Defending Society, Building the Nation: Rebel Governance as Competing Biopolitics

Brenner, David and Tazzioli, Martina. 2022. Defending Society, Building the Nation: Rebel Governance as Competing Biopolitics. International Studies Quarterly, 66(2), sqac007. ISSN 0020-8833 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Rebel groups govern significant parts of territory worldwide. They often deliver crucial public goods and services to populations under their control. Scholarship on rebel governance commonly explains this with the need for armed groups to generate local and international legitimacy. We argue that this understanding of rebel governance as an instrumental means to power is insufficient. Instead, we propose a novel conceptualization of rebel governance as competing biopolitics. Tracing biopolitical technologies of rebel rule reveals the productive functions of war-time social orders for molding populations into imagined communities in direct opposition to the existing nation state. We develop this perspective by mobilizing Foucault's work in conjunction with Chatterjee's postcolonial understanding of governmentality in contexts of postcolonial state- and nation-formation, and empirical research on the Pat Jasan in northern Myanmar. Linked to the Kachin rebellion, this movement has fought against a devastating narcotics crisis with biopolitical interventions that form the Kachin nation body amidst protracted ethnonational conflict. Beyond shedding light on one of the world's longest running but least-researched civil wars, this offers three distinct contributions to international studies: exploring non-state armed groups as actors of public health, theorizing the sociological underpinnings of rebel governance, and developing the concept of biopolitics beyond the nation state.

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1 February 2022Accepted
28 March 2022Published Online
June 2022Published

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27 Apr 2022 14:18

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27 Apr 2022 14:18

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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