The Authority of Influence

Women and Power in Burmese History

Jessica Harriden

  • Published:
  • Pages: 352 pp., illustrated
  • Series number: 7

This is the first book to explore the relationship between gender and power in Burmese history from pre-colonial times to the present day. Exploring a range of factors like the role of family, influence of Buddhism and effect of prolonged war, it aims to identify the sources, nature and limitations of women’s power, also in today’s Burma.

This book explores the relationship between gender and power in Burmese history from pre-colonial times to the present day and aims to identify the sources, nature and limitations of women’s power. The study takes as its starting point the apparent contradiction that, though Burmese women historically enjoyed relatively high social status and economic influence, for the most part they remained conspicuously absent from positions of authority in formal religious, social and political institutions. The book thus examines the concept of ‘family’ in Burmese political culture, and reveals how some women were able to gain political influence through their familial connections with powerful men, even while cultural models of ‘correct’ female behaviour prevented most women from attaining official positions of political authority.

The study also considers how various influences – Buddhism, colonialism, nationalism, modernisation and militarism – shaped Burmese concepts of gender and power, with important implications for how women were able to exercise social, economic and political influence. The book explores how the effects of prolonged armed conflict, economic isolation and political oppression have constrained opportunities for women to attain power in contemporary Burma, and examines opportunities opened up by the pro-democracy movement and recent focus on women's issues and rights for women to exercise influence both inside Burma and in exile.

Using an interdisciplinary approach that draws on feminist, anthropological and social science discourses, placing them within an historical framework, the author offers a broad understanding of how power is obtained and exercised in Burma in order to reassess historical representations of Burmese women and so provide a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of power relations in historical and contemporary Burma.

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Jessica Harriden holds a PhD from the University of Queensland. Her research interests include gender–power relations and ethnic identity in twentieth century and contemporary Burma.

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by Patrick McCormick
From journal:
Aséanie, no. 31, 2013

"Harriden has done much to make us aware of the need for continuing work on the experiences of Burmese women throughout history. Her delving into the past, something not often found in research on Burmese women, provides the reader with useful insights that allow us to make better sense of the present."

"Harriden has done much to make us aware of the need for continuing work on the experiences of Burmese women throughout history. Her delving into the past, something not often found in research on Burmese women, provides the reader with useful insights that allow us to make better sense of the present."

by Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung, University of Massachusetts Lowell
From journal:
Asian Studies Review, Vol. 38, No. 2, 2014

"…one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of the role and activities of Burmese women from the pre-colonial period to the present day. The special contribution of this book is its coverage of gender issues, commonly examined by other authors under separate periods or themes…this is a readable, engaging and well-documented book and is highly recommended."

"…one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of the role and activities of Burmese women from the pre-colonial period to the present day. The special contribution of this book is its coverage of gender issues, commonly examined by other authors under separate periods or themes…this is a readable, engaging and well-documented book and is highly recommended."

by Ashley Wright, Washington State University
From journal:
Southeast Asian Studies Vol.2, No.3, 2013

"…Harriden enriches the existing understanding of gender and power relations in Burma…

This work is a significant contribution to the existing scholarship on Burma, and is innovative in its focus on the nuances of gendered power relations…

"…Harriden enriches the existing understanding of gender and power relations in Burma…

This work is a significant contribution to the existing scholarship on Burma, and is innovative in its focus on the nuances of gendered power relations…

This study will be of interest to scholars of Southeast Asian history and gender relations, and anyone who seeks a better understanding of contemporary Burmese society."

by Trude Jacobsen, Northern Illinois University
From journal:
Pacific Affairs, Vol. 87, No. 1, March 2014

"It is an impressive attempt to encapsulate the experiences of women throughout the shifting geopolity we now know as the state of Myanmar.

…Scholars of Burmese history will find this book an excellent accompaniment to the histories of Burma that tend to obscure women […].

"It is an impressive attempt to encapsulate the experiences of women throughout the shifting geopolity we now know as the state of Myanmar.

