feature in Myanmar's new development terrain.

Locating intermediaries thus became a central methodological challenge of my research and during the course of this research I was often asked what intermediary actors I was studying as if there was a predetermined answer. However, instead of following a preconstructed definition of who is an intermediary actor or not, I designed my research inductively so that I would have to find the individuals or organizations that play such roles within the field of rule of law assistance in Myanmar. Of importance was singling out the ones that matter, that is, play an important function, as who was to be classified as an intermediary had to be restricted otherwise we could end up with a situation where anyone who "goes between" other actors qualify as an intermediary (see Long 1975:274-5; Silverman 1965).

In this research note, I outline the qualitative methodological approaches that I applied in order to navigate the new terrain of rule of law assistance that was emerging in Myanmar after political transition in order to locate the intermediaries of that field. The guiding question for my search for intermediaries was: What kind of people function as intermediaries in the rule of law assistance field in Myanmar? By drawing on in-depth empirical research carried out in Myanmar, I provide a typology of intermediaries that I found across several institutional roles including the local lawyer, the local NGO, the locally employed staff working for an international organization, the government employee, and the international consultant. [End Page 127]

Mapping a New Terrain

Foreign rule of law development actors became more visible in Myanmar in 2012 and 2013 when they arrived in the economic capital...