Can Encounters with the State Improve Minority-State Relations? Evidence from Myanmar

What determines ethnic minorities’ attachment to the state? Diverging from existing explanations which focus on structural factors like nation-building initiatives and representation, I theorize that ethnic minorities’ experiences with the state shape their political attitudes. Positive experiences ease their apprehension about their fate as citizens of a state dominated by another ethnic group whereas negative experiences reinforce their suspicion of the state. Therefore, I argue that positive experiences with the state facilitate their attachment to the state. I evaluate the implications of my claim with data from Myanmar and beyond. Using original survey data fielded in five local languages, I show that ethnic minorities who have had positive encounters with street-level bureaucrats express stronger attachment to the state. This is the case even when an ethnic group is in direct conflict with the state. I also find that experiences with the state do not affect ethnic majorities’ attachment to the state.

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