…Scholars of Burmese history will find this book an excellent accompaniment to the histories of Burma that tend to obscure women […].

…Readers beyond the academic realm […] should read The Authority of Influence for a solid grounding in the trajectory of Burmese history and how it has shaped gender perspectives within Burmese culture today. Historians of Southeast and South Asia who are interested in questions of gender will find it essential reading.

…In this book, Harriden […] restored a female voice to the span of Burmese history."

by Céline Coderey, Docteure en anthropologie, membre associé de l’IrAsia
From journal:
Moussons, 21, 2013

"… Jessica Harriden se veut fortement novatrice : son ouvrage est de fait le premier à explorer le rapport entre genre et pouvoir dans l’histoire birmane depuis l’époque précoloniale jusqu’à aujourd’hui.

"… Jessica Harriden se veut fortement novatrice : son ouvrage est de fait le premier à explorer le rapport entre genre et pouvoir dans l’histoire birmane depuis l’époque précoloniale jusqu’à aujourd’hui. En s’appuyant sur les travaux de spécialistes en histoire classique et prémoderne et en utilisant une approche interdisciplinaire qui englobe féminisme, anthropologie et sociologie, l’auteure vise à identifier les sources, la nature et les limitations du pouvoir des femmes et comprendre le processus qui a porté les femmes à perdre progressivement leur pouvoir et, plus récemment, à essayer de le récupérer.

… En parcourant et en reliant entre elles les différentes périodes de l’histoire du pays, l’auteure fournit des données riches et variées qui permettent de mieux comprendre- les opportunités et les défis auxquels les femmes birmanes contemporaines se trouvent confrontées. Cela est d’autant plus intéressant et pertinent que le pays vit actuellement une métamorphose et une ouverture considérables avec le passage de la dictature militaire à un gouvernement civil. Sous la plume de Jessica Harriden qui articule l’analyse à la présentation de cas concrets, l’histoire devient vivante et la voix des femmes, qui bien souvent a été étouffée ou négligée, réémerge. En dernier essor, cet ouvrage représente une contribution majeure aux études portant sur le rapport entre genre et pouvoir et ouvre la voie à de riches comparaisons avec d’autres pays de l’Asie du Sud-Est."

by Inga Gruß, Cornell University
From journal:
www.newasiabooks.org

"The book is written in an accessible way and it can appeal to a broad audience: academics with an interest in Myanmar, power relations, gender issues or members of the general public who seek to learn more about any of these issues."

"The book is written in an accessible way and it can appeal to a broad audience: academics with an interest in Myanmar, power relations, gender issues or members of the general public who seek to learn more about any of these issues."

by Patrick Jory, University of Queensland
From journal:
Australian Journal of Political History, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2013

“Harriden’s excellent book helps put the challenges Burmese women currently face in rich historical context.”

“Harriden’s excellent book helps put the challenges Burmese women currently face in rich historical context.”

by Annami Löfving
From journal:
New Mandala-TLC, January 2013

"Scholarly treatments of gender in Myanmar, past or present, remain scarce. Jessica Harriden’s book thus fills a gap in our understanding of an important and controversial topic – the sources, nature and limitations of women’s power in Burmese or Myanmar society over time.

"Scholarly treatments of gender in Myanmar, past or present, remain scarce. Jessica Harriden’s book thus fills a gap in our understanding of an important and controversial topic – the sources, nature and limitations of women’s power in Burmese or Myanmar society over time.

…Harriden’s work, in carefully sifting through historical accounts and bringing to the forefront women’s experiences and prevailing societal attitudes, is illuminating.

…In The Authority of Influence, Jessica Harriden succeeds both in tracing the discourse of the “traditional high status of women” in Myanmar over the course of history and in showing the contemporary challenges for women’s empowerment in the shadow of this notion.

…In light of the ongoing processes of definition and negotiation of women’s appropriate roles in Myanmar society, this volume’s treatment of that history offers immensely valuable lessons."

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